Switzerland on the VERY cheap: Inside the Zurich capsule hotel with £41-a-night plywood-box rooms
Zurich is an expensive city, where plush hotels that normally charge an arm and a leg cost at least an additional limb. But who needs plush when you have no body parts to spare and, like me, you’re only passing through?
I opted for a budget ‘capsule’ hotel, a few steps away from the Swiss city’s glorious Grossmunster church.
The Green Marmot capsule hotel has won awards for its cosy cubby holes. Made from light birchwood, each capsule contains a fold-out wooden table, a circular mirror and a plug point. There’s also a duvet and sheets made of organic Egyptian cotton above a thick mattress.
Carlton Reid checked into The Green Marmot capsule hotel in Zurich, with his room (above left) costing just £43.72 for the night
The capsules are stacked two high. Carlton observes: ‘The packaging of sardines springs to mind’
Carlton enjoyed a ‘cramped, but nevertheless comfortable’ night’s sleep in his ‘cubby hole’, pictured left. ‘It’s not for the claustrophobic or the shy – your privacy is protected merely with an itsy-bitsy curtain (right), open at the top,’ he reveals
Pictured left are Carlton’s belongings hanging in his cubby hole. ‘Each individual capsule is air-conditioned – you can feel the cold air pumped through gaps,’ he says. Right is the flat-pack table in Carlton’s space that he used for some laptop work
It’s a bed with a low roof. You can sit in the space, hunched over, but not stand.
It’s not for the claustrophobic or the shy — your privacy is protected merely with an itsy-bitsy curtain, open at the top.
The capsules are stacked two high (I was allotted the upper space) and fill one of several rooms. An architectural drawing framed on a wall shows one room to accommodate 36 people. The packaging of sardines springs to mind. But it only cost me £43.72 for a night. This comes down to £41 if you book far enough ahead.
A single bed space. Carlton explains: ‘It’s a bed with a low roof. You can sit in the space, hunched over, but not stand’
There are double-bed spaces available (above), but Carlton suggests all the capsules best suit singles
The hotel’s website shows happy families sharing a number of capsules but that’s clearly impractical because, paying per head, it would be far cheaper — and more secure — for a family to stay in a standard twin hotel room.
There are some double bed spaces available, but the capsules best suit singles.
Toilets and showers are communal. This shared aspect of the hotel means, in reality, it’s a hostel but in most hostels you see your fellow travellers while they sleep, and in-room facilities, such as plug points, also tend to be communal. In the Green Marmot capsule hotel you’re in your own burrow, like a marmot, and only catch sight of others when they choose to show themselves, also like a marmot.
Although the hotel says it offers single-sex rooms, the room I slept in was mixed, with both men and women in the cubby holes. This wasn’t a problem for me but there were no locks or blocks: the skimpy curtain is the only guarantee of privacy, and anybody could pull it back should they be so minded, or as I did, they mistake the space for a luggage compartment. (Thankfully, there was no one burrowed at the time.)
The Green Marmot capsule hotel has won awards for its cosy, light birchwood cubby holes, Carlton reveals
Carlton reveals that each capsule is insulated from the other with sound-proofing foam
‘I was snug, and with power and Wi-Fi, perfectly content in my weeny space,’ writes Carlton
A wheelchair-accessible bunk space. ‘In the Green Marmot capsule hotel you’re in your own burrow, like a marmot, and only catch sight of others when they choose to show themselves, also like a marmot,’ writes Carlton
The receptionist offered Carlton free earplugs (pictured left) on arrival at the hotel. Toilets – such as the men-only one pictured on the right – and showers are communal, Carlton reveals
Free towels in the men-only shower and toilet room
I should have known this wasn’t where extra bags would be stored because I’d already placed my valuables in the hotel’s excellent lockers. I was travelling with a Tern folding bike and I was delighted to discover it fitted perfectly in the locker. However, I then had no other space for my other bags, so — after my aborted attempt to find a home for them — I hung them from two of the three wooden coat hooks in the capsule.
