If you’re dreaming of traveling to Switzerland, and its pricey reputation is the only thing that’s keeping you – then this article is for you.
Switzerland didn’t earn its famous reputation from nothing – it is one of the most expensive countries in the World, after all. The cost of living, the cost of real-estate, food and transportation, is one of the highest on the Planet. But is it still possible to travel to this gorgeous country without robbing a bank? Let’s find out!
1. Book your train tickets in advance – at 50% off!
[Approximate exchange rates (2016): 100 CHF = 100 USD = 90 Euros]
We all heard that traveling on a train in Switzerland can be very expensive. But the great news is that it doesn’t really have to be! If you book your tickets in advance (and by ‘in advance’ we mean at minimum 2-3 days earlier), you can find some awesome deals at great discounts! Sounds easy, huh? Well, there are some cons:
- you have to print your tickets at home (or in your hotel, etc.) on an A4 paper. You cannot print them out using a ticket vending machine at a train station, nor use your phone (i.e. an e-voucher).
- you cannot change the date or the time of your departure. You have to get on the train for which you booked your ticket.
And, here are some other things that you should know:
- the earlier you buy your tickets – the cheaper they are; but the earliest you can buy them – is one month in advance.
- 2nd class seats are nice, comfortable, clean; in fact some 1st class train seats in other countries are worse than the 2nd class train seats in Switzerland!
- you do not have to select a seat on a regional train; you can just pick any seat (corresponding to your ticket’s class).
- the train’s platform numbers (from which the train will be departing and arriving to) are specified on your ticket, so you don’t have to search for it on a station’s monitor.
- trains run on the dot (hello, this is Switzerland!), so make sure that you arrive there at least 10 minutes earlier.
Important note: all these rules apply to regional trains only (those that travel within Switzerland); trains traveling to other countries might have completely different rules.
How to book your train ticket: 🎟
- Go to the official website: https://www.sbb.ch/ticketshop/b2c/sprache.do?en
- Select your ticket type (i.e. individual ticket, multiple-journey, etc.)
- Fill out the journey info: “to”, “from”, select the “date”; then click ‘next’.
- Select class (1st or 2nd); journey type (one-way or round-trip); fill out your name and date of birth (in a MM/DD/YEAR format); choose your “reduction type” (applicable if you’re traveling with kids, or if you have purchased a separate discount travel card), if none of those apply – select “no reduction”; then click “next”.
- You will now be redirected to the screen below, where you will find multiple price options (i.e. “Individual ticket for Switzerland” at a full price; OR “Supersaver ticket, save up to 50%” at a discount):
- Select “Supersaver ticket, save up to 50%” and choose the time (the price corresponding to a different time schedule is the final price that you will pay); then click next.
- Create an account or choose to “Continue without logging in”, click next.
- Fill out your personal data. Checkout. Pay for your ticket. Print it. Put it in your wallet. And you’re good to go!
2. Buy your food at a local supermarket
There are two main national supermarket chains in Switzerland: COOP and Migros. And they sell pretty much everything (at very affordable, if not low, prices) – from sandwiches, salads, fruits and vegetables, and ready take-out food, to sushi and musli (which is a popular breakfast choice in this country). Don’t feel like spending 60-100 CHF for a meal at a local restaurant? Buy your food here then, and you will save a lot.
3. Stay at a local home
Though we do not work for Airbnb, and cannot comment whether they are the “best” on the market, or even on its company practices – renting a room, or a private apartment through them is a great option to save a ton of money on the accommodations in Switzerland. Hotel prices in Switzerland range from “high” to simply “unaffordable”, and the local Airbnb homes can be the best option. So if you have never used them before, you might as well give them a try now.
P.S. Our own Editors have used Airbnb in Switzerland before, and had nothing but the best things to say about the local hosts and the accommodations!
