During our trip to Switzerland this summer, in a twee cafe in the village of Emmetten, we sat across the table for a family meal. We’d been sticking to the comforts of dal chawal the first few days, a choice we took up to travel Switzerland on a budget. Besides, our lovely companions (our parents) craved for home food throughout.
While we thoroughly enjoyed the conversations, the freshness of the pesto, and the goodness of the pizzas, our faces changed the moment the bill arrived. That bottle of water cost us 14 euros while the beer only 5. The bread came at a hefty 6 euro pricing, just a tad shy of the price of the pasta.
We figured the truth – Switzerland is exceptionally expensive, way more than any place we’ve ever been to. We could watch what we eat and curb all our desires but it would still be a hefty price.
Switzerland On A Budget
1. Is The Swiss Travel Pass Budget-Saving?
The Swiss Travel Pass allows unlimited travel on the rail, bus, and boat systems in Switzerland for a specific number of days. One can choose this to be consecutive days or flexible days, coming in packs of 3, 4, 8, or 15 days.
A lot of websites suggested this as a key to exploring Switzerland on a budget, as transport prices can be steep otherwise. For a family (or a couple/group), we think it is an ineffective method.
Why? Consider your itinerary. Are you going to travel only 3 or 4 days? Would you use transport for as much as 8 days? Would you do it consecutively or would you need breaks? These answers define whether the pass makes any sense for you.
A 4-day flex pass (non-consecutive days) costs INR 23,000 (USD 300) per person. That’s INR 92,000 (USD 1200) for a 4-member family or INR 46,000 (USD 600) for a couple. Plus, this does not get you door-to-door, meaning you will have to book cabs in addition.
So, unless you’re traveling solo in Switzerland and your itinerary involves extensive travel on these systems for at least 8 days, the pass is extremely expensive.
2. What is my alternate transport solution?
A car. Simple as that.
There’s no mode of transport that is any more efficient than a car, especially for a family. Our luxe Volvo Hatchback came at a price of INR 40,000 (USD 540) including insurances for a period of 7 days. This took us from door-to-door, provided us with freedom of time and extreme flexibility, and got us the best of the views Switzerland had to offer.
The fuel cost us INR 10, 000 (USD 135) extra for a little over 1000 km of driving. Cheap, if you ask me.
The per person pricing, thus, was only INR 12, 500 (USD 170) for transport for a week in Switzerland. An 8-day flexi travel pass, on the other hand, is 3 times as costly. Here you go – Switzerland on a budget!
3. What about in-city transport?
If you have a car, your transport is taken care of, even within cities. We drove within Zurich, Lucerne, Bern very comfortably and found parking almost everywhere.
If at all you feel wary of driving within the cities, not to fret. The Swiss government offers free metro/ tram/ bus rides to travellers in various cities like Geneva, Basel, Lucerne, Lausanne, and Bern. All you need to do is stay in a hotel or guesthouse to get the same. Wherever your itinerary is taking you, check to see if this is available.
That’s not it – a lot of cities and remote cantons (like Canton of Valais) give out bicycles for free. Get some exercise and fitness in while exploring the region, without paying a penny.
The food bills will hit you in the gut if you go on a complete vacation mode in Switzerland. Be warned about doing this if traveling Switzerland on a budget.
Being an incredibly developed country with a lot of food resources available locally, keeping it in check isn’t all that hard either.
- Water – Do not order water at a restaurant, no matter how big or small. In some places, the “glass” bottles come at prices like 14 Euros, costlier than the best brews. On the bright side, tap water is completely drinkable and all locals use it in their everyday lives.
- Grocery Shop Meals – Supermarket chains like Migros and COOP are peppered all along Switzerland, even in the mountain villages. Pick up packed meals that only need to be microwaved or pre-marinated veggies/ meat that needs a few minutes in the oven. All supermarkets also have a bread/ bakery section where you could get croissants, pies, and salads at affordable prices.
- Eat @ ASS-bars – ASS-bar is a chain that sells baked goods from “yesterday” in various Swiss cities, items that would be binned otherwise. Initiated in Zurich, the concept has spread like wildfire as the food is hygienic/ fresh, cheap, and resource-friendly at the same time. Basel, Lucerne, Winterthur, Fribourg, Zurich, St. Gallen are among some of the places with an outlet.
- Eat what’s local – This may sound very basic but it is one that is extremely important. Switzerland is the home of dairy products, ranging from cheese to chocolates. As long as you consume products made from these, the money will remain in your wallet. You could skip a languid lunch and munch on cheese and drink milk products or have some chocolates for breakfast. It’s Switzerland, give that diet plan a break?
