How to save money in Switzerland: Priceless insider tips
Frugal living in an expensive country
Switzerland has a high cost of living and is certainly not a cheap travel destination. However, if you follow some simple rules you can save a lot of money and still have plenty of fun:
Save on food & beverages
Eat your main meal for lunch: Most restaurants, especially in built-up areas, offer lunch specials. They are good value for money and often cost half as much as an evening meal.
Go to a self-service restaurant: The two big supermarket chains COOP and MIGROS offer inexpensive self-service restaurants. If you prefer a down to earth meal rather than junk food at McDonalds and other fast-food outlets, this is a good alternative. While MIGROS restaurants don’t serve alcoholic beverages, Coop Restaurants do. Compared to normal restaurants their prices are a lot cheaper. Especially recommended if you want to sit down for a quick coffee and cake or have a beer or glass of wine.
Have a picnic: Especially in good weather, buy yourself a snack at the local bakery or supermarket. Switzerland is full of park benches, you are always assured to find one. Since you are allowed to drink in public, you may even bring a bottle of wine or a beer to the park.
Expensive supermarkets: Globus, Loeb, Jelmoli
Most popular supermarkets: Migros, Coop. Coop is more expensive but sells brand name products whereas Migros has got their own brand.
Cheap supermarkets: Denner, Pickpay, Aldi, Lidl. Very basic shops with limited range of products. Denner and Pickpay offer Swiss quality chocolates (Lindt, Toblerone etc.) at reasonable prices. Aldi and Lidl have their own brands. All 4 supermarkets offer alcoholic beverages at excellent prices. A good place to buy your wine, beer or liquor.
Don't pour your money down the toilet
Angelina Jolie was probably one of the more prominent victims of the public washroom shortage. While she was on her way to the World Economic Forum in Davos years ago, she had to borrow change from a friendly policeman. Even at a highway rest stop she couldn’t have a free pee.
You have to know one thing: Switzerland is definitely not the place of free washrooms. Know where the public washrooms are. Before you go sightseeing in a new town, visit the local tourist office and get yourself a map. Look for signs saying WC or TOILETTE. If you can avoid it, don’t ever use a washroom in a main railway station, they can cost up to 2 Francs! Restaurant owners offer the free use of washrooms to patrons only.
If you don’t want to consume anything, go to McDonalds or a Coop or Migros self-service restaurant, where nobody will hassle you. You will also find free washrooms in shopping centres and big supermarkets.
Will you go broke in Switzerland quiz
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Save on accommodation
Generally, City hotels are a lot more expensive than hotels in rural areas. If you have a rental car you should rather drive out to rural suburbia and look for accommodation there. An additional perk is free parking, one thing that you can never expect in a city.
Also, City hotels are a lot more expensive in Summer. If you travel to Switzerland in Winter they will probably offer you greatly reduced low-season rates.
Bed & Breakfasts:
B & B’s generally offer low cost accommodation and human interaction with local hosts.
Swiss Budget Hotels:
Chain of inexpensive hotels
Other inexpensive hotel chains:
Google for search words like E & G Hotels, Garni or Pension.
Youth Hostels offer cheap and clean accommodation for anybody travelling on a low budget. Especially recommended for single travellers and families as well as people looking for inexpensive city accommodation.
Backpackers offer similar accommodation to Youth Hostels.
Sleep on Straw is definitely the cheapest and most adventurous option. "Sleep on straw" means spending the night in a barn on a bed of sweet-smelling straw, with a delicious farmhouse breakfast the next morning. Make sure that you don’t suffer from allergies and bring your own sleeping bag.
For basic, low-cost accommodation in the Alps:
SAC Huts (Swiss Alpine Club Huts)
Nature friend Houses
Looking for a private room, flat or entire house? On airbnb private individuals advertise their homes or holiday accommodation. Warning: The advertised prices may not include cleaning fees, costs for additional people or the airbnb booking fees and only show up during the booking process (also check the small print before you proceed to the check-out). As many hosts charge a cleaning fee this kind of accommodation is only recommended for people wanting to stay several days.
Save on transportation
Public transportation is expensive but also very reliable and comfortable and therefore highly recommended. If you follow some simple tips you can get the most value for your bucks.
Travel 2nd Class: It’s a lot cheaper and there is hardly any difference with regards to comfort, other than the 1st Class being less crowded.
Travel at half the price: If you plan to take several trips within Switzerland the purchase of a Half Fare Ticket may be a good solution for you. It costs CHF 165 and is valid for a whole year. This pass allows you to get most public transportation tickets (incl. ships & cable cars) with a 50% rebate.
