How to Travel Switzerland on a Budget

family standing on top of mountain

Do you want to travel SWITZERLAND on a budget, but all you have ever heard is how insanely expensive it is?

Let me help you here. I will show you how YOU and your family can…

Travel Switzerland on a Budget

Breathtaking Alpine views, where the rich pay millions to have their houses built and railway journeys that make you feel like you’re in a children’s fairytale book will all be memories to take home after a trip to Switzerland on a budget.

Visiting Switzerland’s dramatic landscapes, (and it is full of them), is no longer out of your reach. Lush green rolling hills, quaint little chalets surrounded by free roaming cows, alpine lakes that leave you in awe and to be eating some of the worlds best chocolate, and of course cheese.

“All you need is to plan a bit better, use some clever timing and the know-how of finding cheap or free things to do.”

And this is why this guide on “How to travel Switzerland on a budget” will be your best friend and all you need for a successful trip through Switzerland on a budget.

family be mountain lake

Beautiful Hike in Valais Switzerland :: lac Cleuson

Switzerland on a Budget vs other Countries

Switzerland is deservedly at the top of every “Most Expensive Country in the World” list, which makes it exceedingly difficult to travel Switzerland on a budget. So, I do hear you when your thoughts are that you will not be able to travel Switzerland on a budget. BUT…

In spring 2019 we travelled through Western Canada and Nothern America and we were absolutely shocked at the prices we encountered in both countries. We kind of knew that Canada will be more expensive than the USA, so we were prepared. Canada is pretty much in line with Switzerland on food, accommodation and activities. Are you surprised?

And the USA, if you do not want to eat fast food every single day, then it holds pretty much in line also with Switzerland on the restaurant food front. A normal pizza for 22 US dollars, well I can find this in Switzerland, even cheaper.

I just wanted to mention this, so you can already start to understand that it will be possible to travel Switzerland on a budget.

I agree, supermarket food in the US is way cheaper than in Switzerland and this is why Switzerland most probably stays in a higher position in the expensive country list.

kids looking over lake

View down over Lucerne area from Stanserhorn :: Switzerland

So how do you visit one of the most expensive countries in the world without breaking the bank?

I will be honest with you, it will not be as cheap as Asia but travelling Switzerland on a budget is easier than you think.

Here are our helpful tips from locals, us, to keep more money in your pocket whilst travelling Switzerland on a budget.

You may not like this, but you might need to skip a few things you have already added in to your perfect Swiss Itinerary.
There are some areas and attractions which are priced way over the top and simply cannot fit into a travel Switzerland on a budget trip. But this does not mean you will miss out on beautiful areas, not at all, this means you simply get to go to lesser crowded places, have amazing views and keep your money in your pocket. Win Win situation, right?

family on a viewpoint

looking down on Lac Noir – Tracouet in Valais Switzerland

Here are our suggestions on how to…

Travel Switzerland on a Budget

Spend More Time in One Place

Switzerland is a tiny country. Driving 4-5 hours will bring you pretty much across the entire country depending on your base location. For a shorter stay in Switzerland consider setting up a home base for yourself and your family in one area and explore the rest of the country from there.

Accommodation prices are normally becoming cheaper per the night, if you book for several nights. This typically holds true whether you’re staying at a hotel, hostel, AirBnB etc.

Depending on your time you have here in Switzerland I strongly suggest you group it together. For a 2 weeks travel through Switzerland on a budget, you might want to stay in a maximum of two or three different areas.

Such as;

North-West part like Jura, followed by the South-West part the Valais and lastly South-East part the Ticino area or Grison/Engadine.
In all of these three places you could easily spend months and you would not run out of things to do. But I understand also that you might want to get a feel of each area so you can come back another time to your favourite section of Switzerland and explore it fully.
And if you really have more time squeeze in the North-East part as well.

mountain view in Switzerland

View over part of the Valais from Vercorin

Which Accommodation when you Travel Switzerland on a Budget?

Needless to say you won’t find the luxury hotels in this list. But the quaint, family run and friendly places.

Youth Hostels

Don’t be against them right away, Switzerland has some of the best Youth Hostels in the world. It is not all shabby dorms and communal bathrooms. They have family rooms with 4-6 beds en-suite; most of the time breakfast is included and many offer inexpensive meals as well.

You can find a bed for as little as Sfr 35.- per person onwards. Children pay less and they can give you a very relaxed family atmosphere.

How does sleeping in a castle sound? Check out Bern’s Schloss BurgdorfOr if you would rather like to stay under palm trees, then maybe Lugano’s Hotel & Hostel Montarina is more your taste. Jura’s Le Bémont Youth Hostel or maybe stay central in Engelberg’s Berghaus Family Hostel

They all offer something special like a pink Villa from the 1860’s complete with swimming pool and palm-fringed gardens. Browse though their website and hopefully you find one that calls your name.