- Carry comfort foods – Take a leaf out of our parents’ travel books and carry comfort food to cook, while in Switzerland. Items like rice, cookies, crackers, instant noodles will do a world of good. Though we’re on the “be a Roman in Rome” brigade generally, we made this exception in Switzerland given the pricing and ordinary food choices.
Sights & Experiences
Most travelers to Switzerland, especially Indian families, are smitten by the idea of going to Jungfraujoch (Top of Europe) or taking the cableway to Mt. Titlis among others. There’s no denying that these are beautiful places but the costs of such experiences are well beyond the ordinary, priced at INR 15,000+ (200 USD+) per person.
Sometimes, it is ok to splurge on experiences. But, honestly, these are not worth it. They’re over-touristed, massively crowded, and have almost nothing local about it (There’s a vada pav shop up in Jungfrau, for crying out loud).
So, re-consider the experiences you want to have beyond the free stuff that’s available. Here are some experiences that we think is worth spending on.
- Le Cailler Chocolate Factory, Gruyeres (Includes an unlimited chocolate tasting room)
- Rhine Falls, Schaffhausen
- Lake Blausee (Crystal clear waters in an alpine setting)
- Glacier 3000, Les Diablerets (Ideal replacement for Jungfrau, at ⅓ rd price)
And, here is a list of others that are entirely free and equally (or even more) worth visiting. A key tip to remember when traveling in Switzerland on a budget.
- A picnic in the lakeside town of Spiez
- Free walking tours of various cities, like Lucerne (Only tips to be given)
- Staubbach falls in Lauterbrunnen
- Waterfall/summit hikes in Adelboden
- Tours of the old town in Bern or the fortified Murten
- Hiking the Swiss National Park, from Zernez (Some of the best trails, for free!)
- Museums on specific days. For eg, Kunsthaus Zurich is free on Wednesdays
1. Apartment/ Chalets
For most of the trip, we stayed in small B&Bs or chalets that came furnished with a kitchen. Not only does it provide a very authentic local experience but also ensures that you have the amenities required to make a meal by yourself.
A few things to keep in mind while booking apartments are:
- The views – Switzerland is stunning from any direction you look and the best “experience” to embark on is to absorb the pristine vistas from the comfort of your room. This doesn’t have to mean that you book out a resort, but just make sure you’re getting a room facing the right way.
- Kitchen access – Straightforward but make sure that there are no restrictions on this.
- On-site parking – Not that parking in Switzerland is hard to find but you wouldn’t want to be driving far from your apartment to get a space.
- Proximity to supermarkets – Unless you’re well-stocked and uber prepared for remote living, avoid living in chalets that are far from a COOP / Migros store or a restaurant.
Whether you want to live the “real” Switzerland, re-enact a Bollywood flick, or just save costs, farm holidays will fit the bill. From simple chalet accommodations in farms to the option of sleeping on straws inside a barn, there are plenty of options curated by Agrotourism Switzerland.
Most stays also come with a breakfast made of fresh local produce, the opportunity to interact with the farmers and their families, and deep dive into the culture of Switzerland. There are also complete packages available that include experiences like horse riding, riding tractors, and milking cows – pure fun.
If you’re not one to shy away from an adventure, summer/spring time brings in camping options in plenty with more than 200 campsites strewn across the country. These are typically sites that let you pitch your own tent and park your caravan if you’re traveling in one.
4. Youth Hostels
Run by Hostelling International, the youth hostels in Switzerland are among the finest you’ll see in the world. From modern urban hostels in the city centre to rooms within medieval era towers, the range is exquisite. If you have a Hostelling International membership, the discounts are huge (a smart idea if you’re a regular hostel user, although the quality of youth hostels aren’t the same everywhere).
We stayed at a Youth Hostel in Bern and loved it. We were extremely unsure of taking our parents into a youth hostel, but even they had a great time.
So, how much did the total trip cost us?
We spent a combined total of INR 1, 10, 000 (1500 USD) per person during our 10-days in Switzerland (and Paris). This is end-to-end, including flights.
While this was very expensive for us compared to our usual jaunts, we were happy to have managed an expensive country like Switzerland on a budget. It is important to note that we did not go for almost any paid experience during the entire trip, though. If you do, the costs will climb significantly.
If the pristine lakes, the rolling hills, and the dreamy alpine backgrounds are calling you to the Alps, you could consider hopping on a flight there even if you haven’t saved up in plenty for it. A lot of times, we were pinching ourselves to tell that the views are real for they seemed too perfect to be true.