Thinking of heading to Zurich, Switzerland, but worried that you are going to have to empty your bank account to do it? Never fear! As a long time local living in Zurich, I have a collection of insider tips, including the best things to do in Zurich on a budget (from Zurich attractions, to cheap eats, stays and much more) that will help you to save a fortune!
From free activities in Zurich, that will fill your agenda for weeks, to affordable food options only the locals know about. This guide has it all. So, book your ticket, and come enjoy one of Europe’s best kept secrets.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Free & Cheap Activities In Zurich: Zurich Tourist Attractions
- 2 Accommodation in Zurich: Where to stay in Zurich on a budget
Free & Cheap Activities In Zurich: Zurich Tourist Attractions
Switzerland is all about historic town centers and the great outdoors. Which is great news for budget travelers like you, because a lot of activities in Zurich are actually free.
Free City Walking Tour
The first thing you should do is explore the city on foot. After all, it is small enough to walk around, and you get to truly experience the old town that way.
The old town starts right over the road from the main train stations (Zurich HB) and actually runs the length of the river right up to Lake Zurich on both sides. So, the best way to see it all is to do a loop – in either direction, along Niederdorfstrasse to Bellevue, and Bahnhofstrasse on the other side.
There are a few key viewpoints and sites you should see along the way including:
- Grossmunster – the Salt and Pepper icons of Zurich
- St. Peter’s church with the biggest clock face in Europe
- Lindenhof with its peaceful park, and excellent view over Zurich
- The expensive shops at the lakeside end of Bahnhofstrasse
- The opera house on Bellevue
Of course, there are lots of little side streets, boutique shops and restaurants to pop into around the whole old town area, but the above are the highlights that can guide you along the way.
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Swimming In The Limmat In Summer
The Limmat River runs right through Zurich, and it is a favorite spot for locals to swim in summer. Sure, you could also do it in winter, but I am not a masochist, are you? Temperatures can get as low as minus ten celsius here!
The best and also free spot to do this is downstream from the main train station – called the Upper Letten. It is on the far side of the river, so all you have to do is cross it, and follow it downstream until you come to the small bar and cafe and all the locals lounging around enjoying the sun.
You can jump in anywhere in this flowing stream, which dead-ends at the turbine. But most people jump from the pedestrian bridge, which admittedly takes a little courage!
Hiking In The Forests Of Zurich
One of the favorite things for locals to do on the weekend is head to the forests surrounding Zurich, which in most cases are just a hop, skip and jump away by train or tram. You can hike in and around Zurich in places like Zuriberg and Pfannenstiel on the east side of town. But the most popular is Uetliberg, with its prominent radio tower in the west.
You can actually hike all the way up the mountain from town, or the base of the mountain from Triemli (trains and buses head there regularly). However, if you are not super-fit like the Swiss, or short on time, then you can catch the Uetliberg train up and hike the short distance to the top. There is a worthwhile viewing platform, and even higher viewing tower where you can get spectacular views of the distant alps and the whole city below. Highly recommended!
Free Museums Zurich
A couple of Zurich’s best museums have so called “free days” where they are free to the public on specific days and hours.
For example, the Kunsthaus, Zurich’s premiere art museum will have you seeing art from the likes of Rembrandt, Manet and Giacometti for free on Wednesdays. More contemporary art can be seen at the Migros Museum (run by the company that owns the supermarkets) – they open for free on Thursday evenings between 5-8pm.
Football lovers might enjoy the free museum offered by the local Zurich Football Club (FC Zurich). However, keep in mind that an even better option is the FIFA Museum in Enge, 5 minutes from downtown. But it is not free (Zurich Card discounts may apply).
Another great option is to grab yourself a Zurich Card which gives you free local public transport and entrance to a range of museums and discounts in restaurants. If museums, and not walking a lot, are your cup of tea, then it’s a worthwhile purchase.
As you can read by now, there are plenty of things to see in Zurich on a budget!
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Food On A Budget
Let’s get this out of the way so there is no confusion. Zurich is expensive. And food is especially expensive, especially if you are not used to Swiss prices. However, there are some options to save money while traveling here. You just need to know where to go, and how to approach it.
It may seem like a silly thing to mention, but let me explain. Water in Europe is almost never free when you eat. And if you are walking around a city all day, you will likely need to buy some at some point.
