Switzerland ranks as one of the most expensive countries in the world, but that doesn't mean you have to mortgage your home or sell a kidney to visit. Deals may not abound, but occasional discounts do exist, especially during low season. Don't be afraid to ask for one—the answer might surprise you.
Prices for rental cars in Switzerland can be nearly double the rate you'd find at home. If you decide on a car after you've arrived, it is worth the time and hassle to head to an Internet café to book …you'll save roughly the equivalent of a night at a four-star hotel by avoiding the rental counter.
One secret to staying solvent while riding Swiss trains is the Swiss Half-Fare Card. Available monthly, it allows you to pay only 50% of the regular ticket price on nearly every train, boat, bus and tram in the country. This deal is not available in Switzerland, so buy this pass online or at a travel agency before you arrive.
Willing to travel on a specific train at a specific time? Surf the Swiss Federal Railways Web site (www.rail.ch), which is loaded with money-saving goodies like the SuperSaver ticket. Simply click on your starting location to view destination and schedule options. There are even first-class tickets to choose from. Note: you must print the tickets yourself.
Sightseeing and Activities
Culture buffs on a budget can plan their visits around the free nights offered by local museums. These nights differ by museum and frequently by region, but most often occur on the first Saturday, Sunday, or Monday of each month.
In exchange for your passport and a small deposit, many Swiss cities offer free bikes from May to October. Whether you cruise up the Rhône River, stopping into vineyards and quaint chalet-strewn villages, or carefully navigate traffic in the trendy Zürich West district, you'll work off that heavy fondue without lightening your wallet.
Summer brings free festivals, concerts, and events to much of Switzerland. Dance into the wee hours of the morning at Zürich's famous Street Parade or bask in the glow of the biggest fireworks display in Switzerland at the Fêtes de Genève, both in August and absolutely free.
Food and Drink
For less than 20 SF, you can dine like a king at lunchtime by ordering a Tagesmenu, plat du jour, or piatto del giorno. These specials are cooked up fresh each day for less than half the price of a similar main dish in the evening.
Shop for snacks after 5 pm, when most grocery stores knock 25% to50% off certain perishable items. If you're determined not to raid your hotel's extravagantly priced minibar, you can find chips, soda, pastries, and even prepared to-go dishes like fruit salad, sliced veggies, and pasta salad at bargain rates.
Every city, town, and village has a fountain where you can fill up a bottle with clean, fresh drinking water. Don't mind the pigeons—even Zürich's more than one thousand fountains are frequently tested to meet strict quality standards.
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