This weekend Geneva will be celebrating L’Escalade, commemorating the city’s defeat of Savoy invaders four hundred years ago, armed only with marzipan vegetables*. It should be an impressive sight, as Genevois dress up in their finest seventeenth century garb and march through the streets towards a great bonfire in front of the cathedral. The celebrations also involve smashing cauldrons made of chocolate, and more importantly, eating the debris.
Switzerland is not traditionally the first place travellers on a budget would choose, because it’s expensive – only for the likes of bankers, diplomats, and FIFA officials who struggle so much with the cost of living they have to rely on bribes (allegedly). But it is possible to enjoy Geneva without breaking the bank. In fact I did so just last week and I am queen of thrift.
Here are my ten tips for visiting Geneva on a budget:
1. Book a low budget airline as far in advance as possible. If you’re able to be flexible with dates, even better. I managed to nab return flights to Geneva with Easyjet, arriving Friday afternoon and leaving Monday early evening for £55, and I only booked two weeks in advance.
2. Stay in a hostel. I stayed at City Hostel, which was clean and conveniently located. If you don’t fancy a dorm, they have single rooms that are much more reasonably priced than other hotels. Another option is university halls of residence if you’re travelling outside term time.
3. If you’re arriving by plane, remember to pick up your FREE train ticket into central Geneva from the baggage collection area. The journey into town takes just 6 minutes.
4. Airbnb is another good option for accommodation but one downside is that it won’t entitle you to the FREE public transport card you’re given if you stay in a hotel/hostel. The card gives you FREE transport on trams, buses and river boats within the city for the duration of your stay in the hotel / hostel. Yes, FREE TRANSPORT.
5. Make the most of the free sites in Geneva: the lakeside, the old town, including the cathedral. Some museums have free permanent or temporary exhibitions. I liked the Museum of Art and History, especially the collection of works by Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler.
6. Make the most of the many supermarkets for your daily provisions (my tip for any city), to save spending a fortune on all your meals. They are also great places to stock up on Swiss chocolate.
7. For cafes with a nice atmosphere that serve decent food at a reasonable(r) price, try Cafe des Arts and Cottage Cafe.
8. Take a day trip to France. The lovely town of Annecy is just across the border and the journey by bus only takes between 45 and 90 minutes, depending on how many stops have to be made. The price of a return ticket is SFr25. I took the train to Lausanne which cost about SFr45 for a shorter journey and if I had to choose between the two, would definitely go for Annecy. Plus there is an abundance of crepes to be enjoyed.
9. Buy second hand. If you’re looking for a unique Swiss souvenir you may be able to find something at the flea market on Wednesdays and Saturdays at Plainpalais. Some of the stall holders are a bit touchy about you touching their stuff, while others are happy for you to rummage. From there you can take the tram to Carouge (using your FREE TRANSPORT card), which is a pleasant place to wander. Browse the charity / antique shops, as well as the other boutiques. I picked up a Swiss pocket watch for just SFr8 at the Emmaus charity shop.
10. Don’t stay too long. I found a long weekend, including trips out of town, was enough time to appreciate Geneva’s gems without going broke.