Good to know. If you’re staying longer in Switzerland you may want to get their member card for extra discounts. 

traditionell chalets

Valais houses in Evolene

Reka Villages

Reka Holiday Villages are a bit more for families that need some activities planned and maybe even a child care facility.

Reka Villages offer the perfect conditions for family holidays thanks to indoor or outdoor pools, Rekalino family programmes with free childcare and extensive games areas. Parents can really relax while their children have fun!

Camping

Depending on the time of year you will travel you can find some of the finest campgrounds dotted all over Switzerland. If you do not have a tent, some have cabins, teepees and wagons to rent as well, plus all the essentials you need to have a fun family camping night under the stars.

Expect to pay around Chf 10 per person and about Chf 15 to pitch a tent. More for campgrounds with a lot of activities, but honestly do you need activities provided when you travel Switzerland on a budget and it’s beautiful back garden awaits and is free?

Camping is not for everyone, but if you are travelling with your gear in the boot and you do see a nice location somewhere away, go and ask the nearby farmer whether he minds you pitching your tent on his ground.

Remember if you do not ask you will never know. If you can “officially”  wild camp once or twice during your trip, you can add this saved money towards a more expensive activity.

Note, it is forbidden to wild camp in Switzerland without permission of the land owner just so we do understand each other.

Browse through these websites for more information, locations and prices

www.tcs.chwww.camping.ch and www.sccv.ch 

camping tent at night

Budget Accommodation in Switzerland :: Camping

Mountain Huts

If you’re a hiking loving family and want to be away from it all, then Switzerland has an amazing network of 152 mountain huts which are run by the Swiss Alpine Club.

The locations are magnificent and the prices affordable: non-members pay around Chf 30 for a dorm bed or Chf 60 for half board.

Some are very close to villages and do not require a strenuous hike, some are further away. You may also check which ones offer family rooms, meaning you do not need to sleep in a dorm.

One thing you have to be aware though, sleeping in a Mountain Hut normally means early wake ups. People who are sleeping in these places are usually on a climb or a trek to another mountain hut and have some hours to hike before reaching their destination. This is why they are early morning risers.

Farm Stay

This is my favourite accommodation type. If you want something unique, something you would never do at home than you should also consider a farm stay. Prices hover around Chf 25 to Chf 35 per person and include a farmer’s substantial breakfast. Some even let you bed down in a hay barn if this is something you would like to do.

Farm stays are possible throughout Switzerland and can easily be combined.

Air BnB’s

Probably the platform that has grown the most worldwide over the last few years. And this is no different in Switzerland. Do your research, contact the owners before booking and ask for a discount.

chalet bedroom

beautiful bedroom in an Air BnB in Valais

Tips on finding your perfect Budget Accommodation in Switzerland

There is large competition out there and plenty of budget accommodation to be found but getting a reservation can prove difficult. A budget stay needs planning ahead. Don’t go for the last-minute option.

Avoid high season and stay away from the most popular resorts to secure affordable budget accommodation.

Ask for a special price, anything they can throw in. Whether it is a breakfast, a discount or some hotels or hostels will even give you a free local transit pass, so check when booking.

And don’t forget to ask for kids discount.

If breakfast is included in some deals, ask for a price without breakfast. You might be quite surprised and get a whopping 30.- reduction per person/day. And with that money you can easily buy some fresh croissants from the local baker, and also your picnic lunch. 

Avoid Staying in the Major Cities

As I said from the beginning, you cannot stay in Zürich, Wengen or Zermatt and plan a travel Switzerland on a budget trip.

Sorry but this would not be possible. These places hold their prices as they do not need to compete with others and tourists are arriving daily.

But by all means you do not need to skip visiting these places. Day trips are the best option and believe me you’re probably quite happy that by the end of the day you can retreat back to your lesser crowded village and enjoy some quiet time.

And honestly don’t you come to Switzerland for the nature, the views and the lakes? You will be more likely to get your postcard view of Switzerland away from these places.
You also don’t need to go very far outside the cities to get some pretty spectacular views. Remember Switzerland is petite.

Lucerne Kappelen Brücke

Beautiful Lucerne Kappelbridge

Getting to Switzerland

Airports

If you come from overseas you might want to investigate your air fares and the different airports.

The main airports are Zürich then Geneva. But check out the EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg which also receives international arrivals and is popular with low cost airlines.

