Switzerland on a budget? Yes, it is possible - here’s how

Hiking Switzerland's many paths is one of the best free activities on offer
Hiking Switzerland's many paths is one of the best free activities on offer Copyright Lucas Wesney via Unsplash
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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The alpine nation is infamously expensive and attracts the mega rich year-round - but there are ways to make a trip there affordable.

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With stunning scenery, restorative fresh air, unique nature and hearty cuisine, it’s no surprise that Switzerland is one of the most popular destinations in all of Europe. It also consistently tops lists of the most expensive places to travel to not just in Europe but worldwide.

There is a way to visit the mountainous mid-European country without breaking the bank, however.

Euronews Travel has done some digging as well as speaking to experts who know Switzerland inside out to find the best ways to make the most of your trip on a budget.

Why not take in the rolling hills of the Passwang pass on your visit to Switzerland?
Why not take in the rolling hills of the Passwang pass on your visit to Switzerland?Sven via Unsplash

It’s wise to plan your Swiss trip in advance

As Michael L. Moore, founder of travel website Countdown to Magic, tells Euronews Travel, “timing is everything.”

The travel expert explains that the time of year you visit Switzerland is almost always where you’ll see the biggest difference in price.

“Avoid the peak summer months when prices soar. Instead, aim for the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn,” Moore says.

“You'll encounter smaller crowds, lower rates on accommodation, and potentially even score deals on airfare. The wildflowers of spring and the blazing autumn foliage make these seasons magic,” he adds.

So much of Switzerland’s appeal is what it has to offer for free. The majestic scenery and hiking routes are all there for the taking and a little planning for necessities such as accommodation or travel can save you a considerable amount of money.

So much of Switzerland is stunning - even places less explored
So much of Switzerland is stunning - even places less exploredRicardo Gomez Angel via Unsplash

It’s also a good idea to get off the beaten track, if you can bear to leave popular spots off your itinerary.

“While Interlaken and Zermatt have become iconic Swiss destinations, their popularity comes at a cost,” Moore says.

Instead, he recommends basing yourself in small towns like Thun, where lodging can be significantly less pricey but the alpine vistas surrounding your accommodation will be just as glorious.

Travel expert Fiona Spinks, founder of Following Fiona, agrees.

While Lucerne is an always-popular travel option, there are many alternatives worth a visit
While Lucerne is an always-popular travel option, there are many alternatives worth a visitPatrick Robert Doyle via Unsplash

“The key is to seek out Switzerland's hidden gems, those off-the-beaten-path spots that allow you to experience the country's stunning natural beauty and rich culture away from the overpriced tourist traps,” she tells Euronews Travel.

Although everyone dreams of staying in a palatial hotel in the mountains, it’s not realistic for most.

“Stay in hostels or Airbnbs. While Swiss hotels can be pricey, hostels and Airbnb rentals offer much more affordable accommodation options, especially if you're willing to stay a bit outside the major cities,” Spinks advises.

Make the most of your trip while saving money

Transport options in Switzerland are often luxurious and have amazing views - so it’s entirely possible to make the travel itself into a big part - nay, a highlight - of your trip.

“In Switzerland, you can have it all by rail,” Moore tells Euronews Travel.

“The iconic Glacier Express train route serves up unforgettable alpine views from its panoramic windows. Even better - your transit becomes the activity rather than an added expense. Just pack some snacks and drinks to enjoy picnic-style on board,” he recommends.

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To make your journey less expensive, we recommend the government-backed Swiss Half-Fare Travel Card which provides 50 per cent off most rail, bus and boat routes country-wide. It costs around €132 and is valid for an entire month, with no limits on usage.

That’s a sentiment shared by Spinks, too.

“Put that Swiss Travel Pass to use! Efficient and comfortable trains connect all corners of the country, allowing you to hop from city to village without the expense of a rental car,” she says.

If you’re in Switzerland for the culture as well as the natural wonders, you’ll likely want to visitthe country’s multitude of museums and galleries. While many of them are free or charge a nominal fee, be careful to plan ahead as, frequently, these rates are only available at specific times.

Less traditional forms of entertainment are free at all times, however.

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“Open-air concerts, historical sites, and lively markets provide enriching entertainment without costing a franc,” Moore says.

"With smart planning and reasonable expectations, Switzerland can absolutely be experienced while sticking to a budget. Between the low-cost thrills of the alps and the cultural attractions, your wallet and wanderlust will both walk away satisfied."
Michael L. Moore
Founder of travel website Countdown to Magic

Spinks is an advocate for free entertainment, too.

“From swimming in crystal-clear lakes to visiting museums on their complimentary admission days to simply wandering through picturesque villages,” she says, “there's no shortage of cost-free experiences.”

