Switzerland has always been the country I said I would visit one time and one time only because it was so expensive. With that being said, it's one of my favorite countries in Europe.
Recently, I returned home from my 7th trip to Switzerland and I think I may take another trip or two before the end of this year. Switzerland is just one of those countries you can't leave alone, no matter how expensive it gets. As you can tell, I'm hooked!
Each time I made my way through Switzerland, I learned a few tips to make my trip a little less expensive but there had been times where I just had to suck it up and pay the price of Swiss beauty.
Buy Your Own Groceries
This first tip is practically a universal travel tip as this can help on almost any trip you're on. The trick is to purchase groceries on the other side of the border to Italy, Austria, or even Germany if you can because even groceries purchased in Switzerland can cost slightly more than on the other side of the border (if you're nearby or driving through).
Since I drove from Germany, I purchased groceries for breakfast, dinner, and snacks from the local American commissary in Grafenwoehr and at grocery stores such as Lidl, Aldi, and Edeka. I also packed a small cooler for smoothie drinks, cheese, and deli meats. This saved us big time on my recent trip to Switzerland since I was traveling in a group of 4 hungry and nearly broke adults!
If you are not able to get groceries in another country, you can shop in Switzerland at grocery chains such as Coop, Migros, and Denner. There are also budget grocery stores such as Lidl and Aldi.
Minimum average savings: at least 10-15 CHF per person per meal
Go Camping (Summer)
Accommodation can take up the biggest portion of your Swiss budget, especially with a large family or group. Camping can help cut the costs significantly, and in some cases, in half.
Another advantage to camping in Switzerland is being able to enjoy some of the best views of the country from your tent.
For some, camping is not of interest but maybe instead of pitching a tent you can rent a cabin such as the ones in Lauterbrunnen at Camping Jungfrau Holiday Park.
Minimum average savings: at least 50 CHF per night (compared to hotel prices)
Stay in a Hostel or Airbnb (Winter)
If you're not bothered by the hostel life, I would definitely recommend giving it a chance while you're in Switzerland.
Staying in a hostel in Switzerland is not as cheap as other countries in Europe where you typically could pay about 15 Euro a night but staying in a hostel is still cheaper than staying in a hotel such as I did. I ended up spending 59 Swiss Francs a night at Hostel by Randolins.
I ended up going in a low season and had the shared dormitory to myself which was nice because it felt as if I booked a private room for Swiss hostel prices.
Minimum average savings: at least 41 CHF per night (compared to hotel prices)
Buy Your Own Fondue Maker
Enjoying a romantic evening at a fancy restaurant eating fondue is something almost everyone wants to (and must) do in Switzerland. You can't leave this country without trying delicious but stinky cheesy fondue.
I must warn you that at almost any restaurant, you must have a minimum of two people and pay per person for the fondue.
The price is typically 25-35 Swiss Francs per person so at a minimum it would cost about 50 Swiss Francs. If you're a full time or part time solo traveler such as myself, paying double the price for fondue that won't be shared is expensive and useless.
I had been on several trips to Switzerland wanting to try the fondue but didn't end up doing it because it was so expensive for just fondue. Luckily, on our last trip to Zermatt, we were in an Airbnb that had a fully equipped kitchen and it included a fondue maker as well.
Now, you won't always get as lucky and have a free fondue maker for use so instead, you can order a fondue maker on Amazon for about $35 and purchase the fondue cheese along with the dippers (baguette, pretzels, broccoli, mushrooms, meat, etc.) at a local market.
Our fondue cheese was about 10 Swiss Francs at Coop and that fed about 4-5 people. If you're flying, this may not be the easiest and smallest item to pack but if you're driving across borders, this would be a great and cheaper option.
Minimum average savings: at least 5-15 CHF per fondue meal
Don't Ride the Glacier Express
Last year I rode the Glacier Express from Chur to St. Mortiz and had a lovely time but then I realized I could have just taken a regular regional train on the same exact route for cheaper!
My train ride via the Glacier Express started in Chur and ended in St. Moritz. The views were spectacular and this train had a certain elegance to it. I loved every bit of it until the next day when I went to the train station to purchase a standard ticket from St. Moritz to Chur. The price was 13 Swiss Francs cheaper than the Glacier Express ticket.
