You have heard that Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the World to visit? That’s right. You think, you can’t visit Zürich without paying an arm and a leg? That’s wrong. We’ll give you some tips, how you can visit Zürich on a tight budget.
Cash or Cards
You can pay with credit card almost everywhere, even for tickets at tram stations. You need some cash, but you won’t get around only with your Euros, which you’ve probably got from your trip around the rest of Europe as not all machines take Euro Coins. Avoid paying in Euros anyway as you will get an adverse exchange rate compared to the one you’ll get from the bank.
Communication and Internet
Checkout the best deals from your telephone company back home for calls and roaming in Switzerland. Swiss “pay as you go” SimCards are quite pricy, but if you stay for several weeks, you probably want to buy one. Here you find an overview of all network operators and their offers.
Free and unlimited internet access is available almost everywhere and fast. Just call your family and friends back home via internet. This costs you nothing and you can even send your newest travel pictures in an instant.
Cheapest option is to house sit or house swop and therefore not to pay one “Rappen” (the equivalent to cents in Switzerland) for your accommodation. See more about house sitting on our previous post on house sitting and house swop, where you can also find the home pages to sign up.
If there is no house sit or house swop available during your stay and you don’t want to sleep on a couch via couchsurfing, you may find some pretty affordable options in shared apartments on airbnb from about CHF 40.— or for a even smaller amount in shared bedrooms at hostels. For longer stays you might want to try one of the plentiful websites for holiday accommodation, where you can contact the owner directly. Don’t hesitate to ask for a special price. This always pays off.
Food and Beverages
Buy your food and cook for yourself. This way you can avoid pricy restaurants. If you go for sightseeing, take a picnic with you as kiosks and restaurants near tourist attractions are very expensive. Cheap shops are for example Denner, Migros and Coop. The prices are lower in the surrounding suburbs than in the city itself or in shops in smaller villages. Drink the water out of the tap. It’s as clean as bottled water, Switzerland’s authorities confirm.
If you’d like to eat out cheaply, opt for one of the restaurants in a big grocery store. You can find affordable and very good food for example in Migros or Coop Restaurants during the day. Check out the ETH Restaurant or the restaurant of the University of Zürich. Depending on how late you want to eat dinner, you will probably find all previous mentioned restaurants closed. In general, “cheap” places to eat do not exist in the form of full service restaurants. You will end up paying CHF 30-40.– per person for a dinner without wine. Relax – it’s not as bad as it seems. In Switzerland you are not expected to tip the waiter more than just a few Francs. With this in mind it will make the price seem a bit more reasonable. Don’t forget street food as this is your most affordable option.
Public transport in Switzerland goes almost everywhere and is legendarily punctual, but expensive. If you stay less than a month, there are not many affordable offers for reduced ticket prices. Nevertheless there are a few options.
Zürich offers day tickets within the city centre, which are less expensive than buying a normal return ticket. They count for all public transport like trains, trams and even ships on lake Zurich. Look also into the ZürichCard, if you want to visit several museums, restaurants and shops. This card offers free transport like the day ticket for 24 or 72 hours and additionally some good deals, which you may want to check out. One ticket costs CHF 24 for the one day pass, respectively CHF 48 for the 3 day pass. Children up to six years are free. All versions of tickets can easily be bought at every tram or train station in Zürich and online. If you arrive by airplane it may be wise to buy it in advance, as the train journey to and from the airport is included.
For families with children or groups, there are special ticket deals. There is a large Tourist Information Centre at the main station of Zürich for more in-depth information. You can also get in touch by email or phone before your arrival. Don’t forget to check, if it isn’t cheaper to hire a car. If you are not alone, it might be cheaper and you have the advantage to be mobile. You may like to discover the beautiful surroundings of Zürich around the lake and the nearby mountain region.
For the sporty tourist (Zürich is quite mountainous) Züri Rollt provides bikes for free right in front of the main train station year round, or at a host of locations around the city in summer time. With a deposit depending on the bike you choose, you can rent a normal bike, an electronic bike and even kids’ bikes or adult bikes with children’s seats.
Start first with a city tour in the medieval town of Zürich. Afterwards choose another one like the Cosmopolitan Tour in the new centre of Zürich West to get a overview of the town. Get valuable insider tips, you might want to check out later. If you don’t mind big groups, you can join a free walking tour. A tip of about CHF 10.– per person is appropriate for the guide, but purely voluntary.
Free museums and art galleries:
- The archaeological collection of the University of Zürich
- Collection of prints and drawings of the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)
- Zürich Toy Museum
- Kunsthaus Zürich (house of art; only Wednesdays free entrance)
- Kunsthalle Zürich (Thursdays between 17 – 20.00h free entry)
- Migros Museum (Thursdays between 17 – 20.00h free entry)
Further museums with entry fee and opening hours you find here.
There are some famous events in Zürich worth joining, for example Sechseläuten and the Streetparade. If you want to mix with locals and experience their culture or encounter waves of excited people in party mood, this is it. Find here lists of events – exhibitions – concerts – stages and parties in Zürich and Switzerland.
Affordable Outdoors Activities
And of course you can swim in the lake and in the river in Summer time, stroll along the shores and listen to the street music and art without any costs.
Explore the Outskirts
Zürich lies at a lake in the middle of rolling green hills and the snow topped Alps in the background. Within just an hours drive you can visit mountains, roam around medieval castles, cross majestic rivers and explore beautiful landscapes, hiking through extended forests.
- The home mountain of Zürich is the Üetliberg. Most enjoyable is a walk up to the top, from where you have a beautiful view over Zürich and the lakes region. There is also a train departing from Zürich main station, if you’d rather have it easier. There is a restaurant and a small kiosk on top of the mountain.
- Don’t miss to go by boat on the Zürich Lake. With the day ticket for the public transport in Zürich a roundtrip is included. Go a bit further though and visit Rapperswil with its medieval centre, beautiful castle and rose garden. There is a Zoo for children of the National Circus KNIE of Switzerland. For some wet pleasures you can spend an enjoyable day at the Alpamare in Pfäffikon in Europe’s biggest covered water and fun park.
- If you have a bit more time, you might want to visit the famous, impressive Monastery in Einsiedeln, only an hours drive from Zürich.
- If you want to take a chairlift and hike some real mountains or in the winter, to do some snow sport, you can find all you want in Atzmaennig near Goldingen only an hour’s drive from Zürich.
- The Rheinfall, largest waterfall in Europe and the medieval town Schaffhausen with the Munot fortress
- Stein am Rhein with Burg Hohenklingen
Please feel free to contact us, if you’d like some more recommendations of other parts of Switzerland. Comment, if you know hidden gems in Zürich, which you’d like to add or other recommendations. Have a great time in Zürich!