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Can I travel to Switzerland on a budget?
Switzerland is without a doubt one of the most expensive countries to travel to, so it makes sense that people regularly ask us if it is possible to travel to Switzerland on a budget. Good news: Yes, you can!
We traveled to Switzerland in July and had to start planning about 3-4 months in advance to make our two-week trip affordable, but it worked - and we kept our accommodations and adventures quite cheap! In fact, our adventures ended up being 20-50% cheaper than we could get anywhere else in Switzerland. So, it’s nearly impossible to find a cheaper trip to Switzerland than this one (plus, through our free travel consultations, we’ll even find a way to make your flight super affordable too!)
Switzerland is a adventure lovers dream, and the landscape is simply mind blowing. But, to do it on a budget, we’re going to have to forego most of the guides and tours. For this, you’ll want to pick up the Lonely Planet Switzerland travel guide as a replacement - to make sure you get all of the information and details for all of the amazing places you are going to visit. Trust us, the stories and history make it better! (TIP: Keep a look out for their 3 books for the price of 2 deal that pops up once or twice a year!)
Additionally, you can learn about the etiquette, culture and customs of Switzerland’s before you arrive by reading Switzerland - Culture Smart!. It’s good to know these things as you won’t have someone by your side to explain them while you’re exploring, but this added value will let you experience the richness of the culture for only a couple of bucks - plus it’s a quick read!
The key to making this work is a little-known fact: a large boy scout camp that offers all types of Swiss activities, as well as their own accommodations, to everyone! You can find that information near the bottom of this article - but, just so that you know ahead of time, we saved upwards of 20-50% on EVERY activity that we booked through them as opposed to going with the next cheapest place. Why? Because unlike other tour vendors, KISC gives you the activity at cost if you are staying at their camp and only 10% more than cost (instead of 50-100% at places like Viator) if you aren’t staying at their camp. It’s AMAZING!
PLUS, we'll show you how you can basically design your whole itinerary around this - it's that flexible. But first, here's the itinerary we loved and definitely recommend…
Here is what we recommend as:
— The Best DIY Switzerland Itinerary —
Keeping to a budget, we opted to utilize the “Programme & Adventure” guide at the Kandersteg International Scout Center (KISC) while staying at an Airbnb in Kandersteg (the Blüemlisalp und Doldenhorn vor dem Fenster - as there were 3 of us staying there, we split the cost three ways - but, the camp could have been as low as CHF 10 per night).
We were required to walk about a mile from the Airbnb to KISC on each day that we had activities planned with them - which is through the town and village of Kandersteg (actually a huge highlight of a picturesque Swiss village)!
The camp also offers a buffet style breakfast (CHF 7), lunch and dinner (both CHF 13) if you are interested - we did take advantage of this quite a few times.
NOTE: (ind) = independent of KISC - we booked these activities separately
Day 1 - Arrival & Swiss Train to Kandersteg
Flight to Zurich (ind) & Travel to our Kandersteg Airbnb via Eurail Train (ind). How can you travel to Switzerland and not try out the iconic trains? You get to relax while enjoying the beautiful Swiss countryside as you travel down to Kandersteg. We picked Eurail because it allowed us the ability to travel into neighboring Italy with the same pass - but many people recommend purchasing the Swiss Pass as it comes with tons of discounts at places in Switzerland. It was gorgeous and we didn’t even have to pay attention to the roads! Although, we did have to transfer when we made it to Spiez. While we definitely recommend traveling by train - it is not usually affordable.
The cheaper method is to rent a car - although you may be able to reserve specific train journeys at least 60+ days in advance for discounts (while this worked in Italy, we aren’t sure if it works in Switzerland).
Day 2 - Paragliding & the Kandersteg Trail
Paragliding (CHF 160 - next cheapest tour operator for paragliding was CHF 175) and the Kandersteg Trail (FREE). There is a trail that goes around the small city of Kandersteg and it passes by the Almenbachfalle Waterfall (which is gorgeous!), and you can even go Paragliding nearby (book in advance through KISC) after going up the Luftseilbahn (lift in Kandersteg) with AMAZING views of the mountains in all directions! It is a bit scary to think you’ll be flying off of a cliff, but the reality is that you take off from a hill and because of the way it is set up - you don’t see the cliff until you’re over the trees - so it’s also quite a bit safer than just running off of a cliff. You can see a full video of my flight just below these photos.
