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COST OF LIVING

How to save money when travelling with children in Switzerland

Heading off to Switzerland on a trip with the kids or travel regularly with your children? Here's how to save more than a franc or two.

A girl in the Swiss canton of Valais looks at the camera
Taking the kids to Switzerland will never be cheap, but there are ways to save. Picture: Michel Grolet on Unsplash

Heading to Switzerland with the kids and don’t want to take out a second mortgage on your house to pay for it? 

Then check out the following tips, which will at least partially soften the blow. 

Supermarkets

Swiss supermarkets have excellent produce and are remarkably cheap, at least when compared to other options. 

Many have fresh bread and will also offer good value cheeses, meats and dips, meaning that you can get everything you need for a picnic on the go. 

Larger supermarkets or those located near major train stations will also have a range of pre-made meals. While these will be a little pricier than if you made it yourself, they will be drastically cheaper than the restaurant next door. 

For alcohol – hey, travelling with the kids can be stressful – supermarkets are also your best bet, other than of course Migros who don’t sell alcoholic drinks or tobacco products. 

READ MORE: Is Swiss supermarket Migros about to start selling alcohol and cigarettes?

Drinking in public is legal in Switzerland, meaning that a picnic in the park with a few beers or a bottle of wine will be no problem. 

Swimming

Anyone suggesting swimming in rivers in New York, London, Dublin or plenty of other larger cities might get locked up, but in Switzerland it’s very common to swim in the waterways that run through most major cities. 

A woman swims in a lake in central Switzerland. Photo by Pierre Jeanneret on Unsplash

In fact, they’re often a common way to get to work. 

The best news for the budget conscious – other than the fact you and your kids won’t emerge covered in radioactive goo unlike in other cities – is that it’s free. 

Cost of living in Switzerland: How to save money if you live in Zurich

In addition to lakes and rivers, some Swiss cities also have summer baths, known as ‘Badis’. 

These give you the chance to swim in the same water but will have facilities like changing rooms and toilets. 

You might have to pay for the privilege – most Badis cost somewhere between CHF5 and CHF10 – but its well worth it, with some offering family discounts. 

Have children under six (or pass them off that way)

Children under the age of six travel free in Switzerland, which makes rail travel a more attractive and cost-effective option than, say, driving. 

So if you’re looking for long-term bargains, try and get plenty of travel in before your child turns six. 

It might make for a more boring time as a teenager, but it’ll be easier than passing your pimply 17-year-old off as an infant. 

Luckily however, things don’t get that much more expensive when a child turns seven, due to the Co-Travel card. 

Two trains side side by side at a station in the Swiss alps

Switzerland has a number of deals to make travel much cheaper with kids Photo by Chait Goli from Pexels

Co-Travel/Junior card for children 

If you have a valid SBB card, children between the age of six and 16 can travel with you for the whole year for just CHF30 per year with a Co-Travel Card. 

The Co-Travel Card, along with the Junior Travel Card (which is a similar but not identical program), anyone with a valid ticket can bring a child or children with them for free. 

While this offer is valid for Swiss residents, it is also a great option for tourists as the child’s travel will cost a maximum of CHF30 for the entire duration of the trip. 

READ MORE: Six ways to save money while visiting Switzerland

Some one-way tickets for children can cost more than CHF30, so in many cases it will have paid for itself with just one journey. 

Fortunately, this does not have to be attached to a particular adult’s travel pass. 

Therefore, if you buy a Co-Travel Card for your kid, it will be valid for use with a grandparent, uncle, godparent, neighbour, family friend or baby-sitter, provided of course the adult has a valid ticket. 

For the purposes of the Co-Travel Card, an ‘adult’ is someone aged 17 and over. 

A train weaves its way through Albula, Bergün/Bravuogn, in Switzerland.

A train weaves its way through Albula, Bergün/Bravuogn, in Switzerland. Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash

Drink water

Whether it’s in larger cities like Zurich or smaller towns and villages, Switzerland has tens of thousands of drinking fountains which offer water for free. 

This is great news for parents who might have to otherwise carry litres of water for daily excursions, or even worse, fork out cash for bottled water. 

They’re also a handy place to clean up dirty hands and faces – particularly after an ice cream – so keep that in mind when on holiday in Switzerland. 

Swiss Travel Pass

The Swiss Travel Pass is a good way to save on rail in Switzerland, although by and large it is only useful for tourists (although it might have other applications if you travel irregularly). 

The Swiss Travel Pass gives you free travel over certain periods of time, in a similar (but not identical) way to the Eurail pass.

It is available for 3, 4, 8 or 15 days. In addition to free travel, you’ll get entry to around 500 museums, galleries and cultural exhibitions across the country.

In many cases, accompanying children will travel free with a Swiss Travel Pass.

EXPLAINED: How to find cheap train tickets in Switzerland

The Swiss Travel Pass should not be confused with the SwissPass, which is the red chip card that Swiss residents use for discounted rail.

This is particularly confusing as before 2014, the Swiss Travel Pass was called the Swiss Pass – and some tourism operators and tourists still know it by that name.