Another option which might work is checking flights to the neighbouring Malpensa in Italy. A 2h train journey later and you could be in beautiful Sion. Or rent a car and drive to Switzerland from Milan.

Furthermore, if you flying in from the USA, you could check on flights to London Gatwick and Luton during the summer months and then book a separate EasyJet flight to Geneva. During winter months all London Airports fly to Geneva, but make sure you do have an EasyJet flight booked early as they are super popular due to the ski season.

Most of the time when we air travel we use this option in and out of Switzerland. You can get some really cheap deals when flying from London internationally. And an EasyJet flight to Geneva if you book early can cost you as little as CHF 20.- per person (hand luggage only)

Find cheap flights and more at Travelocity.com. 

cows on field

Valais Cows with Grand Combin in the back

Trains

If you want to travel Switzerland on a budget and your arrival choice is by train I have found these options below  if you’re in London or Paris.

  1. Take Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord in just 2 hours 20 minutes, then a direct TGV-Lyria high-speed train from Paris Gare de Lyon to Basel in 3 hours 03 minutes or Zurich HB in 4 hours 03 minutes.
  1. Arriving via Milan Italy check out RailEurope

There is an average of 5 trains a day between Milan and Zurich or Geneva, leaving approximately every 3h20 minutes.

Travel with your own car

Get a map and chose your perfect route into paradise. As soon as you enter Switzerland you will need a Vignette to drive on the Motorway system. It is valid for the year and costs CHF 50.- You can purchase them at the border or at most petrol stations.

mountain pass roads

Grimmsel and Furka Pass roads in Switzerland

Car rental

Yes, Switzerland has an amazing railway system which pretty much joins every little village with a bigger city. However, if you somehow can afford to rent a car on your travel Switzerland on a budget trip, then this is what I would definitely suggest. You will have much more freedom, drive up the mountain roads to amazing viewpoints and the only people there are you and your family.

It gives you the option to stop anywhere and take in the blue mountain lake you have just spotted along the road. Or stop at the super long suspension bridge you have just seen that connects two villages in Valais.

Do some research and maybe contact some agencies away from the airport as they may offer cheaper deals. If you fly into Geneva, you might want to check out the car rentals on the French side, same in Basel, the German rental agencies might give you a better price.

You can also rent a car in Malpense/Milan and drive up over one of the mountain passes into Switzerland.

You can get a car from Rentalcars from Geneva Airport for 14 days as little as 540.- for a family of 4-5. Now honestly, I don’t think this is bad.

How to get around in Switzerland by train

Are you ready for the most complex section of our “How to travel Switzerland on a budget” journey? Take your time here, as this section can get quite confusing.

If you do not have a car, the next best thing is Switzerland’s amazing railway system.
It is one of the most efficient and comprehensive public transport networks in the world, so I will let you be the judge on whether you really need a car?

SBB trains and Post buses run to nearly every town and village – even remote ones. Also keep in mind you do not really need to book the touristy, yet beautiful Glacier Express train, because the ordinary train covers the same route – albeit at a slower pace and with more changes. But you’re on holiday, right? Therefore, time should not really be an issue.

The SBB offers a lot of different economical travel passes and combinations. This can get quite confusing to find YOUR best deal. I therefore suggest, once you have an idea of your itinerary, to sit down and go through their website and check out all the different options.

pilatus cogwheel train

Pilatus Cog wheel train

I have listed a few here:

SBB’s Swiss travel-cards, available for 3, 4, 8 and 15 consecutive days. A 3 day adult pass costs CHF 232.-

You can get a FLEX option 3 Non-consecutive days within one month CHF 267.- / adults

Insider tips about the Swiss Travel Pass

The Rigi cogwheel train is free;
The cableway up to the Schilthorn is free;
The trip to Stanserhorn is free;
The Swiss open-air museum in Ballenberg is free;
Entrance to La Maison du Gruyère (cheese factory) is free;
Entrance to Maison Cailler (chocolate factory) is free;
Entrance to Chillon Castle is free.
This is an amazing package!

Plus you will also get
  • Unlimited travel by train, bus and boat
  • Unlimited travel on premium panorama trains (seat reservation fees and/or surcharges apply)
  • Unlimited use of public transport in more than 90 towns & cities
  • Free admission to more than 500 Museums
  • Children from the age of 6 up to their 16th birthday accompanied by at least one parent (holding a Swiss Travel System ticket) travel free of charge with the complimentary Swiss Family Card
  • Children under 6 years of age who are accompanied by a holder of a valid STS ticket travel free of charge

For sure this is an amazing pass if you decide to have full-on travel days and explore these famous and stunning mountain tops and attractions which are included in the passes mentioned above.
For example, an adult going up the James Bond 007 Schilthorn will have to loosen his wallet of CHF 105.- for the Cable Car alone, without any saving plans.

cable car pilatus

Cable car up to Pilatus in Lucerne Switzerland

But don’t just be drawn in to it, check your itinerary as well.