Junior or Grandchild travel card for travel with children age 6 – 16: For just CHF 30, your child or grandchild aged between 6 and 16 can travel for a whole year on public transportation in Switzerland. As the child’s parent or grandparent, you must be in possession of a valid ticket and each child must have their own Junior or Grandchild travel card.
Buy a travel pass: You can cut your travel costs considerably by purchasing one of the various travel cards that the Swiss Railways have on offer. They have a solution for any budget or purpose. These discounted offers are valid on almost the entire public transportation system including railways, ferries, buses, mountain railways & cablecars etc.
The Swiss railways also offer specials in combination with leisure facilities. Check at the railway station or
In Winter look for Snow n’Rail offers (greatly reduced ski passes in combination with public transportation).
Engadines Hot Summer Deal (Free public transportation incl. cablecars)
Have you ever dreamed of going to St. Moritz? Do it this Summer. Most hotels offer an amazing deal (for 2 nights accommodation you get free transportation tickets for unlimited travel within the area).
HOT SPECIAL valid from May 1 until October 31, 2013: If you stay for 2 nights in Engadine you will get free public transportation incl. mountain railways, cabl
Read my special hub about this unbeatable deal:
- Switzerland’s hottest Summer Deal: Free cable cars, funiculars and chairlifts
A hot tip for all the people who love hiking in the Swiss alps but can't afford the high prices of cablecars and other mountain transportation. Engadin's cableways-inclusive deal includes free transportation for the whole family if you stay in select
Save on parking
City parking is very expensive: Especially if you want to go sightseeing in a city for a whole day it may work out considerably cheaper if you park your car at a Park & Rail car park outside and catch public transportation into the city center.
Save on road tolls (how to avoid buying the Swiss Motorway Sticker)
There are no toll roads as such in Switzerland but any vehicle using the Swiss Motorway System must have a Swiss Motorway Sticker (Autobahnvignette) stuck to the windshield. This sticker is valid for 1 calendar year and currently costs CHF 40. The fees are used to improve and maintain the state of the art motorway system and its various tunnels. The bad news is, that you have to buy this sticker whether you spend 5 minutes or 365 days on Switzerland's motorways/freeways. Please take note that the sticker is non-transferable and must be firmly attached to the windshield.There are frequent police checks at various highway exits and any violations will result in a hefty fine of CHF 200!
If you only enter Switzerland occasionally and are not in a big rush, you can avoid this road tax by sticking only to the main roads and secondary roads which do not require a motorway sticker. Switzerland has an extensive network of well maintained secondary roads and you can easily travel all over without ever having to use a motorway. To avoid confusion, the motorway signs are green and all other roads blue. Travel will take you a bit longer as the speed limits are generally 50 in urban areas and 80 outside urban areas. Speeding, especially in built-up areas is not recommended, as speed traps are frequent and the fines are pricey.
Information re. the Swiss Motorways/Freeways
Grächen EURO announcement
- Family holidays in Valais: Families welcome to Grächen
Offizielle Seite von Grächen Tourismus mit Informationen zu Unterkunft, Winterurlaub, Familien- und Wanderferien.
Bring the right currency
Make sure that you bring Swiss Francs, the local currency. The EURO is widely accepted but you will probably get a bad exchange rate.
Exception: Grächen is one of the Swiss tourist destinations trying to attract foreign tourists by offering a favorable fixed EURO exchange-rate (see announcement box on right). Also watch out for special signs in shop windows etc.
In general, tips and value added tax are included in the price you see advertised. In restaurants tipping is not expected, but if you were happy with the service you can round off the amount. You also don’t have to leave a tip for the cleaning staff in your hotel room.
Creative tips for the poor traveler
And last but not least, if you are desperate to go to Switzerland but still can’t afford it, you may consider a wwoofer job or volunteer work. Visitors usually work for a few hours a day and get free food and accommodation in exchange.
Sleep on somebody's couch for free. You have to become a couchsurfing member and be prepared to reciprocate when somebody wants to visit your place.
Or if you are talented, bring you guitar to Switzerland and earn some pocket money as a street singer. Anything goes except for jodelling!
This hub is a work in progress and will be updated on a regular basis. May be you know a few more ways how to save money in Switzerland. Please leave a message and your input will be integrated in the hub.
For further money savings tips I recommend the following article:
- How to spend a cheap winter holiday in Switzerland
Switzerland is the winter playground of the rich and famous but you don't need a fur coat and pockets lined with gold to join them. Just follow a few frugal tips and you can have an enjoyable winter holiday without breaking your bank account.