25 completely free things to do in Switzerland

Switzerland is expensive. That's old news.

Wherever you go and whatever you buy, you'll find yourself spending a lot more money than you would anywhere else.

Unless you're maybe travelling to Bermuda or Norway. But for a budget traveller, our high prices can be a real turn-off. Which is a shame, because Switzerland is a fantastic place to visit.

I mean, would you say no to this?

Läderach chocolate
hiking and nature

Yeah, I wouldn't either. So let's not get caught up in this downward spiral and focus on some positives instead, shall we? Because if you think about it, even this annoying aspect comes with a plus side.

It makes anything free seem like an absolute steal.

Think about it...

Finding a free museum in Switzerland is a lot more exciting than in one of those super budget-friendly countries like Poland or Croatia. And the best game plan to protect your budget is to hunt down as many free activities as possible.

Which is exactly what this post is about to do for you. Are you ready to find out what they are?

(Spoiler alert. Some of the following 25 suggestions are probably not what you expected. Free biscuits anyone?)

In an expensive country like Switzerland, free things are worth its weight in gold. This post introduces you to 25 free things to visit, eat, see and do in Switzerland.

1. Culinary

1.1 Go cookie-crazy at the Kambly factory store

If you like free biscuits and beautiful landscapes, the Kambly factory store in the idyllic village of Trubschachen will feel like Christmas and Easter all at once. With up to 100 types of delicious biscuits to freely devour, this place will keep you busy for a while.

And full...

Or sick. Depending on how far you take it. And I have yet to meet someone who didn't take it too far.

For an in-depth rundown of the Kambly store adventure, visit this article.

Kambly factory store

Eat free biscuits at the Kambly factory store...

Kambly factory store

... and buy a bag or two for your trip.

1.2 Refill your water bottle

Switzerland is also known as "the water castle of Europe", which makes buying bottled water completely redundant. Drinking water is all over the place and opportunities to refill your bottle are endless.

Zurich alone has 1.200 public fountains and Lucerne even created a water guide to help you find your closest refilling station. Unless you see a sign telling you otherwise ("kein Trinkwasser", "eau non potable" or "aqua non potabile"), you're good to go.

Opinions on drinking from mountain streams are divided, though. I personally avoid it whenever I can...

1.3 Say cheese

Oh boy, Swiss cheese. Don't get me started...

Nothing I've ever tasted abroad came even close to what we have here. Swiss cheese is just the best. I occasionally get called a cheese snob for saying that during my travels, but I'll take it. 🙂

The coolest part about having 450 different types of cheese is visiting one of the many cheese dairies.

Here's a list of places that let you enter for free. Mind you, some of them charge a little extra for the tasting at the end or to see a special section of their dairy. But for a general impression of the Swiss cheese-making procedure, you don't have to pay for the following vendors:

cheese day in Solothurn

There are over 450 types of cheese in Switzerland.

Some cheese dairies let you watch their working process.

Oh, and if you happen to turn into a cheese snob after your trip to Switzerland, please let me know. One can never have too many allies...

2. Transport

2.1 Use free public transport

Public transport in Switzerland isn't cheap. But luckily, several Swiss cities offer free use of public transport to their visitors.

Upon check-in at your accommodation in Bern, Basel, Lucerne, Lausanne, Montreux, Geneva and the whole Canton of Ticino, you receive a ticket that lets you use local transport for free during the time of your stay.

More and more cities seem to be adopting this concept, so check with your accommodation if they offer some sort of a tourist card upon arrival.

Verzasca Valley in Ticino

The Ticino Ticket takes you to Lavertezzo in the Verzasca valley for free...

Just like the Montreux Riviera Card lets you freely use local public transport in Montreux.

2.2 Grab a free bike

In some cities, you can borrow free bikes through a platform called Schweizrollt. All you need to do is leave a deposit and/or some sort of identification and off you go.

The cities currently participating in Schweizrollt are Zurich, Geneva, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Le Locle, Neuchâtel and the Canton of Valais. You can also grab a free bike in St. Gallen by heading to the train station and following the signs to the "Velostation".

If you're looking to rent a bike elsewhere, your alternative options are Nextbike, Publibike, Velospot and SBB. Those aren't free, though.

