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COST OF LIVING

EXPLAINED: How to save money on holiday in Switzerland

Yes, this may sound like an oxymoron, since ‘Switzerland’ and ‘money saving’ are not usually used in the same sentence. But despite what you may think, you can cut some of your costs while vacationing in this expensive country.

EXPLAINED: How to save money on holiday in Switzerland
Renting in the Austrian Alps - even in the countryside - will set you back more than many rents in Vienna will. Photo: Pixabay

The first thing to note is the situation may be tricky for visitors from the eurozone, as well as the United States, as the exchange rate is not favourable if you convert your currency into francs.

At the exchange rate at the time of this writing, the euro is worth 98 (Swiss) cents, which for 1 USD you will get  90 cents.

This means you will get less bang for your buck (or euro) this year, but you can still bring your costs down while visiting Switzerland.

This is how.

Choose your accommodation carefully

If you stay in a 5-star hotel in notoriously expensive cities like Zurich or Geneva, then don’t expect any real bargains (though they may offer some discounts).

If you really want to cut corners, however, choose small hotels outside of city centres, or AirBnB rentals, which you will do well to book in advance.

An even better (in terms of cost) alternative may be the ‘Zimmer Frei’ option — which are equivalent to Bed and Breakfast lodgings in other countries.

Many of these are rooms rented out in private houses in rural locations. This will give you not only cheaper accommodation, but also a better sense of how people live in Swiss countryside.

Another affordable (compared to conventional hotels) option is camping — the only costs you will incur if you travel in your own motor home are fuel and camping ground fees.

There are over 100 motorhome camping sites spread out across all regions of Switzerland. 

READ ALSO: Is wild camping allowed in Switzerland?

This may be your cheapest ‘housing’ option. Image by Siggy Nowak from Pixabay

Guest card

If you do opt for a hotel, many, especially the ones in cities, offer a free ‘guest card’ that will allow you to use public transport in that location for free and to benefit from discounts on numerous attractions and activities.

This link provides information on some of the places where this card is available, and what it entitles you to. 

If your hotel doesn’t provide these cards to their guests, you can buy one from the local tourist office for a discounted price.

Public transport discount

You can purchase a Swiss travel pass for fixed, consecutive number of days, for unlimited travel on the public transport network, which includes trains, buses, boats, or all of them combined.

The price for three days in second class is 232 francs for an adult, 164 francs for young people from 16 to 24 years of age, and 116 francs for those aged six to 15 (kids under six travel for free when accompanied by an adult).

These fares are available only to people who live outside of Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

You may argue (and you’d be right) that those prices are not exactly low, but then you didn’t come to Switzerland because everything here is cheap.

However, if you know how much unlimited travel by public transportation usually costs —150 francs per day for an adult without a half-fare card — then you’ll see the difference.

Supersaver tickets

If you don’t plan to travel in Switzerland on fixed, consecutive days, and are flexible about the dates and times, you can do it quite cheaply.

With the so-called ‘supersaver tickets’ (Sparbillette / billets dégriffés / biglietti risparmio), you can save up to 70 percent off the regular price, travelling all over Switzerland on most public transportation, with the exception of routes within a regional fare network.

This is how you can buy your supersaver ticket online, according to Swiss Federal Railways (SBB): 

  • Enter the route and day of travel
  • You can see whether supersaver tickets are available.
  • Select the preferred connection, and pay and print out your supersaver ticket.

Each time you make a timetable enquiry, supersaver tickets will automatically be displayed, provided they are available.

You can travel by boat with your public transport card (here a steamboat on Lake Geneva that travels between Switzerland and France). Image by Erich Westendarp from Pixabay

Food

If you are not staying somewhere where you can buy and prepare your own food, then your best bet are supermarket restaurants.

While they may not be ideal venues for a romantic candlelight dinner, both Migros and Coop have self-service restaurants (although not at all locations), where you can eat relatively cheaply.

A meal there (depending on what you take) can cost less than 15 francs — which is a good deal in Switzerland.

Manor department stores will also have their own eatery called Manora. They are bit more expensive than the former two — but still cheaper than regular restaurants.

Is anything actually free in Switzerland?

Surprisingly, yes.

Aside from a number of landmarks and other attractions you can see without paying, you can fill your bottle with clean, cold potable water from nearly every public fountain in Switzerland.

