What comes to your mind when someone says Switzerland?
On one side, there are majestic mountains, delicious fondue and chocolate, big banks sheltering people's money, precision watches, and a neutral and orderly society.
On the other, heart attack-inducing prices: $8 USD coffee or beer?! $50 steaks?! A $15 menu at McDonald's?! $35-40 hostel beds?!
Switzerland is rated the most expensive country in the world to visit, with Geneva and Zurich being two of the ten most expensive cities to live in.
Hence most people wait till they are wealthier to visit this magnificent country.
So, when I say that it is possible to go there without filing for bankruptcy later, you might think that I've lost my mind.
I agree on one thing. Switzerland will probably never be a dirt-cheap destination so all of you who are patiently waiting it out for cheaper times, well, don't bother. However, we can always keep an open eye for discounts, offers and just being smart about the whole thing.
Here are a few tips to keep spends in control:
Avoid doubling back on your itinerary. What does that mean? Don't go back and forth the same places. Make sure that you plan your destinations in a sequence so that you are never travelling through the same cities twice. To save a few extra Francs, couchsurf. It is not only much cheaper, but you also get to meet fabulous people and experience true Swiss culture.
TRAVEL TIP: Keep in mind that some places might not offer Couchsurfing. A good way to avoid shelling out a lot of money is accumulating hotel loyalty points. Its called travel hacking!
Local transport tends to be more expensive than accommodation. Try using BlaBlaCar which is a ride-sharing website to avoid trains. This is also a great way to meet locals. However, book early and keep an eye on your ride as many of them tend to cancel. Try to avoid alcohol on a daily basis. It is expensive here. Most beers are around 8 CHF. Most wines are between 10-25 CHF a bottle.
TRAVEL TIP: If you must drink, stick to hostel bars where you can enjoy 2-for-1 happy hours and cheap drinks for around 5 CHF.
Cook your meals and try to go vegetarian for the duration of your trip. Meat is expensive in Switzerland. A week's worth of food (bread, pasta, rice, eggs, vegetables, cheese, deli meats for sandwiches, and some assorted fruit) will cost you 75-100 CHF. The major supermarkets are Migros, COOP, and Spar. COOP is the most expensive.
TRAVEL TIP: If you are going to eat out, do so during lunch, when most lunch specials cost around 10-19 CHF. Moreover, stick to the ethnic restaurants like Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, or Thai for the best deals and biggest portions (and closer to that 10 CHF price).
When to go
Low Season (Oct-Mar)
Mountain resorts go into snooze mode from mid-October to early December. Prices are up to 50% lower than in high season. Sights and restaurants are open fewer days and shorter hours.
Shoulder (Apr-Jun & Sep)
Look for accommodation deals in ski resorts and traveller hot spots. Spring is idyllic, with warm temperatures, flowers and local produce. Watch the grape harvest in autumn.
High Season (Jul, Aug & Dec-Apr)
In July and August walkers and cyclists hit high-altitude trails. Christmas and New Year see serious snow-sports action on the slopes. Late December to early April is high season in ski resorts.
Budget (up to CHF200)
Dorm bed: Sfr30-60 Double room in budget hotel: from Sfr100 Lunch out and self-catering after dark: from Sfr25 Midrange (CHF200- 300)
Double room in two- or three-star hotel: from Sfr200 (Sfr150 at weekends) Dish of the day (tagesteller, plat du jour, piatto del giorno) or fixed two-course menu: Sfr40-70 Top end (more than CHF300)
Double room in four- or five-star hotel: from Sfr350 (Sfr250 at weekends) Three-course dinner in upmarket restaurant: from Sfr100
Tipping is not necessary, given that hotels, restaurants, bars and even some taxis are legally required to include a 15% service charge in bills. Restaurants You can round up the bill after a meal for good service, as locals do. Hotels Hotel and railway porters expect a franc or two per bag.
Visitors planning to use inter-city routes should consider investing in a Swiss travel pass. Timetables often refer to Werktags (work days), which means Monday to Saturday, unless there is the qualification 'ausserSamstag' (except Saturday).
Now that we have the essentials sorted, here is a sample itinerary for you to consider. You can always add or remove destinations from here to suit your preferences.