If you’re more into relaxation, you could do worse than pay a visit to the Fitnesspark National next to lake Lucerne.

Fitnesspark National on the banks of lake Lucerne provides an afforable spa experience
Fitnesspark National on the banks of lake Lucerne provides an afforable spa experienceC Boyd via Unsplash

Artist Dallas Athent, a frequent visitor, tells Euronews Travel, “Oftentimes when people hear about Switzerland, they picture themselves at a luxurious spa amongst the snow, but what people don't know is that some of the best saunas are actually at gyms!”

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The venue boasts an indoor-out-door pool, jacuzzi and several sauna rooms with cold plunges and a bucket shower. Even better, a day pass costs around €40 - not bad for such an expensive country.

Athens says a visit to a gym like Fitnesspark is a great way to get involved with the essence of the country, too.

“Not only is it much more affordable than the tourist options, but I feel like I get to really understand Swiss culture by seeing how relaxation and wellness is part of their day-to-day lives,” she says.

Where is Switzerland making tourism more accessible?

You’ll likely have Zurich and Geneva on your list as must sees, but casting your travel net a little wider can save you a large amount of cash.

Lausanne on the banks of Lake Geneva gives perks to tourists which can cut costs.

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“When you book a hotel in Lausanne, you will automatically receive the Lausanne Transport card at the reception, which allows you to travel for free with the public transport in the city and to the terraced vineyards Lavaux that are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site,” Olivia Bosshart from the Lausanne Tourisme board tells Euronews Travel.

The card also gives the opportunity to get reduced prices at some attractions and it’s also worth buying a Lausanne City Pass. You can buy a 1, 2, or 3 day pass and receive free entrance to some places or a discount of at least 20 per cent at others.

Explore Lausanne's beautiful centre on foot - for no cost
Explore Lausanne's beautiful centre on foot - for no costNolan Krattinger via Unsplash

The Swiss are famed for their naturally delicious water but, in Lausanne, it doesn’t cost a cent.

“For a refreshing drink, walk to one of the numerous fountains from which you can drink and fill a bottle,” Bosshart says, “These fountains encourage sustainability and show that it’s possible to get free and drinkable water all around the city.”

All museums are free on the first Saturday of the month in Lausanne - including the Olympic museum. The city is inextricably linked to the Games, as it’s home to not just the museum but also the International Olympic Committee headquarters and lakeshore Olympic Park.

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Using your travel pass, you can also head to the unique UNESCO listed terrace vineyards of Lavaux. They’re just a short train ride out of the city and a visit can be combined with a hike to see panoramic views of nearby Grandvaux - a world heritage site - and the beautiful village of Lutry.

Lutry, outside Lausanne, is famed for its beautiful countryside vistas
Lutry, outside Lausanne, is famed for its beautiful countryside vistasYura Lytkin via Unsplash

Close to the borders of both France and Germany, you’ll find the melting pot that is Basel. Perhaps best known for the glitzy Art Basel, a famously exclusive - and expensive - art fair, there are still bargains to be had.

Like in Lausanne, the city offers a free BaselCard with every booking at a Basel hotel, hostel, bed and breakfast or apartment.

As well as benefiting from free public transport, it also gives visitors half price access to Basel’s many museums as well as the city’s zoo and theatre.

Basel's historic centre boasts countless sites to see
Basel's historic centre boasts countless sites to seeArsim Ala via Unsplash

Basel is very much known as a walkable city and authorities have made the most of this for visitors.

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“The best way to explore Basel’s Old Town is on foot, as the many places of interest are close to one another. Five different circular walking tours allow you to discover the hidden nooks and crannies of the Old Town and its history,” Basel’s tourist board tells Euronews.

Tourists frequently recommend taking in the 1,000 year old cathedral, the striking fountain designed by Jean Tinguely and the Botanical garden of the University of Basel.

In the summer, swimming in the Rhine is a free and hugely popular activity. No trip to Basel is complete without a visit to Lange Erlen.

Catch a glimpse of unusual birds like this mandarin duck at Lange Erlen
Catch a glimpse of unusual birds like this mandarin duck at Lange ErlenRapha Wilde via Unsplash

It’s an animal park with complimentary entry where you can see the likes of fallow deer, lynx, wild cats and wild boar. Children will enjoy the paddocks which house donkeys, ponies, goats, sheep, rabbits and guinea pigs and peacocks while storks and herons also wander freely.

If you’re more of a cycler, Basel is currently offering e-bike hire for a relatively affordable rate of around €20 a day.

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With low costs on transport, planning ahead on hotel costs, buying basic groceries in budget supermarkets and not eating out at restaurants for every meal, Switzerland really can be an affordable option.

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