I'm not going to sugarcoat it — Switzerland can be an expensive country for travellers. On top of the gasp-worthy conversion rate of Canadian dollars to Swiss francs, the country's high standard of living means everyday items often cost more than they do in other parts of the world. That being said, there are some ways to save money on a Swiss vacay. If you're willing to splurge a bit, a trip to Switzerland is worth every penny.
Studded by the majestic Swiss Alps, and home to quirky festivals and carnivals, vibrant city nightlife and friendly locals, Switzerland is a top contender for the perfect vacation destination. There are plenty of indulgent culinary delights to be found in Swiss eateries, too, like gooey fondue and world-class chocolate. You'll also find an abundance of heart-pumping activities to try, many of them on soaring mountains — but at heart, Switzerland is tranquil, serene and a place to soak in the wonders of Mother Nature.
When I took a trip there in the late summer, I wanted to see as much of Switzerland as I could in just a few days. I had the Swiss Travel Pass, which turned out to be my key to the whole country, and a great way to save money on my travels. With it, I could ride almost any Swiss train, bus, boat and city public transportation for free. I also had free entrance to more than 500 museums across the country and steep discounts on cable cars and cog railways. The Swiss Travel Pass starts at $348 CAD ($258 USD) for three days.
Enjoying Switzerland travel was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the best way to do it is with the Swiss Travel Pass. Not only does it save you money, it also takes away the hassle of keeping track of countless transit tickets. Check out what I was able to explore with the Swiss Travel Pass below:
Switzerland travel: Interlaken
Switzerland Tourism / Callum Snape
STST - STTP
I spent most of my time in Interlaken, a breathtaking resort town that I can't recommend enough. It sits between two lakes — Lake Thun and Lake Brienz — and is at the base of three gargantuan mountains: Jungfrau, Eiger and Mönch. While they're stunning to gawk at during the day, I only truly understood the mountains' size on a late night stroll through the peaceful Interlaken streets. Flanked on all sides by their ominous silhouettes, I felt the urge to tiptoe for risk of waking the sleeping giants.
Interlaken is an excellent home base for an excursion-packed itinerary in the area, and for those hoping to explore the rest of the country. It's highly accessible, with several train stations, ferry docks and bus routes offering speedy transport between destinations. Using public transit here is completely headache-free, especially when you're equipped with the Swiss Travel Pass.
The town welcomes many tourists every year, especially for skiing in the winter. In the summer, adventure lovers flock to the dense system of alpine hiking trails. It's just a short commute from countless attractions, like Jungfrau, Grindelwald First, Lauterbrunnen and Schynige Platte. Exhilarating nature adventures are everywhere — and on my trip, I visited a few of them.
Switzerland travel: Schynige Platte
One of the best places to hike in the region, Schynige Platte feels like it's straight out of a postcard. On a clear day, you'd be hard pressed to find a better view of the surrounding mountains and lush forests.
The only way to get to Schynige Platte is via a (frankly, adorable) historical cogwheel train that chugs up the mountainside. You'll have the opportunity to take plenty of pics for the 'gram on its slow ascent. Swiss Travel Pass holders get a 50 per cent discount on the cogwheel train.
I had planned to visit Schynige Platte on my first day in Interlaken, but the weather had other plans. Thick fog rolled in early in the morning, obscuring much of the surrounding vistas until the afternoon. Luckily for me, there are plenty of other attractions easily accessible from Interlaken — even when the weather doesn't cooperate.
Switzerland travel: Jungfrau
Jungfrau is the third-highest peak in the Alps and a popular tourist attraction. Some seek to summit the behemoth, but if you aren't a climber (like me), there are still incredible ways to experience the mountain's wonders. Jungfraujoch is Europe's highest-altitude railway station and home to Jungfraujoch - Top of Europe, an observatory that looks out on snow-covered peaks and the Aletsch Glacier, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Make sure you pack your winter coat — due to the elevation, snow and ice will be present year-round.
At Jungfraujoch, you'll discover the world's highest Lindt store, two restaurants with spectacular views, an ice palace and much more. For adventure seekers, you'll have the opportunity to hike over the glacier, and ski or snowboard in the Snow Fun Park.
While a trip to Jungfraujoch isn't completely covered by the Swiss Travel Pass, holders will be privy to several discounts on the journey there. It's an essential stop on any trip to Switzerland.
Switzerland travel: Grindelwald
Schweiz Tourismus/Christof Sonderegger
Jungfrau Region Tourismus
Switzerland Tourism / Travel by Photo
Arrive in the quaint ski village of Grindelwald by train for free with the Swiss Travel Pass, then take a discounted cable car up the mountain for spectacular alpine hikes, exhilarating mountain carts, thrilling zip-lining and skiing in the winter.