1-WEEK ITINERARY: ZURICH, INTERLAKEN, ZERMATT, GENEVA
Day trips to: Lucerne, Bern, Montreux
To travel within Switzerland and for this itinerary, in particular, it is highly recommended that you get the 8 Consecutive Day Swiss Travel Pass for unlimited travel the entire week you are in Switzerland. This pass covers all of the train routes in this itinerary including the boat ride between Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus. This pass excludes the fares for the cogwheel trains to Mt. Pilatus, Jungfraujoch, and Matterhorn but pass holders do get certain discounts off the regular fare for those trains. Pass should be purchased well in advance on the Rail Europe website. Please be aware some trains do require separate reservations so check this link after you have received your pass to see which trains you need to reserve for. Advanced reservation up to 90 days is recommended to ensure you get a space (and seat!) in the trains you want to take.
TRAVEL TIP: If you don't want to lug around your bags, many train stations in Switzerland have luggage lockers that you can rent. Locker sizes and prices vary, many of them only accept coins. Check whether your train station offers luggage lockers by searching here, click under the "Equipment" tab for full details
Day 0: Arrive at Zurich
Day 1: Zurich
Lake Zurich Grossmunster Altstadt (Old Town) Bahnhofstrasse Uhrenmuseum (Watch Museum) Lindenhof for a gorgeous view of Zurich over the Limmat River and Old Town.
Day 2: Zurich to Lucerne
TRAVEL TIP: Trains depart from Zurich HB every 30 minutes to Lucerne, total travel time on the train is about 45 minutes so please plan accordingly ( click here for train schedules and reservations).
Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) Golden Round Trip (see prices, map, and timetable) to Mt. Pilatusby taking the boat from Lucerne port to Alpnachstad.
TRAVEL TIP: The Dragon Path trail at the top is recommended to reach the highest peak of Tomlishorn for a panoramic view of all the surrounding mountain ranges. On the way down, choose the cable car route to Fräkmüntegg (while taking in the gorgeous views of Lake Lucerne in front of you), then transfer to Kriens via the gondola and take the line 1 bus back to Lucerne.
From Lucerne rail station, catch the train that departs hourly to Interlaken Ost. Please be aware the last train to Interlaken is at 18:05, travel time is around 2 hours, you can also check the schedule here.
Day 3: Interlaken - Bern
Take the train from Interlaken Ost to Bern, the ride is about 50 minutes long. Explore Altstadt von Bern (Old City of Bern). Munster Kirche (The Cathedral of Bern) Be sure to climb to the top of the Clock Tower for a panoramic view of the city Bärengraben (Bear Pit) Lots of nightlife if you hang around Bundeshaus in the evening
TRAVEL TIP: if you are in Bern between October to November, you can also catch the spectacular Rendez-vouzBundesplatz light show that occurs every evening between 19:00-20:30.
Day 4: Interlaken - Jungfraujoch
TRAVEL TIP: Please be aware you will need to purchase separate train tickets on the Wengernalp Railway and Jungfrau Railway even if you have the Swiss Travel Pass, however ticket prices will be discounted by 25% for pass holders ( see fare prices).
Also recommended is checking out the Ice Cave on the same level which is free for all visitors
Travel by coach through the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland's magnificent Jungfrau region, then hop aboard a cogwheel train and ride up to Jungfraujoch, Europe's highest railway station at a staggering elevation of 11,333 feet (3,454 meters).
Walk through the heart of a glacier in the Ice Palace, overlook the Aletsch Glacier (Europe's longest glacier) from the sweeping Sphinx Observatory and spot the snow-capped peaks of neighboring France and Italy beyond.
There are multiple day trips available from Zurich as well.
Day 5: Interlaken - Zermatt
Take the train from Interlaken Ost to Zermatt ( get schedule here), please be aware there are usually 2 transfers in between, and the total travel time is between 2.5-3 hours.
One of the most popular and easy routes is the Hörnligrat, which essentially goes from Zermatt via the Hörnli Hut.
The Matterhorn does not have a cable car and therefore offers experienced sports enthusiasts a new challenge - climbing the mountain themselves!
