Switzerland budget travel tips are important in one of the most expensive countries in the world! After 6 trips (3 with kids) to the land of Alps and Chocolate, I have 10 Switzerland budget travel tips to help make your trip more affordable. Using these tips, our most recent trip in August of 2021 of 9 days in Switzerland cost our family of 4 less than 5 days at Disney World.
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1. Drink the Tap Water!
As the sign in our Zurich Marriott hotel room said, it’s “clean, healthy, 0 plastic, fresh, organic, safe to drink, tap water!” Water in Switzerland is some of the best in the world (and is often bottled and sold for lots of $$) Bring a reusable water bottle with you everywhere you go, city or Alps, and fill up on the water fountains. My kids love taking turns filling up the crisp mountain water and the savings add up!
Bonus Tip: We used our Marriott Bonvoy points to stay in this beautiful hotel for one night on our way to the airport for free. Super helpful because Zürich hotels are notoriously expensive.
2. Buy Souvenirs at Grocery Stores
There is no shortage of souvenir shops and gift shops in the tourist areas, but the costs can be high. In 2021, I saw postcards for 3 Francs, Cow Bells for 13 Francs and keychains for 20 Francs. But check out the grocery stores for a Switzerland budget travel hack. Many Aldi Suisse, Coop and Migros grocery chains have full aisles of Swiss chocolate, treats, souvenirs and more. On our recent trip, I bought Alpine Tea and Alpine Salt for presents to take back home to our family for under 3 francs each…as well as 15 bars of amazing Swiss chocolate!
3. Shop at Budget Grocery Stores in Switzerland when Traveling
Eating out is one of the main expenses on a trip to Switzerland and I cannot recommend Aldi Suisse enough. We even plan our Switzerland itinerary based on Aldi locations! (Aldi Suisse Interlaken holds a special place in my heart as we’ve visited in 2017, 2019 and 2021!) The produce is extremely fresh and there are many organic options which are marked “Bio” in German with a ladybug symbol. We usually buy frozen schnitzel, pasta, fresh bread, granola bars for hiking and all the fruit and veggies we want before driving into the Jungfrau region.
4. Eat Out Less by staying in an Apartment Rental
Eating out as a family while in Switzerland was expensive no matter where we went! At a sit-down restaurant it usually cost around $80-$100 USD even if not fancy. I saw a regular pizza in Grindelwald for 24 Swiss Francs so even take out can add up! For our family, the best way to reduce costs was to find an apartment rental via Airbnb and Booking.com. We ate all our breakfasts and most of our dinners at the apartment. We usually ate simple lunches out on the mountains if we were hiking or in a town if we were visiting. Usually bratwurst, schnitzel or pizza which could be anywhere from $8-$20 per entrée.
5. Bring Your Own Coffee & Hygiene Products
Along with meals, we brought out own travel coffee mug and made our own coffee each morning. (We use this Fellow mug every day at home in Virginia and in Switzerland and it worked great! Swiss coffee is good but is so expensive! An espresso was never less than 2.50 CHF and on the mountains in Jungfrau it was once $4.50 for a single espresso! (After a long hike, it was a needed splurge but glad to not pay that every day!)
For most places we’ve traveled, I have a “buy I there” approach. I buy diapers, shampoo, sunscreen if I need there to save room to pack light. But in Switzerland, those items can be more expensive than in the US or even other parts of Europe. I read an article that it’s because of less competition. So especially for lotion, shampoos, etc. I would suggest bringing your essentials with you. Everything is available in Switzerland, but it can add up!
6. Rail/Gondola Up, Hike Down – Important Switzerland Budget Travel Tip
Speaking of mountains, a great way to save money is to take the train or gondola up and then hike down a mountain. 2 great spots to do this is from the car-less town of Wengen to Lauterbrunnen Valley (approximately 1 hour) or from Kleine Shidig to Wengen (1.5 hour hike along the ridge). Rail tickets can range from 13-40 CHF per ticket in some places so hiking down can save you half the fare!
7. Research Special Rail Passes to save money in Switzerland
The Swiss rail system is world renowned and not to be missed! The trains run are run extremely efficiently and get you anywhere in the country, including the top of Europe! They can get expensive so check out the special passes they offer to see if they will save you money. The good news is usually that children 5 and under are free and some of the passes are extremely reduced for kids under 12. I’ll write a whole blog post on this soon but Rick Steves has a great outline here for more info on the different passes.
8. Research Car Rental – Switzerland Budget Travel Tip for Families
Renting a car was actually much cheaper for our family during the last 3 trips we took. It was also much more convenient to have a ‘home base’ for our stuff and car seats rather than hauling to each train.
Note: Swiss Rental Car companies are sticklers for any scratch or damage to their cars. I’ve seen them take white gloves to cars when they return to find scratches so make sure you inspect your car before you drive off and take pictures and point out any scratches.
9. Stay Outside the Main Cities
Another pre-travel budget tip for Switzerland is to stay outside of the main tourist centers. This is true anywhere in the world but especially true in Switzerland. The main cities of Zurich and Geneva and the tourist centers of Interlaken and Grindelwald in the Alps are very expensive. Staying just outside can save you significantly less and you might get a larger apartment. Below are some ideas:
- Zurich: Zurich Renaissance Zurich Tower Hotel $399 a night for a family of 4 (very nice and have stayed there before) but staying at Novotel Zurich West is $196 a night for a family of 4 and just an 8 minute drive to the heart of the city.
- In the Alps: My favorite hostel in the world Valley Hostel in Lauterbrunnen Valley is still expensive at $159 for a family room with shared restroom but you can get an entire apartment just 30 minutes away in Interlaken for $150 at Residence Jungfrau. (all prices are approximate and I looked at dates in October so different months will be different!)
10. Use Mileage Points or Book in Advance
Unfortunately, there is no easy Switzerland budget travel tips for flights. Our 3 trips with kids were all booked with points on United. We opened the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card and used the 40k bonus points. Twice we have used United points to book a 3-point trip. Meaning that we booked DC to Scotland, used Ryan Scotland to Switzerland and then Switzerland back to DC.
Beyond points, the best deals I’ve seen for tickets have all been far in advance, so time is your friend. I love Scott’s Cheap Flights to share cheap flights. It is a 100% free email newsletter that sends out cheap flights from your preferred airports.
There you have it, my tips for making a budget trip to Switzerland! Some small like drinking the delicious tap water, and some much larger savings. I would love to hear if you’ve been to Switzerland and if you have any budget tips or crazy expensive stories like the $7 instant ramen on top of First Mountain! I’ll be writing more about our trip and updating here.