Switzerland is known for being one of the most expensive places in the world. But that doesn’t mean that those on a budget should skip paying a visit. There are plenty of things to do in Switzerland, and some of them are even free! Listed below are 15 cost-friendly things to do in Geneva. You can now experience this city without breaking the bank!
1. Take a boat ride at Lake Geneva
A visit to Geneva wouldn’t be complete without visiting Lake Geneva. The lake features stunning backdrops like the endless clear blue waters and high mountains that look closer than they actually are. Hop on a boat tour and get ready to be taken away by the breathless beauty of the city. Geneva is beautiful, but there’s only so much that can be seen when you’re on dry land. Being out on the water changes your perspective and provides an even more spectacular angle of this city of peace.
After the boat ride, take a walk on the fantastic promenades around the perimeter and just enjoy the surroundings. If you’re visiting during summer and are up for some fun and an adrenaline rush, try some of the many water sports such as jet skiing and inner tubing that are conducted by the lake.
Lake Geneva Boat Ride
Price: from 16 USD (Boat rides are free if you own the rail pass)
Duration: around 1 hour
Contact: +41 900 929 929
Website: Lake Geneva Boat Ride
2. Snap a picture with the iconic Jet d’Eau
Being one of the most iconic symbols of Geneva, the Jet d'Eau is probably not unknown to many. A water jet in the middle of the lake, shooting up to 140 meters (459 feet) high, it’s almost impossible not to notice this fountain when you’re by Lake Geneva. Be sure to take a selfie here: it’s a good way of gaining bragging rights that you’ve visited this pretty Swiss city.
When you’re done looking pretty in your photos, go as close to the waterfall as possible and feel the water pressure projected into the air for a one-of-a-kind experience. Yes, be prepared to get a little wet, which is why we suggest taking the pictures first. Do note that during winter, it’s a rare occurrence for the water jet to operate. So if you happen to see it, make sure you take that iconic picture before it’s too late!
3. Immerse yourself in the past as you explore the Old Town
Because Switzerland managed to keep a stance of armed neutrality during the World Wars, lots of their buildings were unscathed and hence the buildings you see now are the very same buildings you would have seen in the past. As you walk down its cobbled streets it’s as if you’re taking a walk through history as you stroll past buildings that have been around for plenty of years. Every angle seems picture-perfect, you won’t be able to resist stopping to take some pictures. But do remember to observe the surroundings and live in the moment! After all, nothing feels the same as being in a place itself compared to looking at pictures.
4. Enjoy afternoon tea at Place du Bourg-de-Four
As you walk though the old town, you will notice several Swiss cafes and shops scattered along the cobbled alleyways. You will also likely end up at the Place du Bourg-de-Four, which is the oldest square in town and where locals meet up. Take this opportunity to dine in one of the outdoor cafes and observe the local way of life under those large shady umbrellas. The Swiss are really famous for their cheese, so do indulge in a cheese fondue! Swiss usually eat cheese fondue during winter, but really, who can resist a cheese fondue?
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5. Stop to gaze in awe at the Cathedral St Pierre
Cathedral St Pierre is definitely not to be missed! After a scrumptious meal at the old square, drop by this magnificent building that lies in the heart of the Old Town. This architectural beauty is almost 1,000 years old and is famous for the spectacular panoramic views it offers from the North Tower. For history buffs, you may want to visit the Archaeological Museum in the basement, which houses several historical findings. If you’re tight on budget, you can still take pictures outside of the cathedral; it’s still beautiful and worth it.
Cathedral St Pierre
Address: Place du Bourg-de-Four 24, 1204 Genève, Switzerland
Price: from 5 USD
Opening Hours: 10 am - 7.30 pm
Contact: +41 22 311 75 75
Website: Cathedral St Pierre
Archaeological Site at Cathedral St Pierre
Address: Place du Bourg-de-Four 24, 1204 Genève, Switzerland
Price: from 8 USD
Opening Hours: 10 am - 5 pm. (last entrance 4.30 pm)
Website: Archaeological Site
6. Pose at the Geneva Flower Clock
Some may feel that the floral clock (L'Horloge Fleurie) is clichéd and overrated, but the Geneva Flower Clock is just too beautiful to be skipped. After all, it’s not every day you get to pass by a huge clock made of flowers! It’s the world’s second-largest floral clock, and the flowers change depending on the season that the flowers bloom. The Flower Clock was created as a symbol of the city’s watch-making tradition and its dedication to nature. Go ahead and snap pictures of this symbolic clock, don’t worry, you will be excused for being mainstream!
7. Live like a local and retreat to the Perle-du-Lac Park
Locals say that Perle-du-Lac Park is one of the city’s best places to hang out and relax. Here, you get magical views of the famous Mont Blanc and can enjoy quiet moments relaxing beside the water. It’s a stunning green oasis, and, with its picturesque backdrops, it sure provides a perfect backdrop for fabulous holiday shots!
Fun fact: the park was named by the wife of former owner and Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf.
8. Enjoy a walk through Parc des Bastions
Who can ever get enough of parks and green spaces? Especially in the city of parks, visiting just one park can never be enough. Parc des Bastions is a beautiful park consisting of large green lawns, big spaces, and fresh air. It is well known to be a place where locals go for a game of chess or checkers. It’s not your usual game of chess though; the black and white squares are giant sized! Another highlight of the park is the Reformation wall that honors many individuals of the Protestant Reformation. In this park, you can expect to see locals of all ages. From a tourist point of view, it is indeed a beautiful sight.
