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How Zurich scared us out of Switzerland

We’d planned to stay in Switzerland for 10 days, but only lasted 4.

It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy Zurich. The city was trendy, full of fancy people and pretty facades with the square Swiss flag protruding outwards. It had a great mix of old and new, with historic and modern buildings seamlessly placed side by side and both with an equal amount of character.

So why did we leave 6 days early, when we loved everything about it?


Zurich, Switzerland

The apartment

Arriving in Zurich on a gloomy Sunday afternoon, we had trouble getting into the apartment we’d booked. The key wouldn’t disperse from the automatic key-dispensing device, no matter how many times we entered our passcode.

A frustrating hour and a half of waiting and many international phone call dollars later, we discovered the apartment company had a number of properties in Zurich named almost identically and the one that had come up as the only result in Google Maps was not the one we had booked. Luckily, the one we had actually booked was only a 20 minute walk away.

The apartment was fairly comfortable so the next day we attempted to extend our stay from 2 nights to 4. “No,” the company said, “the apartment is unavailable.”

As renting an apartment in Zurich would be almost the same price as a hostel dorm, we moved into the next cheapest one we could find on short notice. Unfortunately for us, it was more expensive than our previous place as it had a slightly better location. This was the first unexpected hit to our travel budget.

McDonalds in Zurich, Switzerland

The dinner

Relieved to have finally located our place of residence for the next few days, we walked to the city to find some dinner… but we had arrived on a Sunday. Why is that a problem, you may ask? Well, in some areas of Germany and Switzerland, shops and restaurants have to close on Sundays, by law.

That’s right, if you need groceries on a Sunday, you’re going hungry until Monday morning.

A few take away joints were open, but as we looked at the McDonalds menu we realised that everything was much more expensive than what it would be in Australia. $15.50 for one small burger meal (of which I would have to remove the meat patty due to my vegetarianism)? Umm, no thanks.

The only open restaurant we’d spotted so far was an Italian place opposite McDonalds. We wandered over and sat down, opened the menu, and gulped as we realised a medium sized pizza was going to be almost $30. Our food and beverage budget was $35 per day each, so this pizza would be almost half of it.

We shared the pizza between the two of us and left with both our pockets and stomachs feeling a little empty. We vowed to get groceries as soon as the store was open in the morning and refrain from eating out for the remainder of our time in Switzerland.

Swiss Fondue, Zurich

The swiss fondue

The only exception to our ban on eating out was going to be a swiss cheese fondue, a must for anyone visiting Switzerland. Trawling the internet to find the best places to get fondue, we discovered a highly rated restaurant in the old town. It was the second least expensive option, but would still be a whopping $35 for 200g of swiss cheese with dipping bread.

Upon arrival, we ordered the fondue to share.

“To share?” asked the waitress politely. “When I have the fondue, I can easily eat one for myself!”

Not wanting to sound like a bunch of tightwads, we pretended we weren’t all that hungry.

“And what about some wine with your fondue? We always have it with wine in Switzerland.”

After glancing at exorbitantly priced wine menu, we sheepishly asked for tap water.

By the way, the cheese fondue was exceptional.

Lucerne, Switzerland

The day trip

After deciding our tight backpackers budget wouldn’t stretch over the 10 days we’d originally planned, we decided to cut the trip short and do a day trip to Lucerne in an effort to see more of Switzerland.

As mentioned in our costs of backpacking Europe, the average price we paid for intercity transport was about $60-$65. This was for train and bus rides that were often between 4-6 hours. The return trip from Zurich to Lucerne (which took only 1 hour each way by train) was $80 each. Another nasty hit to our travel budget, but there was no way around it.

In an effort to save all the money we possibly could on this excursion, we took a packed lunch of bread rolls and a salad from a grocery store in Zurich.

On arrival at the station, we took the advice of a fellow online frugal traveller and tore a coupon from the Lucerne tourist guide for a free sample of Swiss chocolate from a local chocolate shop. That’s right, Switzerland had actually turned us into coupon clippers.

So with our packed lunch and free chocolate sample, we proceeded to do all the activities we could do for free in Lucerne which included walking the tourist route around the old town and the seeing the Lion Monument. At one stage we considered entering one of the museums, but decided against it after discovering what the entry prices would do to our already near empty pockets.


Things we can't afford in ZurichA collage of things we can’t afford in Zurich, including Swarovski, coffee, Omega watches, chocolate, Swiss Army Knives, and beer.

our conclusion

We loved the beautiful buildings with their zig-zag patterned shutters. We loved walking around and finding the decorated painted walls and quaint cobblestone alleyways. We loved talking to the friendly and personable locals about the traditions of their home country. But in the end, Switzerland was just too expensive.

Everything (except maybe groceries) cost more than what we would pay in Australia and our tight backpackers budget wouldn’t have been able to accommodate another 6 days of paying these prices. Staying longer wasn’t justifiable, especially as we were about to head back into Germany where we could stretch our hard-earned dollars so much further.

One day we’ll go back and explore some more of Switzerland, but it may just have to wait until we’re older and richer.


Have you been to Zurich or Switzerland? Did you find it expensive? Share your opinion with us in the comments!