Day 3 - White Water Rafting & Canyoning in Interlaken
We spent a day in Interlaken doing some of the wild stuff! We decided to take the White Water Rafting & Canyoning Combo (CHF 179 - the next cheapest deals for white water rafting was CHF 132.50 and canyoning interlaken CHF 132.50 - a combined savings of CHF 86 or 32.5%!). While this certainly wasn’t a budget friendly experience - it was totally worth it and one of the biggest highlights of our trip.
The rafting adventure goes down some rapids that are formed by glacier water, meaning it is cold water, so prepare with neoprene gloves if you have them (they give you wet suits to keep you from getting cold - but your hands are exposed to splashes of glacier water). You will get to experience level 3 and some level 4 rapids. There’s even a calm part where they let you jump into the water and practice pulling up someone if they were to fall over (even though there is someone there to do that if necessary). This was such an incredible experience that I’m very glad I was able to record the whole thing on my GoPro camera as it was attached to my helmet.
Next, we went on a full-scale (but introductory level) canyoning course. We did write an article explaining all of the details, but I’d say it was the most thrilling experience that we had in Switzerland. It is seriously amazing and a completely different experience than anything we’ve ever done before! Although, while they had helmets that had GoPro clips on them - I opted to use my own head gear that I attached to a separate helmet - and it fell off when I jumped into the pool with the waterfall and we were unable to locate it… so, the footage from the White Water Rafting was also lost. It’s a good thing that GoPro’s are now better and more affordable then they were when I got mine! (feel free to buy us a new one as we currently can’t afford it! - alternatively, you can pick one up for yourself too). Sadly, that means we had to spend quite a bit extra to get photos to share here!
We even spent the evening in Interlaken enjoying the scenery and the white and blue rivers!
Day 4 - Swiss Chocolate & Swiss Cheese Day Trip
Switzerland is known for their cheese and their chocolate. So, we took a day tour to see the famous factories that make them! We picked the Chocolate & Cheese Trip (CHF 80 - next cheapest for chocolate & cheese tour was a group rate of CHF 262) and they brought us out to Gruyere to experience this charming town as well as the Cheese & Chocolate factories nearby. And I’m not talking about this Swiss cheese - I’m talking about some serious Gruyere Swiss cheese! The places that we were brought to are the “La Maison du Gruyere” in Gruyere and the “Maison Cailler” in Broc (nearby)
You’ll also learn the history and process of making chocolate on this trip with audio guides at both locations - but I felt that the information provided in the Lonely Planet guide was better to prepare us instead of having to huddle around the large groups of people standing in front of all the audio guide numbered spots. Plus, you can pick up plenty of chocolate souvenirs for your friends and family back home (not sure if bringing cheese souvenirs would be a great idea). It was quite an experience and definitely a wonderful day trip!
Days 5 & 6 - Three Valleys Swiss Mountain Hiking + Rock Climbing
The Swiss Alps are no joke, but they should definitely be on any itinerary to Switzerland! Serious Swiss mountain hiking combined with some into-level rock climbing? Now we’re talking! We grabbed the Three Valleys Hike’n’Climb (CHF 50 - not available anywhere else!) – which included a hike to the Ueschinen Hut in the morning with a more-or-less intro level Rock Climbing experience in the afternoon on Day 5 (sack lunch is optional but may be added for CHF 11), then a wonderful evening enjoying the amazing views from the Ueschinen Hut.
The price includes overnight at the hut, however it does not include food costs. You are free to take your own food and ingredients and use the fully equipped kitchen in the hut - or you can order a food package through KISC catering which includes all the ingredients for a hot dinner AND breakfast for CHF 16 per person - so, we bought the package and needed to collect the ingredients at the Chalet before departing on this hike and carried with us on the way up. The lunches also needed to be collected at the Centre (where the food hall is) prior to leaving in the morning as well.
