Want to have fun without breaking out those Swiss Francs? Then you should read our guide to the top 10 free things to do in Switzerland.
Switzerland isn’t known for its affordability. In fact, some new arrivals might be surprised at the local cost of living. However, this cozy alpine nation is packed with great things to do without spending a single centime. Whether you’re looking for unforgettable family days out or simply a romantic afternoon with your loved one, there’s plenty on offer. From breathtaking vistas to snapshots into Swiss history, here are our favorite things to do in Switzerland for free.
1. Take a tour of the Bundeshaus
If you’re visiting the charming Swiss capital, there is a whole host of great things to do in Bern. However, if you’d like to get under the skin of the country and better understand your new Swiss home, why not take a tour of the Bundeshaus? The beautiful Swiss parliament building is home to both the Federal Council and Assembly, and you can explore it yourself.
Free, guided tours of the parliament building take place regularly, giving visitors a unique look behind the scenes of Swiss democracy. Tours are given in four languages (including English) and take around 60 minutes. You’ll need to book ahead to secure your spot and provide ID on entry. Be aware that no tours occur while parliament is in session.
Bundeshaus, Bundesplatz 3, 3005 Bern
2. Wander around Lucerne old town
There are few countries in the world that pack in quite as many charming old towns as Switzerland. From Basel in the north, to Lugano near the Italian border, you’ll never be too far away from a slightly whimsical city center. These places are a great way to explore some Swiss history while enjoying a leisurely stroll.
However, if there’s one old town that should definitely be on your list, then it’s Lucerne. Sitting on the banks of the stunning Lake Lucerne, this old town has a lot to see. You can climb the old city wall, Museggmauer, explore the many churches, or simply sit by the lakeside. And, of course, no visit to Lucerne would be complete without crossing the iconic Kapellbrücke, the oldest wooden footbridge in Europe.
3. Indulge your artistic side at the MCBA
Switzerland might not be your first thought when you think of fine arts, but the country has a surprising array of great works. One of the best places to discover local Swiss artists – as well as some international names – is Lausanne’s MCBA (Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts), also known as the Vaud Museum of Fine Arts.
Opened in 1841, the MCBA is one of the oldest Swiss art galleries, with a collection of around 10,000 pieces. The museum runs several temporary exhibitions throughout the year, which run alongside a schedule of cultural events. You’ll find the MCBA in Lausanne’s artistic district, Plateforme 10.
Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Place de la Gare 16, 1003 Lausanne
4. Lounge by Lake Geneva
When the sun shines, there are few better places to be in Switzerland than along the shores of Lake Geneva. The huge, crescent-shaped lake is Switzerland’s largest, stretching from Geneva in the west to Montreux in the east. From the iconic lakeside Château de Chillon to Geneva’s famous Jet d’Eau, there’s a lot of water-based fun to be had.
However, if you’re looking for something great to do in Switzerland without spending a centime, head down to one of Lake Geneva’s many beaches. These are great places to while away an entire day with the family. You’ll find facilities, refreshments, and, of course, plenty of beautiful Swiss lakeside scenery all around.
5. Educate yourself at the University of Zurich
If you’re visiting Switzerland’s biggest city, why not treat yourself to a little free education? The University of Zurich is one of Switzerland’s most decorated higher education institutes and is home to a couple of excellent free museums. These are a great way to infuse a little knowledge into your days out and are perfect for the whole family.
The most popular of the university’s museums is the Zoological Museum. Here, you’ll find a number of collections, interactive exhibits, and daily screenings of nature films. Other attractions at the university include the Paleontology Museum, Botanical Gardens, and the Earth Sciences Museum. The perfect antidote to a rainy day in Zurich.
Zoological Museum of the University of Zurich, Karl-Schmid-Strasse 4, 8006 Zürich
6. Hike through the Lauterbrunnen Valley
No list of free things to do in Switzerland would be complete without mentioning one of the best Swiss activities, hiking. As you might expect, there is a whole lot of hiking opportunities in Switzerland. Wherever you are in the country, you probably won’t be far from the start of your nearest trail. So, what are you waiting for?
If you’re looking for a truly unforgettable day hiking, head to the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Located near the famous resort town of Interlaken, the valley is one of Switzerland’s most beautiful areas. With over 70 waterfalls, sheer cliffs, and stunning scenery all-round, grab your hiking boots and get ready for the Swiss countryside to take your breath away.
7. Float through central Bern
Does all that hiking sound a little too, well, energetic? How about taking in a completely different slice of Switzerland from the comfort of a rubber ring floating down a river? And not just any old river, either. You can enjoy the very best in river relaxation while floating through Switzerland’s beautiful capital, Bern.
Floating down the River Aare is one of the best things to do in Bern for locals and visitors of all ages. You can see some of the city’s best sites from the river, including the Bundeshaus and the local zoo, Dählhölzli. Be aware that young children aren’t allowed in the river unattended, and you should check local conditions before entering the water.
8. Walk on the wild side with Peter & Paul
You might not think of Switzerland as being a haven for wildlife, but the mountainous little nation has plenty of local fauna. One of the best places to get a feel for all these majestic animals, great and small, is Wildpark Peter & Paul, near St Gallen. Here, the trails and walks of the park are embedded into the natural local landscape.
Wildpark Peter & Paul is home to a number of native species, including wild boar, chamois, fallow deer, and lynx. There are quizzes available for the little ones, and dogs are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash. This is a great way to understand more about the wild beauty of Switzerland, in a welcoming and accessible location.
Wildpark Peter & Paul, Kirchlistrasse 92, 9010 St. Gallen
9. Geek out at CERN
Alongside chocolate, cheese, and some of Europe’s best scenery, the Swiss are also famous for their science and engineering expertise. However, you might not be aware that Switzerland is also home to the world’s largest machine. That’s right, you’ll find the largest high-energy particle collider in the world tucked inside a 27km-long tunnel near Geneva.
Happily for science fans, you can visit the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) for free. Entry to the center includes admission to three permanent exhibitions. This includes a scale mock-up of the Large Hadron Collider – perfect for all your Instagram needs!
CERN, Esplanade des Particules 1, 1217 Meyrin
10. Go stargazing in Zermatt
Beneath the looming peak of the famous Matterhorn mountain, you’ll find the picture-perfect mountain resort of Zermatt. A popular destination for locals and visitors alike, this is a excellent base for those who enjoy life on the pistes. But Zermatt is not only a great place to ski or snowboard. It’s also home to some of the best stargazing in Switzerland.
Zermatt’s location high in the Swiss Alps makes it the perfect spot to look out across the galaxy. You’ll be surprised at just how much you can see from your lofty perch. However, remember to wrap up warm if you’re heading out. The temperature in the mountains can drop significantly at night, even in the middle of summer. Remember to always wrap up warm!