Ashlea Wheeler

Blogger & Photographer at A Globe Well Travelled
I'm Ashlea, an excitable Australian who loves photography and exploring the world. Find out more about me.

35 Responses to “How Zurich scared us out of Switzerland”

  1. Leah - Kid Bucket List

    wow! I didn’t realise Zurich was so expensive! Out of curiosity, what is your daily budget for accommodation, food and experiences? This will help me check if our family of four can afford Zurich

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Hi Leah, our budget was $35 AUD each per day, but if you want to eat out even once a day I think you’ll need to increase it!

      Reply
  2. Lindsay @ Frugal Frolicker

    Oh god, Switzerland is SOOOOO expensive! I went back in 2008, but thankfully I was staying with a friend in Zurich which made the $6 coffees slightly less painful. When he came to visit NYC last year, he was astonished at how cheap everything was here in comparison. Just doesn’t seem right!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Tell me about it Lindsay! Staying with a friend would have made it so much more bearable. And it’s amazing to hear about how your friend thought NYC was cheap in comparison, laughable isn’t it!

      Reply
      • Seraina

        Well, I live in Switzerland and for me the prices are just like “normal”. That’s the reason why I think that most of the things in NYC are quite affordable.

        Reply
        • Ashlea Wheeler

          I get the same thing when people travel to Australia and say how expensive it is. It just seems normal to me! I guess we have to think about it from an outsider’s perspective 🙂

          Reply
  3. Clara

    Zurich is VERY expensive and getting accommodation is very difficult if you are gonna live there as well as if you are looking for some place cheap to stay for a short time. As for trains, there are season tickets for people living there which make it much more affordable to travel within Switzerland and sometimes also to neighbor countries. People can be weird in some ways but when you find nice people (old people are specially nice which is the opposite to Spain) they are great.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      We definitely found the accommodation situation difficult – though we only booked a few days ahead so I’m not sure if it would have been easier had we looked into it earlier! The season tickets and passes sound like a great option, but I guess they aren’t as useful for short stays in the country. Thanks for your tips Clara!

      Reply
  4. Ashley

    That’s really too bad! It’s so unfortunate when you plan a travel budget and realise that one of your destinations is way outside of what you can afford.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Absolutely – we knew that Switzerland was a little more expensive than the rest of Europe but had no idea that it would break our budget!

      Reply
  5. Tessa / Bramble & Thorn

    I stayed in 5 different places throughout Switzerland, and all were hideously expensive. Luckily I was prepared for it, although it was a shock to see how expensive a burger was from McDonald’s! It’s definitely essential to be prepared for how expensive certain countries can be, particularly if you’re on a tight budget.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It’s definitely best to be prepared for the price differences between countries – we knew Switzerland was going to be a little more but didn’t realise we actually wouldn’t be able to afford anything!

      Reply
  6. Erika

    What, so couples pay $70 for fondue plus wine?! That is just insane. Yikes.

    Reply
      • Tiffany

        Even if you are, $70 for cheese and bread?! Ouch! Good to know about things being closed on Sundays. Best to arrive on another day sounds like.

        Reply
        • Ashlea Wheeler

          I know, it was way too much to pay in our opinion! The closed on Sundays law certainly was a pain in the backside, and was something we didn’t know about until our arrival!

          Reply
  7. Danik the Explorer

    Switzerland is expensive (2nd in Europe after Norway), but if some planning ahead before arriving in the country, do some extra research. After my first visit there and suffering open wallet surgery, i do a lot of research and now I go there every year as i can budget. Believe it or not, the cheapest place to backpack is in Interlaken and the surrounding mountains. Find the right places or campsites and you are on a winner. If backpacking around Europe, buy your goods in surrounding countries then take them into Switzerland. Much cheaper. (Think it also helps I get free rail travel as i work in the industry and up to 50% off on private railways). 😀

    ZURICH Bern and Basel just charge stupid money for accommodation as well as Lake Geneva region. :O

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I haven’t been to Norway yet but I’ve heard it’s hard on the wallet! I was actually planning on visiting Interlaken so it’s great to know that it’s a good destination for backpackers. Thanks for your tips on Switzerland Danik, your first hand tips on travelling there on a budget are very helpful!

      Reply
  8. Hannah

    Yes Switzerland is crazy expensive! I was lucky enough to stay with family friends but even they talked about how expensive it all is.

    Ahh the closed on Sundays thing here in Germany is the most annoying thing ever! We always make sure we have food in the fridge but so often there is somthing like milk you forget or run out of, its crazy. Even MacDonalds is expensive here too, its the same prices as back in Sydney except in Euros so works out so much more! Ridiculous, luckily there are many yummier cafes 🙂

    I hope you still had a good time!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m glad I’m not the only one that was driven insane by the closed on Sundays thing – all we wanted was to get a few bits for dinner and something for our following morning’s breakfast, but apparently that was too much to ask! I don’t even eat McDonalds here but thought it would be a cheaper option in Switzerland, I was so wrong!

