Affordable Swiss Travel Guide

Switzerland is well-known to be an expensive country, but a vacation here doesn't necessarily have to cost an arm and a leg. Remember why you are there - for the mountain scenery. So be prepared to sacrifice other things that are unrelated to that purpose. I didn't spend much time exploring Geneva and Zurich because of that.

How Long to Visit?
Consult the below table for my 2-week itinerary to cover the mountains. You will either fly into Geneva or Zurich so you can start from either end. It is a bit rushed and you will need to be flexible and efficient in roaming around the country at the mercy of the weather gods.

Should I Get a Train Pass?
Switzerland has a confusing array of passes, half-fare cards, and the like. Which one would be the best really depends on your length of visit and where you plan to go. You will need to do the math yourself on a spreadsheet to see which one offers the best deal for you. If you were to follow my day-to-day itinerary below, or want to spend a longer time in the country, go for the Swiss Travel Pass. It offers unlimited travel on public transport within cities and towns, most longer-distance trains, boat rides, and complimentary admission to a good number of attractions. It also works well with itinerary adjustments since there will be times when the weather will force a change. DO NOT buy single tickets on a day-to-day basis or book the cable cars ahead of time until you are sure the views at the top are good.

Where to Stay?
I had 6 major bases for my 2-week trip to avoid hauling luggage around excessively. With a travel pass, there is no need to move hotels daily. I clustered my stays into the locations in red circle above. Do allocate more time for the mountainous areas as the weather can be unpredictable. Luzern and Zurich could have been collapsed into 1 base.

What Should be Your Biggest Worry?
You are at the mercy of the weather gods. Take advantage of the webcams available on many mountain cable cars' websites to see if it is even worthwhile to go up on the day of. It could be sunny below but absolutely grey at the viewpoint with nothing to see. I had to execute plan B a few times during my 2 weeks, and with your travel pass, getting on a train for a long journey to a sunnier place wouldn't cost you any extra.

Where to Eat Cheap?
Not every meal needs to be a specialty or expensive like the cheese fondue. Even typical fast food fare can get pricey very quickly. There is always a supermarket nearby and they have decent prepackaged salads and sandwiches. Microwavable dishes are also all right and grab a large bottle of water or juice instead of buying from convenience stores. With beautiful scenery everywhere, even a simple sandwich can be a wonderful meal. You're there to enjoy nature, not to eat good food.



What to Explore?

What Did I Do?


Annemasse, France (cheaper alternative to Geneva)
Choose a hotel near the border and you can walk across it to catch the tram back into Geneva.

Geneva and other towns along the lake, such as Lausanne (40 min), Montreux (1 hour), and as far away as Gruyeres or Bern (2 hours).

Lausanne, Montreux


Geneva, Lavaux Vineyards, Vevey


Vevey (cheaper alternative to Montreux)

Lausanne, Chillon Castle


This is an extra day to cater for weather disappointments.
Gruyeres, Bern


DO NOT base yourself in Interlaken to explore the Bernese Oberland. Head straight into valley so if the weather is nice, catch the earliest cable car up the mountains before the tour groups arrive.

Jungfrau or Schilthorn

Budget 2 days here at least to cater for weather disappointments.

Schilthorn, Murren, Gimmelwald, Wengen


The weather turned ugly, so I used my pass to travel almost 3 hours away To Zermatt on the other side of the mountains where it was sunny. I spent a few hours on the 5-Seenweg walk.




I returned the next day with my luggage to base here for a few nights.
Gornergrat Bahn, Zermatt town


This is an extra day to cater for weather disappointments. I ventured out of the valley looking for blue sky.
Bettmeralp, Bern


Travel Day : Zermatt - St. Moritz

This would be a full day on the train. Instead of paying an extra seat fee on top of your pass to take the Glacier Express, which is often booked out, go for the local trains instead that are covered by your pass but without the supplement. It is a bit more hassle with your luggage, and pack a basic lunch beforehand.

Aletsch Glacier, Train Scenery


St. Moritz

Enjoying the St. Moritz area

Note that a number of hotels offer a free cable car ticket for the area if you stay for 2 or more nights during the summer season.

Bernina Express


The morning started with grey, dreary skies, but it started to clear out so I ascended a few mountains around town.



Luzern and nearby mountain excursions

Luzern, Mount Rigi




It was grey and wet, so I took the train south across the mountains to Lugano, the Italian-speaking part of the country, where it was sunny and warm.


Heading Home!

Do I need to go up all the mountains?
Not really. You don't have enough time to go up all of them, and in Lauterbrunnen and Zermatt, you really need to choose. The views are great nevertheless. Here is my analysis :

@ Lauterbrunnen

Jungfrau seems to be quite popular with group tours while Schilthorn is famous from the 007 movie. Both offer discounts with the pass (the trip is not free), but Schilthorn remains significantly cheaper.

@ Zermatt

There are 3 major mountain ascending options. 5-Seenweg is the cheapest. Gornergrat Bahn and the Matterhorn Paradise offer half off with the pass. I just picked the first 2, both of which already have lovely views of the Matterhorn.

@ St. Moritz

If your hotel provides you with the free cable car ticket, be aggressive and go up Muottas Muragi, Diavolezza, Corvatsch, and Corviglia. They are all achievable on the same day.

My Photo Galleries
The Cheaper Glacier Express | St. Moritz | Bernese Oberland | Zermatt / Canton Valais | Geneva | Gruyeres | Interlaken & Lauterbrunnen | Lausanne | Lavaux Vineyards | Lugano | Luzern | Montreux | Mount Rigi | Vevey | Zurich