Switzerland: A Budget travel guide to Interlaken

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Interlaken, Switzerland. Photo: Photo: Mark W

The Swiss resort town of Interlaken is famous the world over as a jumping off point for skiing, snow sports and exploring the Bernese Highlands region of the Swiss Alps. Wedged between two crystalline alpine lakes, this small city of 23,300 residents has been an international resort since the 1800s when Swiss landscape artists immortalized the beauty of the region in paintings.

The launch of the Unspunnenfest, a festival dedicated to Swiss culture highlighting traditions like stone throwing, wrestling and yodeling soon after only increased the region’s renown.

Unsurprisingly, the city’s storied background and popularity doesn’t exactly translate to bargain basement prices for travelers. But at EuroCheapo, we’ve made it our goal to help you find ways to save even in Europe’s priciest destinations — and Interlaken is no exception!

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Interlaken Budget Travel Guide

Getting There

The two nearest airports to Interlaken are in Zurich and Basel. For travelers looking for a direct flight from the U.S. or Canada into Switzerland, Zurich is the best option, but it comes at a price. For a better price on airfare, travelers may be better off hopping a transatlantic flight into a major European hub (think London, Paris, or Barcelona) and then connecting to Basel’s tiny EuroAirport on a low-cost carrier like Ryanair, Vueling or easyJet.

From Basel and Zurich, your cheapest, fastest, and most flexible option is renting a car, especially if you’re traveling in a group.

Related: Check car rental prices in Switzerland

That said, if you’d rather train it around on one of the world’s best-known rail systems, book super saver train tickets in advance online through SBB, here. The earlier you book the more you’ll save.

A train pulling into Wilderswil, Interlaken. Photo: John B.

How to get around in the Interlaken Area

Once you’re in Interlaken, the city and surrounding area is small and very walkable. There are even dedicated hiking and biking trails between neighboring communities. If you’re staying in the area at a hotel, hostel, or registered holiday apartment (no Airbnb, sorry), you’ll receive an Interlaken Holiday Region Guest Card at check-in.

This card gives you access to free travel on local public transportation and other discounts. If you don’t, request one and if you get too many excuses, visit a tourism office and let them know — they were friendly and happy to help when our hotel didn’t give us our passes at check-in.

When to Go

While a summer trip promises sunny weather for hiking and winter is obviously ideal for snow sports, the somewhat fickle weather from late September to the end of October and from late March to early May can translate to savings when it comes to airfare and lodging.

For the best deals, zero in on early November and March and give the Christmas holidays and peak season (May through the beginning of September) a wide berth. Just be aware that some cable cars, funiculars, mountain trains, restaurants and hotels shut down partially or completely during the offseason.

Thun

Looking out over Lake Thun in Switzerland. Photo: Henk B

Free and cheap things to do in Interlaken

Your number one cheap thing to do in Interlaken and surrounding areas year-round? Get outside and take in the view. Bring your best walking shoes/boots and comfortable all-weather gear, because there’s a hike here to fit pretty much every interest and fitness level. Want to see views from on high? Local wildlife and plants? Check out medieval ruins? Gaze into the sky blue waters of area lakes? There’s something for everyone in the Interlaken area.

Longer hikes

Depending on the time of year you visit and your interests and fitness level, you can choose from a wide variety of trails. There’s the fairly rigorous two- to three-hour hike up Harder Kulm, the Alpine peak closest to Interlaken. For a more leisurely walk, follow the Aare River in either direction to see the clear blue lakes on either side of the city, Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.

Neuhaus is another good day-trip destination. About one hour on foot each way, you’ll walk through lush green meadows, the ruins of a medieval fortress and the Neuhaus-Weissenau Nature Preserve to end up in a lakeside park perfect for a picnic.