A top excursion is Gornergrat.
The Matterhorn glacier paradise is the highest summer ski region in Europe and is open 365 days a year.
The Matterhorn Museum explains the historic development of Zermatt from a mountain village to an Alpine holiday resort and also has many photographs and facts about the first ascent of the Matterhorn.
On a clear day, definitely do the hiking route down (or you can take the train to Rotenboden station, 2 stops from Gornergrat station, plus a 10-minute walk) to Riffelsee, a glacial lake with a perfect reflection of Matterhorn's peak. After the lake, you can hop onto the train back down to Riffelberg mountain station, in which you'd be able to take the gondola down to Furi. Then take the cable car to Klein Matterhorn via TrockenerStegfor a breathtaking view of the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.
Day 6: Zermatt & Montreaux
Explore Zermatt in the morning. In the afternoon, Take the train to Montreux for a mini-day trip at this picturesque town situated next to Lake Geneva. The total travel time between Zermatt and Montreux is about 2 hours and 40 minutes (schedule). Chateau de Chillon In the evening board a train to Geneva. travel time is around 1 hour so plan accordingly (schedule
Day 7: Geneva
Cathédrale de St. Pierre (9:00-18:30, free admission) There is also an Archaeological Site underneath the cathedral (10:00-17:00, CHF 8 pp) Place Bourg du Four Jet d'Eau Place de l'Ile
TRAVEL TIP: A great way to explore the city is through Segway Tours, not only do you get a one-tour-see-all package, it's also tons of fun and barely any walking required. Advanced booking is highly recommended.
Hope this itinerary helps you in deciding what you would like to do. if you are looking for a few quirky things to do in Switzerland, here are a few options for you!
Opened in 2016, this engaging museum celebrates the life and work of iconic London-born film star Charlie Chaplin.
Chaplin's World is about 3km north of Vevey, by the A9 motorway. Bus 212, departing Vevey station every 30min from 5.30am to 7pm in the direction of Fenil-sur-Corsier, will get you to the 'Corsier-sur-Vevey, Chaplin' stop (Sfr3.70), in under 15 minutes.
Allow at least a couple of hours to do this place justice; better yet, make an entire day of it with visits to the on-site restaurant and gift shop.
Swiss National Park
This was the first national park to be established in the Alps in 1914. Admission to the park and its car parks is free.
Aletsch Glacier Hike:
At 23km, the Aletsch Glacier is the longest glacier in the European Alps and a Unesco World Heritage site.
While most view the glacier from its head at Jungfraujoch in the Bernese Oberland, the best views are from Eggishorn (2927m), Bettmerhorn (2647m) and Moosfluh (2333m) in Valais. These viewpoints sit at the top of cable cars and lifts climbing from Fiesch, Bettmeralp and Riederalp. There are superb hikes above the glacier.
The route follows mountain paths down to the Rote Chumma and into the basin of the Märjelen lakes. The Fiescheralp is reached by rounding the Tälli ridge or through the pedestrian tunnel to shorten the distance.
TRAVEL TIP: The water tunnel from Märjelen (passable on foot) shortens the tour by about 1 hour.
Get all the information on the guided hikes here.
Reichenbachfälle (Reichenbach Falls):
Accessibility: Train to Meiringen, on foot (20 minutes) or by bus to Willigen, funicular rail to the Reichenbach Falls
Attractions: The Sherlock Holmes story, statue and museum in Meiringen
Overnight stays: Meiringen or GasthausZwirgi
Winter: not in operation
Whether you are Team Sherlock or Team Moriarty, this is one heck of a place to visit. Here at the 120 meter-high waterfall, Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle found inspiration and a death place for his hero Sherlock Holmes in the battle against Professor Moriarty.
Today a cableway with 24-seater wooden carriages, once used for the electricity works, brings visitors to the place of the scene - close to the viewing terrace above the powerful waters.
And hiking trails lead back to the Haslital valley, Aare Gorge or direction Rosenlaui to the historic hotel and Rosenlaui Glacier Gorge.
I hope this article was helpful! Do share your comments and let us know if you have been to any off the beaten track places in Switzerland!