9. Visit the icon of peace: Palais des Nations
The Palais des Nation is the second United Nations office, a symbol of peace, which is why Geneva is often known as a center of world diplomacy. With so many flags of different nations raised on the multiple poles, it almost reminds you of the Rockefeller Center in New York City. Make sure to stop by this symbolic building; it will awe you with its multitude of beautiful colors and will surely make you feel safe and at peace. If you are interested in taking things further, guided tours are conducted within the premises, allowing you to enter some of the most important auditoriums where discussions take place.
Palais des Nations Tour
Address: 1211 Geneva, Switzerland
Price: from 12 USD
Opening Hours: 10 am - 12 noon, 2 pm - 4 pm. Closed on Saturdays & Sundays
Duration: around 1 hour
Contact: +41 22 917 12 34
Website: Palais des Nations
10. Take a picture with the puzzling broken chair
In front of the Palais des Nations stands the iconic broken chair. While it may just seem like just another of the many impressive monuments in Geneva, the broken chair actually symbolises opposition to land mines and cluster bombs, and also serves as a reminder to politicians and other people visiting Geneva of the perils of explosives. It’s things like that will leave you wondering how something so broken can be so impressive at the same time.
11. Catch some of the most spectacular panoramas from Mont Saleve
Although it is actually located over the border in France, Mont Saleve is situated so close to Geneva that it is frequently known as a local mountain. Take a cable car up 1,379 meters (4,524 feet) for a superlative view of the city and lake. This is a definite must-do for those who love adventure and solace! When you’re so up high, it’s almost as if you’ve disappeared into the hills and in an entirely new place, far away from city-dwellers. From such a height, not only do you get breath-taking panoramas, you also get a whole different perspective on things. There are plenty of activities to do at the summit; you can hike, paraglide, bird spot, picnic, or just sit in one of its cafes and enjoy the views.
Cable Car to Mont Saleve
Address: The Mont-Saleve Cable Car, Pas de l'Echelle - 74100 Etrembières
Price: from 13 USD (Tickets are available to purchase using both Euros and Swiss Francs, but change will be given in Euros only)
Opening Hours: 9.30 am - 6 pm (timing varies during season)
Contact: +33 4 50 39 86 86
Website: Cable Car to Mont Saleve
12. Visit one of Geneva’s 40 museums
Museum visits are an eyeopener and people gain plenty of insights from visiting. Culturally-rich Geneva is home to over 40 museums! Located near the old town is the Art and History Museum, which is one of the three largest museums in Switzerland. You can easily spend a few hours here, with plenty of interesting finds capturing history of the western culture and civilization from the ancient times to the present day. Extra brownie points for this museum as entrance is free for everyone! Who says there are no free lunches in the world?!
Other great museums in Geneva include the Natural History Museum, Musee Ariana, Musee Rath, and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum.
Art and History Museum
Address: Rue Charles-Galland 2, 1206 Geneve, Switzerland
Price: Free entrance
Opening Hours: 11 am - 6 pm
Access: Near the old town
Contact: +41 22 418 26 00
Website: Art and History Museum
13. Village in a city: visit Carouge
With its Italian architecture and unique vibe, you’ll feel as if you’ve landed somewhere in the middle of a Mediterranean town when you step into Carouge. Also known as Geneva’s Italy, explore this little village and be awed by how homely this village is. Stop by some of the little boutiques lined up along the streets selling craft and fashion apparels and other things that cannot be found in Geneva. If you happen to be there in the evening, when the vibes are perfect and the mood is chill, hop into a trendy bar to relax for the night.
While you’re in Switzerland, it wouldn’t make sense to not visit the Alps! Chamonix is close to Geneva, about an hour’s drive. It’s one of the oldest ski resorts in France and it’s a haven for adventure junkies! While many people go there for skiing, mountain climbing, or paragliding, the standard tourist thing would be the cable car that ascends 12,605 feet (3,842 meters) high to Aiguille du Midi. Marvel at the spectacular views of the snow-capped alps, including the beautiful Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.
Geneva to Chamonix and Mont Blanc Day Trip
Duration: 10 hours
15. Go chocolate feasting
Switzerland is mainly about chocolate and watches. While not all can afford the luxurious time pieces, surely you can allow yourself the chance to indulge in Swiss chocolate! One advice to chocolate fans: ditch the diet. It’s time to indulge in smooth, creamy favorites like Lindt and Toblerone! Locals say that one of the best places to get your chocolate fix is Chocolats Faverger, but honestly, any local supermarket will suffice. (Look out for Migros or Coop!)
Fun fact: Bet you didn’t know Movenpick ice cream also originated from Switzerland!
Address: 19, quai des Bergues, 1201 Geneva – Switzerland
Opening Hours: Mon - Fri: 10 am - 6 pm. Sat: 9 am - 5 pm.
Contact: +41 (0) 22 738 1826
Website: Chocolats Faverger
A true Swiss gem
Featuring beautiful picturesque lakes with pristine white, snow-capped mountains in the background, lush green spaces, and thousand-year-old buildings that survived the World Wars, Geneva is indeed a true gem in Switzerland. It is also often known as the city of peace and center of diplomacy, as it is home to the United Nations’ second headquarters, but besides being a political hub with pretty backdrops, there are several things to do in this city. And they don’t necessarily blow a hole in your pocket.
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