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Switzerland for the frugal

My wife and I are looking at going to Switzerland for our 10th anniversary. We're mainly interested in seeing the Alps. We recognize that changing locations and experiencing "attractions" add up in cost. If we're mainly interested in experiencing the Alps and doing day hikes, are small places like Mürren feasible? What's a realistic budget per day for a couple who really wants to just get into the country, get to "base camp" and is happy to cook most meals or eat out at cheaper options/meal times? And if we're more budget-conscious, is it worth it to even try to see the Swiss Alps? Should we be aiming elsewhere? The scenery in Switzerland seems unbeatable, but it's not like there's nowhere else acceptable.

Thanks!

Posted by
16936 posts

Mürren is an excellent base as there are a number of half-and full-day hikes from there without using any lifts or other transport. And you can head over to Wengen for a day for other possibilities without spending too much.

Apartments are much less expensive than hotels. If you don't mind not having a view, Chalet Fontana rents out a very comfortable apartment on the ground floor. The price includes breakfast, so you can meet other people. There are many other apartments available, but some are by the week only.

Posted by
12040 posts

"Frugal" and "Switzerland" don't go together very well. If budget is a real concern, head to Austria or Italy. Yes, you can find relatively less expensive options in Switzerland, but you'll have to make far more budget compromises.

If you're dead-set on Switzerland, though... look into Flumserberg. It's a nice little high altitude resort that receives relatively few international tourists. More like a weekend getaway destination for Zürich residents. By Swiss standards, lodging, lifts and meals are a bargain (...but still not exactly cheap...).

Posted by
16 posts

I should say that we don't expect to be able to not spend money. I'm also saying that we're looking at things like renting an apartment instead of a hotel, alternative meal options, etc to cut costs. Truth be told, all I hear is that "Switzerland is expensive" without real detail to explain how expensive or what a typical per day cost is. Maybe we're not as frugal as I think? I'm just not sure. I just know our goals our very simple: walk around in the mountains. A lot. Really simple aims.

Posted by
7209 posts

Definitely stay in Murren, most definitely contact Denise at Chalet Fontana for vacancies, shop at the grocery store across the street. Grocery store food is MUCH MUCH cheaper than restaurant meals. The amazing scenery is free!

Posted by
8654 posts

Consider Garmisch-partekirchen in Germany and the Austrian Alps. Do the Zugspitze instead of Jungfrau if budget matters. Restaurant food in Switzerland is about twice the cost of Germany. Groceries 1.5 times, lodging about 1.5 times depending on hotel level

Posted by
16936 posts

Some of the comments about how expensive Switzerland is are based on a higher Swiss Franc---it has been as high as $1.20 in recent years, but is now down to $1.06. A double room with shared bathroom at Chalet Fontana is 100 CHF, about $106 at today's exchange rate. The apartment downstairs is 150 CHF for two people, but you could cook your own dinner (and have a private bathroom) there. She also has another apartment nearby, for two people. Price is "from" 135 CHF a night and there is a four-night minimum.

Chalet Fontana is the only place we have ever stayed in Mürren and I think it is a great option. Other places we go in Switzerland we have to pay considerably more for our lodging, but it all averages out. I do not recall groceries being all that expensive, but you do pay a bit more in remote villages like this than in the city. For representative restaurant prices, you could check some menus---I will find one or two and post links.

If you want to spend some time across the way in Wengen as well, Hotel Bären has double rooms with ensuite bath but without balcony for 180 CHF, including a wonderful 4-course dinner as well as breakfast. We love this place.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen is lovely and we enjoy hiking there, but to me the Zugspitze cannot compare with the Jungfrau scenery---for starters, it is not snow-capped in summer like the peaks around the Jungfrau region.

Posted by
920 posts

There is only one Switzerland. If it's what you want, I recall places like Lauterbrunnen having their little grocery stores. Buy bread, cheese, some mustard, some meat, snacks, juice, fruit. It's just like the US--you save money by not eating out every night. Treat yourself one night if you like, cut back in other ways.

