Whether you’re living in Lucerne or Lausanne, find out where to buy your everyday essentials with our guide to household shopping in Switzerland.
As an expat, it can be a challenge to know where you can get hold of certain items you need for everyday life. If you’re in the market for food and drink, our expert guide to Swiss supermarkets can help. But what about all those other must-have essentials you might need?
Without the brand names you recognize from home, you might not know where you can stock up on the latest must-have sports equipment, or where you can pick up garden furniture before summer hits. But, don’t worry. Our guide to household shopping in Switzerland includes information on the following:
- Introduction to shopping in Switzerland
- Department stores
- Clothes and accessories
- Sports and leisure
- DIY, home, and garden
- Books, stationery, and entertainment
- Electrical goods and gadgets
- Health and beauty
- Children’s clothes and toys
Introduction to shopping in Switzerland
Buying everyday essentials might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you picture your new life in Switzerland. But when you’re not melting cheese for your next fondue or hitting the pistes to perfect your parallel turns, you might need a few things. Thankfully, Switzerland is pretty well-stocked when it comes to shopping opportunities. As a small country, you’re never too far from a large Swiss town or city. However, if you’re in the mountains, you may want to arrange your shopping needs ahead of time to avoid too much driving.
As in most other European countries, there’s a mix of city center shopping and out-of-town big-box retail outlets in Switzerland. In addition to many supermarkets, you’ll find most larger-format hardware and furniture stores on the edge of town. Locals typically drive to these stores, although some will have public transport links. In the city and town centers where you’ll find the majority of shops, there are car and bicycle parking and better transport connections.
Opening times in Switzerland
As you might expect, Switzerland is pretty conservative when it comes to store opening times. While things have shifted slowly over recent years, efforts to liberalize opening hours have typically been met by strong local resistance. Generally speaking, shops in Switzerland are open from 09:00 to 18:00 from Monday to Saturday, although this does vary between urban and rural areas. Shops are also typically closed on Sundays, so don’t plan any Sunday retail therapy sessions with friends.
After sipping a morning coffee on the shores of a pristine Swiss lake, what better way to indulge in a little retail therapy than a trip to the local department store? For a small country, Switzerland definitely punches above its weight with these larger retailers. At Swiss department stores, you’ll find the widest range of goods, from high-end fashion and accessories to the best homeware. Many also have restaurants and cafes where you can refresh yourself after all that shopping. Typically, these stores are found in prominent central locations in Switzerland’s biggest cities.
Perhaps the most famous department store in Switzerland is Jelmoli, located in the heart of Zurich. Opened in 1833, the store is spread over six floors and is home to Switzerland’s largest beauty section. However, wherever you are in the country, you won’t be far from a department store or two. The biggest names are Globus and Manor, which have stores across the country. Many also have supermarkets attached, selling a range of high-end premium products. Other department store chains include Loeb and Bongénie Grieder, although these are not as widespread.
Clothes and accessories
Wherever you’re shopping in Switzerland, you won’t be far away from your nearest clothing stores. These are typically centered around the main street in the local shopping area, while you may find the occasional shopping mall in larger cities. Here, you’ll see a range of well-known international brands, such as H&M, Zara, Massimo Dutti, C&A, and many more. As well as these names and the department stores mentioned above, there are a few cheaper local options. For example, supermarket giants Migros and Coop both stock a decent selection of clothing and accessories.
Generally speaking, clothing options vary significantly between Swiss towns and cities. You’ll find the most range in the larger cities. If you’re looking for upmarket designer wear, head to Geneva or Zurich. Here, you’ll find brands that include Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, and Chanel. For more affordable fashion, locals typically head to one of the country’s outlet malls. Here you’ll find big-name brands at lower prices. Alternatively, some even cross the borders to find more affordable fashions in neighboring Germany or France.
Sports and leisure
There are few countries in the world quite like Switzerland when it comes to the great outdoors. You won’t need us to tell you just how much there is to see and do in the Swiss countryside. From kayaking and mountaineering to swimming and ice-skating, there really is something for everyone in Switzerland. But even if you prefer five-a-side football or simply working up a sweat down your local gym, you’ll still need the right clothing and accessories. Thankfully, you’re well-covered when it comes to picking up sporting goods in Switzerland.
The largest sporting chains are European giants Decathlon and Intersport, which you’ll find across the country. These stores stock a wide range of leisure items, from clothes and accessories to equipment and apparatus. However, many sports stores in Switzerland are independently-operated. Indeed, for a dedicated service, you may prefer the experience of one of these local outlets. This is particularly true if you’re a keen cyclist or you’re into winter sports. These local shops will likely to able to offer more detailed advice. However, you might need to brush up on your language skills first.