      I did still have a good time though, thanks Hannah! 🙂

      Reply
      • Anne-Laure

        Hi Ashlea, I’ll say before anything that I really like your blog!
        But I’m a bit disapointed by your post! Let me explain, Swiss bashing is ok, but this country has its own standards and you had the responsability to check that especially if you wanted to budget. What’s the point of budgeting if you don’t read about budget? I don’t mean to be mean here but really reading so much negative things about this country I love is annoying.
        Now, you may want to be aware that there is “daily tickets” available for trains and other public transportations so you could have found a cheapest way to get to Zurich. And you probably wouldn’t expect all country to be all the same, do you? In Switzerland (and it goes also for Germany, France, Spain and so on) shops are just closed on Sundays it’s the way it work, once you’re aware of it it’s really not that annoying. By the way, whenever you really need something there are always options: gas station, little shops, etc.

        Again, I love your blog in general and I enjoy reading it, just wanted to give my opinion on that topic. I hope I don’t sound like an angry idiot!

        A. x

        Reply
        • Anne-Laure

          I made a msitake :
          – a cheapest way to get to Lucerne!

          Reply
        • Ashlea Wheeler

          Thanks Anne-Laure, I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog!

          I’m not sure is Swiss bashing would be the correct term 😛 I really enjoyed Zurich and am not having a go at Switzerland at all! I did know beforehand that Zurich was more expensive than other parts of Europe, but I’m sure you can understand how hard it is to figure out exactly what prices will be like until you arrive. This post is just a telling of the story of our stay there and the experiences we had, which were still enjoyable even if our wallets suffered 🙂

          Reply
  9. Leah of The Mochilera Diaries

    Ayayay, I guess I will have to put off going to Switzerland ’til I’m older and richer too! I don’t eat at McDonald’s (or fast food places in general, really) anyway, but $15 is an outrageous price for their crappy hamburgers! And the good food would definitely break my budget 🙁 It does look pretty though!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I don’t usually eat McDonalds either but we thought it might be a cheaper option, definitely not true! Switzerland is super cool and totally worth a visit though Leah, I think you’ve just got to plan very far ahead to make sure you’re getting good deals on accommodation and budget your money accordingly 😛

      Reply
  10. Maggy

    I have been to Switzerland many times and it’s really expensive. I only did a day tour through Switzerland and the other times I just landed there and afterwards travel to relatives in Germany. So I only had to buy something to drink and a snack for travelling. This wasn’t so much more expensive, then in my home country. But Austria is also quite expensive comparing to Germany. If you are planning to travel in Switzerland, I recommend to take a look if Interrail (vor Europeans) oder Eurorail (for non Europeans) might be something for you. 🙂

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Austria wasn’t too bad but definitely not as cheap as Germany, definitely the most reasonably priced country in that central area! Thanks for your tips Maggy 🙂

      Reply
  11. Camila

    Never been to Zurich, but when through Geneva and then stayed in Lausanne with a friend and it was sooooo expensive! We had a mini lunch one day out in the harbour and it costed basically more than my weekly grocery allowance! But I would definitely go back!

    Reply
  12. Sophie

    it’s a pity you left! I’m Swiss and I know Switzerland is indeed very expensive but people do earn more money here than in most parts of Europe so it’s kind of logical that with more income, prices go up, isn’t it? However, that’s a point you could have considered before.. And public transportation is really incredibly expensive inside Switzerland which is kind of bad but at the same time our transportation system is again kind of better and more reliable than in other parts of the EU! I’m half Italian and you just can’t compare Swiss trains with Italians and My dad’d been travelling a lot with German trains and most of the time his train would just be 2 hours late and they stole his wallet… I used the train every day for years to go to school and it hardly ever was late so you could at least say that you pay for something good. Additionally, you also picked the wrong city maybe.. Zurich and Geneva are more expensive than any other Swiss cities and amonh the most expensive ones in the world! Last time my aunt came to Switzerland she bought a ‘swisspass’ from interrail.. I think that’ s a good solution and then you can use that one and stay in a less expensive city or in a small town! Public transport truly reaches every little spot here! Hope you’ll give it a second chance there’s still a lot to discover!!
    discoveringotherlanguages.wordpress.com

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Absolutely – while we were in Zurich we looked up the average income to get an idea of what the prices were like in comparison, and they definitely correlated.

      We did find the public transport expensive but you’re totally right about it being much fancier and more reliable than in other parts of Europe! I now know that some other Swiss cities are cheaper, but Zurich worked well for our itinerary as we were coming from Austria and then heading to Germany.

      I’ll definitely be giving it a second chance, don’t worry – it was much too cool a place to only visit once! Thanks Sophie!

      Reply
  13. Miranda Parmer

    Arrived in Zurich yesterday for a 3 day visit and wow! I cannot believe the prices!! Definitely not easy to stomach on a backpacker budget.

    I’m curious where you had the fondue, I’m hoping to splurge and try it but it’s so expensive I’m worried about picking a place that’s mediocre and wasting $30+

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Haha I know that feeling! It’s so damn expensive there.

      I honestly can’t remember the name of the fondue place, I’m sorry! I’m pretty sure I found it in some online list of best fondue places in Zurich.

      Reply

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