Single day travels – Super Saver, for single journeys at the lowest possible cost look for supersaver tickets online. This requires a bit of flexibility but you can pick up some amazing deals like a day pass for 23.- with unlimited access to train, boat, bus, and some cable cars.

Swiss Half fare 50% on everything. This card allows you unlimited purchase of train, bus, boat and some cable car tickets at half price and is valid for one-month and it costs you CHF 120.-/adult

Children in general

Children below the age of 6 accompanied by a paying adult are travelling for free. On some private cable cars there might be a charge as of 4 years old.

From 6 to 15 years inclusive, travel free with a Family Card if accompanied by at least one parent.

The map below shows you which routes, boats and cable cars are included in the Swiss Travel System 

Swiss map

Map of the Swiss railway System

Other Saver-Passes

The following passes might still be interesting for you, even if you have a car. Because they include several options to reach some of the famous and super expensive mountain tops. And maybe you would like to leave your car at home one day and explore these by train, boat and bus. But one tip, if you do buy one of these, make the most out of it. Go up every mountain cable car they include in their pass and enjoy the views!

Central Switzerland Tell – Pass

Tell System Map Swiss

Switzerland’s Tell-Saver Pass

Berner Oberland Regional pass

Bern Saver map

Berner Oberland Regional Pass Map

Geneva Alps Regional Pass

Geneva map

Regional Geneva Saver Pass

Graubünden Pass South and North

Graubènden Map

Graubünden Travel Pass – South and North side

Important Note

If you travel during shoulder season, spring and autumn, investigate all the options on the different railway savour passes if you do not have a car. You do not want to buy a pass and half the mountain tops are still closed or closing. Train, bus, and trams will all operate as normal.

But once more, go and ask at the counter if this is too confusing. They do offer a massive choice of combinations, and I fully understand if it gets complicated. Normally at any train station, the staff should explain to you the best option for your needs.

Buy Food at a Grocery Store

There is no secret, Restaurants in Switzerland are expensive and will eat your budget in no time. Sorry for all the mums 🙂   but make a deal with your loved ones that you alternate in cooking or do it together as a whole family project. Holidays are here for a bit of a change, right?

The main supermarkets throughout Switzerland are Coop and Migros.  However, there are cheaper grocery stores where you get more for your money like Denner. Lidl and Aldi are also popping up on every corner. Love them or hate them, but if they can feed my family longer with the same money than other supermarkets, then it is no brainer for me.

Personally, I prefer Lidl as nearly all products are Swiss products and the vegetables and fruits are really good quality. And we LOVE their bread section.

Just for your info, Migros does not sell alcohol.

Also look out for signs “direct from the farmer”. These small shops normally have a “wonky veggie/fruit section”, where the goods are not as pretty but certainly have no defects when it comes to taste. Careful though, if it looks too touristy avoid it.

family having a fire with sausages

Cheaper food in Switzerland comes from the Supermarket

Free things to do in Switzerland

YES, you won’t believe it, but there are actually free things to visit and do in Switzerland.

I have been asked by some of our followers to include in our “how to travel Switzerland on a Budget” post a list of free museums. Here are some;

Remember if you buy the Swiss travel-card 500 Museums are free of charge to enter. Please do not ask me where they all are, I did not even know we have 500 Museums in Switzerland.

Free Geneva Museums and Sites

Free Zurich Museums and Sites

pyramids from Euseigne

Earth Pyramides of Euseigne in Val d’Hérenes

Free Outdoor Activities

You do not have enough time to explore all the outdoor activities Switzerland has to offer, not even in a life time.

There are so many enjoyable outdoor activities in Switzerland that don’t cost a dime. Hiking and just spending time in the nature along rivers, lakes and up a mountain are how you enjoy Switzerland the most. And this is also how you should enjoy Switzerland.

If you love nature and just want to be away from it all with your family and enjoy some quality time in beautiful Switzerland then these places I have listed below are simply perfect for it. And it is all for free!

Hike some beautiful paths

Whilst hiking with your family in Switzerland you really get the best out of the country. You do not need to be THE professional hiker to get a view. I have put together some of the most beautiful hikes we did with our (at the time ) three years old twins, which are enjoyable for the whole family.