Posted by
3551 posts

It i your tenth and very special indeed. Consider hostels many have private rooms and are squeaky clean. I was surprised and very happy with my stays in pvt rooms in switz. Instayed in the one in the lauterbrunnen valley floor. You can even cook there. Splurge in berner oberland area on transit it is the most beautiful valley and mtn i hve seen in 40 yrs of travel. It is hard to give budget est. my trip this yr to switz for 20 days average at $200 per day for 2 without rail costs. Realize i am a seasoned traveler and quite disciplined. But we always eat out or at worst have a picnic here and there., breakfst is usually incl in lodging.
Make it happen it is the best for hiking and mtn scenery.

Posted by
8654 posts

I am in Murren right now and the comparisons with prices in Germany are up to date and current. They have nothing to do with old exchange rates.

Posted by
12040 posts

I agree with Carol. Switzerland has been considerably more expensive than it's neighbors at least since I've been traveling there (2006). The difference in prices has far more to do with underlying structural issues than the state of the currency.

Posted by
16936 posts

I was speaking in absolute, not relative, terms. Much of the "Switzerland is too expensive" talk comes from recent years when the franc was $1.20. I was in that camp myself, because we were accustomed to the 80-cent franc.

Both the Swiss franc and the euro have dropped in relation to the dollar recently. The relative prices between Switzerland and Germany have remained the same---and yes, Switzerland is more expensive, on average by the ratios Carol reported. But those averages may not apply to individual choices. (We have always paid considerably more for lodging in Garmisch-Partenkirchen than we do in Mürren).

Switzerland is our favorite place to go for hiking, but we have considered it "too expensive" since our last visit in 2007. I have had to content myself with looking at our photos. We will go back for a short visit this year, so I am very happy that the exchange rate has improved. And I am happy to help someone who has that "I want to go THERE" feeling about the Berner Oberland, because I know that feeling myself.

Posted by
16 posts

Thanks for all the feedback. We'll look at lodging options like the one recommended in Mürren but also look into other regions as well. It sounds like the message is, yes there are ways to save money, but you still can't expect "cheap." Which is fine. We weren't expecting that.

Posted by
920 posts

BTW, the transportation system (trains, gondolas, etc.) are some of the finest-if not the finest in the world. While I appreciate the comment about "stay here so you don't have to use them as much" to me that's part of the experience. See how it should be done and see how it can be done well. If you've never been, I say go at least once. You don't have to ever go back again if you don't want or can't. And go while you're healthy and can hike all you want.

Posted by
3392 posts

I'll throw out one more idea for you...have you thought about home exchange? We had traveled in Switzerland in the past for very short periods of time and didn't plan to return because of the prices. Then we received an offer of home exchang there, spent 3 weeks, and it was great! Still on the pricey side but it made it affordable. We exchanged our home and car so only had day to day food and gas expenses and sightseeing. We were not conservative and averaged about $150 per day but could have pared that way down by not eating out at lunch and curtailing our need for height by riding every gondola and cable car we came across!
Something to think about!

Posted by
4604 posts

I mentioned this in another post but we were surprised to find that prices in supermarkets were not at all out of line with the US. I guess when some "magic" is done to food in the back of a restaurant, prices skyrocket.

We saved tons by buying our breakfasts the night before in either a full-size supermarket or their little 7-11 sized variants. The baked goods were fresh and good and tasted just fine the next day, we could eat at our leisure in our room and be on our way. You can also get a roasted chicken at a supermarket for dinner with some side dishes.

Posted by
28 posts

A couple of suggestions. Try staying at a berggasthaus. You can get lovely rooms with meals for about $100 a day in a private room or $60 in a shared room that is often empty during the week. Also in Murren try Chalet Boeb. Very good and quite reasonable. Lastly, check out the Alpstein area of switzerland (ebenalp.ch). Great hiking and 20 berggasthaus in a compact area. We spent 3 days hiking and eating our way across the mountains. Switzerland is like no other place in the world and worth the extra dollars/francs IMHO. Happy travels.

Posted by
16 posts

These are all great ideas. I appreciate them (and any that follow!). It sounds like there are ways to cut some costs, but accept it for what it is. And it's pretty great if you can swing it. I'll go into the planning with that in mind. Thanks!

Posted by
2023 posts

We stay in Wengen but Murren is a great location with wonderful views and you should be able to find affordable lodging. A good place to pick up lunch is at a COOP grocery market. We usually hike during the day and get well priced sandwiches, fruit, and water for a sack lunch-- the sandwiches are fresh and tasty. If your hotel includes breakfast you will only have to allow money for dinner. Austria is nice but there is only one Switzerland--and it is all about the alps IMO.