3. Culture

3.1 Tag along on a free walking tour

The concept of free walking tours has become hugely popular over the past couple of years. You can find them anywhere from La Paz to Paris and Tokyo all the way down to Sydney.

It's an idea that has taken off globally and still continues to grow. And here's how this works.

A highly motivated, talkative and usually local guide takes you around a city for a couple of hours. This makes for tons of local knowledge, random facts and interesting stories.

Since those tours operate on tips alone, you basically join for free and decide at the end how much it was worth to you.

If you felt like it sucked, you can just sneak off. But they almost always go above and beyond to entertain and inform you so leaving a decent tip is kind of a no-brainer.

As of May 2019, free walking tours exist in thirteen Swiss cities. To find one that suits your taste and schedule, head over to the official Freewalk website.

Free walking tours exist in Zurich...

... Bern and many other Swiss cities.

3.2 Peek around our churches

Switzerland has a wide array of impressive churches and cathedrals to show off. To my knowledge, they're all free to enter. (If you happen to find one that takes an entrance fee, I'd like to apologise in advance.)

Certain churches, like for example St. Ursus Cathedral in Solothurn, Grossmünster in Zurich, Laurenzenkirche in St. Gallen or Basler Münster in Basel, give you the opportunity to climb the tower for a small fee.

Don't miss this if you're after postcard and Instagram-worthy views of the city and its surroundings.

The cathedral in St. Gallen is probably the most photographed building in the city.

Cathedral in St. Gallen

St. Ursus Cathedral in Solothurn

3.3 Take a good look at the city model in Zurich

If you're into architecture and city planning, you're going to love the city model in Zurich. This wooden replica of Switzerland's biggest city shows over 50.000 existing buildings as well as the city's major planned projects.

You can find the city model in the basement of the Department of City Planning, which is situated at Lindenhofstrasse 19 in Zurich.

By the way, it's not uncommon to burst into a meeting here as this room also serves as a conference room. But as long as you keep your voice down and don't interrupt any important discussions, you can still take a look at the model.

The city model of Zurich in the Department of City Planning

The city model of Zurich in the Department of City Planning

3.4 Join a free tour of the Swiss Parliament Building

Understanding the Swiss political system can be as difficult as nailing jelly to a tree.

I could drift off into open waters here and start explaining our direct democracy and how our Head of State consists of seven people instead of just one person.

But I won't.

Instead, if you're interested in all those political questions and our Parliament Building, you can join one of their free Parliament tours. To reserve your spot, use this booking form.

Swiss House of Parliament

The Swiss Parliament Building regularly runs free tours.

Don't miss this if you're interested in Swiss politics.

3.5 Visit a free museum

With over 1.100 museums scattered across the country, anyone should be able to find something to their taste here. 

And the best part is that roughly a third of our museums are free.

Not the big ones like Technorama in Winterthur or the Museum of Communication in Bern. But CERN in Geneva and the Nature Museum in Solothurn, for instance, are free to enter.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a conclusive list in English, but I did find something helpful in German.

It's a list of all the Swiss museums. If you visit this website, scroll down to "5. Alle Schweizer Museen" and sort them by price, the free ones will appear at the top.

By the way, if you're travelling with a Swiss Travel Pass, you automatically own the Swiss Museum Pass as well. This gives you free entrance to all the places listed here. (Spoiler alert: Certain chocolate factories also count as museums and are included in this pass)

Maison Cailler in Broc

Maison Cailler in Broc is free with your Swiss Travel Pass.

chocolate fountain

Just like the Maestrani chocolate factory in Flawil.

3.6 Slow down

Travelling can be exhausting when you power through a ridiculously crammed itinerary.

And while it may seem reasonable to tick off as many places as possible, this can cause us (yes, this happens to me, too) to miss what's right in front of us. All the free stuff that's almost too obvious to notice.

So next time you find yourself racing from museum to monument to must-do activity, spending way too much money in the process, slow down.

Take a couple of hours getting lost in a city. Stroll through its little alleyways, check out its churches and shops or find a cosy spot by the lake or river.

The Mannenweier is the perfect place for swimming.