On Day 6 we continued up the mountain to complete the Three Valleys Hike (this required the second sack lunch - and trust me, it’s worth it as your body is craving more calories at this point). We wrote more about this hike in a separate article here. The hike was “family friendly” according to the Swiss, but we thought it to be extremely challenging as our group came mostly from the flat corn-fed lands of the Midwestern USA. After reaching the top, we did find a spot to take a short rest and then it was all downhill from there. Coming back down was easier, but it also took many hours. Even when we thought we reached the bottom, we still had to take a cable car to go the second half of the way down (included in price)… WOW - I couldn’t believe that we climbed that high! Despite the difficulty of the hike, it was also one of the biggest highlights of our trip!
Total cost CHF 50 + 11 + 16 + 11 = CHF 88 each for the 2-day hike + food.
Day 7 - Jengfraujoch “Top of Europe” & Eiger Trail
Seeing the highest snow-capped peaks of Switzerland and enjoying an afternoon down in Grindelwald is a must do while in Switzerland! We picked the Jungfraujoch & Eiger Trail Day Trip - Top of Europe (CHF 190 - next cheapest Jungfraujoch day trip operator was CHF 236 or 19.5%!). Update: A sale currently going on has reduced this cost at another operator to around CHF 150. See that deal here. Yes, it is a bit costly, but it does include transportation to Jungfrau and the expensive train ticket to the top. This is a special train up through the Eiger mountain (yes, inside the mountain!) to the top. There are a number of stores and a few restaurants at the top as well (we had some amazing soup at the fancy one with the views!). There’s a really cool ice cave at the top with a number of sculptures as well. You can even walk outside and take photos of Switzerland from the top of Europe! Plus, there’s real snow up there for you to play with if you want to - not that fake snow stuff. Even though we aren’t big “cold weather” people, we definitely enjoyed experiencing this side of Switzerland.
After you take the train back down through the mountain and locate the footpath down to Grindelwald - not far from the station - it’s good to know that a part of Star Wars Episode III was filmed in this area as well. The mountains around Grindelwald in the Jungfrau region were used for the scenes of Alderaan! That’s a pretty cool thing to think about as you’re looking over the amazing views of this picturesque village. If you’re not up for walking the path down into town, you can also purchase another inexpensive train ticket into Grindelwald as well (yes, that’s what we did because we were exhausted from the hike the days prior!). Once in town we just found a place to eat and relax because we had a lot of extra time as we didn’t do the trail. There are quite a few things to do in Grindelwald - like Glacier Canyon - if you plan your day out correctly and opt to take the train like we did - or you can just enjoy the hike down. Once people started arriving at Grindelwald from the trail, it was time to meet back up with them and take the coach bus back to camp.
Day 8 - Oeschinenesee Lake & the Rodelbahn
For a little bit of relaxation, we decided to visit Oeschinensee Lake on Day 8 by taking a quick cable car (gondola) ride and a short (child friendly) hike from Kandersteg. The round-trip lift does have a small cost, but you could hike up as well (not difficult). There is even a strange tube-like roller coaster thing up there called the Rodelbahn. It is definitely worth trying, but don’t go faster than you can handle (there are no safety nets or straps!). We did buy a few tickets and I tried to go a bit faster the second time around and did end up flying off the side at one point, but I didn’t get hurt (haha). Oeschinensee Gondola (CHF 22.40), Rowing Boats at Oeschinenesee Lake (CHF 15), & Rodelbahn (ind). The next cheapest operator for this experience at Öschinen lake would have been CHF 262 !!! Yes, it includes the Blue Lake of Blausee (see Day 9 on this itinerary), but KISC offers that for only CHF 1 - A SINGLE SWISS FRANC!
The Oeschinenesee Lake area has hiking trails and a few restaurants where you can simply relax and enjoy the views. This is another one of the many “most beautiful spots” that we saw in Switzerland and highly recommend visiting. I know we’ll be headed back to this spot again the next time we’re in the country!
