Zurich is a very beautiful town in Switzerland, which is also very expensive. In 2017, it remained the most expensive city in Europe.
Despite that, I visited the best attractions in the city and didn’t spend a fortune during my journey.
Using my own experience and the advices of locals, I will tell you about top 15 free and cheap things to do in Zurich if you have a tight budget. I will cover everything from free museums and interesting places to cheap places to eat, still enjoying your time in Zurich.
Check this list of 10 cheapest cities to visit in Europe.
Zurich on a Budget: Cheap and Free Things to do
Before I visited Zurich, I knew that it is one of the most expensive cities in the world. I already managed to have a great time in Paris, Stockholm and other expensive European cities at a very low cost. There are always some life hacks on how to save money in your trip in any place in the world.
There are markets, where you can get the highest quality food at a low price (or at no cost, just trying a little bit of everything – did that in Valencia). In supermarkets, there are often local (or just basic) products that are very cheap (melted cheese in the Netherlands is cheaper than in the cheapest countries in Eastern Europe, same about bread in Norway, wine in France…).
Here, I will tell you about ways to visit Zurich on a budget. First, accommodation.
Cheap Accommodation in Zurich
I would suggest three options for cheap accommodation in Zurich:
Find a good hostel in Zurich. Hostels are often good ways not only to save money on accommodation, but also food (find out, how I had a free lunch in Stockholm hostel), and attractions, as they often give you discounts on particular sights.
Hostels are also great for solo travelers, as you can meet people from all over the world and explore the city together. Another advantage is free events and city tours organized by hostels or third-party organizations.
Cheapest beds in Zurich hostels cost 33-34 euros (some include breakfast). Among European cities, only Paris and Oslo might compete with such ‘lowest’ prices for beds. To save money, use this link to Booking.com to get a 15-euro discount off your first booking.
Couchsurfing is another great (and free) way to stay in Zurich. I’ve booked my hostel in Zurich and decided to send a message to some local that knows the city very well to find out some insider tips (that I share with you now).
I chose the largest Couchsurfing group in Zurich, I didn’t read its name, just entered it. The name was ‘Last minute couch in Zurich’, so two people proposed me an accommodation in addition to showing the city. I already had my hostel booked, so I thought it is too late. Better just to meet in the city.
I already had a ticket from Basel to Zurich, and I was arriving at 10 pm. Already having a ticket and hostel reservation, I found out that my hostel reception was closing at 10 pm and there was no way they would wait another 15 minutes, so that I could check in! (How is it even possible in a hostel?).
So, I sent a message to my last minute host to tell that I will be glad to stay at his place. Esriel (host), you saved me. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have this option.
Renting an apartment in Airbnb is also a good idea for a budget traveler in Zurich. The cheapest (and good enough) room in the city center costs 16 euros, separate apartments with good location start from 30 euros per night. Use this link to get 23 euros back from your first Airbnb booking.
Cheap Food in Zurich
Some tips on finding cheap food in Zurich.
Cheapest supermarkets and discounters that you can find in Zurich are:
- Aldi – close to the main train station
- Caritas-Markt – also close to the main station, but from the other side of it
- Denner – multiple locations around the city
For good and not expensive pastry, visit Äss-Bar on Stüssihofstatt 6. There, you can buy pastry from yesterday for half the price.
Now, let’s finally move to best things to do in Zurich on a budget (will tell you about the place to get free bikes in the end).
Free Places to Visit with Great Panoramas
When visiting any city, the thing I always do is finding a great place to get the whole view of it. Zurich has many places with panoramic views that you can visit for free. Here are some of the best:
Terrace near the Universities
There are two great and famous universities in Zurich, ETH (technical high school, its technical subjects are usually among the top 5 in the world) and the University of Zurich with a wide range of subjects. In front of the main buildings of the two universities, there is a nice terrace with a view of the whole city. Here is a link to it on Google Maps.
Nice mini-park in the middle of old town. You can have a look at the other side of the city and chill on the way between attractions. Google Maps link here.
View from the Mountains
If you like hiking or can do anything for a nice view, there are two more options for you: Uetliberg and Rebberg.
Nice City Parks
The city has many parks. Many of them are located around the Zurich lake (not original, but unambiguous name). When it is not too cold and foggy, going to the lake is one of the favorite things the locals do in Zurich. If you visit the new botanical garden, you can have a nice walk from it along the water from Tiefenbrunnen to Springbrunnen.
Free Museums in Zurich
There is a couple of interesting and free museums in Zurich that you can visit for free. Some of them will be very interesting for football fans, but it will be later.
Focus Terra: Museum of Earth Sciences
Focus Terra is a museum of the ETH university. It has an interesting exhibition about geology answering many questions like ‘how the Earth was formed’, ‘where the precious stones come from’ and much more. Also, check the earthquake simulator. This place will be interesting to visit in any age.
Address: Sonneggstrasse 5
For those, who are interested in finding out the history of money, how the money in different countries look like and much more, it is worth to visit the Money Museum in Zurich, which is free (unfortunately, since July 1, 2017 the Museum is closed due to renovation).
Address: Hadlaubstrasse 106
Another university, the University of Zurich has organized a free zoological museum. You can see about 1500 animals in the museum. Here is the address.
Address: Karl-Schmid-Strasse 4
Lagenberg Wildlife Park
You can find see even more wild animals in Zurich by visiting the Wildlife Park for free. It is located to the West from the Zurich lake.
Address: Albisstrasse 4
Zurich Succulent Plant Collection
The Succulent Plant Collection has around 13000 of plant species within seven greenhouses. A place worth visiting if you like nature.
Address: Mythenquai 88
Aviary and Bird Sanctuary
If you don’t have enough of flora and fauna, you can also visit the Aviary and Bird Sanctuary of Zurich. It is located on the banks of the Zurich Lake. The birds not only live in this place, injured birds are also treated there.
Address: Mythenquai 1
Yes, football fans, I’ve heard your prayers. To visit the museum of FIFA, which is one of the most popular ones in Zurich, you will have to pay a big sum of money. Still, you can see the building and enter it for free.
Address: Seestrasse 27
Another great place to visit for football fans is the Football Club Zurich Museum. No need to pay for entry, it is free.
Address: Werdstrasse 21
Ok, enough of museums, here are some other things to do in Zurich for free.
The Gates of Hell
The famous «Thinker» sculpture by Auguste Rodin can also be found in the Gates of Hell outside the Zurich Art Museum). This is a bronze sculpture showing 186 figures.
Address: Heimplatz 1
Augusto Giacometti entrance hall
The most beautiful entrance to the police station in the world. It is a cellar with colorful murals that were made to make the room more light. Definitely worth a visit.
Address: Bahnhofquai 3
There is a couple of beautiful churches that you can visit in Zurich (of course, free of charge). Some of my favorite ones are Grossmünster, St. Peter’s Church and Fraumünster. They are located not far from each other, so you can visit all three in 30 minutes.
Rent a Bike in Zurich for Free
You can even ride a bike in Zurich for free. The company renting such bikes is called Züri Rollt. You should leave 20 Swiss Francs, and return the bike any time during the day. If you want to rent it at night, it will cost you 10 Francs.
It was a list of top things to do in Zurich on a budget. With so many free attractions and ways to eat and stay cheap, your visit can cost mere pennies, so that you can brag that you stayed in the most expensive city in Europe spending just 20-30 euros for 2 days. Have a great time in Zurich. Also, read this guide to Budapest.
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