Switzerland doesn’t have to be expensive, or how to visit the country and not become insolvent
|Switzerland is an expensive country, we won’t be lying about that. But in this text, we will advise you on how to spend there as little as possible and see as much as possible. We will share our experience concerning travelling with two little children, as to what, when and how to visit as well as what to pay the most attention to. And explain how to make sure that after returning to Poland you’re aware that, having calculated the number of wonderful experiences and magnificent views, the trip was really, really cost-effective. In every respect.
Switzerland used to be on our wish list for a very long time, but not near its very top. It was a mistake, we just didn’t know much about it. A trip through Switzerland made this country move up on our list straight to the TOP 3, among Peru and Kilimanjaro. It certainly deserves this, because you can easily fall head over heels in love with the views of hundreds of beautiful lakes and the surrounding mountains.
We’ve spent 10 days in this small European country: five days on skiing, and five days on travelling. It’s incredible how much charm such little area may encompass. That is why we made every effort to take advantage of each second of our journey – in order to do so, the Swiss Travel Pass all-in-one ticket is a must. We’ve been travelling by train, and even though this time we had to miss out on the most famous panoramic ones (Glacier Express, Bernina Express and Golden Pass Line), the glazed carriages of which offer supposedly the best views (something to make up for!), even the usual ones turned out to be... unusual. Switzerland through the windows of timely, well organised trains nevertheless makes a huge impression. Together with our children we couldn’t take our eyes off of the views.
Hence, if the question is: Is it worth visiting Switzerland?
Our answer is: definitely yes! Wonderful experiences – check, happy and smiling children – check. And it’s a healthful environment, too – as we were leaving, our children had a cold, therefore we took an inhaler with us, just in case, and... we completely forgot about it! Even though (or perhaps precisely because of this very reason?) the children were spending whole days outdoors, where the air was really fresh and crisp. “Switzerland... this is where one may breathe” – this quote from the cult Polish movie “Vabank” fits perfectly well in with the Swiss atmosphere.
It is simply impossible to list all the advantages, visit all the attractions of this Alpine country in just a couple of days. When you believe that the most magnificent view of the whole trip is right behind the corner, it turns out that, as few minutes pass by, there is something that makes the former not even “The View of the Day”. You can’t decide on which of these you like more: the green hills, already revitalised by the spring, or the high Alpine peaks at your very fingertips, covered in snow all year round. Just the view of them is a great refreshment, as you are sunbathing in the mid-summer at the upper deck of a steamboat navigating through Lake Geneva.
Switzerland is beautiful while seen from the level of the lakes, however, you can admire it from the height of over 2,000 m a.s.l. in just 15 minutes – for instance having reached the peak of Mount Rigi from the station by the very Vitznau port. It is a fairy-tale you are the main character in, a play the scenography of which you yourself decide on. And the choice is difficult, because each project seems perfect.
Switzerland has only two disadvantages – it always leaves you wanting more, feeling that you’ve missed out on seeing something, and... it is expensive. Of course, we are aware that especially the second point may pose a problem. However, difficulties are but to be overcome, that is why in this article we will advise you on not only how to visit this country, but also how not to... go bankrupt. Here are some key tips:
Plan your trip
Plan your trip as soon as possible. Plan your trip in detail. Plan your trip reasonably. It’s even worth emphasising this aspect once more – the plan of your trip is essential. We like making spontaneous decisions during our trips, so was the case in Switzerland; however, it is important not to change the key things.
Firstly: the flight. We are absolutely certain it is the best option while travelling with children, although it is clear we need to purchase as many as four tickets. Last summer, we were travelling with Nela and Żywek by car, so we have this comparison in mind. Children behaved fantastically, and relatively short sections of the route made the trip easier to bear. When it comes to Switzerland, however, we strongly recommend the plane–train combination. Swiss International Air Lines, apart from regular flights to Zurich, provides you with a possibility of checking in not only your luggage, but also your ski equipment – FOR FREE. Buying your tickets beforehand in addition allows you to save a significant amount of money – we paid PLN 400 for our ticket (with luggage), which is just over EUR 100.
There are also Wizz Air flights to Basel, and Easy Jet flights to Geneva – the choice is yours to make. Even today there are tickets available for Wizz Air flights in the middle of the summer from the Warsaw Chopin Airport to Basel for PLN 148. The prices, however, are always worth comparing, especially if you care about the luggage. It may turn out that the Swiss airlines will be... cheaper than the cheap flights. You can also come to a conclusion that such flight is slightly more expensive, but it is still worth paying a little bit more for a tasty warm meal and a drink included in the price, puzzles and games with an airplane with a white cross against a red background given to children by a smiling stewardess.
Airports in Zurich, Basel, or Geneva are all connected by rail network with every place worth visiting. Wherever the train will not take you, there are little gondolas as well as rail-based and cable cars. The most difficult connection becomes the easiest one – from the Zurich airport, we managed to reach Verbier located nearly 2,000 m a.s.l. with two children without that much of a problem. First, a train to Martigny and first enchantment of Swiss views. There, an immediate transfer by a well-communicated train by the other side of the platform to Le Châble. And then, a 50-metre walk from the railway station to the gondola station. And you feel no fatigue at all.
What is essential while travelling through Switzerland apart from the plan is...
Swiss Travel Pass
A perfect tool, and only seemingly expensive. The prices and a veeeeery long list of free or significantly discounted attractions the pass entitles you to can be found HERE. The price is indeed high, but if you intend to visit a lot of places, the cards available at the airports will pay off in an instant.
