A weekend in Geneva was never on my radar. In fact, beyond hiking or skiing in the Swiss Alps, Switzerland as a destination didn’t appeal to me. It wasn’t because I thought there was nothing worth seeing in the country but rather I could never justify travelling to Switzerland because of the cost compared to other more affordable European countries. Nevertheless, my parents had always wanted to explore more of Switzerland and we decided to meet up for a weekend in Geneva.
And while it’s fair to say that our travel styles differ considerably these days, I was keen to use the time I spent in the Swiss city to discover tips for enjoying Geneva on a budget. After spending a weekend in Geneva I was surprised to discover there are actually a number of ways travellers could easily save money while still making the most of everything that the city has to offer.
Arrival in Geneva
Geneva airport is served by a couple of budget European airlines so if you’re based on the European continent you can often find cheap flight deals to Switzerland. Once you arrive at Geneva airport, the best way to get into the main city is to take any train from the airport station to Geneva Cornavin Station.
One of the best tips, if you’re visiting Geneva on a budget, is to claim a free train ticket from the baggage claim area just before you pass through customs. Look out for the ticket booths and ensure that you keep your boarding pass with you as that is the only way the ticket is valid. The journey to the main station will take under 10 minutes.
If you’re visiting Geneva from a nearby European city, then there is certainly no shortage of train routes available. Last-minute train tickets can be quite expensive in Switzerland so it’s best to book ahead if visiting on a budget – click here to view train schedules and prices.
What to do in Geneva on a budget
1. Walking tour with Free Walk Geneva
If you’re visiting Geneva on a budget then one of the best activities to do is to go on a free walking tour. The tour we took with Free Walk Geneva was definitely one of the best I’d been on in Western Europe. What set this tour apart was the fact that not only had our guide lived in Geneva for a significant portion of his life but he was also studying history which meant he was extremely knowledgeable on all the places we visited as well as providing local tips for our weekend in Geneva.
This is different to a lot of other free walking tours in Europe who sometimes hire actors to lead tours which means they lack depth to their explanations about the places you are visiting. The main Geneva tour starts at 11 am every day for 2.5 hours and they also have an International Geneva tour that starts at 2 pm. The added bonus of this tour was the Swiss chocolates our guide gave us at the end!
2. Stroll around Lake Geneva and the Old Town
Geneva is a beautiful city and of the best things to do during your weekend in Geneva is to simply take the time to stroll around the compact city and enjoy Lake Geneva and the Old Town. Whilst the free walking tour will cover many of the important sites, it’s definitely worth taking the time to go for a leisurely stroll yourself and enjoy the atmosphere of the city. There are often festivals and events occurring around Lake Geneva which don’t cost anything to visit and make a fantastic activity to enjoy Geneva on a budget.
3. Explore St Pierre’s Cathedral
St Pierres’ Cathedral is the focal point of the Old Town and one of the main attractions worth visiting during your weekend in Geneva. Originally built over 800 years ago as a Catholic church, the interior of the main cathedral is actually quite plain aside from the organ that is located at the front of the chapel. The smaller Maccabee chapel located to the side is more visually impressive and worth visiting. For those of you who feel like getting active, it’s worth climbing the adjoining towers for impressive views of Geneva. Entrance to the cathedral is free however you need to pay 5 CHF to climb the towers.
4. Hike in France
Geneva is located only a few kilometres from the border of France, meaning it’s quite straightforward to do a day hike to Mont Saleve during your stay in Geneva. There are numerous hiking trails that you can take to the top of the mountain of varying difficulty and there is even a cable car that goes to the top if you want to take the lazy option!
To get to the mountain, take bus number 8 from Geneva centre until the last stop which will take about 20 minutes. There is also a hiking group in Geneva that meets at this stop every Sunday at 10 am if you prefer to go as a group.
5. Take a day trip to Montreux
Whilst a day trip to Montreux will likely break the budget a bit more than the other activities listed in this article, my visit to Montreux was one of the highlights of my weekend in Geneva and it’s still possible to not spend a fortune and visit Montreux.
Firstly, avoid any of the organised tours and do the trip independently. The main expense for the day will be a return train ticket from Geneva however if you book in advance you can get significantly discounted fares compared to buying on the day of travel.
When in Montreux, make sure to visit Château de Chillon, a medieval castle built on a small island on Lake Geneva. The whole castle was interesting to explore however the most fascinating was the prison chambers in the basement which even has drawings carved into the stones from prisoners.
From Montreux train station, take bus 201 to Chillon Castle for about 10 minutes. You can buy tickets from the machines outside the bus stop. Entrance to the castle costs 12 CHF for adults.
In Montreux, it’s also worth spending time strolling along the promenade and enjoy the pleasant atmosphere of the town. Keep an eye out for a statue dedicated to Freddie Mercury who spent a significant amount of his life in Montreux and recorded a number of Queen’s famous albums here.
Where to stay in Geneva on a budget
Booking in advance is the best way to save money on accommodation in Geneva. I stayed at Hotel Moderne which was a good mid-range hotel that and is fantastically located, only 200 metres from the main train station. There is also a great breakfast included in the price of the room. Click here to see the latest prices for Hotel Moderne
There are a couple of hostels in Geneva that are a good option if travelling solo. City Hostel Geneva is the best rated of the options available. Click here to see their latest prices on Hostelworld or Booking.com
Another great option if you’re on a budget is to book a room through Airbnb. Prices on Airbnb can be significantly cheaper than many hotels such as this private room with ensuite. Click here to browse other Airbnbs in Geneva
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other budget hotels in Geneva.
Where to eat in Geneva on a budget
Geneva isn’t awash with a lot of budget eateries however there are still some places to eat in Geneva that allow you to save money.
1. Chez Ma Cousine
Chez Ma Cousine is a local favourite for penny-pinching students as you can buy half a grilled chicken with potatoes and side salads for 15.90 CHF – a bargain in the expensive city of Geneva! They have three locations in Geneva, however, be warned they literally only serve chicken so don’t bring your vegetarian friends with you!
2. Auberge de Savièse
If you want to try Switzerland’s most famous dish of cheese fondue, then make sure to visit Auberge de Saviese in the Old Town. They serve a range of fondue dishes (I recommend the half and half cheese fondue) for about 25 to 30 CHF per serve however you could easily order one serving to share between two if you’re visiting Geneva on a budget. They also have daily lunch specials during the week for around 15 to 17 CHF.
While Geneva was never top on my travel priority list, I really enjoyed my weekend in Geneva and found that there were plenty of interesting attractions to visit. My time in Geneva has certainly given me additional motivation to explore more of Switzerland in the future!
Are you planning a weekend in Geneva? Or have you been previously and have some budget tips? Let us know in the comments below!