Switzerland is one of those once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list-worthy types of trips so of course you want to make the most of it. That said, it’s not the most affordable destination out there. While the country may have a reputation for breaking the bank [Editor's Note: Switzerland uses Swiss Francs for their main currency, not euros], you'd be surprised by how many budget alternatives are available. Here are six of my best tips for sticking to your budget and still having the best trip ever.
Visit during the off-season
Like any destination, traveling off-season will likely save you money. Not only are flights less expensive but hotel rates are lower, too. In Switzerland, high season is from July through mid-September and since Switzerland is also a top ski destination, December and January are popular months, too. If you’re not a fan of cold weather, shoot for either late spring or early summer. You’ll still be able to experience nice weather without the crazy crowds. For skiers, book your trip after New Years.
Buy a Swiss Pass
If you’re planning a multi-city trip (and even if you’re not), the Swiss Pass will likely save you a good chunk of change. In a nutshell, the pass offers unlimited travel on trains, busses, and boats. There are a few options depending on how long you plan to be in Switzerland including 3, 4, 8, or 15 consecutive day passes. Another major perk of investing in the Swiss Pass is that it grants you free access to 480 museums plus discounts to other touristic attractions. All in all, it’s a major money saver.
Shop at local markets
There’s no way around it; Swiss dining is pricey. Instead of splurging on three decadent meals a day, take advantage of local markets. There are open-air markets in just about every major city, each selling local produce like fruits, vegetables, cheese, meats, and bread among other treats. In some cases, you can even sample wine or buy a glass for about $6. Grocery stores in Switzerland are top-tier and affordable, especially Coop and Migros. When you do eat out, opt for bars and cafés.
Find free activities
Depending on when you visit, there are plenty of outdoor activities that don’t cost a thing. In Bern, for example, it’s free to swim in the River Aare. The water is chilly and the current strong, but on a hot summer day, it’s instantly refreshing. Picnics are another great way to enjoy the Swiss landscapes. Look for gardens with a city view, like the Rosengarten (rose garden) in Bern. For something a little more adventures, take a hike, literally! There is no shortage of trails in Switzerland.
Know your options
While spur-of-the-moment trips are certainly thrilling, they might result in unexpected costs. Researching ahead of time ensures that you know all of your options and can make the smartest decisions. When searching for hostels, hotels, or homestays, find out if breakfast and Wi-Fi are included. These perks can help cut daily costs. Similarly, it never hurts to ask your hotel for a ride. Some hotels offer complimentary shuttles to and from the airport or the train station.
Packing can be a pain but don’t just throw random items into your suitcase and hope for the best. Shopping in Switzerland isn’t cheap and you’ll want to avoid that at all costs (pun intended)! For winter trips, bring along your own sports gear. That way, when you hit the slopes, you’ll only need ski rentals. For summer stays, pack sunscreen and any medications you might need while on the road. Pharmacies are everywhere but prices are higher than what you are probably used to back home.