The most common question I’ve been asked since my family returned from our trip to Europe: Is Switzerland crazy expensive to visit? Sure, the views look great, but is visiting Switzerland realistic for most people?
I’m going to be real with you. Switzerland is not cheap. Certainly, many other countries in Europe are cheaper to visit (Spain, Portugal, Montenegro…). However, I don’t think the cost of visiting Switzerland is TOO crazy. Plus, it depends on what you do there. Let’s look at a few travel-related spending categories in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland.
Lodging in Switzerland
The main towns where people stay in Bernese Oberland include Grindelwald, Interlaken, Lauterbrunen, Wengen and Murren. All of those towns have hotels and apartment rentals in a wide variety of price ranges. In fact, even looking on vrbo.com for summer rates, I found decently-rated apartments for a family of five starting at ~$100/night. While we splurged for a bigger apartment with a view, I don’t consider lodging in Switzerland to be a budget-buster. (Note: We used hotel points to stay at Hyatt and IHG hotels near the airports in Geneva and Zurich before flying back home).
Ok, here’s where it starts to get a little pricey. Trains in Switzerland are significantly more expensive than the rest of Europe. Why? The tracks in the mountains need a lot of maintenance. I always noticed crews outside working on the rails. But, there must be more reasons, because even a train trip on flat land in Switzerland costs a bundle. For example, we took a train from Paris into Basel (right over the border of Switzerland). The price for my group of 6 to go from Basel to our apartment in Wengen would have cost around $300. And from Wenger to the airport in Switzerland? $350. That’s a bit steep.
This is where the Swiss Travel Pass comes in handy. We purchased 6-day passes for 4 people, and my daughter and I purchased 15-day passes (since we stayed longer). The passes are not cheap by any means. But, when we added up the cost of individual train trips, the pass was definitely the way to go.
Here is the cost breakdown:
Adult pass for 6 days: 359 CHF (roughly the same in USD)
Adult pass for 15 days: $429
Youth pass (age 16-24): $254
Kids 15 and under: FREE! (They are issued a Swiss Family pass for no extra cost)
So for my group of 6, we paid for 4 people with 2 kids free, and the total cost was $1296. Yes, that’s a big chunk of change However, most of our “entertainment” in Switzerland was taking a train or gondola somewhere. The passes also included free entrance to museums. My daughter and I used our passes to get into two castles and a St. Bernard museum.
Two of the major peaks (Schilltorn and Jungfraujoch) are not included in the Swiss Rail Pass. However, with our Swiss Travel Passes we got 50% off Schilthorn (plus our kids were free with our passes) and 25% off Jungfraujoch (kids free with pass). To save money, skip Jungfrauujoch and only visit Schilthorn. (I will review both of these in a future post).
Part of the charm of visiting this part of Switzerland is traveling on the trains. They are quiet and efficient, and they take you to the dreamiest places. I recommend budgeting for Swiss Travel Passes.
I did meet another American family who didn’t buy train passes. They stayed in Murren and didn’t venture to other parts of the region. There is still plenty to see in Murren, lots of hikes and views, and that strategy saved them money for sure. We also saw many people hiking between the towns instead of taking trains. Trails are well marked.
This part of Switzerland has many restaurants that overlook mountains, cliffs, waterfalls, etc. They have delicious food like cheese fondue, steak and ice cream. And yes, they are quite expensive.
Most entrees cost between $30-$40. My family went out to lunch every day in Switzerland at these gorgeous restaurants, and the bill was usually around $200 for six people. However, there is no tipping in Switzerland, which does save some money.
A pot of cheese fondue was a bit cheaper, usually around $25 a person. Rosti dishes also tended to be less expensive.
To save money on food, my family ate out just once a day, for lunch. We shopped at the local grocery store for breakfast and dinners. The store in Wengen had a lot of ready-made sandwiches for around $5.
After some of my family members went home and it was just my daughter and I in Switzerland, I’m not ashamed to admit that we skipped the fancy restaurants and ate at McDonald’s a few times. Yes, I said it. We certainly tasted a lot of local food, and I didn’t feel deprived by eating some American fast food.
Yes, Switzerland is expensive. However, visiting Switzerland doesn’t have to break the bank. Consider staying just a few days to get a taste of the region instead of staying a full week or more. Budget ahead for rail passes, and come up with a plan to control your food expenses. Switzerland is worth the visit, I promise!