DIY, home, and garden
Just moved into a work-in-progress in Winterthur? Or maybe you need a few bits and pieces for your new apartment in Zurich? Whatever you’re after, you’ll need to visit your local DIY and hardware store. Thankfully, you have plenty to choose from, including large national chains and smaller independent outlets. The market is dominated by the two biggest Swiss supermarket chains, Coop’s Bau+Hobby and Migros’s Do It+Garden. Other names you’ll see include Jumbo and Hornbach, although be sure to look out for local stores as these often a more bespoke service.
Once you’ve fixed it up, you’ll probably want to fill your new home with some furniture. Swedish retailer IKEA has locations across the country, while other big-name furniture retailers include Pfister, Conforama, Migros’s Micasa, and Beliani. Typically speaking, DIY stores sell some furniture as well as kitchens and bathrooms. However, for more niche offerings, you might want to head to your nearest stockist. Depending on your needs and location, you might want to head across the border for your furniture needs, which can work out cheaper. For plants and other garden essentials, many DIY stores have garden sections. You’ll also find some independent options, so search online for your nearest and get ready to explore.
Books, stationery, and entertainment
What better way to spend all those cozy winter evenings in Switzerland than curling up with a good book and a roaring fire? Thankfully, the Swiss have you covered, with many stocking an increasing number of English titles. The biggest Swiss bookstore chains include Payot and Buchhaus (Lüthy Balmer Stocker), although these mostly sell German and French titles. However, there are plenty of independent English bookstores in Switzerland, particularly in the larger cities. The most popular of these include Zurich’s Pile of Books and Lausanne’s Books Books Books.
If you’re looking for more than just books, you’ll probably want to check out fnac. The entertainment and cultural store has outlets across the west of the country, selling books, music, films, and more. Across Switzerland, you’ll find the drugstore Müller and some larger supermarkets stock a basic range of entertainment goods, as well as cheap stationery products. However, if you really love your stationery, check out dedicated stores like Zumstein, which has branches in select cities. Many Manor and Globus department stores also have a stationery department, if you’re keen to shop around.
Electrical goods and gadgets
Need a break from all those English books you’ve just bought? Or maybe you want to make the perfect cup of coffee for that brand new thriller? Whether it’s the latest television or a brand new coffee machine, some fresh new electronics can make your new home pop. For household electronics and more niche needs, head to Conforama, Migros’s melectronics, or Digitec. You might be able to pick up a few smaller appliances at your local supermarket or department store. Alternatively, many locals cross the border and take advantage of lower prices when buying electronics.
If you’re in the market for a new Swiss SIM card, or any mobile accessories, you might find a decent selection in these electronic stores. However, most Swiss mobile operators have their own stores across the country. Here, you’ll be able to check out the latest models, stock up on any accessories you might need, and get advice from the sales assistants. Be aware that you’ll probably need to brush up on your language skills ahead of time, particularly outside the larger cities. For more information, read our complete guide to getting a Swiss mobile phone.
Health and beauty
Whether you’ve got a big meeting at the office, a night out after a long day on the slopes, or simply a quiet day at home with the family, it’s important to look after yourself. Thankfully, there are plenty of options for boosting your health and wellbeing in Switzerland. Although US-style drugstores do exist in Switzerland, these do not actually sell medicine. For the vast majority of medication (even over-the-counter products like paracetamol), you’ll need to visit your local Swiss pharmacy (Apotheke/pharmacie). These are fairly common and easily recognizable by their bright green signs. Staff are knowledgeable, although you might need to dust off those language skills.
For health and beauty products, you’ll find a decent selection in most Swiss supermarkets. However, for more choice, you’ll probably need to visit a dedicated drugstore chain, like Müller. A wide range of cosmetics can be found at most major Swiss department stores. You’ll also find some well-known international brands like The Body Shop and Lush. If you’re looking for health food grocery stores, check out our complete guide to Swiss supermarkets for more details.
Children’s clothes and toys
Switzerland is a great place for children. Whether they’re into skiing or snowboard down mountains, kayaking with friends on the lake, or simply having fun in their local city park, they definitely won’t be bored. Thankfully, there are plenty of places you can pick up kids’ clothing and shoes in Switzerland. Most of these are independently-owned, so be sure to check parenting blogs to find your nearest stores. If you’re looking to keep things cheap, many larger Swiss supermarkets stock a basic selection of kids’ clothes.
For toys, you’ll find a basic range of toys and games in some Swiss supermarkets, while most department stores also have well-stocked toy sections. However, your best bet is to head to a dedicated toy store. In Switzerland, many of these are independently owned and operated, so you might need to do some research in your local area. A nationwide chain you should check out is Franz Carl Weber, which has stores across Switzerland. You’ll also find several LEGO stores if your little ones enjoy building with colorful bricks.