Switzerland is not known as a budget destination. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive countries in the world to visit and you’ll need a minimum of $75 a day to cover the basics. Without wishing to cause too much alarm, be prepared to pay around $15 for a McDonalds, $8 for a coffee, and $50 for a steak. Unsurprisingly, Switzerland is not known as a backpacker destination!
That said, even though Switzerland will never be considered ‘cheap and cheerful’, it is possible to have an awesome time on a budget. So, if you are planning to visit the Swiss Alps and you don’t want to waste money, here are our tips for traveling cheaply.
Look for cost-effective accommodation
Alpine hotels can be very pricey. Many of them cater to rich celebs and millionaires doing a spot of financial planning. The average person won’t be able to afford a room in Hotel President Wilson in Geneva or the Chedi Andermatt in the Alps. But fear not, there are more affordable – and just as luxurious – options out there. Take, for example, a Swiss cabin in the mountains.
There are some stunning Alpine cabins available. Rent a luxury cabin or mountain hut for your family and wake up each morning to the sound of mountain goats passing by on their way to lush pasture. If you want a vacation away from everything, an Alpine hut, cabin, or chalet is the best choice. Not only will it offer better value for money than a hotel, but it will be a lot more peaceful.
Rent a car
If you want to explore the many mountain villages, you will need a car. Driving through the Alps in the winter can be tricky, so rent a 4×4 or vehicle with snow chains. In the summer, there is less chance you will be caught out by snow and ice unless you ascend beyond 3,000 m. However, do be careful.
Pick up a rental car from the airport when you arrive in Switzerland or hire one locally. Price check the rates before you sign a rental agreement, to avoid any unexpected costs. Hire companies sometimes add on additional charges, which catch customers out.
If driving around steep mountain passes makes you feel a bit queasy, you can always use public transport. Swiss trains are very efficient and some of the routes are amazing. Book a Travel Pass to save money on multiple journeys but plan your route to maximize the cost savings. A Family Card lets kids under 16 travel for free.
Try some inexpensive activities
Some activities are going to be more expensive than others. Traveling to the Swiss Alps to ski in the winter is often quite pricey. By the time you have spent money on ski passes, equipment rental, ski lessons for the kids, and more, your budget may be blown.
The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do for relatively little money, or even for free, which leaves you with more money to spend on a luxury Swiss cabin in the mountains.
Enjoy the views
Whatever time of the year you travel to the Swiss Alps, you’ll find that the views are always stunning. Winter or summer, the mountains, and valleys are beautiful. It costs nothing to admire the scenery. Find a nice spot and take some photos. Grab your sketchbook and capture the tonal differences you see. Make some memories now and you have enough to sustain you until you return next year.
Hike in the Alps
The best way to see the Alps is to explore them under your own steam. For obvious reasons, this is very much a summer activity, as hiking in the middle of winter will be difficult, to say the least. In summer, though, the Swiss Alps are a glorious riot of color. There are hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails, most of which are all supported.
Depending on your fitness levels, it is possible to spend your entire vacation hiking in the Alps. Well-known trails like the Haute Route are supported by a network of huts where you can sleep, cook meals, and take a hot shower. This means you don’t need to carry a tent or a stove.
Those who don’t want to hike for days at a time can stick to day treks and stay in local accommodation at night. This way you get the best of both worlds: a luxurious bed at night and wonderful views and fresh air during the day. There are many walking tours on offer, run by local guides with tons of knowledge. They work on a voluntary basis, so pay what you feel the tour was worth.
Go cycling in the Alps
Cycling is another cheap and cheerful activity. Rent some bikes locally or take your own bicycles if you’re traveling from another European country. Many of the on-road and off-road routes are challenging, but that’s all part of the fun. Take your time and explore the locale at your leisure. There will always be plenty of time to stop for a coffee or hot chocolate.
Relax and unwind
Part of the joy of exploring the Swiss Alps is that you can take the opportunity to relax and unwind in a beautiful location. If you book a mountain cabin, look for one that comes with a hot tub. Nothing beats sitting in a hot tub with the mountains soaring high above and the valley floor stretched out far below. Pick up some delicious wine from the nearest supermarket, some fondue cheese, and chocolate, and you’re sorted.
During the day, pack a picnic for day trips out. Buy some local bread, cheese, and fruit. Fill up some water bottles, and you are good to go. If you need some alcoholic refreshment, stop at a local pub during Happy Hour and sample the beer or wine.
Don’t let Switzerland’s reputation for being expensive put you off. Once you have nailed your accommodation, there is plenty you can do on a budget.