A stroll to Bönigen

Looking for a truly short jaunt? Take a brisk thirty-minute stroll to Bönigen, a charming tiny village replete with bakeries and chocolate shops for a sweet treat. If you’d rather shorten your hike somewhat, be sure to talk to someone in the tourist information office, or at your hotel, about which public transportation routes are included on your guest pass before buying any additional transit tickets.

Hiking Interlaken

Hiking around Interlaken in the winter time. Photo: Hazel

Biking

Prefer to see the sights on two wheels? Cycling will get your further afield faster (particularly in the summer months when trails are likely to be in tip-top shape). Rentals in Interlaken are available in the summer months starting at $30 for a full day with a private company or SBB’s (the Swiss rail network) rent a bike — with SBB’s program the more days in a row you book, the cheaper the rental costs per day.

Skiing and snow sports

Snow and adventure sports in Interlaken and surrounding areas don’t come cheap. If you really want to ski or snowboard, however, Outdoor Interlaken sometimes offers discounts on rentals booked for multiple days online, 10% discounts for groups of 10 or more participants (maybe get together a group at your hostel?) as well as package deals and discounts on multiple activities booked together.

Fondue is a classic dish that you can find in Switzerland. Photo: Karen

Inexpensive eats in Interlaken

Interlaken is basically a Swiss resort town, so it isn’t exactly a cheap place to eat and drink. If you’re on a really tight budget, you should probably limit food out and buy groceries. (Tip: the Migros and Spar supermarkets are somewhat cheaper than COOP). Meat is especially expensive in Switzerland, so if you’re trying to keep costs in check, maybe skip it during your time in Interlaken — it’s not like Switzerland’s a famous destination for steak, anyway.

Seek out international fare

As in other destinations in Switzerland, for the best price to quality and quantity ratio, international fare, particularly Asian and Middle Eastern food is usually a good bet.

Supermarket buffets

The COOP at Interlaken Ost and the local Migros Supermarket have their own restaurants with reasonably priced self-service fare, not unlike offerings at IKEA or old-school department store cafeterias.

All-you-can-eat fondue and cheap drinks

If you’re dying to try more traditional dishes (fondue, raclette, etc.) get away from Höheweg, the touristy main drag for better food and lower prices. In Interlaken proper, for cheap raclette and fondue, try Balmers Hostel. Fridays and Saturdays during the winter, you can enjoy all-you-can-eat fondue for 15 CHF (about $15) and raclette for 20 CHF or a portion of raclette for only 6CHF. In the summertime, the hostel has an inexpensive beer garden with prices starting at 9CHF, and its Metro bar is known year-round for happy hour and inexpensive drinks.

A bright and airy private room at Balmers Hostel.

Budget accommodations in Interlaken

Hostels in Interlaken proper start at about $25 per night for a dorm bed and $65 per night for a private room (without a bathroom). Basic B&Bs and hotels start at $90. For a lower nightly rate, head to the hinterlands. In nearby (and decidedly more picturesque) communities like Wilderswil you may be able to book a nicer room with breakfast included for less, and you’ll still get an Interlaken area guest card at check in (which means free bus/train service around the region for the extent of your stay).

Balmers Hostel

For a cool hostel, we like the private rooms (from about $70) and dorm beds (from about $30) at Balmers Hostel. It’s well located and has a budget-friendly restaurant and bar on site. There’s a guest kitchen and free bikes are available in summer.

Hotel Bären is a rustic Swiss chalet with affordable rooms. Photo: Tim V.

Hotel Bären

Hotel Bären in Wilderswil has traditionally-furnished rooms with rustic Swiss design starting at $125. Ask for a room with a view of the surrounding mountains and villages. An excellent hot and cold breakfast buffet is included. It may be a little bit more than we usually pay, but it’s very reasonably priced for private rooms with private bathrooms in Switzerland.

Search over 100 in Interlaken through EuroCheapo.

Your Interlaken budget travel tips

Have you been to Interlaken? Share your good money-saving advice from your own cheapo experiences in the comments section below, or on EuroCheapo’s Facebook page or Twitter.

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