Zurich On A Budget

Zurich (along with Geneva) tops the list of the world’s most expensive cities according to a UBS study in 2015. It’s more expensive than New York, London and Tokyo. This isn’t a city that’s welcoming to visitors on a budget.

Zurich, I would like to introduce myself. I’m a newly unemployed IT Manager who (formerly used to the finer things in life) is on said tight budget. I have taken it upon myself to spend two days and nights in your beautiful city and I only plan to spend $100 …. total! 

Truth be told $100 in Zurich is like $20 in other cities, easily spent. I remember arriving into the train station and looking for a cheap bite to eat. I was shocked to see the prices for sandwiches ( which looked like stale mini baguette bread with a little deli meat ) selling for $6. I was absolutely gobsmacked. No wonder there’s no fat people in Zurich, no one can afford to eat!

This isn’t gonna be an easy challenge, but I come armed with a plan.


Arriving into Zurich I felt confident since I’d scored a couchsurfing host for two nights. At the same time I was a little paranoid about the experience, I’ve never tried couchsurfing before. What if my host turned out to be a crazy person? Someone who’d kill me in my sleep?

Dramatic I know. But if there’s ever a city to take that risk, it’s Zurich. This is a town where the average hotel room is over $200 a night and hostels at half that cost.

I arrived at my host’s home and I’m pleasantly surprised. He’s a quiet and affable man, who lives in a well kept apartment in a nice part of town. I spend my first evening with him having a nice pasta dinner and sharing wonderful conversations. He also turned out to be a psychic and read my fortune. Apparently one of the cards I pulled was “Gerechitigkeit” which is supposed to symbolize justice or honorable character. He gave me the card for good luck and I still have it ( seven months later ).

I feel very fortunate to have had him as my first experience with couchsurfing. It’s not about saving money ( although in this case it was about saving money ), it’s about meeting locals and having an authentic travel experience. Couchsurfing is something I’ll definitely try more off in the future.

Accommodations for 2 days: $0.


Since I was staying at a house for the two nights, I went grocery shopping to buy breakfast and basic items for sandwiches I’d eat during the day. Grocery shopping in Switzerland isn’t fun. It felt like the price of fruit was marked to the price of gold. I really had to think about every item I was buying, there was no impulse purchases here. I only bought what was absolutely necessary. Seeing the cost of groceries in Zurich, I felt obliged to return the dinner favor my host made from the first night. I bought groceries and cooked the next night’s dinner. As much as I could, I avoided eating out.

Food for 2 days: $80.50.


To stay true to my budget I made a decision that the only entertainment that I’d do in Zurich is what’s free. Luckily that was easily accomplished, Zurich naturally lends itself to being outside when the weather is nice. And I hit the jackpot. I came mid May and the days I spent in Zurich were glorious. The sun was out and the city was in full springtime bloom. Here’s a short list of freebies available in Zurich:

  • Lake Zurich: This lake is a beautiful place to visit morning or evening time. It has a long promenade that extends for 3 kilometers. Across this walkway I found lots of spots to sit and enjoy the view. Also since the weather was perfect when I was there, there was lots of people swimming in the lake. There’s also a meadow that was packed with people having picnics and lazing on the grass enjoying the sun.
Lake Zurich (from wikimedia)
Lake Zurich (from wikimedia)
  • Old Town (Altstatd): Every European city I’ve visited seems to have wondrous and beautiful Altstatds, but Zurich is in a league of its own. I was in heaven walking around and exploring Zurich’s Old Town. Ambling through the contorted narrow lanes, taking in the beautiful architecture that imbues this city with otherworldly charm. The main sites in the Old Town include: the double towers of the Grossmünster (Great Minister), the Peterskirche (Peter’s Church), which has Europe’s largest clock face, and the Fraumünster (Minister of Our Lady), which is known for its stained glass windows by Giacometti and Chagall.
  • Window Shopping: There are lots of stores that line the streets of Old Town, making window shopping a joy. If you have aspirational tastes you can go down to Bahnhofstrasse which is well known for being one of the most exclusive and expensive shopping streets in the world.

Entertainment for 2 days: $0


Zurich, like other European countries, has a great public transport system which is affordable — finally something cheap. In my case I only needed to take the tram to/from the couch surfing house to the center of town (which was not far). On the second day I did quite a bit of walking and only used the transport system once.  Although I didn’t use it, the ZurichCARD is a great deal. For $38 you get 72 hours of unlimited public transportation, the use of a 90 minute Lake Zurich cruise, train ride to/from Mt Uetliberg which is the highest point in Zurich and access to countless museums.

Transportation for 2 days: $25.

Total spent for 2 days: $105.50. It was a close fight but Zurich wins, I am over my budget by $5.50.


Final Thoughts: While Zurich’s reputation for being pricey is more than well earned, it’s a beautiful city that is worth a visit. If you plan it right it’s possible to visit and enjoy this city without completely wrecking your budget.

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