Day 9 - Blausee Lake & Swiss Culture Night in Kandersteg
As it was raining for us on Day 9, so we went to the Wellness Center at Waldhotel Doldenhorn and enjoyed a day spa that included steam rooms, hot tubs, and pools - primarily because our Airbnb came with 2 vouchers to use the spa for free - however, we would highly recommend going to Blausee Lake if you can - it costs just CHF 1 (yes, just ONE SWISS FRANC) at KISC - and it’s just one train stop away from Kandersteg! You’ll see the photos of Blausee Lake all over Instagram, so it’s definitely a picture-worthy location!
As it stopped raining in the evening, we managed to catch Swiss Culture Night (FREE). It was a great addition to experience real culture while in Switzerland - this included yodelers, alp-horn players, and Swiss dancers! As we read through the Switzerland - Culture Smart! book prior to going, we really felt the significance of each event quite a bit more than the people sitting next to us. It’s really something that should be on your list of “must-do” things while you’re in Switzerland!
Day 10 - Zurmatt, the Furi Wanderweg, and the Matterhorn
We couldn’t miss going to Zurmatt to see the Matterhorn (not available at KISC - group rate was CHF 545), so we scheduled in a day trip out early in the morning - early enough to see a goat parade there! Check in advance if you’ll be there during the seven summer weeks that they do this each year, but it’s really cool to see a herd of roughly 50 blackneck goats - all wearing small swiss “cow bells” - passing through the Bahnhofstrasse. It occurs at 9:00 AM, each morning, and at 4:30 PM, each evening, on those weeks. They are “the most photographed goats in the world”.
We also enjoyed hiking around the Furi Wanderweg (ind), and took a cable car to a viewing location for The Matterhorn (ind). Keep in mind that the clouds tend to find their way near the Matterhorn and that it may be difficult to get a clear shot - so sticking around Zermatt for awhile is probably a good idea if you want a decent shot.
As we were so close to the Italian border - and craving a bit of warmer weather - we decided to detour out of Switzerland to stay overnight in Stresa, Italy (ind) - but you could just as easily stay the night in Zurmatt (our recommendation) to get the most out of Switzerland! There is a decent amount of things to do in Zurmatt to make a few days of it.
Day 11 - Lucerne, Switzerland or the Borromean Islands?
Yes, we took a day off in Italy to see the amazing lake and The Borromean Islands of Stresa, Italy (ind). You could do the same or use the extra day to pack in another special day for Switzerland! If you’re staying in Switzerland, we would probably recommend going to Lucerne if you can! Here are a few photos of the Borromean Islands of Stresa, Italy - if you’re interested in information on this, please let us know in the comments below!
Check out some amazing photos of Lucerne here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B11E5RcIyLQ/?igshid=1js9epandobm6
Day 12 - Lauterbrunnen, Trummelbach Falls, and Schilthorn Mountain
Some of the most iconic photos of Switzerland come from Lauterbrunnen - like the one with the waterfall flowing off of the side of a mountain behind a perfect Swiss village - so we had to plan a day to travel to this small village and see Trummelbach Falls (ind).
Not far from Lauterbrunnen is the area where they filmed the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service - Schilthorn Mountain! Other James Bond films were also filmed in Switzerland including the Contra dam in the Vezasca Valley from Goldeneye, Furka Pass from Goldfinger, and the slopes of St Moritz from The Spy Who Loved Me. While we didn't go up to the James Bond restaurant and museum on Schilthorn Mountain, we hear that it is amazing and we’re planning to do it next time.
To save on cost, we decided to head west on the train to Thun, to see Thun Castle (CHF 6). The history of Switzerland is rich and beautiful - and both of these towns were well covered in the Lonely Planet guide! Lastly, we took a Ferry on Lake Thunersee from Thun to Spiez (ind) - one of the Interlaken lakes. It was gorgeous and we would highly recommend it for the views alone!
Day 13 - Swiss Train back to Zurich
Sadly, all great adventures come to an end at some point. We were able to see more of the landscape and mountains of Switzerland as we traveled across the country back to Zurich via Train (ind), and then took our Flight back Home (ind). If you are able to schedule an overnight flight that leaves later in the night, we would recommend doing that to allow yourself the day to explore either Lucerne - if you didn’t already put it in - or explore Rhine Falls on your way to Stein am Rhein - an amazing blend of our favorite places in Austria (Innsbruck), Germany (Rothenburg ob der Tauber) and even Switzerland. It’s recently popped up on our radar, and is right near the border with Germany not too far from Zurich. We are sad that we didn’t know about this town earlier!