During my trip to Switzerland, Grindelwald was a huge highlight. On the cable car journey up the mountain (which I purchased with a 50 per cent Swiss Travel Pass discount), I zipped right through billowing clouds to the top of First mountain, where I was treated to magnificent views of the surrounding peaks. Then, I spent my day hiking, zooming around on ziplines and hanging on for dear life as I rode a mountain cart on the way back down.
When you've had your fill of adventure, warm your bones with some indulgent fondue at one of several restaurants in the area.
Switzerland travel: Bern
Staying in Interlaken had allowed me to take several day trips to explore Schynige Platte, Jungfrau and Grindelwald. But it was time to check out of my hotel and depart my home base in Interlaken. Surrounded by so many incredible excursions, Interlaken left me wanting to return. Alas, I was off to explore the rest of Switzerland.
When I first laid eyes on Bern as my train neared the city, I felt as though I was staring at a life-sized version of a miniature snow globe village. The capital of Switzerland — particularly its Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site — is immediately charming, with countless rows of buildings sporting matching clay-red roofs.
Soak in the magical atmosphere by walking the streets, experience the architectural beauty of the Bern Cathedral, then delight your inner history buff with a trip to Einstein's old apartment, restored as a museum. The Swiss Travel Pass will get you a hefty discount on Einstein museum tickets.
Switzerland travel: Lucerne
Excellently-maintained medieval architecture makes up much of Lucerne, along with historic bridges, towering Baroque churches and colourful homes. The Reuss river runs through the city, and is sure to catch your eye with its vibrant turquoise water. With stunning views of the snow-capped Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus, Lucerne is one of the most scenic locations in the whole country.
Switzerland travel: Schilthorn
On a clear day, you can see as far as Germany or France atop Schilthorn mountain — and that's not even the coolest thing about the summit. Movie buffs might recognize this peak as the filming location for the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service — and now, to commemorate the iconic film, you can visit Spy World, an interactive exhibition on the mountain.
After you've checked out the exhibit, dine in the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant. Surrounded by more than 200 peaks, it's hard to imagine a more perfect setting for a delicious meal.
Swiss Travel Pass holders get a 50 per cent discount on the cable car to the top of Schilthorn.
Switzerland travel: Stanserhorn
Schweiz Tourismus/Christian Perret
Take an open-air cable car ride up to Stanserhorn, a premium spot for mountain hiking in the summer. Stanserhorn is the jumping-off point for tandem paragliding, it's home to a small zoo with alpine animals, and there's a "lazy zone" at the top with lounge chairs to sink into as you enjoy the panoramic vistas.
Switzerland travel: Lauterbrunnen
My Switzerland itinerary was 95 per cent activities, and five per cent sleeping and eating. Needless to say, at times I was exhausted — the best kind of vacation exhaustion, mind you — and when my train pulled in to Lauterbrunnen, I was concerned I wouldn't have enough energy to fully appreciate the Swiss village.
I needn't have worried; Lauterbrunnen, a small collection of valley homes flanked by soaring cliffs, feels like it moves through time slower than the rest of the world. At times, the only noise in the entire village is the faint jangling of cow bells in the distance. It was the perfect mid-point of my trip, and I left refreshed, cheekily checking how much it would cost to move here (spoiler alert: a lot).
Lauterbrunnen is also home to the tallest free-falling waterfall in Europe. I made the steep climb up a cliffside staircase and had the chance to snap a panoramic photo of the village from behind the waterfall.
Switzerland travel: Zürich
Even though Zürich (the financial capital of Switzerland) has previously been ranked as the most expensive European city, there's still plenty an intrepid tourist can do here that won't empty their wallet. Numerous fascinating art and history museums can be found within the city, many of them free to enter with the Swiss Travel Pass.
In Old Town, climb to the top of Grossmünster, the city's iconic two-tower church that's rumoured to be built on the graves of two patron saints. When I visited, the clock hit twelve and the bells began to clang as I huffed and puffed my way up the spiral staircase. The whole church vibrated with the noise, and time stopped for the duration of the ringing. It was an incredible experience.
While Zürich is a city through-and-through, nature is never far away in Switzerland. At the crack of dawn, hike up the nearby Uetlibertg mountain and scale a lookout tower for a spellbinding view of the metropolis during sunrise.
The Swiss Travel Pass saved me lots of money in Zürich. It's easy to get around (buses and streetcars reach every corner of the city), but ticket prices can add up quickly, especially with a packed itinerary. Having all transit covered on the Swiss Travel Pass really eased the pressure on my wallet.
Switzerland travel: Museums
lerichti - Philipp Heer
Switzerland can get expensive, but if you're looking for a life-changing trip, there are few better destinations. Plus, with the Swiss Travel Pass, you'll unlock the country — and save lots of money doing it.
To learn more and purchase the Swiss Travel Pass, click here.