Budget Travel in Switzerland and beyond

Switzerland – the home of Lindt chocolate, cheese fondue and the breathtaking vistas of the Alps – has settled comfortably into its position in the top 5 most expensive countries in the world. In fact, Geneva and Zurich are two out of the top 10 most expensive cities in the world in which to live. Luxurious lodges, expensive hire cars and ritzy restaurants are major deterrents for travellers looking for simple, budget adventures. Fear not, the famed beauty of Swiss mountains and Swiss cheese is not beyond reach.

In January 2018, Switzerland Tourism and Swiss Travel System boosted the number of bonuses that accompany their Swiss Travel Pass. Allowing access to free public transport and offering unpaid admission into some museums and monuments, passes purchased include the new additions of Schilthorn mountain, the location of Bond World 007, and Mt. Stanserhorn, where you can find world-famous, open-roofed CabriO cableway.

“Travellers are recognising the superb value of the Swiss Travel Pass,” says Mark Wettstein, the Director of Switzerland Tourism for Australia and New Zealand.

“With the addition of these two popular peaks, travellers will be granted access to even more of the country’s Alpine regions at no extra cost.”

When it comes to smart saving in Switzerland, perks like these are no-brainers. But what else can savvy travellers do to stretch their dollars further in this European haven?

1. The Usual

As with any holiday on a budget, stay faithful to the golden rules. Avoid travelling in peak season, which for Switzerland is the height of summer and of winter (July to August, and December to February), and pick shoulder season instead. Plan your transport so as not to double back through any destinations, and look into accommodation options carefully before you leave. Keep your eyes peeled for deals. Generally, immersing yourself in the great Swiss outdoors will come at a lesser cost than fine-dining and living the luxe in major cities. Instead of a spot of shopping in Zurich, why not visit Europe’s biggest waterfall, the Rhine Falls, at no charge? St. Gallen, Interlaken and Aarau are free wildlife parks worth investigating. Old towns, churches and some museums are other attractions you can enter at little to no cost. Try Bern UNESCO Old Town and free parliament tours, Lucerne’s 14th century Kapellbrucke bridge, the three castles at Bellinzona and admission-free galleries in Geneva like the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire.

2. The Research

The most crucial time for budgeting happens is before departure. Paying close attention to transport and accommodation choices makes all the difference. An excellent place to start is the My Switzerland tourism page which lists fantastic tips and tricks for affordable Swiss holidays. Some activities and outings they recommend at minimal expense include a visit to the Intragna village where you’ll explore a huge railway duct and Ticini’s tallest church tower, a stop to see the remarkable painted ceiling of St Martin church in tiny village Zillis and a wander along the Alpine Flower trail at Beckenreid, where the mountain stations above Lake Lucerne are serviced by railways and have breathtaking views. The site also lists cheap accommodation options, travel cards and guest passes available to tourists, such as the Museum Pass for Winterthur, the Lucerne Museum Card, and a city ticket in the town of Baden. The Swiss Travel Pass, for one, includes over 500 free museums and outings. Staying overnight in certain towns and hotels will make you automatically eligible to a guest card allowing you free cable cars, walking tours and reduced entry to museums.

3. The Transport

Effective usage of Switzerland’s impressive public transport network will save you considerable time and money. In cities like Zurich and Geneva, there are free bikes which will not only evade expenses of hire cars but add a delightful afternoon of cycling to your itinerary. Free walking tours in major tourist hubs will have you see the sights on foot, and if you ask at the desk of your accommodation in cities like Lucerne, they’ll give you a free public transport ticket. The Swiss Half Fare Card is also good for longer, multi-destination journeys, especially if you intend to be in the country for an extended period. Outside the cities you’ll find that the SBB trains and postal buses run just as smoothly and regularly. If you would prefer the ease of your own car, it is cheaper to hire it in Germany, France or Italy and enter Switzerland, than it is to hire within the nation itself.

4. The Food

Save on food by packing your lunch and cooking your own dinner. This is easier if you opt for self-contained accommodation, the likes of which can be found after careful research with Airbnb. Budget supermarkets like Aldi and Denner will get you economical eats. In fact, some Swiss supermarkets provide knives, forks and stands for you to heat your meal – enjoying quick, convenient food cheaply is not that difficult. In Basel, Winterthur and Zurich, a new chain has recently been opened called Assbar, where bread that hasn’t been sold in bakeries at close of business is sold more cheaply the following day.