Read on to see how you can set up your own DIY Budget Itinerary in Switzerland or check out some of our other articles about this trip:
Saving Money on Food
Restaurants around Switzerland will be the more expensive route to fill your stomach. We noticed roughly $10-$20 per meal for breakfasts, $15-$30 for lunches, and $25-$40 for dinners in most places. Keep in mind that we also avoided alcoholic drinks and *brought our own water*. Water at restaurants can cost you as much as $9 per liter, and that's on the cheap end!
Our recommendations to save money on food costs:
Visit cafes and bakeries more frequently. It's still Swiss food, even if it's cheaper.
Grab Swiss snacks at grocery stores - like Coop - to bring with you to reduce the size of your meals at restaurants (I.e. You won't need appetizers).
Let us know if you have more money saving tips when it comes to eating in Switzerland - just make a comment at the bottom of this article.
— OUR SECRET BUDGET LOCATION —
If you’re looking for a budget itinerary that you can build yourself in Switzerland, look no further than the Kandersteg International Scout Center (we are in no way affiliated with KISC - it is just an honest recommendation). Use their “Programme & Adventure” guide as it is open to anyone - even people who aren’t scouts and aren’t staying at their accommodations! It does cost 10% more for people not staying in their accommodations, but the cost of your trip to Switzerland is likely to be more than 60% cheaper than if you were to put it together elsewhere. You can even save that 10% by reserving a camp site or by staying in one of their lodge-type accommodations for as little as CHF 10.00-38.00 per adult per night!
We were staying for 12 nights, but opted to get a Bed & Breakfast about a mile away near the Kandersteg city center instead (it is a small town), so we did need to pay the 10% premium for the activities - but they are QUALITY ACTIVITIES at steeply discounted prices. Additionally, the walk to the camp is very pleasant in the mornings - a road with sidewalks will bring you directly there - just make sure to greet people who are walking by in German by saying “Morgen” as they pass by. The area is extraordinarily safe, even in the evenings – plus, the camp has a number of fun outdoor day and night activities that everyone is invited to and occur year-round – most of which are FREE. Yes, there are loads of things to do for free, but here are some that cost less than CHF 10.00 as well.
Don’t forget to pick up copies of these books - they fulfill your trip by giving you all the information that you’d have if you hired a local guide to bring you everywhere - at a fraction of the cost.
If you’re looking for cheap Day Trips, like the ones we scheduled outside of KISC, you can find a number of them here: “Affordable Switzerland Tours”. Additionally, you can explore some alternate itineraries and tours here: “Great Deals on Switzerland Vacation Packages”.
If you need help with planning your trip, feel free to sign up for our Free Travel Consultation! We now have access to Travel Agent prices on hotels in Switzerland so we generally get 10-30% cheaper prices than what you find on booking.com and Expedia and we can send you an invite for whatever hotel you want with the lower price as long as you talk to us (absolutely NO OBLIGATIONS). We aren’t trying to get you to spend more money - we honestly are trying to find ways to get you to save money on what you already want to do - nothing more!
Activities and Adventures offered at KISC
— FREE THINGS TO DO —
— AFFORDABLE THINGS TO DO —
— UNIQUELY SWISS & ADVENTURE ACTIVITIES —
Then there are some of the Uniquely Swiss activities and some of the more serious adventures and day trips. These are the serious Swiss Mountain Hikes, White Water Rafting, Canyoning, Skiing, Paragliding, and Rock Climbing type of activities. It is really amazing how much they offer to do here - and I haven’t shown even half of them!
What an amazing experience we had in Switzerland! It’s no wonder this unbelievably stunning country was chosen as the filming location for so many other major blockbusters - like Iron Man 3, X-Men: First Class, and even Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. We can’t wait to go back. My wife and I have been to over 30 countries so far, and this 2-week itinerary was by far the most amazing and most memorable we’ve had so far. We’re sure that you will enjoy your trip!
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Jenny & Bradley of EatWanderExplore