The Mannenweier in St. Gallen is the perfect place for swimming and enjoying some down-time.

great view of the city from Hafeban

As is the Aaremüürli, the stonewall by the Aare River in Solothurn.

3.7 Party at a free festival

Free festivals, parties and markets take place all year round.

Be that a street food festival, a local party like "Märetfescht" in Solothurn or "em Beppi si Jazz" in Basel, a buskers festival, the yearly madness during carnival, one of the countless fun fairs, open-air festivals or concerts or whatever else your heart desires.

The best place to find out what's happening in your area is the Swiss Events app. It maintains an up-to-date list with everything that's going on in Switzerland.

3.8 Explore our mighty castles

Castles might not be the main attraction you were expecting to find in Switzerland, right?

But you'd be surprised at how many awesome castles we have. Like for instance Chateau de Chillon by Lake Geneva, Gruyères Castle in the Canton of Fribourg or Lenzburg Castle in the Canton of Aargau. Just to name a few.

Unfortunately, most of them aren't free to enter. But since castles are just as impressive from the outside as they are from the inside, you can still enjoy them for free without going in.

To find the most beautiful ones, visit the Swiss castle website.

PS: If you're travelling with a Swiss Travel Pass, several castles are included in your free Swiss Museum Pass.

Chateau de Chillon

Chateau de Chillon near Montreux is one of my favourites.

Schloss Aarburg

Aarburg Castle is a juvenile prison. Who'd have thought?

4. Nature

4.1 Take a stroll through our botanical gardens

Botanical gardens are nearly as abundant in Switzerland as museums.

Almost every city and every university offering a plant-related study programme has a publicly available garden with indigenous and foreign plants.

To find a botanical garden in your area, use the search form on the the official Swiss Tourism website.

4.2 Stand in the mist of Europe's largest waterfall

The Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen are one spectacular force of nature.

During summer, around 600.000 litres of water plummet down this 150 metres wide (492 feet) and 23 metres tall (75 feet) waterfall.

Access from the northern shore is free while viewing Europe's largest waterfall from the south costs 5 CHF. This fee includes the viewing platforms as well as the entrance to Laufen Castle, which also serves as a Youth Hostel, right above the Rhine Falls.

The Rhine Falls are Europe's largest waterfalls

The Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen are Europe's largest waterfalls.

4.3 Wander through the Lavaux vineyards

The Lavaux vineyards are the perfect place for wine and/or nature lovers.

Stretching all the way from Lausanne to Montreux, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of my favourite spots in western Switzerland. And completely free to access if you don't stop for a glass of wine along the way.

Not only is it super peaceful to get lost in those little pathways winding through the vineyards, the spectacular views over Lake Geneva and into the Swiss and French Alps are also unparallelled.

The easiest way to reach the vineyards is by local train from either Montreux or Lausanne. Get off in Epesses, Villette or anywhere else along the way and make your way uphill. Or follow the directions on this website

Lavaux Unesco vineyards

The Lavaux vineyards by Lake Geneva are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Lavaux

It's the perfect place to take a stroll through the vineyards and go on a boat ride on Lake Geneva.

4.4 Dip your toes - pretty much anywhere

As you know from earlier, Switzerland is the water castle of Europe. With roughly 1.500 lakes scattered across the country, you're never too far from an opportunity to go for a swim.

Cute little ponds, freezing cold mountain lakes, refreshing rivers and our bigger lakes attract water lovers all year round for all sorts of activities.

Unless you see a sign telling you otherwise, you're good to hop in. Just be careful when you go for a swim in a river. Those currents don't always do what you expect them to.

By the way, my favourite mountain lakes are Seealpsee in the Alpstein mountain range, Oeschinensee in the Canton of Bern and Riffelsee right in front of the Matterhorn in Zermatt.

The Aare has some amazing spots to go for a swim.

The River Aare has some amazing spots to go for a swim.

Seealpsee in the Alpstein Mountain Range

Seealpsee is one of my favourite mountain lakes.

4.5 Hike until your feet fall off

With the Alps making up a whopping two-thirds of Switzerland's land mass, your hiking opportunities over here are endless.

If you summed up all the official hiking trails across Switzerland, you'd end up with roughly 65.000 kilometres (40.400 miles) worth of trails. Put into perspective, that's one and a half times the world's circumference.