Family hikes in Valais

You can find additional  family friendly hikes within Switzerland via the My Switzerland Website. 

hiking path in switzerland

Hiking in Switzerland is mostly free and amazing. Valais hiking path

Swim in some alpine lakes

There are quite a few lakes in Switzerland and plenty of places where you can enjoy a swim in them too. Some bigger lakes have Badi’s (public open-air swimming pools) combined. They do not cost a lot and some have great BBQ facilities.

Free swimming is also possible, but be careful as there are no lifeguards on duty. And mountain lakes can be super cold, but fun.

Explore Historic Towns

Switzerland, like many European countries, is full of ancient and historic towns that you can explore.

Pop into the town’s cathedral for a chance to see some beautiful art. A couple of must-visit towns are Sion in Valais, Gruyères and Altstadt.

Most of these cities also have Free Walking tours. Some even have a volunteer guide, whereas others provide you with a plan and description of your walk.

boy looking down on castle

Castle in Sion :: capital city of the Valais

Festivals

If this is your thing and you want to party with the locals, check out the Tourism website in the town you are staying in. They will for sure have an events page which shows you everything that is going on. Most will be free of charge.

Cheese Making Tours

Depending on the area you choose to visit, there are often small-town cheesemaking farms that will happily show you around and let you see how they make their cheese.

There are also larger factories that give public tours usually for a small price (around Chf 5, or $5).

Find a park

This is my favourite thing to do when we’re exploring a new area. Whether it is in Switzerland or abroad. Check out on google maps where the local parks are (satellite mode). Normally they have great facilities like playgrounds, some may be by a lake so you might get to swim, or they have other activities on offer. We love parks and it gives you a bit of a change if the kids have enough from hiking.

kids standing by a lake

Les Iles Park in Valais

Ask the Tourism office

They are here to help you. Visit them and ask for any free or cheap attractions they have on offer. Or simply if they can show you on a map some great BBQ places (sometimes with free wood) and most of them have a treasure hunt for the kids that is free of charge.

Ask them if they have a special day where their Cable Cars are cheaper than on others? For example, here in Nendaz, where we live, even during peak season on selected dates they offer the WHOLE system for as little as CHF 25.- . This includes 9 different cable car systems throughout the whole 4 Vallées!

See what you could do on this day:

Swiss Altitude at 3300m

kids on mountain summit

Standing at 3330m altitude on top of Mont Fort in Valais

Most Important TIP – if possible avoid High Seasons

Switzerland is a destination you can visit any time of the year. It is great for skiing although your plan to travel Switzerland on a budget might not work as well. The peak summer season is July and August and it gets super busy, especially in central Switzerland.

So, if this is the only time you can visit, then really try to stay on the not so touristy route.

The best time to visit and get the most for your money is during the shoulder months of spring (April- June) and fall (end of August – October). Probably my preferred months, apart from winter.
Accommodation will be cheaper, and there will be fewer travellers visiting.

If you choose to travel during spring or fall, and hiking is on your list of activities, check and see if trails are open while you are there. Some cable cars might no longer be open or have not yet opened from their post winter break. It might also get quite cold at altitude.

If shoulder seasons are your travel time, also investigate all the options on the different railway saver passes if you do not have a car. You do not want to buy a pass and half the mountain tops are still closed or closing.

matterhorn with lake

Beautiful Matterhorn in Zermatt

Conclusion

  • It is possible to travel Switzerland on a budget, with some tweaking and adjusting  the “everyone goes route” .
  • Eat in and be creative with your picnic’s and BBQ’s
  • Every so often throw in a cheap accommodation whilst changing places. It is fun and helps your budget.
  • Make a plan and be prepared to investigate a bit. Check out the SBB website and see if there is any saver days upcoming.

Are you ready to travel Switzerland on a budget and make some of your most beautiful holiday memories with your family?

You may also like these post her below to help you travel Switzerland on a budget. They cost you absolutely nothing!!

Hiking with kids in Valais

If I have missed anything out on this post, or if you have some more questions on how to travel Switzerland on a budget; then leave a comment below. It is always nice for others to see some real people conversations.

NOTE: I will upload a Budget Itinerary soon and link it to this post, so make sure you PIN this post for future references, share if with a friend and grab your passport and be ready to travel Switzerland on a budget.

Hi, my name is Corina, a mum of twins, a wife and founder of Packed Again – a Family Travel & Adventure Blog. We live in the most amazing mountain valley in Switzerland, the Valais.

Being out there as a family, either locally or whilst travelling is super important for our whole well-being and sanity. It is outdoors where we feel the most connected and happy with each other.

The Blog will give you lots of information on Swiss Adventures and Beyond.

Take your kids and go out there. Do it once and you will not regret it!

Never forget to travel!
Thank you Corina

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