Switzerland on a Budget
Switzerland has been named year after year as one of the most expensive countries in the world (currently rated #2 with Bermuda taking the gold), so I can understand why, for the budget traveler, it can be a rather intimidating place to visit. When we found out Derik had a spontaneous four-day weekend earlier this month, we thought taking a trip down to the Swiss Alps might be just what our wanderlusting souls needed.
The only problem was, we hadn’t budgeted for a trip, let alone a trip to one of the most pricey locations on the planet. *insert thinking emoji face* After a few hours of researching hotels, trains, buses, food, and locations, we decided Interlaken would be the best place for us to stay, and a good starting point to visit some of the other pretty places nearby.
Looking back on our trip, we actually did pretty darn good budget-wise, and exercised a lot of self-control. To be honest, it probably helped that pretty much everything was closed for the month of November as the locals tend to take vacation between the summer high season, and winter (skiing) high season that starts in December.
Below are a few things that we did to keep our budget in check and our bank account from screaming!
*** All photos are courtesy of my iPhone because I have yet to go through my DSLR pics. #storyofmylife
For us, getting to Interlaken wasn’t so bad. It only takes about 4:30 hours to drive from where we live in Germany, and after looking at train tickets, bus tickets, and briefly looking at airfare, driving beat out all the other options for transportation. We took our own vehicle, and total for gas it cost $65. We already had a vignette for Switzerland, otherwise that would have been an additional $40 dollars.
If you’re planning a trip to Switzerland and are car-less, local transportation is definitely something to consider. Most hotels in more established towns and cities offer free public transport with your accommodation. We did not use it due to having our own vehicle, but it would be a great option!
If you’re going to be flying in and will be traveling to quite a few locations in Switzerland, I would highly recommend looking into the Swiss Travel Pass. It provides free unlimited transportation via train, bus or boat, and can also give you discounted rates for trips up mountains (cable car, cog wheel train, funicular), and entrance into museums.
Parking: I wanted to touch on this real quick because it was something I was worried about since we were driving down. With it being off-season, we really had nothing to fear because there were plenty of parking spaces available when we visited Lauterbrunnen for a day-trip + our hotel offered free parking for guests in Interlaken. We spent a total of $6 dollars on parking for four days.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Our first thought was to stay in the center of picturesque Lauterbrunnen, but even in off-season we couldn’t find a hotel that had rooms for less than $200 a night. Even the cheap, no-frills hostels were upwards of 90 dollars a night for the tiniest cave of a room, no breakfast, and no parking. Believe it or not, Airbnb was even worse with a shared apartment price starting at $320 a night – WHAT. I’m not entirely sure if it is because we were booking last minute, or that’s just how things are?
We extended our search to Grindelwald (even worse than Lauterbrunnen) and Interlaken, and was able to find a great deal with Hotel Interlaken at their 5th floor hostel. I know what you’re thinking, “Ok Amanda, a hostel?” But really it wasn’t bad at all. Derik and I had our own room with a sink, closet, and very comfy bed that had a great view of the city. We did however have a shared toilet room and shower room, but in the three nights we stayed there, I never ran into a single person! Best of all, the room came with a daily room cleaning, and a full breakfast buffet with the main hotel guests. We were also given the free local transportation card, free parking, and a discount card for some of the local attractions.
Sure, it wasn’t a 5-star spa resort with an infinity hot-tub view of the Swiss Alps, but it was nice, and I would definitely stay there again.
Switzerland has some incredible dishes, and usually involve cheese, meat, and potatoes #winning. Both Derik and I, being avid foodies, died a little on the inside the first night when we saw a mere Caesar salad was more than $25, and a plain burger with fries was $32. How the heck were we to get a taste of the local cuisine without blowing our budget out of the water with those prices?! We ended up ordering one portion of cheese fondue with the basic dipping veggies and breads, and a water for dinner. Turns out one portion was plenty to eat, and we spent $28 dollars on dinner for two — which set the tone for the rest of the trip! We ended up sharing an entree between the two of us every dinner because the portions were very generous!
We had also planned ahead in the food department and brought along a full loaf of bread to make PB&J, chips, crackers, fruit, and veggies to make lunch every day, and with that in combination with our free breakfast, we only had to spend money on dinner for the next few nights.
If you do find yourself in a situation while visiting Switzerland where the food is way more expensive than you imagined, there are plenty of grocery stores to purchase your own food to make into meals for the day. There’s a big Lidl in Interlaken that had some great prices, as well as a decent selection of alcohol if you want to save yourself from buying high-priced wine and beer at a bar/restaurant like we did!
Activities / Tours
As much as I would have loved to visit Schilthorn (made famous by the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), or taken the train to Jungfraujoch (the Top of Europe), spending hundreds of dollars per person wasn’t something we could justify on our spontaneous getaway. The entire weekend was also cloudy with occasional rain, and visibility wasn’t that great, making either tour pointless. They both boast views for days, but without being able to see the actual view, how in the world could the price be worth it?
We decided to walk around in both Lauternbrunnen and Interlaken, and found some wonderful spots to take pictures, warm up (hey-yo we even found a great happy hour that offered $6 mulled wine pitchers), and get a bit of fresh air. We also took the funicular up the Harder Klum to get our fix of views from the clouds. The discount card from our hotel gave us a bit of a break for the trip up, and I believe we paid $44-ish dollars for two tickets RT. <—— This was our big splurge over the weekend. You think I’m kidding, I’m not.
Overall, the beauty of Switzerland is incredible. We would have been completely happy spending all four days hiking the many trails in the area, but it was so wet and muddy, we decided to spend the rainiest part each of the day indoors. Both Derik and I love adventure and exploring new places, but honestly taking a bit of time to slow down and rest (even in intervals) was exactly what our bodies needed.
Every person’s budget, travel needs, and lifestyle may look a little different, but hopefully our insights above can help you prepare for your own trip! If you have any more advice, please leave it below! More photos to come (hopefully soon) of our adventures in Switzerland. 🙂