Posted by
1810 posts

We were in the Alps last summer and it is definitely a beautiful place to be. We stayed in Interlaken which gave us the opportunity to take day trips. You can spend as much as you want in Switzerland. We bought food in the grocery store and had picnics in the Alps. Also, the grocery store in Interlaken, Migros has a cafeteria with decent food. We stayed at the Hotel Rossli. They owner and small staff there were tremendous. They helped us plan our day trips, offered suggestions and were the most hospitable of any hotel we experienced and we spent 30 days in Europe. You are right about one thing....the scenery in Switzerland is unbeatable. Have fun.

Posted by
4 posts

I'm enjoying this forum thread. My husband and I will be traveling to Switzerland for our 10th anniversary as well, in October 2015. We will be staying in Murren for a few days and are so looking forward to it. Depending on when you plan to go; roda321, I'l fill you in on our experience. It sounds like we have the same goals.

I'm also loving that comment about a home exchange. If we fall in love with Switzerland, as I'm sure we will, a home exchange could be a great opportunity to return. We live in Anaheim, CA, the home of Disneyland. While it cannot compare to Switzerland, it might be an enticing trade for a family.

Posted by
328 posts

We have always found Switzerland to be significantly more expensive. We usually rent apartments for $100 CDN or less (usually around $70) per night. In Switzerland, we need to factor in a budget of at least $120 (usually closer to $150) for similar accommodations.

On our honeymoon a few years ago, a Swiss friend who lives in the Berner Oberland booked us a room here:
http://www.hotel-seeblick-krattigen.com

I recall the rate being much more reasonable than the places we found in the more popular centres (Murren, Interlaken, Lauberbrunnen). They have little housekeeping apartments with flower-decked patios and views of the lake and mountains. It isn't high up in the mountains but we loved it. It's very central (about 25 minutes from Lauterbrunnen) and we found it easy to access lots of hiking options, not just those in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. There is a little grocery store very nearby. We had a car but I think it is very close to the rail line as well.

Posted by
16 posts

jennyy- I'd love to hear how things worked out for you guys. I have no real-world reference point as no one I know has really tried to do something like this before in this region, so I'm sort of trying to figure everything out on my own.

Posted by
1973 posts

We were in Lucerne in March for 2 nights, on our way from Paris to Florence. Despite the expense, I am so glad we stopped.

Switzerland was, literally, like a breath of fresh air after gritty Paris and before sometimes-over-the-top Florence. We paid just less than $200 per night at the Hotel Walstaetterhof, directly across the street from the Lucerne train station. Excellent buffet breakfasts were included, which helped defray the cost of a minimalist but perfectly clean large-sized room, with a heated bathroom floor, no less!

Because the restaurant in the hotel was highly-rated & quasi-reasonable, we dined there both nights. Fresh perch one night, and a Swiss steak/goulash over noodles the next, great quality with a salad bar! In the $25-$30 range. During our one day touring Lucerne, we had read in advance about the Manor Department store cafeteria, which was a wonderful food court, high-quality fare wherever you looked. Even in early March, with the temps around 40F, we brought our trays up to the rooftop, so we could dine al fresco under a late winter sun with the mountains all around--tremendous scenery. Lunch, BTW, ended up around $15 apiece, which I considered a value.

The hotel people and really everyone around Lucerne were truly so service-oriented and could not do enough for you. Even though I speak a bit of French and Italian, I know no German but that did not matter as most in Lucerne speak flawless English. All in all, I thought Lucerne was actually a good value given the sense of welcoming well-being the people of Lucerne showed off to their visitors. I will be back to Switzerland, no doubt.

Posted by
4604 posts

just to follow a point, everyone in the tourist trade in Switzerland speaks multiple languages, because they are a multilingual country but also because they get tourists from all over Europe.

So it'll be rare to find someone who can't help you in English. If you know German or French, so much the better.

Posted by
67 posts

Everyone has said it before but Switzerland is expensive compared to the rest of Europe. We spent two days in Zurich, one day traveling to Geneva and one more day in Geneva. The trains are insanely expensive but we had the most wonderful day in Zermatt. We took the Gornergrat train to the Matterhorn. We can't describe how much we value that experience, so it was worth the $500 in train tickets alone. Food was high but Switzerland was a one time shot for us. We cut corners in the other countries.

