Geneva, one of the worlds 10 most expensive cities, is a definite must visit for everyone’s travel list. But with such an expensive price tag on the city, it might leave you put off. But trust me, it’s certainly not impossible to visit Geneva on a budget.
All year round, there is plenty to do for free (or for just a few coins). Numerous museums offer free entry and there are lots of free sites around the city to see. In the summer months there are often free concerts in parks, festivals and firework displays. During winter months, the city’s ice rinks are free and of course, lots of Christmas displays to see.
So here a quick guide to doing Geneva on a budget:
1. Take a free walking tour
Discover the beautiful and stylish city with a free walking tour. Free Walk Geneva offers two daily free walking tours. Tours are based on tips, so feel free to pay whatever you like, but it’s not compulsory to pay at all.
At 11am, from the Clock Tower, Pont de l’Ile at Place Bel-Air, the tour explores the city’s old town and city centre, with information about the historical past of Geneva. At 2pm, from the Broken Chair Monument, outside the UN, take a tour of the international and world-wide known organisations of Geneva.
2. Visit the Broken Chair Memorial
Quite difficult to miss, the Broken Chair Memorial is a large wooden statue located just outside the European United Nations on Palais Des Nations. The memorial represents the victims of landmines and other explosives and symbolises those who have lost limbs due to these tragic acts of war.
3. Visit the European United Nations Headquarters
Whilst you’re up at Palais Des Nations, visit the European United Nations which is home to international organisations and global politics. The site is beautiful, with intricately designed buildings and amazing gardens. Tours are available weekdays at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm for just 10CHF (£7.77) and just 8CHF (£6.21) for students. It’s recommended that you arrive 30 minutes before as tours are on a first come first served basis. Identification and security checks are required, so remember to bring a form of ID.
4. Natural History and Art History Museums
Both the Natural History Museum and the Art History Museum are free to visit and are well worth the visit.
The Natural History Museum attracts over 250,000 visitors a year, showcasing exhibitions from the evolution of man to 1960s interior design. There are numerous floors to be explored, including 200 local stuffed animals, the famous Australopithecus Lucy (the oldest human fossil found) and also moon stones from NASA.
The Museum of Art and History is a huge collection of over 1 million exposition pieces. The collections capture the history of western culture and civilisation from thousands of years ago to present day.
5. Wander around the Plainpalais Market
Who doesn’t love a good market? In the Plainpalais area of Geneva, a huge market is held every Sunday until about 4pm with everything you could want from an outdoor market. From delicious fresh fruit and veg, countless meat and cheese deli stands, tons of vintage clothing and homemade jewellery and even vinyls, CDs and DVDs. This place has an amazing vibe to it with many stall holders up for a chat and offering free samples..The market is also rife with countless food stands, full of smells you can almost taste. Food here is remarkably cheaper than anywhere else in Geneva. With food on offer from worldwide cuisines, there’s definitely something to eat for everyone. I highly recommend Chez le Libanais; an amazing Lebanese food stall which serve kebab and falafel wraps. For only 7CHF (£5.43) you can have a huge falafel wrap with a choice of salad and sauces, full of flavour – definitely enough to keep you stuffed for the whole afternoon.
6. Explore Geneva’s Botanical Gardens
The botanical gardens in Geneva offer various beautiful indoor and outdoor activities, including exotic plants from various countries around the world. It’s a fantastic place to spend a couple of hours whatever the weather. Take a picnic and spend your lunch surrounded by outstanding gardens and over 16,000 species of plants.
7. Visit St. Pierre Cathedral
Sitting above Geneva’s old town, a trip the St. Pierre Cathedral is well worth the climb. The cathedral is over 850 years old and combines the various architectural styles from Gothic and Ancient. The cathedral is free to enter and explore. You can also climb one of the towers for only 5CHF, getting a breathtaking view of the city.
8. See the Reformation Wall
Found in Parc des Bastions, the international monument to the reformation is a large stone monument. It showcases the main protagonists Theodore Beza, John Knox, John Calvin and William Farel who were behind the reformation. A must see for history enthusiasts!
