Last week I headed off to Geneva for my Surprise Trip! I didn’t know that’s where I would be going and it isn’t necessarily somewhere I would have chosen to visit, but I had such a lovely trip and I definitely think you should give the city a look in if you get the chance. But the thing is, Geneva is renowned for being very expensive. Which is a bit of an issue for us backpackers on a budget, right?
So that leads me to this post….
Is Geneva really that expensive?
In a word, yes. It has the lavish reputation for a reason, folks. With rows of designer shops, a lake full of yachts and expensive restaurants and cafes at every corner, Geneva is a millionaire’s playground! It definitely has South of France vibes and you don’t really see any dive bars or greasy spoons hanging about.
Can you travel Geneva on a budget?
Well. This is what I have been pondering. On first impressions, it feels like it’s a no, this city is swanky AF. But seeing as most backpackers in Europe are interrailing, spending just a few days in each destination, I would recommend visiting Geneva, but only for a day. It is easy to fit into an interrailing trip, you would get to see the beautifully picturesque city and experience some of the free/cheap things to do, but get out before it sucks up all of your money.
To me it seemed like food was the main money vacuum and I spent an insane amount on meals, much more than I ever would at home. Check out my money log for meals:
Café Du Central – 2 x beers = 9 CHF (£7)
Vapianos – 2 x pesto pasta, 2 x glasses of wine and 2 x soft drinks = 52 CHF (£40)
Le Perron – 2 x salads, 1 side of fries and 2 waters = 47 CHF (£37)
Dolce Vita – 2 scoops of gelato in a tub = 7 CHF (£5.50)
La Lacustre – 4 x glasses of wine = 28 CHF (£22)
Molino’s – 2 x pizzas, 1 x glass of wine, 1 x beer and 2 x waters = 70,80 CHF (£55)
Martel Chocolatier – 2 x cappuccinos, 4 z macaroons = 20.20 CHF (£16)
Les Armures – Cheese Fondue for two, 2 x glasses of wine = 70,60 CHF (£55)
It’s crazy right? Would you spend over £50 on a couple of pizzas at home?! NOPE. I even opted to go to Vapianos on the first night because it’s somewhere I go to a lot in London for a cheap meal out and it was like double the price of London’s menu for the exact same meals.
If you wanted to dine of a backpacker’s budget it would HAVE to be fast food. Or you could buy a sandwich or something. But if you’re only there for a day it’s not the end of the world. I mean it’s really low-key and not at all glam Geneva lifestyle but if it means you get to see the gorgeous Lake Geneva, I think it’s worth it.
Even souvenirs are ridiculous. Keyrings were 15 CHF (£12) for god sake! Nope, Josh got a 5 CHF (£4) pen. I’m not spending more than that on tat. If you need to get a souvenir for someone, definitely buy them some Swiss chocolate, but not from the fancy chocolatiers. Get it from the off-licence for 2 CHF (£1.50) rather than the upwards of 8 CHF (£6) prices in the posh shops. It all tastes the same.
A great thing for backpackers though is that when you stay in Geneva, most accommodation options give you a free transport pass, so you can get around for free! Buses, trams, mourette boat taxis, the works. You can even get to and from the airport for free.
Although a top tip my friend gave me was to look out for a ticket machine in the baggage hall of the airport, before you go through customs. Here you get a free train ticket into the city, before you’ve received your Geneva Transport Card from your hostel.
But where Geneva really succeeds in the backpacker budget, is the things you can do and the sights you can see. There are so many great things that are either free or really affordable…
What is there to do in Geneva on a budget?
Lake Geneva is the biggest lake in Western Europe and is one of the prettiest in my eyes. Beautifully clear waters, yachts in the harbour, surrounded by an idyllic row of pretty houses and the giant mountains looming in the background. It’s like a freaking postcard. There are even swans all over the shop. And the best part is it’s totally free to see this beaut.
Go one step further and use your free Geneva Transport Card to take one of the little mourette boat taxi’s across the lake and take in the view from the water.
The Jet D’eau.
In the middle of the Lake Geneva a jet of water spouts 140 metres into the air and is one of the tallest fountains in the world. The Jet D’eau is beautiful to see from all angles and from the water, but you can also walk out on a boardwalk that leads right up to the jet. Although beware that you might get wet! Again this bad boy is totally free.
Les Bains de Pasquis.
These 1930s swimming baths are actually just a big peninsula that goes out into the middle of the lake with it’s own beach, a large area for swimming, deckchairs for sunbathing and even massive platforms for the brave to jump off of. There’s even a spa and a restaurant on board. It was super hot when I visited so this was absolutely packed, especially because it’s just 2 CHF (£1.50) to enter the whole area.
The Saint-Pierre Cathedral.
This landmark in the Old Town of Geneva is pretty to look at from the outside with its big pillars and just as pretty inside with stained glass and circular lights. But the main attraction is the spectacular view you get from the top of the North Tower. Beware that it involves a lot of steps but you are rewarded with a lovely panoramic view of Geneva as well as a close up look at the jade green structure that houses the bells. The Cathedral itself is free to enter but the climb to the top will set you back 5 CHF (£4).
This is a smallish park at the end of the Mont-Blanc bridge with a few little sights within it. A working clock made of flowers, a sculpture carved from a single redwood tree (kinda like a totem pole), a little hut that looks like an elf should live there and a pretty fountain that kooks just like the opening credits of Friends. I mean they’re pretty random little gems but I thought it was a really nice place to walk around and see these cute finds. And, ya know, all free.
The Little Sun Train.
This is such a tourist trap but I really enjoyed it so I’m putting it out there. This is a red ‘train’ that drives tourists up and down the lake on a little 30 minute trip. I points out the sights and explains the history of the Lake Geneva, some of the sculptures and the Jet D’eau. Yes it’s something you could do yourself. No, you don’t need to do it. But it was the first thing I did when I got to Geneva and it gave me an idea of some things to do next (like visit a relaxing beach on the lake). So I liked it. It’s 8 CHF (£6) a pop.
Bastions Park & Reformation Wall.
Bastions Park is another fab park to chill in. It’s the kind of park where you get old men playing chess and groups of people doing Tai Chi and Yoga and lots of cute dogs being walked. So the kind of park locals actually use, you know? It’s right next to the University so lots of students hang out here and it just has really good vibes.
There’s also the Reformation Wall that lines one side of the park with large white sculptures representing the Protestant Reformation. Worth checking out.
If you want even more fab views, the nearby La Treille terrace overlooking the Bastions Park and the mountains in the distance. If you like quirky things on your travels it even has the World’s Longest Wooden Bench! I know right, this is exciting as it gets. But I love shit like that, I was all over it. All of this is obvs free.
Because seriously bitch can’t afford anything here. It’s nice to dream though… Hermes? Tiffany? Herve Leger? Yeah cool, totally within my price range. But if you are around on a Saturday, word on the street is there’s a good flea market which is a bit more budget. I missed out on it but sounds pretty neat.
So come on, there’s actually quite a lot that is affordable for the backpacker crowd. You’ve just gotta hold back on the food and try not to buy expensive designer clothes. Totally doable. Or go the complete opposite way and have a little splurge. YOLO and all that.
Have you been to Geneva? Did you find it expensive? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @HeelsInBackpack!