4. Save on taxis – use a tram
Switzerland is one of the most connected and advanced countries in the World – it has pretty much everything in its transportation network: trams, busses, metros and trains, airports and planes, and of course the ubiquitous taxis. But why splurge on a taxi when you can just as well take a local tram? All that you have to do is open a Google Map, search your destination’s address and add your arriving location (i.e. from point A to B) and wait to see the result. Google Map will not only provide you with the tram number, the stop names that you have to get on and off from, but also its schedule down to the minutes.
You can purchase your tram pass at a multilingual ticket vending machine, conveniently located at each stop. If you’re traveling within the city limits – you can buy the “short-distance” ticket (the first option on the list), which costs around 2.50 CHF in Bern, and 2.60 in Zurich, in 2016.
5. Don’t book a tour – explore on your own
Since we already covered that you can book a train ticket at a huge discount, to pretty much any destination within Switzerland – why not take one to explore the place of your choice? Any organized tour will almost always be a pricier option than going for it alone. All that you have to do – is research your destination, book your train tickets (as explained above), use a Google Map (you can download an “offline” map in advance, in case you won’t have wifi on you) and go!
Switzerland is a very safe, modern, and easy to navigate country, and there’s really nothing that can prevent you from exploring it in full (not even its “high” cost, since this article is here to help you!)
6. Pack smart before you go!
There will always be some unavoidable extra expenses (such as that delicious chocolate bar or an ice cream cone) but do not let that happen to your basic necessities. Switzerland is a mountainous country, where you might run into snow even in the middle of a hot Summer season, so do pack that extra sweater, and maybe even a hat with gloves, well because – who knows?
7. Buy your souvenirs… at a local supermarket
Yep, that’s right – you can buy your souvenirs at a local supermarket, at a price way below those overpriced touristic shops. If you’re not convinced yet – the price of a small, average postcard is 1 -1.20 CHF per item, and the price of an average magnet is 7-8 CHF at a regular souvenir shop. That’s almost double (or even triple) the price from other countries. Some of the local supermarkets that sell cheaper souvenirs, include: Loeb and Manor. You might want to ‘google map’ them.
Everyone, that is – those who live in Switzerland, know that every fountain in the country produces, crystal-clear, drinkable water that is… free of charge to anyone! All you have to do is actually – bring your own bottle. There are over 1,200 fountains in Zurich alone, so if there’s one thing that you will never run out of in Switzerland – it’s water.
9. Travel off-season
If you haven’t booked your tickets to Switzerland yet – then this advice will be handy. Everything is always cheaper in the off-season, from the train tickets to accommodations, and if climate is your only concern – then travel in a so-called “shoulder season” (i.e. April-May; mid-September-October, when the weather is still “doable”). In addition to sparing your bank account from going into default – you will escape the hordes of tourists that crowd every popular touristic attraction, saving you not only money, but also time (who wants to stand in line for hours?).
10. Buy a museum pass
And finally, if you are planning on traveling in Switzerland for awhile (and after reading this post – why not?), you might consider investing in a Swiss Museum Pass that’s valid for a whole year! The price of this utility is quite steep – 166 CHF per person or 288 CHF per family (including 2 adults, and up to 5 children) but if you’re aiming on visiting every museum in all of the major towns, it’s definitely worth it! Check out the full list of the participating museums on the official website, where you can also purchase this pass.
Let’s summarize the average prices for 2016:
- A train ticket between the main cities – from 12.50 to 25 CHF each way (after a 50% discount).
- An Airbnb accommodation – from 40 to 60 CHF per night.
- A sandwich at a local supermarket: 3.70-4.80 CHF
- A bottle of water at a local supermarket: 2-3 CHF; at a local fountain – free.
- A tram ride: 2.50-2.60 CHF each way
As you can finally see – traveling in Switzerland on a budget is definitely possible, and its reputation for being one of the most expensive countries in the World should no longer be the main factor you consider when booking a flight to this beautiful country.
Happy travels! ✈️💙