Swiss insider tips for a visit of Zürich Switzerland on a budget. Enjoy a city trip to Zürich at Lake Zürich in the foothills of the Swiss Alps.

Swiss Insider Guide to Zürich Switzerland On A Budget

You think, you can’t visit Zürich Switzerland without paying an arm and a leg? You have heard that Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world? I grew up in the region of Zürich and give you some valuable insider tips for your city trip to this beautiful town at the Zürich Lake.

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Grossmünster Cathedral in the Old Town of Zürich

Prefered Means of Payment in Zürich Switzerland

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.

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Zürich by night at Christmas Time

Communication and Internet throughout Switzerland

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.

Free and unlimited internet access is available almost everywhere in Zurich Switzerland 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.

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Lake Zürich, Switzerland

Accommodation in Zürich

The 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.

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.com, you may find some pretty affordable options in shared apartments on airbnb.com from about CHF 40.— or for an even smaller amount in shared bedrooms at hostels.

For longer stays you may 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.

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Zürich Tram

Shop Smart in Zürich or Eat Out Cannily

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, Aldi, Lidl and a little bit more expensive Migros and Coop. The prices are lower in the surrounding suburbs than in the city itself or 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 one of the bigger supermarket stores. 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 Switzerland. Depending on how late you want to eat dinner, you will probably find all previous mentioned restaurants closed.

In general, “cheap” places to dine 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.

Transport in Zürich Switzerland

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.

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View from the Üetliberg’s Watch tower to the West

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. Don’t forget to check, if it isn’t cheaper to hire a car. If you are not alone, it may be cheaper and you have the advantage to be mobile. 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 electric bike and even kids’ bikes or adult bikes with children’s seats.

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Traditional Music Instrument in Switzerland – Alphorn

Zürich City Tours

Start first with a city tour in the medieval part of Zürich. Afterwards choose another one like the Cosmopolitan Tour in the new centre of Zürich West to get an overview of the more modern part of Zürich. 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.

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One of the World’s longest viaducts – now refurbished with trendy shops

Free museums and art galleries in Zürich

  • The archaeological collection of the University of Zürich Switzerland
  • 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)

This is only a selection of museums. There are many more.

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Winter in Zurich, Switzerland

Zürich Switzerland: Events

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!

Affordable Outdoors Activities in Zürich

  • Old Botanical Gardens
  • Arboretum
  • Zürich Zoo
  • Voliere – plenty of birds
  • Wildnispark Langenberg

Of course you can swim in the lake and in the river in summertime as well, stroll along the shores and listen to the street music and art without any costs.

Explore the Outskirts of Zürich

Zürich lies at Lake Zürich in the middle of rolling green hills and the snow capped Swiss Alps in the background. Within just an hour’s drive you can visit mountains, roam around medieval castles, cross majestic rivers and explore beautiful landscapes, hiking through some extended forests of Switzerland.

  • 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. A train departs from Zürich main station up the Üetliberg, if you’d rather have it easier. A restaurant and a small kiosk on top of the mountain provide refreshments and lunch.
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Train to the Üetliberg, Zürich, Switzerland

  • Don’t miss to go on the Lake Zürich by boat. With the day ticket for the public transport in Zürich a round trip 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 may 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 if in the winter, you’d like to do some snow sport, you can find all you want in Atzmaennig near Goldingen only an hour’s drive from Zürich.GreyWorldNomads_Zürich28

Rheinfall, Switzerland

  • The Rheinfall, largest waterfall in Europe, and the medieval town Schaffhausen with the Munot fortress.

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  • Stein am Rhein with Burg Hohenklingen

More inspiration of what to do in and around Zürich Switzerland, you’ll find on the official website of the Swiss Tourism board. For tours with the train beyond Zürich you find a lot of information on the website of the Swiss Railway Company (sbb.ch).

Starting out in Zürich you’ll consider to discover other parts of Switzerland like Brienz in Bernese Oberland or the Swiss Alps in winter.

Please feel free to contact me, if you’d like more recommendations about other parts of Switzerland. Comment, if you know hidden gems in Zürich, which you’d like to share. Have a great time in Zürich Switzerland!

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