Or 18.5 times the Appalachian Trail. As you can see, hiking is a free activity that can technically keep you busy for years. 🙂

To plan your hike, use the Schweizmobil website or download their app.

hiking and nature

Hiking towards Oeschinensee near Kandersteg.

The creux du van is a natural amphitheatre in the Cantons of Neuchâtel and Vaud.

Hiking to Creux du Van in the Canton of Jura.

4.6 Walk across the world's longest suspension bridge

An incredibly head spinning adventure is hiking across the world’s longest suspension bridge near Zermatt

This masterpiece of a bridge opened in 2017 and stretches 494 metres (1.620 feet) across the valley. The circular track leading across the bridge starts and finishes in Randa, which can be reached in 15 minutes by train from Zermatt.

suspension bridge Randa

The suspension bridge in Randa near Zermatt is the world's longest of its kind.

4.7 Visit the Swiss National Park

Most national parks in the world make you pay to enter. But guess what. The Swiss don't.

Founded in 1914, the Swiss National Park in the Canton of Grisons is the oldest national park in the Alps. It offers 80 kilometres (50 miles) of hiking trails that take you through breathtaking landscapes.

The park is also home to various native animals such as marmots, ibex, deer, chamois, jackdaws and many more.

Getting to the main entrance in Zernez is a bit of a mission but not really a problem with the Swiss public transport system.

Swiss National Park

The Swiss National Park is a hikers' paradise.

Swiss National Park

And it's free to access, too...

4.8 Go stargazing

In case you've never seen the Milky Way galaxy before, or you just like stars in general, you're in luck. Find a remote spot with little light pollution, look up and wait for those shooting stars to roll in.

Another option is to bring your tent and spend the night outside. Like I mentioned in this post, wild camping is legal in Switzerland. Or at least not illegal...

5. Animals

5.1 Spend some quality time with the bears

Figuratively speaking, of course.

If you happen to visit Switzerland's capital, make sure you stop by the bear park, which lies at the lower end of the old town of Bern. Unless you're there during hibernation time, you'll be able to observe Björk, Finn, Ursina and Berna go about their daily bear's lives.

bear park in Bern

The bear park in Bern lies at the lover end of the old town, right by the River Aare.

It's only a short walk from there up to Rosengarten, a beautiful garden overlooking the Swiss capital.

5.2 Hang out at a free wildlife park

Several wildlife parks across Switzerland are free to enter and make for a great afternoon trip. Here's a collection of beautiful parks that also teach you a fact or two about the Swiss wildlife.

The marmot, or "Murmeli" as we call it, is iconic to the Swiss mountains.

The marmot, or "Murmeli" as we call it, lives at Peter & Paul Wildlife Park in St. Gallen. And in the National Park, of course.

5.3 Stop by the retired horses of Le Roselet

Tucked away in a village called Les Breuleux in the Canton of Jura, the horse foundation Le Roselet runs a nursing station for retired horses.

Close to 60 elderly horses, ponies and donkeys have found their retirement home here and can be visited all year round.

If heading all the way to Les Breuleux to check out some horses seems a bit out of scale for you, you can always combine the visit with a hike in the Jura mountain range. Trails can be found and planned through Schweizmobil.

5.4 Observe the storks in Switzerland's largest stork station

The stork station in Altreu was brought to life in 1950 when storks in Switzerland were almost extinct. Max Bloesch, a commited sports teacher, worked on bringing the storks back to Switzerland and eventually, his endeavours paid off.

Today, over 40 breeding pairs enjoy their summers soaring through the air, strutting across the fields and clattering on the rooftops in Altreu.

If you're in the Solothurn area, don't miss out on a couple of relaxing hours in this charming spot next to the River Aare.

Altreu by the River Aare

Altreu is a beautiful place by the River Aare.

Storks in Altreu

It's home to over 40 stork breeding pairs. Can't miss 'em.

Zip that wallet

And this completes our hunt for free things to do in Switzerland. As you can see, there's plenty of stuff to do around here that doesn't require you to open your wallet.

I'm sure this list isn't conclusive so if you happen to bump into any additional free activities you'd like to share, please let us know in the comments below.

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