Only the few which have a “no drinking water” sign (L’eau non potable/ Untrinkbares Wasser/ Acqua imbevibile) clearly posted should be avoided.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the drinking water in Switzerland

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DISCOVER SWITZERLAND

Wolves to lynx: Where in Switzerland could you come across predators?

Switzerland’s natural spaces are truly breathtaking and are one reason the country is considered a world-class destination for outdoor sports. It is, however, a space shared with a wide variety of what we consider predator species. 

Wolves to lynx: Where in Switzerland could you come across predators?

Let’s be clear: The odds of being threatened, much less encountering a wild animal in Switzerland are incredibly slight. 

That said, it’s always good to know where large carnivore species can be found across the country.

This picture is made much clearer with the publication this week of the Kora Foundation for Predator Ecology and Wildlife Management‘s annual report, which describes the distribution and abundance of several types of predator.

Wolves

Much like many European countries, native species of wolf – in particular the dominant grey wolf species – became virtually extinct in Switzerland in the early twentieth century.

This was due to increased clearance of their native habitats, as well as culls to protect livestock.

The last known wolf killed for over a century in Switzerland was shot at Irigna in the canton of Ticino in 1871.

Switzerland’s proximity to Italy would lead to a revival in their fortunes. After grey wolves received protection from the Italian government in 1971, their numbers were able to increase on the far side of the Alps. 

After a few scattered sightings of single grey wolves throughout the mid-twentieth century, wolves began to cross the Alps in pack groups into Switzerland in the mid-nineties – and they were placed under protection. 

In 2023, evidence of 313 wolves in Switzerland was found, with 232 of the samples originating from live animals. 122 wolf pups have been observed. 

Genetic testing in the same year has revealed that there are approximately 37 wolf packs distributed across Switzerland, with by far the largest concentrations to be found in the cantons of Valais, Ticino Graubünden and St Gallen. 

This resurgence of wolves has been met with some resistance, however. Farmers have long campaigned to protect livestock, although a proposed recent cull was abandoned due to concerns over its scope.

Hikers heading into these regions needn’t fear, however. The Kora Foundation suggests that wolves are timid creatures who generally attempt to avoid human contact. In fact, the last fatality caused by a wolf anywhere in Europe occurred in Spain over fifty years ago. 

READ MORE: How volunteers are scaling the Swiss Alps to chase wolves away from livestock

Lynx

The population of lynx in Switzerland – a member of the wildcat family – have also seen growth over the same period that wolves reemerged.

Like wolves, the destruction of lynx habitats and the elimination of several of their favoured prey species meant that the last lynx spotted for several decades was documented at the Simplon Pass in 1904. 

In the 1970s, as environmental concerns began to inform government policy, an attempt to restore lynx populations was undertaken. 

In 1971 a breeding pair of lynx was taken from the Carpathian mountains and released into the wild in the canton of Obwalden, with subsequent releases in Jura. 

The most recent data from 2019 indicates that there are approximately 250 lynx currently living in Switzerland, with the highest concentrations in Vaud, Jura, Bern, Solothurn, and Aargau. Other significant populations can be found in Bern, Lucerne, Schwyz, and Graubünden.

The Kora Foundation notes that lynx present no danger to humans, only rarely attacking livestock.

READ MORE: Swiss and Italians butt heads over border bears

Bears

Finally, some may find it comforting to know that there is almost zero chance of encountering a bear on their next Swiss hike. 

After the last brown bear in Switzerland was killed in Graubünden in 1904, there have been few sightings over the next century, with none until 2005. No native populations have been detected.

To this day, bears are usually only observed migrating to and from Switzerland through the canton of Grisons, with none establishing a permanent presence for breeding.

Occasionally, single individuals do wander further. There have been reports of sightings over the years in the cantons of Bern, Grisons, Lucerne, Nidwald, Obwald, Schwyz, Ticino, Uri, and Valais. 

While the Kora Foundation states that brown bears are particularly drawn to forage near human settlements, the sheer scarcity of bear sightings annually suggests that those enjoying the Swiss outdoors have no cause to worry. 

And what about Golden Jackals?

The golden jackal, a wolf-like carnivore, is incredibly rare in Switzerland. There have only been confirmed sightings in the cantons of Zurich and Graubünden.

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