The standard train ride was on the same route with the same views as the Glacier Express. The only difference was that you had a normal seat without a table and there wasn't a gourmet menu presented to you, only a stewardess that walked up and down the train with a food cart full of snacks and drinks.
I went on the Glacier Express solely for the scenic views (not for the gourmet menu because it was expensive) so if that is the main reason you want to ride it, then I would suggest saving money on the surcharge and just purchase standard railway tickets. This can make a huge difference when you're traveling in high season and/or with a family or large group.
Minimum average savings: at least 13-23 CHF per train ticket (surcharge in the LOW season)
I don't think many travelers make use of tourist offices as much as they did before Google and travel blogs became a hit. You may be able to find unique or local things to do that you may have overlooked on your research, or maybe a certain event was taking place that you may have not known about.
Another perk to the local tourist office is that they can offer you deals and discounts that are customized to your trip. On our trip to Zermatt, I had emailed the tourist office in the town where our Airbnb was located (in Randa) and explained to them what our goal was for the trip and the things we wanted to do and see. They offered us a special two day train ticket and listed the prices of the lift tickets along with other vital information.
We were able to save some money and time purchasing train tickets at the tourist office rather than buying 2 one way journey tickets as we were planning to do originally.
Minimum average savings: at least 25 CHF per activity or ticket
Choose Hikes Over Activities or Cable Cars
Canyoning, zip lining, tandem paragliding, skiing, and many other activities in Switzerland come with a hefty price. Now, I wouldn't want to dissuade you from having the best time enjoying these fun activities but what I do want to do is to suggest hiking as part of your itinerary.
If you're physically fit, even if you're semi-physically fit, you can witness the most amazing views of the country by just taking a hike!
Hiking can also be an alternative to activities or locations that require a cable car. In May of last year, I paid 30 CHF to take a round trip cable car to Berggasthaus Aescher-Wildkirchli in Appezell, Switzerland. In August, I returned for another trip to the restaurant but instead, I took a hike with some friends avoiding the full price of the cable car.
You won't always take the hiking route but if you have the time and are interested in seeing spectacular views, take the hike.
Minimum average savings: at least 30 CHF per activity per person
Pay in Local Currency
As of lately, the conversion rate from Swiss Francs (CHF) to US Dollars (USD) is about 1 Swiss Franc = 1 Dollar but from Swiss Francs to Euro is about 1 Swiss Franc = .85 Euro cents.
Now, if you're paying with a card that does not have foreign transaction fees and you're given the option of paying in Swiss Francs or the currency of your credit card (which will most likely be USD) then I will always recommend paying in the local currency (in this case, Swiss Francs). You'll only save a few cents paying in local currency but where you're really going to save is in locations that only accept cash and you don't have any Swiss Francs available, only Euro.
This happened to me while I was at the Igloo bar in Zermatt and I forgot to take out more Swiss Francs. We had already hiked through the snow about 20 minutes to the middle of the mountain so there was no way I would skip out on buying drinks at the bar. I had a group with me and only had Euro so I paid their conversation rate of 1 Swiss Franc = 1 Euro.
I ended up paying about an extra 3 Swiss Francs, which isn't much but if you are really trying to cut corners, this can help especially when you're already spending more money than you were hoping to spend.
Minimum average savings: about 1 CHF per 6 Euro transaction (depending on the conversion rate)
Drink Tap or Fountain Water
If you live in Germany like me or have visited Germany before then you know that you probably wouldn't ask for tap water in a restaurant. The server may tell you that you can't have it or they may serve it and just give you a weird look (at least from my experience).
In Switzerland, it's not odd to request tap water at a restaurant (again, just from my experience). In some places, it's even on the menu for a smaller price than bottled water.
In most areas around Switzerland, you will see a fountain and most of the time there will be a sign that says "Trinkwasser" which is means drinking water. Switzerland's water is so refreshing and pure, you can just bring a bottle wherever you go and fill up... for free!
Minimum average savings: about 3-5 CHF per drink
Buy Souvenirs at Grocery Stores and Tourist Offices
If it's your first and possibly only trip to Switzerland, you will most likely want to purchase souvenirs to take home as memories for yourself or for friends.
Please don't waste your time going to overpriced souvenir shops unless there is a specific item that you can't find elsewhere that you're wanting. Otherwise, just stop at the local grocery store or tourist office and you'll find cheaper post cards, magnets, chocolates, and other souvenir items.
Minimum average savings: about 1-5 CHF per souvenir