However, because Switzerland has so much groundwater, much of it is overflowing and therefore piped into free water fountains all around the cities, and the whole country. They are called “Brunnen” in German and you will find them in many little squares in the old town, and all around downtown. Unless there is a sign telling you it is not drinkable, it is. There are over 1200 of these in Zurich, so save yourself a few bucks and fill up whenever you can!
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Cheap eats Zurich: Options for Eating Out
Eating out will always cost you more, especially if you decide to splurge and go out for brunch. But there are some options you can choose which are not as expensive as most.
For example, a kebab, which is meat sliced off huge slab that is slowly turned and cooked, is popular in Germany, but also here in Zurich. There are also some popular Indian takeaways which are competitively priced in places like Enge and Langstrasse.
In terms of actual dining out, I would usually head for Asian, if you want to get the best bang for your buck. The options have expanded in the last 5 years with new places like: Tenz Momos on Badenerstrasse, the Lucky Dumpling on Langstrasse, and Ooki in Wiedikon.
If you want super-fast and affordable, other popular Asian options include: Yooji’s (various locations around town), Lily’s (Langstrasse & Badenerstrasse), Ona Poke on Bleicherweg and Tiffins on Seefeldstrasse.
Burgers are another way to eat relatively cheaply. Of course, if you are coming from the USA, prices will still shock you. But compared to most other food here, it’s affordable. There is a huge range of options around from the tried and true Helvti, to the newcomers B-Good and Holy Cow! Personally I love the local, almost hole in the wall – Horber Burger & Würste on Langstrasse.
If it is sunny outside, another top spot to head is in Zurich’s thriving Westside where there is a makeshift outdoor dining area/garden called Frau Gerold’s Garten, where you can grab a quick sausage or salad, and end the evening with a tasty ice cream from Gelateria di Berna, one of Zurich’s best.
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Bring Your Own Food
If you are staying in an apartment or even a hotel, it is possible to buy your own breakfast and lunch. And Zurich is definitely the place where you will want to do this.
The local supermarkets, and even their smaller versions (similar to mini-markets or takeaways) are scattered all around the city.
The cheapest options are Denner, Lidl and Aldi, but often you won’t find those in the built up areas of town. Instead, you will want to head to Migros, which is the next best option. They have a lot of budget options in all categories, including their own brand in most of them.
Their more expensive competitor, Coop, will usually always cost you more. And if you spot Globus in downtown Zurich, avoid it at all costs. The prices are insane!
Try The Local Chocolate
Of course, while you are in Switzerland, you will want to taste test as much chocolate as possible. And you are certainly spoiled for choice.
My favorite is Laderach, which you will find on the Bahnhofstrasse just opposite the train station. The only problem is, this shop, along with another popular option – Sprungli, are not the most affordable. However, if you can stretch your budget to at least a small sample, then do it.
Another thing worth trying is the infamous hot chocolate at Cafe Schober on Niederdorfstrasse, which you can do on your walking tour of the city. Just be aware that it too is super expensive, but worth it if you have a sweet tooth.
For those truly on a budget, your best option is to shop at either Migros or Coop. Migros tends to have the lesser-known brands, which are still worthwhile. But if you want the true swiss chocolate like Lindt, Coop is your place. And, they often have deals (like 3 for 2), so at least check both.
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Accommodation in Zurich: Where to stay in Zurich on a budget
In my opinion, there are very few affordable hotel options in Zurich. So, I recommend you first check either hostels or Airbnb. They will both likely take you outside of Zurich downtown area, but keep in mind transport is efficient and cheap, as well as fast.
In terms of hotels, nothing will be as cheap as a hostel, but there are a few options that are at least reasonably priced. 25Hours Hotel in Zurich’s up and coming Westside is a trendy option many people seem to enjoy. Hotel Sternen and the Courtyard Marriott in Oerlikon, an expanding suburb of Zurich only 5 minutes train ride away, are cheaper options worth checking out.
This is a guest post by: Roger from the travel blog Expertworldtravel.com
Author’s bio: Roger is a mad traveler and lover of the outdoors. Originally from Australia, he is now living in Switzerland where he spends most of his time traveling, blogging, hiking, or mountain biking. You can find him online blogging about Switzerland or on Twitter.
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