How to save money in living in Zurich – Europe’s most expensive city

Zurich has once again been named Europe’s most expensive city, but you don’t have to flash the cash – here are our top tips for saving money.

How to save money in living in Zurich - Europe’s most expensive city
Photo: Zürich Tourism/Rubiano Soto
Eat out for less
While cooking at home is always the cheaper option, there’s no need to forego dining out completely. Try Äss Bar in Zurich old town, which sells coffee and sandwiches starting at 2.50 francs thanks to its concept of using baked goods ‘fresh from yesterday’. 
The department stores are also worth a try. “Jelmoli and Globus have lovely top-floor restaurants that offer a good view and great value for money thanks to being self-service,” says local yoga teacher Susan Andreou. 
If you like to eat out regularly, the Easy Dining app, which costs 95 francs per year but offers a free trial, claims to cut your bill by half with its discounts at restaurants across the canton. Zurich resident Raquel Luzi Steiner says: “I've been using it for two years now and it's great. It pays for itself after two restaurant visits.”
Buy second hand

There are many place to buy secondhand in Zurich. Photo: Zürich Tourism/Elisabeth Real
Nothing beats crossing the border to find bargains on clothes. However, Zurich has an excellent secondhand scene, allowing you to source desirable pieces for a snip of the cost.
Tsitaliya Mircheva, who founded the fashion and style website Mums in Heels, says: “I got my hands on a limited edition Stella McCartney, an almost new Bally bag and some classic pieces in perfect condition for really reasonable prices.” 
Her favourite place to find bargains is the Burkliplatz market on Saturdays from May to October, but other good options include Flohmarkt Kanzlei, Switzerland’s largest year-round flea market, and Razzo 2nd Hand, an all-round shop in the city centre. 
A helpful guidebook to secondhand outlets is Nicht Neu.
Leisure for less
Great days out don’t have to cost a fortune. The Wildnispark Zurich, a leafy space between the Sihlwald Forest and Langenberg, is home to 16 species of animals, including bears and bison, and costs just six francs for adults or 14 francs for a family ticket – a fifth of the price of Zurich Zoo. 
Meanwhile, adults and kids alike will be fascinated by the earthquake simulator at Focus Terra, a free-entry museum dedicated to geology. Or why not take up a hobby that will save money down the line? Veg and the City offers beginners urban gardening classes starting at 95 francs.
Go local for groceries
Which brings us to saving money on household essentials. Carina Scheuringer, founder of Switzerland’s travel and leisure magazine Spot, recommends looking for the best quality-to-cost ratio locally. She says: “I try to support the local economy where possible. I like shopping at local farms, farmers’ markets or picking up local produce in places like Farmy, an online farm shop.” 
She adds that [email protected] regularly offers attractive deals that can be very cost effective.
Get active on the cheap

Photo: Per Kasch/Swiss Image
There’s nothing much cheaper than going for a walk, and Zurich boasts miles of hiking trails, whether you fancy a gentle lakeside stroll or a panoramic Nordic walking session. 
Meanwhile, in summer, some lakeside Badis offer free entry – among them, the Katzensee north of the city has a picturesque sunbathing meadow in a nature reserve. 
Fitness classes don’t have to cost the earth, either. It can help to look for independent teachers out of the city centre. For example, Susan Andreou’s Move Body Mind in Kloten Balsberg and Uster offers yoga and trampolining starting at 180 francs for 10 classes.   
Share books
The price of books in Switzerland never ceases to shock. But thankfully Zurich has excellent secondhand bookshops including Bücher Brocky, which sells paperbacks from two francs and hardbacks from five francs. 
Alternatively, try public library Pestalozzi Bibliothek, which offers books in 11 languages and costs the price of a couple of paperbacks for a year’s membership, or the English Book Swap Zurich, which meets once a month to get a “regular influx of fresh reads without paying a rappen”.   
Plan your travel ahead

