swiss half fare card

How to Travel Switzerland on a Budget?

It is almost a cliché to say that Switzerland is an expensive country to live in and travel around. No wonder that it might feel overwhelming or “mission impossible” for someone planing to travel Switzerland on a budget.

At the same time in 2018 Switzerland was ranked 4th in the world for the highest quality of life according to the report of Social Progress Imperative. And it is #3 country in the world in average income according to the OECD report. So, not surprising that the spending is quite high too, right? 

Since we arrived to Switzerland it took us some time to adjust. And we also learned about ways how to make traveling and exploring Switzerland an affordable treat! Keep on reading for our key pieces of advice 🙂

swiss half fare card

TIP 1: Use public transport

Switzerland has a state of art public transport network. So our first advice is to use it!
From our personal experience we recommend to use trains for inter-city travel and to get Half-Fare Travelcard. It gives you 50% off on any train, boat and bus. Trust us, if you are keen on exploring Switzerland the annual cost of 185 CHF will pay back after a couple of trips! By the way the price goes down to CHF 165/year when it is automatically renewed the year after. 
Another insider tip for travelling by train in Switzerland is to catch the ‘Super Saver Tickets‘ on railway web-site SBB. Example: if you plan a trip Geneva-Zurich 10 days ahead, you can save as much as CHF 20 one way with Swiss half fare card or CHF 40 if you are buying a full ticket.
How to find these offers? When you are searching for a ticket on SBB web-site, choose a ticket with option “super saver ticket” that gives you a discounted price. IMPORTANT: a super saver ticket is valid only for the indicated time slot. 
If you don’t live in Switzerland and came for a short visit, you have several options to save on public transport:
Swiss Travel Pass. Gives you unlimited travel around Switzerland during 3, 4, 8, 15 days by bus, boat and train, plus free public transport in many cities and other huge benefits. TIP: recommended for long distance intensive travel, so that you can feel the saving. Read more here.  
Swiss Half Fare Card with 1 month validity at CHF 120/person price tag. From the title you can guess that it gives 50% on public transportation network and other perks. More details on SBB web-site.

visit free museum

TIP 2: Do your research

No matter what time of the year and region in Switzerland you plan to visit, you will always be able to find a vast array of activities you can do for free or at a minimal cost:
  • free walking tours
  • festivals and local events
  • local antique markets
  • free outdoor activities
  • free museum entrances
Imagine all the Christmas markets that are open every December, music and dance festivals that mushroom all around Switzerland in summer, free museum entrances on specific days. So with a bit of time investment you can create a very rich program.
You can check some of our favourite free (or almost free) activities that we love. But there are many-many more of course:
Caves Ouvertes (“open cellars” in English) typically organised on a specific week-end in May or June every year in wine-making regions of Switzerland. The concept is simple. You buy a wine glass for around CHF 10. Equipped with it you start tasting as many wines as you wish from all of the cellars that open their doors. And remember to buy a bottle or two!
Night of Museums when museums open their doors for free in majority of big cities. Runs annually. 
Free entrance to majority of museums in Geneva every first Sunday of the month. 
Hot Air Balloon Festival at Château-d’Oex that is held annually in the end of January/beginning of February. It is an amazing show and unmissable opportunity to get yourself a hot air balloon flight! The entrance ticket to the show is only 15 CHF on week-ends and is at mere 5 CHF on Wednesdays. 

drink tap water

TIP 3: Essentials: accommodation, food, going-out

Accommodation

It is hard to deny that hotel accommodation in Switzerland is quite expensive. But with appearance of Airbnb.com on the Swiss market, you can find quite affordable options. And on top you can get a kitchen with an opportunity to cook your own meals.  
In winter it is a true experience to rent a Swiss chalet close to the slope at one of the skiing resorts. Book early as these are being rent out fast on for the winter season! IMPORTANT: when you stay at a hotel in Switzerland, you get an additional perk – Transportation card – that offers free public transport for the duration of your stay.

Eat local

If you are more like us and prefer to taste local food and go out to meet the locals, then here are our couple of advice that will help you:
  1. Don’t shy to order a jar of tap water when you are eating out. Water in Switzerland is drinkable and of an unmatchable quality. You will also see a lot of water fountains in the streets. 
  2. Order a “Lunch menu” that will cost around CHF 20/person during the working week. Majority of cafes & restaurants offer those. Go for them!
  3. Discover local canteens wherever you travel in Switzerland. We found out about Bains de Paquis in Geneva that offers 14 CHF meals both at lunch and dinner! Amazing offer in an amazing place! 🙂
  4. Use apps that can provide offers up to 50% off in multiple restaurants. There are a couple of them available.
  5. You don’t have to tip in Switzerland. It is true as your bill will already include the cost of the service. A gesture of leaving a couple of coins is always appreciated but not expected. 
Hope you find out tips on how to travel Switzerland on a budget useful. We will be happy to hear your stories and how it worked out for you during your next travel in Switzerland on a budget. 

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