Switzerland is known for being a particularly expensive travel destination. I met many people making a stop in Switzerland for a few days as they traveled throughout Europe, who would complain about the high costs of food and attractions. This is understandable, as you can easily drop CHF 35 on a casual dinner or CHF 15-20 on a mojito (yes, I actually saw this happening). However, with a combination of the Swiss Travel Pass, shopping for groceries rather than going out to eat, and staying at hostels, suddenly this beautiful and jaw-dropping destination actually feels do-able.
For starters, my travel partner and I each bought a 2nd class 15 day Swiss pass for CHF 458. Though this was a lot of money to fork over up front, it paid off in dividends the entire trip. We estimated that the pass paid for itself within several days, and it encouraged us to see sights we otherwise wouldn’t have. It covers train fare, bus fare, over 490 museums and attractions, and some boat rides. Some other forms of transportation (that cogwheel train you’ve been dying to go on) are 50 percent off. Here are just a handful of the activities we used it on:
Unlimited train fare, including some Golden Pass panoramic train rides
Boat trips on Lake Zurich and Lake Lucerne
Discounts at Mt. Pilatus
Swiss National Museum
Chateau de Chillon
Boat trip on Lake Thun and admission to castles on the lake (Schloss Thun Museum,
Oberhofen Castle, Schloss Spiez)
Basel Historical Museum
Swiss Alpine Museum
Alpineum (though you should skip this one unless you like the smell of mildew)
We personally didn’t need the Swiss flexi pass, which is more expensive but allows you to travel on non-consecutive days. Learn more about the Swiss Travel Pass options here: https://www.swiss-pass.ch
When it comes to food, I became BFFs with grocery stores Migros and Co-op, which seem to be everywhere. Their prepared food was reasonably priced for quick and easy breakfasts and lunches, and we often got supplies to make dinner in the hostel kitchens. While a lot of the alcohol in Switzerland is pricey, it was never too difficult to find a cheap bottle of Swiss Reisling for around CHF 6 in the grocery store. And yes, they do make some wine in Switzerland (they just drink it instead of exporting it). When you do go out to eat, you can opt for take away at a lesser price if you don’t mind dining elsewhere. Lastly, a casual chain restaurant called Manora
(often located above or adjacent to a department store) is an affordable dining option when in a pinch.
As for accommodations, we had decent luck with hostels and definitely saved money doing this. After all, we were out exploring for most of our trip anyway. Here’s where we stayed. Keep in mind that each of these hostels had kitchen access and lockers, which were “musts” for us.
Zurich: City Backpacker/Hotel Biber
Pros: Great location, beautiful rooftop terrace, room overlooked some city bustle (could be a pro or con depending on your perspective)
Cons: Six person room was pretty small, exhibitionist in apartment complex across the street
Views from the terrace and Hostel room:
Basel: YMCA Hostel Basel
Pros: Relatively large rooms, clean and quiet, fun courtyard to hang out in, free coffee & tea
Lucerne: Bellpark Hostel
Pros: Free fried rice for breakfast, our room had a private bathroom and great views of the mountains, nice little park nearby
View from our room at the Bellpark Hostel:
Bern: Bern Backpackers Hotel Glocke
Pros: Central location, nice large common area, free bus pass provided (though we didn’t need it because we had Swiss Travel Passes)
Interlaken: Balmer’s Herberge
This one is definitely a party Hostel, complete with a nightclub downstairs. I found the whole thing hilarious but was glad when we were leaving.
Pros: They held a 4th of July party, common area was adorable and fun to spend time in
Cons: Noisy, hot in room (it was unseasonably warm at the time), room was small for the number of people in it
Geneva: City Hostel Geneva
Pros: Quiet, they give you little soaps
Cons: It was hot in our room but they gave us a fan
I highly recommend making Switzerland a destination rather than a short stop. And with a few concessions, you probably won’t spend much more than you would on an alternative European trip. Looking for more Switzerland travel tips? Subscribe to Suitcase Envy!