Glacier Express? All aboard!
A-few-hour cruise on board of Savoie and Simplon steamers (both centenarian ships from Belle Époque offer not only many unforgettable views while on the deck, but also below the deck, where the original machines operate in front your very eyes)? Just board the ship, the Swiss Travel Pass is the wind filling your sails, guiding you towards all the attractions.
The outstanding, first cabrio-type cable car in the world, from the open deck rooftop (!!!) of which you can admire, as you reach Mount Stanserhorn, as many as 10 local lakes and dozens of magnificent mountains surrounding this very peak? Guaranteed by the Swiss Travel Pass, as is travel by train from Lucerne (20 minutes to Stans) and a ride in the first, nearly 130-year-old cable car, combining the tradition with the real tourist heaven – a ride in the open deck rooftop cable car. It is worth noting that the attractions here are available throughout the year, and you should only pay some attention to the calendar if, apart from riding the cable cars, you’d also like to set off for a hiking trip along the steep mountain trails some of which are closed until 1st of May, or if you’d like to see the marmots occupying Mt Stanserhorn. Their sanctuary is, of course, easily reachable thanks to the Swiss travel ticket.
Museums? Most certainly, their doors stand open. Our favourite one turned out to be the glacier garden in the marvellous Lucerne, where we got a bit lost with our children, and even bumped our noses against the walls of the unique Alhambra mirror maze. This unique place, located right by the famous lion sculpted in stone, is one of the many places worth visiting – and free, provided that you have the Swiss Travel Pass. Also the ships – both the smaller ones and the bigger, cruise ones – navigating through the Lake of the Four Forest Cantons wait for you to get on board of them. We ourselves decided to take a little trip and went on a cruise to Vitznau, wherefrom in a cable car we reached Mt Rigi. Only the ride to the peak of Mt Pilatus wasn’t free, but also in this case we had a 50% discount (from 72 Swiss francs per person, which is still quite significant). Legend has it that it was there that Pontius Pilate was buried, but we weren’t convinced. However, the views of Lucerne (definitely our favourite city in Switzerland) from the mountain top were so stunning that we had no regrets about taking the cable car ride. Travelling from the Lucerne city centre by bus line no. 5 towards Kriens takes only fifteen minutes; then, there is a 5-minute walk through the lovely park in the vicinity of... pastures.
What are the other reasons we value the Swiss Travel Pass so highly? When we spontaneously extended our Geneva–Lucerne trip and set off for an excursion to see the charming Chillon Castle, it turned out we can visit it for free. When, afterwards, we took a bus (costs included, of course) to Vevey, where Henryk Sienkiewicz used to live, our impulsive decision to ride a cable car to the peak of Mount Pelerin also happened to cost us nothing. And it was precisely there that we’ve seen one of the most beautiful playgrounds in our entire lives. Children had a blast, all the more it is much easier for them since...
Everything is free for children up to 6 years!
Basically all over Switzerland. Switzerland treats children exceptionally in every respect. All attractions await them. We only had to pay for Nela and Żywek when we ate at a restaurant, all the travel costs were covered even without the Swiss Travel Passes. Seeing a couple with a child, the Swiss themselves are very nice and kind, naturally helpful. It is a great place for a trip with your child. And for the little ones to learn – for five days we were leaving Nela and Żywek for three hours at an English-language ski school. The instructors had a great time teaching our 4.5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter not only how to ski, but also how to communicate, hence our children were delighted. And they’ve learned a lot! What is more, the price per hour was much lower than in Poland – off season, you can actually spend less while skiing in Switzerland than in Poland if you convert the money spent into pleasure and kilometres skied. We were also enthusing over the quality of the ski equipment rented for the entire family and the customer service at Mountain Air in Verbier. It is worthwhile going to Switzerland to ski before or after the season, just as we did. The sun is incomparably much more pleasant then, and the prices – significantly lower.
When it comes to restaurants, they are a completely separate story, because... they can drive you out of business. It is something you have to spend the most on while being there. Nominal prices are the same as in Poland, what changes, however, is the currency. After conversion, the result is four times higher than in our country. Sometimes, it is worth visiting a small restaurant, in Lucerne for instance, by the unique Chapel Bridge, but if you wish to visit Switzerland on a budget, we recommend taking a lot of packed lunches from your country and drinking crystal clear water from Swiss lakes. Buying your supplies in Coop network shops may also turn out to be a good idea, prices there are not so distant when compared with those in Poland. Our advice is that you stay in apartments providing you with a possibility of preparing your own meals.
Of course, everything has its limits – while in Switzerland, trying a cheese fondue, the iconic hot pot filled with cheese, garlic and white wine, is a must. Dipping your bread in the small pot and admiring the views while sipping a glass of wine is a perfect way of spending your evening. Local cheeses and chocolate are, yet again, a separate and fantastic story, and an obligatory stop during your trip, especially when travelling with children.
This is where your trip to and through Switzerland should begin. Having chosen the appropriate language version of the website, you can find not only many unique offers for everyone, but also the most important information and photos of the main attractions. This is also where you can make your reservation owing to the database of accommodations that are verified and recommended by the Swiss Tourist Office. Remember that you can also always contact the Polish branch of the Swiss Tourist Office offering professional service and practical advice.
Subjects devoted to Switzerland will certainly be raised on our blog in the near future – in much more detailed stories from particular places. We ourselves do hope to revisit this country many a time, and not only in writing.