Use your Halbtax or grab a RailAway deal for a day trip to the Rhine falls. Photo: Beat Mueller/Swiss Image
Purchasing an annual Halbtax pass brings the best economy when travelling in Zurich, but keep an eye out for special deals too. RailAway Kombi offers up to 50 percent discount on day trips by public transport, while municipality day train passes are another economical option. 
“For around 45 francs (prices vary), you get one full day of unrestricted travel on the entire SBB, RhB and PPT networks as well as several local networks,” says as Spot Magazine’s Carina. She warns that the number of passes available are restricted and there is usually an online reservation system, so it is important to plan ahead.
Don’t forget the free stuff
And don’t miss everything that is available for free. You can help yourself to water – Zurich has around 1,200 clean-water fountains; visit Zurich University’s Botanical Garden, which houses some 9,000 species of plants; and hire bikes through the Züri Rollt scheme, which simply requires a 20 franc deposit.
This article was first published in 2017

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Reader question: Can I use euros to pay in Switzerland?

Although the national currency of Switzerland is the Swiss franc, you can also pay in euros in many places. However, you may not always get a fair exchange rate. Here's what you should know.

Reader question: Can I use euros to pay in Switzerland?

Switzerland is not part of the European Union, so its official currency is the Swiss franc – not the euro. The Swiss franc is widely considered one of the world’s most stable currencies and indicatively worth 1.02 euros. One euro, on the other hand, is currently worth around 0.98 francs.

For tourists travelling to Switzerland for pleasure or work as well as for cross-border commuters with a spare chunk of change, it is good to know that Swiss merchants will accept payment in euros, but the exchange rate will often be unfavourable and you’re always better off sticking to the local currency if you’re hoping to save money.

Where in Switzerland can I pay in euros?

You can pay in euros in every major Swiss department store as well as many other shops, such a souvenir shops, hotels, businesses, and restaurants. However, note that your change will always be given in Swiss francs, if you pay in cash rather than card.

Is it a good idea to pay in euros?

The short answer is, no. While keeping a few euros in your pocket is not the end of the world, you will often be offered a poor exchange rate when paying in euros in Switzerland and it is generally advised to pay as much as you can in Swiss francs.

In Switzerland, exchange rates are in fact not set by the bank, but by your payment partner. This means that in many places – particularly in tourist locations – companies profit from additional transactions with exchange rate surcharges.

A cafe in St Gallen, Switzerland.

A cafe in St Gallen, Switzerland. Photo by Niklas Tidbury on Unsplash

It’s smarter to withdraw money instead

If you’re looking to enjoy a holiday on a budget, paying in euros is not the way to get around Switzerland. The cheapest option to get Swiss francs is to withdraw money from a bank ATM in the country. Those usually don’t charge locals or tourists for the withdrawal – with a few exceptions.

The ATMs from Euronet are known for their high fees in Switzerland, so you’d be wise to avoid those altogether. Additionally, many Swiss ATMs will attempt to charge you additional fees with the so-called dynamic currency conversion (DCC). Generally, it is smarter (and safer) to drop by a local bank to withdraw cash for your stay in Switzerland.

Cash is king

You may argue (and you would be right) that carrying a wad of money in your pocket or purse is very inconvenient, not to mention dangerous, as it can be easily stolen and you will never see the likes of it again (unlike a credit card, where suspicious transactions can be disputed).

You could argue all of the above, but you would still not persuade some Swiss to switch from cash to plastic.

According to a survey by Moneyland consumer platform, 67 percent of Switzerland’s residents consider cash to be completely indispensable, while 96 percent use cash for payments.

In fact, the Swiss love their coins and banknotes so much that not every shop is equipped with ATMs and POS terminals, while others impose a minimum payment threshold for payment by card. It is therefore advisable to always carry a bit of cash – in Swiss francs – and not solely rely on the use of cards, whether they be credit, debit or prepaid.

Remember, in Switzerland you can pay with large bank notes (think 100-franc note) for the smallest item. The shopkeeper will simply hand you the change without batting an eyelash.

READ MORE: ‘Cash is freedom:’ Why do the Swiss love coins and banknotes so much?