Want to know what to eat in Switzerland on a budget? We’ve got you covered! Switzerland is famous for its food; Swiss cheese, Swiss chocolate, and even Swiss wine. But the problem is that Switzerland is also notoriously famous for being expensive. These tips from Roger at Expert World Travel will show how to eat cheap in Switzerland so you can find out what to eat in Switzerland and where – without blowing your budget!
How Much is Food in Switzerland?
Food prices in Switzerland are high, no doubt about that. A decent meal in a good restaurant can easily set you back 150 bucks – especially if you are a meat lover or dining out in larger cities, like Zurich or Geneva. But you have to try some of their typical Swiss dishes, especially if you are only in Switzerland for a week or so as the food is delicious!
A good steak can set you back anywhere from 30CHF to 100+CHF, and you won’t find a bowl of pasta for less than 20CHF. Even McDonald’s is expensive in Switzerland, with a Big Mac costing as much as 12 francs! (Note: 1 CHF/Franc is about 1.2 US Dollar in May 2023)
So, how do you get all that Swiss goodness into your stomach without spending hundreds of francs?
How to Eat Cheap in Switzerland
Avoid Restaurants In The Cities
I know it’s really appealing to go out and not worry about anything for a night. But I’m afraid that if you care about your budget, eating out in Switzerland at a hip Swiss restaurant will be more than worrying.
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But you have to eat somewhere eventually, so try to go to something more grungy, like a bar or a grill. Or even a restaurant that serves local food – they are still cheaper than haute cuisine restaurants. And generally, avoid meat and instead go for pizza or pasta, or even a vegetarian option. Your stomach will be full, and so will your wallet.
Swiss street food is usually the cheapest food in Zurich, so look out for food stalls or food trucks that offer local street food options where you don’t have to sit down and dine in a restaurant. You can find traditional snacks like raclette, rosti, a takeaway kebab or wurst (sausage). Just follow the students, they know how to find the best cheap eats in Zurich!
Plan Ahead And Do Your Research
If you are dead set on dining out at least once while you are in Switzerland, I certainly won’t stop you. Just don’t go out blindly and walk into the first restaurant you see. Instead, plan ahead. Check out the restaurants that are popular in the place you are staying, and see what people are saying about them on TripAdvisor or even Google Maps. Or just ask your Swiss friends – if you have any – or what the hostel reception recommends.
You can find out a lot of things by doing your research, and you will also often find photos of menus with prices. Maybe you’ll find a restaurant that you really like, and then see that you have to pay 30 francs for a bowl of soup – isn’t it better to know that beforehand?
And generally, aim for the smaller places that have tons of reviews by locals. Ask your taxi driver or hotel concierge where they go to eat (not where you should go, but where THEY go).
Local people always know where to find the best food at great prices, and that’s what you are looking for. Plus planning ahead also means that you can book a table, and be sure that you won’t end the night feeling hungry (and upset at having to look for another restaurant).
Have a Big Meal at Lunchtime
Eating your main meal at lunchtime can save you money in Switzerland as many restaurants offer a cheaper priced set menu for lunch, or even have lunch food prices set cheaper than they are at dinner time.
If you are visiting Switzerland on a budget, having a bowl of hearty soup can fill you up for a relatively cheap price so look out for “suppe” on the menu. Swiss Barley Soup (Gerstensuppe) is a lovely soup to try, especially in the winter!
Shop At Supermarkets & Cook Yourself
The most budget-friendly option you have is to buy food in supermarkets and then prepare it yourself, which is actually one of my favourite things to do on holidays as long as you book self-catering accommodation like apartments or hostels that have a kitchen
If you love cooking and preparing your own food, then this going to be awesome! You get to cook with new ingredients, and really infuse your meal with some of that Swiss charm.
If you are going out for the entire day, bring a sandwich or two along. Or if you are visiting Switzerland with your significant other, get some famous Swiss cheese and a bottle of wine in the supermarket, and go for a romantic picnic in the Alps. Trust me, the views are better there than at an overpriced Zurich restaurant, and you are still eating authentic Swiss cuisine – just on a budget!
Also, be careful about which supermarkets you shop at. The cheaper supermarket chains, like Lidl and Aldi might be harder to find, but they are less expensive than the exclusively local Swiss ones (like Coop). There are also some affordable Swiss supermarkets that have takeaways at decent prices, like Migros, and be sure to check them out as well.
Where to Eat in Switzerland: Go To The Mountains
Apart from being famous for its chocolate and cheese, Switzerland is obviously well-known for its mountains. And, you can’t really leave it without visiting the Swiss Alps (at least once). Plus the air is always fresher there, the people are friendlier and, the best news yet, the prices for food are often lower!
And did I mention that food is fresher? You can go to a local farmers’ market and get some homemade Alpenkase (cheese) or some organic vegetables. Even if you are just hiking or walking around, be on the lookout for ‘Alpenkase’ signs; they will take you directly to a farmer selling their fresh, homemade cheese, which tastes much better than the processed one from the supermarket.
Swiss farmers also love selling direct to the public, so you can also grab meat (rind = beef, poulet = chicken, schwein = pork) at a great price.
Another reason to switch out the city roads for the mountain hiking trails are the restaurants there. Authentic Swiss food like rösti, cheese raclette and fondue often tastes better in these restaurants, which coincidentally offer better prices than the ones in cities like Lucerne or Basel.
What to Eat in Switzerland: Swiss Desserts
You really can’t leave Switzerland without trying the delicious chocolate, the Nusstorte or some homemade Meringue. Just don’t over-indulge in sweets, because that can really mess up your diet and ruin your travel fitness plans.
But, instead of going to a patisserie for a amazing dessert or buying a bar of chocolate in a supermarket, why not visit a chocolate factory, or get on a chocolate train? Tickets are actually pretty affordable, and you will get to eat some chocolate for free! Plus, who doesn’t want a Willy Wonka experience?
If you have the budget you can also choose from several different chocolate tours, and not one will disappoint you. Our favourites include the tour of the Cailler Broc factory and the Läderach Chocolate Adventure, where you not only get to experience a part of Swiss culture but also get to eat a ton of chocolate for free. Who doesn’t love free chocolate?
You Have To Try The Swiss Wine
Switzerland produces some delicious wine, especially in the southern regions around Lake Geneva and Wallis. But, a bottle of good wine at a restaurant will set you back at least 30 francs, and often much more. Not to mention how overpriced glasses of wine often are (again, especially in the cities).
So, you have to try the wine, but not in a restaurant. Instead, while you are at the supermarket shopping for cheese and whatnot, also pick up a bottle of wine. It is often less than half the price there, and it still tastes exactly the same! Plus it goes really well with that cheese.
Have you been to Switzerland? What’s your best budget tip to enjoy Swiss food on a budget? Let me know in the comments below.
About the Author
Roger is an Aussie expat living in Switzerland who spends as much time as he can travelling and visiting every corner of this amazing country. You can find him blogging about it here or on Twitter here.
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