Jenny

Posted by
502 posts

You could go to Copenhagen or Oslo, then visit Switzerland. Everything seemed cheaper after that! lol

We rent apartments in Switzerland (Murren & Wengen) grocery shop, make our own fondue (kitchen had what we needed), buy Half Fare card and go to all the areas by gondolas, trains whatever. We figure that we are in Switzerland, and it's pointless not going to all the villages to hike. That's where we splurge. Plus neither of us like alcohol, so that's another saving. But we do consume an incredible amount of chocolates!!!

Posted by
4604 posts

Well here's a question, are Swiss trains insanely expensive compared to other countries? I had a 2-country pass so I don't know what the breakdown was.

Posted by
1973 posts

From my experience I would have to refute Jenny's statement that Swiss trains are 'insanely expensive'. We used the SBB online site to book March 2015 train travel from Paris/Basel/Lucerne, then separately Lucerne/Arth-Goldau/Milan. We did it 90 days in advance--the first leg from Paris cost $170 total for the two of us, and from Lucerne to Milan it cost $82, not bad at all to my way of thinking.

Maybe the regional Swiss trains don't take advance bookings? You'll always pay more for same-day travel.

Posted by
7209 posts

I'm guessing those "insanely expensive" trains she's talking about are the private high mountain railways...not the commuter trains for regular travel.

Posted by
502 posts

I didn't think they were that insane. id you're concerned about fhe cost in Switzerland, there other countries that might offer you close seconds.

For me, Switzerland is worth it. I don't even care about fhe exchange, and we are not rich. We save, cut corners by not eating a bunch of meals out (a few special ones in each town), and stay in apartments.

Posted by
4604 posts

My thinking was, trains in Europe are always going to be fairly economical. I've heard they are heavily subsidized by their respective governments to keep them so. Besides, when you ride a train you get to ride on a train! Which I love.

And you don't have to take a taxi from the airport to downtown because .... you're already downtown!

Posted by
8889 posts

To clarify, there is no discount for advance purchase on Swiss trains, and no reservations needed or in most cases possible for trains within Switzerland. There is a standard price from A to B, and any ticket is valid on any train. The price, however sane or not, is always the same.
Examples (all second class, one way, full fare):

  • Zürich airport to Luzern: CHF 29
  • Bern to Interlaken Ost: CHF 28
  • Interlaken Ost to Mürren: CHF 18.60
  • Genève to Zürich HB: CHF 87
Posted by
9 posts

roda321 -- I just found some great hints we hope to use in the Lauterbrunnen/Lake Brienz area of the Berner Oberland posted on 08/11/15 by 2-4theworld on the topic "Three Days in Berner Oberland..." that you might also find helpful.

Posted by
16 posts

Thanks for pointing that out! Very interesting perspective. It's interesting to hear the perspective of someone who prefers stay in the valley itself rather picking a side (literally). I'm particularly interested in their route there. I'll have to check those places out.

Posted by
58 posts

Hello, I'm the one who wrote as 2-4theworld that was commented on. I'd be glad to help with any questions you might have. I wouldn't miss the Lauterbrunnen area. Its the most beautiful place I've ever been. As to the cost, we've been staying at a delightful chalet apartment (2 bedroom apartment for 4, with kitchen, and very close to the train station and the Grutschalp lift.) This will be our 3rd time there and cost will be $775 for 6 nights in Sept. 2015. They also have a smaller apartment in the same chalet which is less $. We never hear the trains, but being close to the station makes getting everywhere so much easier, and we're away from the chalet everyday anyway. Lauterbrunnen itself is a charming little town of chalets, restaurants and shops with a lovely view of the Staubbach Falls. I can also recommend a few favorite hikes for you. As soon as you arrive in Lauterbrunnen go to the great tourist office to get hiking maps and recommendations. They can even tell you if its clear on the higher elevations with their webcams! Definitely worth it!

Posted by
16 posts

That sounds great! How did you find out about this chalet? Sounds like a great kind of option if you're wanting to cut cost and cook your own food. Location sounds ideal too, if you're willing to be down in the valley.