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Zimmer Frei vs. reservations?

In the 1980's my husband would look for Zimmer Frei signs to find his place to stay for that night. Does this type of accommodation still exist post-Covid? If so, are they significantly less expensive than hotels?

We will be traveling through Switzerland in September and going to Bern, Berner Oberland, Luzern, and possibly Lausanne and Zermatt. We'll also be in Munich during Oktoberfest. Will there be available rooms using the Zimmer Frei approach? I was thinking it would be easier to reserve hotels beforehand. Any advice?

Posted by
2303 posts

If it’s just the two of you, you’re not picky about the lodging, and you have a big budget, you will find an available room. It may have a shared bath down the hall, or not be in the center of town. And don’t count on it being cheaper. Definitely not during Octoberfest. You may be quite shocked at the prices during that time. And Munich is pretty expensive during non-peak times. With the advent of apps like, reserving a room is much easier than in the 80’s.

Posted by
3084 posts

I don’t remember ever seeing a Zimmer Frei sign in Switzerland.

Posted by
7496 posts

Things have changed quite a bit since the 80's. Yes, there may still be some smaller towns off the tourist path that offer rooms in the old zimmer frei mode, or through the TA in town, but less and less, and probably not effective in a larger town.

Using technology, is probably a better resource, they show a variety of lodging types from Hostel to full apartments, with small hotels and chains in between. I have used them much like the "zimmer frei" mode, getting a room the day before, or the same day. I also use them for months ahead. Booking also allows you to sort by price and amenity, and has a handy map function that shows you exactly where the room is, not a general area. It also shows rooms booked, so you can get a sense of demand, if things are filling up, best to act.

I too used to travel almost exclusively without reservations, but things are getting so crowded that it is tough. September used to be the quiet shoulder month, now it is prime travel season.

Posted by
381 posts

@Sasha I just saw a Zimmer Frei sign this past weekend :)

I still see them regularly in Germany, but more often in smaller villages or rural areas. So this concept still exists, but I would say based on your destinations and visiting in September, you are much better off reserving well ahead of time. If you show up spontaneously, you might not have a lot of options and the price is not necessarily cheaper either. Small "mom and pop" establishments and b&b/pension type places are fewer and further between these days, especially in cities and popular "mass tourism" destinations, and almost everyone uses online booking systems so it's not difficult to book ahead of time anymore (you don't need to call abroad etc). Not to mention September is still more or less peak season now in Switzerland's tourist hotspots.

In any case, I definitely wouldn't risk showing up to any of the places mentioned without a reservation. If you prefer to stay in smaller b&bs or similar, the tourist offices can be helpful with suggestions and bookings.

Posted by
2386 posts

There are still plenty of places that don’t use booking systems. None of the three places I stayed at in Sept. use them. I found them thru the town websites. However I book months in advance. if you are travelling without a fixed itinerary, at least book online the day before when you have an idea of where you will be. Several cyclists that write online trip reports do this.