This is a question that I am asked frequently and the short answer is YES. Compared to most European countries (with the possible exception of Scandinavian countries) Switzerland is expensive. However, there are some tips to economize and the purpose of this post is to share such tips.
The best way to get around in Switzerland is by public transport. From downtown in any city of Switzerland to the top of a mountain, there will always be some train, bus or boat available. Besides, travelling by train in Switzerland is a unique experience. However, this comes at a price. For example, one-way tickets from Zurich to Geneva cost approximately CHF 85 (as at the date of this post the exchange rate is CHF 1 = USD 1.06), from Zurich to Bern CHF 50 or from Zurich to Lucerne CHF 25. More information can be found at https://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html.
But it is still possible to reduce transport costs. The first thing to keep in mind is that children under 6 do not pay a ticket. Another useful tip is that many hotels offer city card, which allows free use of any transportation within the city where the hotel is located. In addition, while individual tickets are expensive, daily passes are proportionally cheaper. Therefore, if you are planning to travel within a city or region during the same day, it is better to purchase a daily travelcard rather than individual tickets. More information about the different tickets can be found in the following webpages for Zurich (https://www.zvv.ch/zvv/en/home.html), Geneva (https://www.tpg.ch/en/web/ site-international), Bern (https://www.bern.com/en/detail/public-transport) and Luzern (https://www.vbl.ch/).
Another good alternative is the Swiss Travel Pass (https://www.swiss-pass.ch/en/swiss-pass/) which is a pass similar to the Eurailpass, but only valid for Switzerland. The Swiss Travel Pass gives unlimited access on the network of Swiss travel system and free admission to more than 500 museums. We used this on a trip before moving to Switzerland and it was fantastic, both for transport and museums.
And if you do not intend to use public transportation very often, the Half Fare Card (https://www.swiss-pass.ch/en/swiss-half-fare-card/) is a good option, which allows for CHF 120, to purchase any transport tickets at half price. Both the Half Fare Card and the Swiss Travel Pass must be purchased in advance before arriving in Switzerland.
For those who prefer travelling by car, which is also an excellent option to enjoy the beautiful landscapes in Switzerland, routes and highways do not have toll. However, vehicles must have a vignette that costs CHF 40 per year. If the car is rented in Switzerland, the car will likely come with the vignette. But if you are driving from another country, you will have to purchase the vignette at the border, even if you only stay within Switzerland for 5 minutes. The price of petrol as at the date of this post is between CHF 1.55 to 1.75 per liter, depending on the region.
Taxis in Switzerland are expensive and with such good public transport, I would not recommend paying the extra price. Uber is also available Switzerland, but prices are very similar to the price of a taxi ride.
Accommodation in Switzerland used to be expensive and the quality was not the best. However, that has changed during the past years. Today it is possible to find very decent hotels at reasonable prices. In our case, since we travel with 2 children, we have always found Accor (Ibis, Novotel, etc.) or Holliday Inn hotels, as a good option since they offer family rooms at convenient prices. And if you don’t mind staying a couple of miles away from downtown, hotels near the airport usually offer good rates.
Airbnb is also available in Switzerland and apartments for two people can be found for less than CHF 70 in Geneva or Zurich, depending on the location. Prices can be even lower if you stay in the outskirts of the city or even in smaller towns.
Vacation rentals can also be found on this page: https://chalet.myswitzerland.com/holiday-rentals/
And if you prefer to stay at a hostel, the prices are reasonable and the facilities are immaculate. We stayed a few years ago at the YHA hostel near Geneva train station and it was fantastic. In the following link you can find more information about the different hostels in Switzerland: https://www.youthhostel.ch/en/
Eating out in Switzerland is expensive and, with the exceptions mentioned below, it is difficult to eat for less than CHF 10 per person, even in a McDonald’s. If you eat at a restaurant, prices for a dish will be hardly cheaper than CHF 18 and will usually cost between CHF 25 and CHF 40, depending on the dish and restaurant. In other words, a lunch or dinner for 2, without wine, would be in the region of CHF 60-80.
However, there are some tips to reduce food costs. Sandwiches, which are delicious in Switzerland, can be purchased for CHF 4-7. For those who want to eat at McDonald’s or Burger King, it is a good idea to download their application, which offers good deals. And if you prefer to eat healthier food at reasonable prices, the three main supermarkets in Switzerland, namely Coop (coop.ch), Migros (migros.ch) and Manor (manor.ch) usually have a restaurant area where it is possible to find salads, sandwiches, pies, chicken and other dishes for less than CHF 10. These restaurants offer free tap water, which will save a few bucks in beverages.
In case you prefer to have lunch or dinner at a fancier restaurant without spending your entire savings, we would recommend trying typical regional dishes such as fondue, raclette or even croute au fromage, which are usually cheaper than other type of dishes. For example, fondue will cost around CHF 24 per person in most restaurants and raclette even less.
In case you opted to stay at an Airbnb or similar accommodation, then the options for saving money will be even wider. In addition to Coop, Manor and Migros (along with its second brand, Denner), there are also cheaper supermarkets such as Aldi, Aligro and Lidl. Below there are some examples of prices that can be found at supermarkets, depending on the brand, quality or available sales:
Milk (1l): CHF 1-1.50
Spaghetti (500g): CHF 1.50-3.70 (depending on brand).
Barilla sauce: CHF 2.50-3.50.
Chicken (1kg): Approximately CHF 10.
Mineral water 1.5L: 0.35 (low cost brand) – CHF 1 (Evian)
Coke 1.5L: CHF 1.95
Brie cheese (100g): CHF 2.15-4.
Nutella x630g: CHF 3.80
Banana: CHF 1.50 Kg
Lindt Chocolate: From CHF 2.50
While tickets to museums in Switzerland are not excessively expensive, they are not very cheap either. But the good news is that the best things to see in this country are entirely free! You can enjoy the beautiful Swiss landscapes, lakes, mountains and cities without paying a single cent.
If you still want to spend some time at museums, below there are some prices for reference:
Olympic Museum (Lausanne): CHF 14
Museum of the Red Cross (Geneva): CHF 15
Tour of the UN building (Geneva): CHF 12
FIFA Museum (Zurich): CHF 24
Chaplin’s World (Vevey): CHF 25
Shopping in Switzerland is expensive for most of the non-Swiss residents. However, I have once read that, compared to the rest of Europe, alcoholic beverages, electronics and toys are cheaper. And our experience has shown us that this is true. For example, an Iphone X (64Go) can be purchased for approximately CHF 1200 and a Samsung 8 (also 64Go), for approximately CHF 600.
Well, we believe that the above covers most of the key points to take into account when preparing a budget for a trip to Switzerland. But if you still have some questions or want to find out about a specific price, please feel free to contact us.