Day trips and offers

The SBB offers a number of day trips and specific offers at heavily discounted prices. This often includes family prices.

In addition to discounted fares for the day trip, you’ll also get discounted entry to museums and other cultural venues.

They are usually sold as a package.

These vary and might not be exactly what you had planned on – i.e. you might need to alter your travel plans somewhat – but they cover some of the best experiences on offer in Switzerland.

Obviously this is particularly good for tourists rather than work commuters, but in addition to the savings they can sometimes highlight a fun or interesting experience that you might have otherwise missed.

Camping

Camping is a great way to see Switzerland on a budget. There are campgrounds across the country, many of which have great amenities and beautiful scenery.

While these are relatively cheap in comparison to hotels and apartments, they are not as cost effective as you might imagine. 

Camping can cost up to 110CHF per night in high season, which again reinforces the notion that Switzerland is expensive almost regardless of what you do. 

READ MORE: Ten things Zurich residents take for granted

Wild camping is also an option, but this has been cut back as a consequence of the Covid pandemic, with authorities frustrated about the amount of rubbish left behind. Camping in unauthorised areas can cost up to 10,000CHF, so make sure you are allowed to pitch a tent wherever you decide to do so. 

One tip: book early. Some Swiss will book camping places a year in advance – no, really – so if you have a place in mind, book ahead. 

People camping overlooking Oeschinen Lake, in Kandersteg, Switzerland.

Tents pitched near Oeschinen Lake, in Kandersteg, Switzerland. Be careful when wild camping in Switzerland as it may cost you up to 10,000 in fines if you are not permitted to do so. Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

Reading

OK so some of you might want to skip over this one – why do something on holiday that you can do for free at home? – but reading while on holiday can be a great way to relax with the kids. 

Better yet, it is also free. 

Switzerland’s multilingual culture and high proportion of English-speaking residents means that the libraries are actually quite well stocked when it comes to English books. 

This means there is something for the kids and for adults. 

Unless you want to check the book out, you don’t need a library card – you can just walk on in and start reading. 

In the warmer months, some libraries set up mobile book stations in the park, meaning that you can enjoy the nice weather with a book while being content that your wallet isn’t getting lighter. 

Swiss Coupon Pass

The value of coupon passes in Switzerland and elsewhere can sometimes be a little uncertain, mainly because the offers tend not to be that great and you can end up spending more money than you otherwise would have. 

The Swiss Coupon Pass, put out by Switzerland Travel Centre, is however a relatively good option – particularly for families. 

The book – which is available here in paper and digital form – has over a hundred 2 for 1 offers in 11 Swiss tourist destinations. 

In addition to cultural sites, there are also offers on car rental, restaurants and guidebooks. More information is available here

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COST OF LIVING

Can I have a fire in my backyard or courtyard in Switzerland?

The winter months are on their way and the weather is getting colder. If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, can you light a fire?

White marshmallows toast over a fire
If you want to toast marshmallows in your backyard in Switzerland this winter, first make sure it's OK. Photo by Leon Contreras on Unsplash

Even if you own a property, the rules for what you can and cannot do in Switzerland can be relatively restrictive. 

As we covered in the following article, laws or tenancy rules can prevent you from doing several types of activities in your own backyard, including felling trees or washing your car. 

You can also be prevented from certain activities on particular days. For instance, rules, bylaws and tenancy arrangements may prevent you from mowing your lawn or hanging out your laundry on a Sunday. 

READ MORE: What am I allowed to do in my backyard or apartment courtyard in Switzerland?

As the weather gets colder, you might be tempted to stock up the fire pit, fire basket or fire bowl with wood and set it alight. 

The rules for lighting fires are also relatively complex. What you are allowed to do will depend on your canton, your tenancy arrangement and the type of fire. 

Can I light a fire on my own property in Switzerland? 

If you’re living in one of the few Swiss houses to have a fireplace, then you are presumably allowed to use it, unless tenancy regulations prevent it at certain times. 

You are also usually allowed to have a barbecue or grill either on your balcony or in your backyard, provided the noise and smoke is not excessive. 

READ MORE: Can I have a barbecue on my balcony in Switzerland?

Whether or not you are allowed to have a fire in your backyard however will depend on the rules in your canton. 

You are generally prohibited from burning any waste in Switzerland, other than typical forest or garden waste (i.e. wood, grass, twigs, sticks and leaves). 

That however can also be restricted at certain times of the year.

In Zurich, for instance, fires in backyards are only permitted from March to October, meaning that you will need to find other ways to stay warm in the winter months in Switzerland’s most populous canton. 

Even if lighting fires is permitted, you may want to check with the rules of your rental contract to see if you are technically allowed a fire. 

What about fires in the forest or open parks? 

A campfire might also sound like a nice way to spend a winter evening, but this may be restricted or completely prohibited depending on the circumstance. 

There is no federal ban on fires in forests and other outdoor areas, provided you are not burning waste (other than garden waste etc) and you are not producing excessive emissions. 

The rules are the same on August 1st, Swiss National Day, where special bonfires usually require a permit. 

Note that there are special rules for burning old Christmas trees, which is prevented by law. 

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