Zurich on a student budget – you can do it!

It’s no secret that Switzerland is a stunning country. The landscapes are breath-taking and every place has its own charm. The largest city in Switzerland, Zurich, is known to be one of the most expensive cities in Europe. Apart from being incredibly well organized, it strives to keep a high-quality life, which is one of the reasons why I chose this lovely place for my summer internship. I wanted to experience a different way of life. Coming from Eastern Europe as a student, with a modest budget, I had my first culture shock when I saw the prices on the restaurant menus. Of course, I expected a pricier life here, but soon I realized that with a higher quality life, comes a higher price tag. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying this amazing city with gorgeous landscapes and narrow city center streets. And yes, it is possible to live here on a tight budget, and I’ll show you how you can have fun, go out for a drink and still eat good food.

Get a bike / rent it for free

I didn’t know that public transport is so expensive. For young people, it’s about 60 CHF per month or 4 CHF per hour (during the day, but for night transport it’s an extra 5 CHF, even if you have a monthly/yearly pass). And for me, it was a bit too much, but I was lucky enough to have a coworker lend me his bike for the whole summer, which made me save a nice amount of francs. I would suggest anyone to find a way to bring their own bike, if possible. You can also rent a bike for free as well, but only for a limited amount of time per day, and you have to pay a 20 CHF deposit every time you rent it. Either way, riding a bike it’s a local thing – during the summer I would say that you could find more bikes than cars!

Hang out by the lake 

On a lazy Sunday, this might be the best thing – you can bring your towel and read peacefully, or have a picnic/barbeque, or just go for a swim. You can hang out pretty much anywhere near the lake, but I would say that it’s worth going a bit further away from the crowded areas, so you can enjoy the view a bit more since it’s spectacular.  

Go swimming along the Limmat river

Along the Limmat river, there are many free spots designed for people to hang around and go for a swim – those areas are generally closer to the city center than the ones near the lake. You can bring food, drinks, you can sunbathe and swim. It’s not a closed area, you can sit around wherever you’d like to. One day, during my first week in Zurich, I was walking home from work and I found it quite strange back then to see people in swimsuits sunbathing in the middle of the city – but it’s a common thing and it’s really cool!  

Search antiquariats for books

I was so sad that I couldn’t bring some books with me from home – they were pretty heavy and my baggage was already full. But I discovered a few antiquariats in Zurich that sell books for just a few francs, even in English – I bought a few of them for just 2 CHF/book. Insanely cheap! Usually, people donate these books and you can find a lot of different categories, even recent bestsellers. I was really surprised by their collection and I visited the bookstore more than once. It’s a really nice thing and if you don’t want to take these books back home, you can donate them as well.  

Cook your own meals

The price difference would be my main argument – food in supermarkets it’s cheap. Prices in stores are pretty close to other countries like Germany, Italy or France, while restaurant prices are definitely not. Learning to cook your own meals will save you a lot of money, and you might find your new hobby – at least I really enjoyed trying different recipes after a day at the office. At the same time, you can always pack your lunch and save a few francs as well. While sandwiches are about 8 CHF, a regular meal is about 20 CHF – it adds up pretty quickly and I would advise anyone to start looking for recipes ? And even though it’s really tempting to buy pre-packaged food just because it’s really cheap (like 3 francs for a pizza), I would say that those unhealthy options are not worth it in the long run, since your health is much more valuable than the money you save.  

Go for some pre-drinks before going out

If you feel like partying really hard, just meet your friends for some pre-drinking before hitting the bar. Alcohol pricing in supermarkets is decent, while in bars it’s a bit more expensive. A beer is about 5-6 CHF at a cheap bar, but the price goes up for sure in different locations. Usually, students meet at a friend’s place before going out – for me it was a bit strange at first but hey, you do what you gotta do.  

Don’t stress too much – it’s gonna be fine

As a last piece of advice, I would suggest going with the flow. Don’t obsess over spending too much on a dinner when everybody suddenly decided to go to that fancy local instead of a cheaper one. There are days when you spend a lot and days when you don’t spend money at all. Don’t focus all your attention on money, because you’ll lose the bigger picture. And that would be a shame. Zurich is such a different, wonderful city and if life brings you here for an experience, take the best out of it and don’t regret it. You might never have this opportunity again, while you’ll definitely have money again. At the end of the day, as long as you are happy, that’s what matters.