The lockers open and lock with the digital touch of a card, and this worked flawlessly, including at 4.30am when I crept from the hotel for my early train. An expensive hotel room would have been a waste when I was spending such little time in bed, and wouldn’t be around for breakfast.
The Green Marmot capsule hotel has vending machines for snacks and hot drinks but there’s no other food, and no catering facilities for whipping up your own. Instead, there are cafes and restaurants on the hotel’s doorstep.
A tea and coffee station at the hotel. ‘An expensive hotel room would have been a waste when I was spending such little time in bed, and wouldn’t be around for breakfast,’ Carlton explains
Carlton was delighted to discover that his folding bike (pictured left) ‘fitted perfectly’ in the locker at the hotel. The Green Marmot capsule hotel has vending machines (pictured right) for snacks and drinks but there’s no other food
Wi-Fi is strong and free, and I’ve stayed in ultra-chic hotels where neither has been the case. Each individual capsule is air-conditioned — you can feel the cold air pumped through gaps — and there were none of the ripe smells common to communal living spaces.
What was the night like? Cramped, but nevertheless comfortable, and my fellow guests didn’t treat the ‘hotel’ like a backpacker’s hostel. They were quiet, respectful (couples in doubles whispered) and I didn’t need the free earplugs the receptionist offered on arrival. Each capsule is insulated from the other with sound-proofing foam.
I was snug, and with power and Wi-Fi, perfectly content in my weeny space. I folded out the flatpack table, worked on my laptop, charged my electricals and caught up with home (by email, it would have felt odd to carry out a video conversation.)
From the hotel, it takes just seconds to reach the promenade of the Limmat river (pictured) and its medieval buildings, or the riverside tram
The hotel lies a few steps away from the glorious Grossmunster church (pictured)
Pioneered in Japan in the late 1970s, capsule hotels can now be found in many cities – and airports – around the world. Green Marmot capsule hotel opened in 2020 and bills itself as green because of its use of eco-materials and the urbanist repurposing of some previously run-down space. The picture on the right shows the pedestrianised area at the front of the hotel. There are cafes and restaurants nearby
The Green Marmot’s location, meanwhile – in the centre of the old town – is better than many of the city’s upscale hotels, and it takes just seconds to reach the promenade of the Limmat river and its medieval buildings, or the riverside tram. Lake Zurich is a brisk walk away.
Pioneered in Japan in the late 1970s, capsule hotels can now be found in many cities – and airports – around the world. I’ve slept in an airport one, much of which was posh plastic but still as cramped as this wooden city centre one.
Green Marmot capsule hotel opened in 2020 and bills itself as green because of its use of eco-materials and the urbanist repurposing of some previously run-down space — the building looked like an office in a previous life.
It’s an option, then, for the eco-conscious as well as the budget-conscious.
Pros: Undeniably excellent value for money in a city not awash with bargains. The location – if you want to be in the old town, that is – is perfect. For a one-night stay for one person it’s really hard to beat, and more cities should have such clean but budget-conscious capsule hotels. Ideal for digital nomads who only care for recharging points and strong Wi-Fi.
Cons: Not for the faint-hearted and definitely not for anybody wary of confined spaces.
The Green Marmot hotel, designed by Florian Berner of Weyell Berner architecture firm of Zurich, is situated at 26 Schifflande, Zurich Old Town. It won the SIT Furniture Design Award and the A’Design Award, both in 2021. The hotel offers both single and double bed capsules. The singles measure 212cm (83in) x 111cm (44in) x 109cm (43in) (length/width/height) and the doubles 212cm (83in) x 179cm (70in) x 109cm (43in).
For more information visit greenmarmot.com.
Carlton Reid travelled to Switzerland with an Interrail pass. The iconic pass celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Launched in March 1972, the Interrail pass was originally for young travellers only, enabling those of up to 21 years of age to explore 21 countries by train with just one rail pass. Since 1998 the Interrail pass has been available for travellers of all ages. More than 10million travellers have enjoyed ‘interrailing’ across Europe. For more information, visit www.eurail.com/en.