A weekend in Geneva was never on my radar. In fact, beyond hiking or skiing in the Swiss Alps, Switzerland as a destination wasn’t something I had considered. 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 2 days in Geneva over one weekend.
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.
Getting to 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.
Weekend in Geneva Itinerary
If you’re planning on spending your 2 days in Geneva visiting a number of different attractions, then it’s worth looking into purchasing a Geneva Pass. This gives you access to over 40 attractions in the city as well as free public transport and some additional perks such as a variety of city tours that you can choose from.
You can buy the pass for 24, 48 or 72 hours, so if you’re visiting Geneva on a budget it can be the most cost-efficient to buy a one day pass and try to fit in as many attractions as possible in one day. Alternatively, the 48 or even 72-hour pass is more cost-efficient compared to buying a 24-hour pass. Click here to check the latest prices.
Day 1 – Central Geneva
Walking tour of historical Geneva
If you’re visiting Geneva on a budget (or really any other European city!) 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 2 days in Geneva.
This is different from 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 there is an added bonus of this tour was the Swiss chocolates our guide gave us at the end!
If for whatever reason you can’t make the morning free walking tour, there are also options for paid walking tours in Geneva that occur at other times during the day.
Explore St Pierre’s Cathedral
While you do visit St Pierres’ Cathedral as part of the free walking tour, it’s worth returning after the tour to explore more at your own leisure during your weekend in Geneva itinerary.
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.
Stroll around the Old Town
Geneva is a beautiful city and of the best things to do during your 2 days 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.
Cruise along Lake Geneva
While you might be tempted to give this a miss if visiting Geneva on a budget, taking a short cruise along Lake Geneva gives you the opportunity to admire the beauty of the lake from a different perspective as well as get some incredible views the Swiss Alps.
You can book a one-hour lake cruise here if you prefer to avoid spending time waiting in line during your 2 days in Geneva, or alternatively, you can head to Lake Geneva and buy tickets directly there.
Day 2 – International Geneva or Day Trip
For your second day in Geneva, I’ve outlined a number of options which you can choose from depending on your interests. If more than one of these sound appealing to you, then why not try and make it a long weekend in Geneva so you get a full 3 days to explore the city!
Explore International Geneva
Geneva is home to a number of major international organisations such as the Red Cross and the World Trade Organisation so if you want to learn more about this, you can spend your second day in Geneva exploring these sites.
Start off with a walking tour of that part of the city. Free Walk Geneva runs an international Geneva tour, starting at 11AM several days of the week that covers the history and interesting stories about this part of town.
You can then spend your afternoon visiting the inside of some of the buildings. Some places you can visit include the Palais des Nations which is the current headquarters of the UN in Geneva and originally housed the League of Nations prior to WWII. Another option is the Red Cross Museum which contains exhibitions about some of the global challenges that the organisation deals with as well as rotating temporary exhibits.
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 2 days in Geneva and it’s still possible to not spend a fortune and visit Montreux.
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.
If you prefer not to visit Montreux independently and have fewer budget constraints, then it is possible to take an organised day trip to the region from Geneva. Most options include both a visit to Montreux as well as nearby Mont-Blanc such as this guided tour with transfers and an audio guide or this guided tour with an English speaking guide.
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.
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.
Chez Ma Cousine – a local favourite for penny-pinching students as you can buy half a grilled chicken with potatoes and side salads for 16.40 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!
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.
Where to stay in Geneva
There are a number of options for where to stay in Geneva, regardless of whether you are travelling on a budget or a looking for a slightly more upmarket stay. Booking well in advance is the best way to save money on accommodation in Geneva.
City Hostel Geneva – This hostel is a great option if travelling solo in Geneva on a budget. They offer a range of dorms and private rooms, kitchen facilities and is only a short walk to the train station. Click here to see their latest prices
Hotel Astoria – A good mid-range hotel option located close to the train station, they offer a range of private rooms suitable for couples or single travellers. Breakfast is included in the nightly rate. Click here to see their latest prices
Hotel D Geneva – If you’re looking for a more up-market stay, this luxury hotel is located in the centre of the city with comfortable modern rooms containing all the amenities one might expect. There is an option to include breakfast in your nightly rate. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Geneva.
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!