Let me begin by breaking the myth.
Switzerland isn’t as expensive as most people make it out to be.
It’s not cheap either, but when you think about train travel and food, prices resemble that of most Western European countries.
What’s more important is that unlike some of the other Western European countries, Switzerland offers its visitors ample options to help save money. Some of the ways to save money in Switzerland are particularly for tourists, while others are just their way of giving back to the people.
Across Switzerland, you can drink tap water – unless otherwise specified – without thinking twice about it.
What’s even more interesting is that the Swiss have fountains everywhere, which are not just “water features” but they also deliver fresh cool drinkable water. When looking for free things to do in Switzerland, checking out all the fantastic drinkable water fountains should be on the top of your list. They really do come in all shapes and sizes.
During our three-week trip travelling around Switzerland, I – along with my wife and our two kids aged 8 and 2 years – had water from taps and fountains without any issues.
So, just remember to carry empty bottles with you and fill them up using the fountains and taps across the country.
Swiss Travel Pass
Even though Switzerland Tourism is promoting self-drive holidays, and they have the roads to back that up, when travelling with small kids, it is a lot easier to explore and enjoy Switzerland by train.
The country has an amazingly intricate railway system, and it takes you through beautiful villages and towns via the most scenic routes I’ve ever seen in my life.
Now, train rides are expensive in Switzerland, but they have enough options for tourists, especially those spending some time travelling in the country, to make the transportation gentler on be pocket.
The Swiss Travel Pass is a great way to save money in Switzerland and comes with a multitude of options – consecutive days, flexible dates, flexi discount, various travel days – and on top of that you get a Museum Pass – at no extra cost – which lets you enter close to 490 museums across Switzerland for free.
The Travel Pass also makes those mountain railways and cable car rides cheaper by up to 50% making the entire cost of the pass totally worth it even on days you don’t take trains. In fact, some of the funicular rails are also included in the pass.
Wait! There more…
If you happen to be travelling with kids, ages up to 6 are free as it is, but get the Family Card – free again when buying an adult Swiss Rail Pass – and kids from 6 to 15 years can also travel for free with one parent accompanying.
You can also use the Swiss Rail Pass on Swiss boats and ferries, like we did, to not only travel from Vevey to Lausanne but also hop across the Lac Léman and into Evian, France.
Eating out is always expensive, and Switzerland is no different. Their emphasis on fresh and local – which equals to delicious – food also means at times the consumer has to spend a little more.
Michelin starred restaurants aside, a meal per person can cost roughly CHF 25,- which isn’t bad, but can certainly add up to the overall cost of your vacation especially if you’re a travelling family and one that is full of food enthusiasts.
However, if you want to save on food in Switzerland, try these options;
If breakfast isn’t included in your stay and/or for lunch and dinner too, try making your own food, which means buying some ingredients from the supermarket – They have Coop or Migros almost everywhere – and cooking it. It does mean planning your stay so that your rooms have some sort of a kitchenette.
You can also make the most of farmers’ markets that are set up once or twice a week – The one in Vevey is a personal favourite. It’s an excellent way to promote the locals as well as seek delicacies that are particular to the region you are in. Moreover, you can get amazing fresh food and at competitive prices too.
With a lot of train travel during the daytime, we would always make sandwiches for the kids and keep snacks handy that covered our lunch after a big and hearty breakfast.
If you must eat out, here’s a little secret; most restaurants and food courts either have a discount for kids or have a kids menu. If you’re just adults travelling, you can still go for the “kinder menu” because their quantities are massive. We found the kid portion of the spaghetti and pizza – at different places – to be of roughly the same size as the adult version we get here at home.
Make Most of the “Free” Nature & Culture
What impressed me most about Switzerland was that natural beauty is all around and one simply has to look out, to make the most of it. Look out of your airplane window, your hotel room, the moment you get out of the door, or through the panoramic windows in trains; there’s something wonderful to view all the time, and there’s no charge for it.
But, if you really want to enjoy nature and save money in the process as well, then go to Switzerland prepared to walk.
Tickets to and from many viewpoints across the country can be costly, especially if you’re not using the Swiss Travel Pass. To save money, you can take a one-way ticket to the top – which means cutting the cost in half – and enjoy the nature, get some fresh air, and that much-needed workout by walking back down. This works best for the smaller lookout points unless you’re a professional hiker and can manage the more immense mountains too.
A special tip for families
Switzerland is amazingly kid-friendly. They love kids, and everything for children is almost free. Several excursions, train rides, gondolas up the mountains, boat rides, all are either free or heavily discounted.
What’s more, the Swiss take their land utilisation very seriously, and you will find parks with swings and slides everywhere for children to enjoy. In fact, these parks are so much in abundance that we had the hardest time trying to keep our kids away from them to do the most basic of sightseeing.
Culturally, Switzerland has an amazing lot to offer. Having five countries neighbouring it, depending on where you are in Switzerland, you are bound to see a beautiful amalgamation of rituals and art.
The coming down of the cows, the cathedrals, the architecture, street art, the fountains, you don’t have to spend a penny – except for actually getting there – to appreciate and view some of the most beautiful and colourful buildings and art installations that can be found in cities, towns, and villages.
The Swiss adore art and architecture, and it’s apparent when you walk anywhere and come across amazing street art or beautiful street signs. And they love to preserve their heritage and history, so going to the “old town” be it in Geneva or Bern is a must.
Tourism Offices and Home-stays/Smaller hotels
Switzerland has one of the most informative and expansive tourism networks I’ve ever come across. Each region has separate offices, social media accounts, websites so that you can really get detailed information about the places you plan on visiting. I found Switzerland Tourism to be extremely helpful and quick with replies. Not making the most of this abundant free information would be a grave mistake on your part.
While you’re at it, search for regional home-stays and small hotels that might not be listed on websites, or even if they are, contact them directly and see if you can get a better rate. For example, many people in Zermatt rent out their apartments during the summer months at cheap prices. We got a beautiful studio apartment perfect for our family of four this way.
Other options that can add a hint of adventure to your holiday is trying something different, like staying at a campground – a five star one nonetheless – for a few days, like we did in Lauterbrunnen, giving the children a whole different outlook and experience.
Switzerland makes it easy for you to enjoy your stay by being extremely tourist friendly. The people are helpful, and especially when travelling with kids, they go out of their way to be accommodating.
Missing out on this beautiful nation worrying about the cost is definitely not something you should consider. All that’s required is a little ingenuity, some research, and you’ll be surprised to find how easily you can travel throughout Switzerland without spending too much, which means you get left all the more for those lovely Swiss souvenirs including, but not limited to, wine and cheese.