9. Hike Mount Saléve
Around a 20 minute bus journey from the city centre, Mount Saléve is a fantastic hike to do on a sunny day and is completely free. The hike offers unimaginable views of Lake Geneva, the Alps and Mont Blanc (if it’s a clear day). Take the number 8 bus from outside the main train station to Vayrier-Douane. The hike takes around 2.5-3hours. There is also a cable car available (if hiking isn’t your thing), which will cost you €10. Remember to pack lots of food and water for energy!
10. Check out the enormous Jet Deau
Pretty unmissable, Jet Deau is a huge fountain on Lake Geneva and is one of the tallest fountains in the world. Originally constructed in 1886 to control and release the excess pressure from La Coulouvreniére, the jet soon became a symbol of Geneva and is somewhat a representation of the power of the city in global finance and politics. The jet pumps 500litres of water per second to a height of 140 metres. Pretty impressive right? Be careful how close you get to the fountain, otherwise you might find yourself getting completely soaked.
11. Take a dip at Baines des Pâquis
A lively beach in the middle of the city which offers stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains. There is plenty of space to lie down and catch some rays, then take a dip in the crystal clear water of Lake Geneva. Entrance is free from the 12th of September to 10th of May and just 2CHF (£1.55) from the 11th of May to 11th of September.
12. Explore the city on two wheels
There’s no better way than to explore a city than on two wheels and Geneva is no exception, especially when it’s so accessible and free. Genéve Roule offers free bike rental for up to four hours (and then just 2CHF (£1.55) per hour afterwards). The bikes are also in excellent condition and have that classic European bike look with a little basket on the front too (ideal for that perfect Instagram shot).
13. Grab Some Local Cheap Grub
Eating out in Geneva, like everything else there, is pretty expensive, but don’t let that put you off trying out some delicious local food. There are places to eat without breaking the bank, all you have to do it ask and find out where the locals love.
My airBNB host suggested taking a visit to Restaurant Chez ma Cousine. They offer decent sized portions at affordable prices, leaving you very satisfied and full. TripAdvisor has also awarded them with the certificate of excellence 2016-2018 for their amazing food. The restaurant’s most popular dish is the half a chicken, seasoned potato wedges and salad for just 15CHF (£11.65). I’d also recommend adding their homemade specialty gravy – I wish I had asked for the recipe.
Geneva has also recently become home to a food truck movement, proving delicious and responsibly priced lunches. The Ville de Geneva has allocated 10 popular city spots to food trucks and serve food from 11am to 2:30pm. Check out the locations on the Ville de Geneva website. I checked out Funky BBQ and would definitely recommend the visit – 100% Swiss meats, slow cooked for 4 – 12 hours.
There are a lots of other cheap eats in Geneva, just take a scroll through TripAdvisor to find something that looks good for you.
14. Geek out at C.E.R.N
C.E.R.N, or less commonly known as The European Organization for Nuclear Research, operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. Established in 1954, CERN’s main function is to provide the particle accelerators and other infrastructure needed for high-energy physics research. It is home to the famous Large Hadron Collider and also birthplace of the World Wide Web! To get there, take tram 18 from the centre to “CERN” which is the final stop between CERN Globe and Reception – it couldn’t be easier.
You can visit the institute with a private guided tour for absolutely free, allowing you to discover the mysteries of the universe and the incredible work of the over 2000 employees. You’ll need to be quick though. Tours must be booked online, 15 days in advance and fill up within seconds. Visit the CERN website to find out more.
15. Lastly, don’t miss out on the stunning sunsets
It seems Geneva has been blessed with some of the most gorgeous sunsets known to man. The vibrant colours beam across the city and reflect on the lake, lighting up the city. A scroll across Promenade du Lac is a must during sunset to catch the breath-taking views of the city and the Jura mountains. A completely free activity to do every evening you’re in Geneva. Pack some food and wine and enjoy watching the sunset with good company or even alone.
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