There are a ton of reasons to travel in Switzerland. We can’t even try and dissuade you from it by saying it’s one of the most expensive countries in the world. As Switzerland is busting at the seams with alpine lakes, dramatic cliff faces mountains, modern cities, flower-filled meadows, charming villages, fresh air, alphorns, and free-roaming dairy cows it’s easy to see the allure.
It’s one of the safest countries in the world, with no bad seasons, and plenty of villages to explore. Needless to say, a visit to Switzerland should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list. Planning on a trip of your own? Here are ten things to know about travel in Switzerland.
Things to know about travel in Switzerland
Switzerland is expensive
If you plan to travel to Switzerland on a backpackers budget you’re going to have a hard time. Switzerland consistently ranks as one of the most expensive countries in the world to live and travel. From our experience, we can say that only Iceland passes Switzerland in terms of holy shit pricing.
The first time I traveled to Switzerland years ago, I distinctly remember staying two nights, eating ramen noodles, and hiking around the mountains just so I could keep traveling without selling a limb. The second time I visited, I was on a bit of a larger budget, but that still didn’t mean the prices stopped shocking me.
So just how expensive is Switzerland? You can expect a basic cappuccino will run you 5-8 CHF, while a takeaway meal can set you back 15-20 CHF. Hostel dorm rooms generally start at 30 CHF per night, a basic hotel room in a city like Lucerne is about 100 CHF (or more), and a three-hour train ride across the country may cost 70 CHF, but only if you book in advance.
Of course, the costs all depend on the activities you do, how much you shop around, your accommodation style, and how basic you eat. I would say a very basic budget for Switzerland is at least 60-75 CHF a day to start out with. High-end prices only climb from there.
There are ways to get by cheaply
Despite Switzerland being so insanely expensive, there are ways that you can cut costs when you travel. Most of my tips aren’t specific to just Switzerland, but to traveling cheaper in general.
- Move less: Unless you built an invisible jet made out of rainbows and runs on unicorn poop it is going to cost you to move around. Like anywhere, the more you move the more it costs. Rail, bus, and car rentals aren’t cheap in Switzerland so if you are on a budget I would suggest picking just a few top places that you want to see and take time exploring those places in depth. If you find you have to move try using the car sharing economy, buses, or hitchhiking if you feel comfortable.
- Eat vegetarian at grocery stores: If you’re going out for a meal it’s going to cost you at least 20-30 CHF to eat. Shopping for your own meals and cooking is going to be the cheapest way to eat. Migro and Co-Op are the main supermarkets in Switzerland and some sell ready-made meals if you don’t have a kitchen to cook. Meat is also expensive in Switzerland so consider giving up meat while you’re there! (Not to mention its bad for the environment and linked to cancer, but that’s just why we’re vegetarian)
- Drink the tap water: Save plastic and money and don’t buy bottled water in Switzerland. Tap water is perfectly safe to drink! Here are some of our favorite travel water bottles.
- Cut out the booze: Drinking is not a cheap affair in Switzerland. Skip the drinking or stick to drinking at home to save money.
Hiking is free!
While Switzerland is known for being expensive, it’s also known for being gorgeous. Travelers are greeted with alpine lakes, dramatic cliff faces mountains, and flower-filled meadows.
No matter the season Switzerland is an outdoor lovers dream. You know what they say – nature is free! So you at least don’t have to spend much to enjoy Switzerland’s pristine landscapes. All around the country, there is fantastic hiking or snowshoeing (depends on season). Some of my favorite hikes in the country started around Interlaken (Read about nearby Grindelwald)!
You have to fondue at least once
You may have had some sort of fondue before, but have you had it in Switzerland? Fondue originates from the landlocked country and became popular after the Swiss Cheese Union aggressively promoted it as a marketing strategy in the 1930’s. Now, it’s become common place as a communal affair throughout Switzerland with families and friends sitting down to the dinner table to enjoy – especially when it’s cold out.
Generally, the Swiss will enjoy melted cheese and bread (and probably an abundance of drinks) in presence of good company. It’s probably the American in me, but I always wanted different fruits and vegetables to dip into the cheese but the most common thing to dip into cheese is local bread!
We also learned from a few locals that traditionally if you lose your bread in the cheese you are the next to buy the group a round of drinks. So hold on to your bread!
Sometimes words can get confusing
“Swiss” is not a language. Instead, Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. If you’re traveling around the whole country, what greeting to use can get confusing. Generally speaking the more west you get (towards France) the more French you will hear. When you are south (towards Italy) you will start to hear some Italian.
The majority of the country speaks Swiss German. Romansh is the least spoken in Switzerland making up 1% of the Swiss population. While many Swiss are bi-lingual don’t assume that the French-speaking population can speak German and vice versa.
Switzerland is a small country so it’s completely possible to go from a Swiss German-speaking section of the country to French in less than an hour.
Pick up a Swiss Rail Pass
If you plan on extensive travel in Switzerland and hitting many destinations, consider getting a Swiss Rail Pass. Switzerland has an extensive train system and you can get just about anywhere via rail and bus. The Swiss Travel Pass is an all in one ticket giving you complete access to Switzerland (and Liechtenstein!). A 15-day pass is just shy of 500 CHF, so it’s definitely not cheap. However, if you are planning on traveling every two to three days having a pass could be cheaper than buying many different point to point tickets.
I’ve traveled by both first and second class rail passes while in Switzerland. The main difference is that first class has larger windows, more comfortable, and is generally quieter as there are fewer people. However, we feel like the second class tickets are a much better value as the difference isn’t vast. Swiss travel passes also grant you free access to over 500 museums in the country. Punctuality is also your friend when it comes to traveling in Switzerland. If the train is set to leave at 12:03, it will leave at 12:03.
Switzerland is not part of the EU
Switzerland is not part of the European Union, meaning that unlike their neighbors they do not use the Euro note. The Swiss Franc is one of the most stable currencies in the world and is the national currency of Switzerland.
If you find yourself in a bind you might be able to use a Euro note depending on if you are at a tourist destination or not. Although Switzerland is not in the EU, it is a member of the Schengen Agreement and depending on where you are from that could mean visa free travel. Read more about that here.
You know those Ricola commercials that dominated ad space in the 90’s? If not here is a refresher. That Swiss yodeler high in the Alps strapped with lederhosen and carrying an alphorn isn’t just a marketing gimmick. It used to be a way of life in Switzerland and neighboring countries. People would use their powerful voice and alphorn to communicate between mountain villages and valleys.
We actually had the opportunity to play an Alphorn in Nendaz. And I must say the wooden natural horn came natural to me. Although, the alphorn and yodeling aren’t common in modern Swiss culture anymore, there are still annual festivals and people who play to keep the tradition alive. A number of villages and destinations offer tourists a chance to try their hand at the famous instrument.
Don’t expect to make a ton of friends
If your goal is to make a bunch of Swiss friends while in Switzerland you will most likely have to work harder than usual. We found the Swiss to be very reserved people, guarded, and never veering out of their way to make small talk with people. That’s not to say the Swiss are unfriendly, they just may not open their homes to you like say…the Greeks or Scots.
Get a universal power adaptor
You will need a specific adaptor to charge your electronics in Switzerland. Most of continental Europe use the Here is the exact one I haveand I have traveled all around Europe and the UK with it.plug, also known as ). While Switzerland uses the Type J outlets and those are slightly smaller. If you’re traveling around Europe save yourself a headache and go ahead and get a Universal travel adaptor. Most Universal adaptors fit with the Europlug which works in Switzerland.
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