How To Visit Geneva On A Backpacker’s Budget

Let me paint the scene: a slender blonde woman leaves her very glitzy hotel wearing an elegant hat and struts down the street, latte in hand. She gets a call on her mobile, answering in English and then hails a taxi. She talks to the driver in French and requests to be dropped outside a kitsch boutique along the front of the lake. Geneva for me has always been a city that oozes class. Though with class generally comes wealth, and that is where the problem for me begins.

After just having finished a ski season in the French town of Morzine, it seemed criminal to travel home without nipping over the border to get a peek of Switzerland. Geneva was only an hour from the idyllic ski town we had made our home, so naturally, it was the obvious choice. However, Geneva also has the reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in Europe and we were just two seasonaires looking for a cheap weekend. For anyone else who fancies a short break in Geneva but is concerned about their budget, here is how we did it.

How we made Geneva work for us:


I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again; Airbnb is a backpacker’s best friend. Hotels in Geneva are notoriously expensive which meant they were not an option on our budget. Hostels offer a more realistic rate but we often found Airbnb matched these. We decided to go with Airbnb, not only because the price was reasonable but also because we would be able to stay with a resident expert in the area. We had a fantastic experience with Airbnb, our host provided us with city maps as well as tips for the best places to visit, even remembering to let us know what offers we could get where!

Food and Drink

A tasty calzone from our trip to Geneva.

Following on from the previous point, our accommodation in Geneva was our saviour. Our host was perfectly happy for us to cook in his apartment and there was a Lidl situated less than a five-minute walk down the road. We had fresh pastries for breakfast and prepared a cheese and meat platter for dinner in the evening. When we did eat out we took the advice of our host and went where the offers were. This led us to a cute pizzeria cross pub where we had a truly mouth-watering meal. All the better because it was two for one on mains! Alcohol in Geneva can be expensive but you tend to get a cheaper rate out in the open. Geneva’s parks are often frequented by portable snack bars which also serve great beer, all for much less than you would pay in a restaurant.


When it comes to transport we were pretty lucky, grabbing a free minibus (seasonaire perks) to Geneva airport where we then hopped on a bus to the city. Even if you are not lucky enough to be living an hour away, it doesn’t mean a trip to Geneva will break the bank. Flights with budget airlines such as Easyjet could set you back as little as £50 return if you are flying from the UK. Getting around the city is a piece of cake; if you stay in the centre most things are within walking distance and trams run frequently.


  • St Pierre’s Cathedral

I’m a sucker for a good cathedral and that is probably why our visit to St. Pierre’s was one of my Geneva highlights. The cathedral is a marvel of gothic design and you are able to trek to the top of the towers for some stunning panoramic views of the Old Town below. There is also an archaeological site underneath which is well worth exploring.

  • Parc des Bastions

A beautiful green area in which to relax with a book, it also plays host to a giant chess set which you can use to sharpen your skills. The park is a brilliant place to spend a few hours on the cheap; the only downside is your chess moves will be heavily scrutinised by people passing by!

  • Jet d’Eau

No visit to Geneva is complete without a look at the city’s iconic water fountain. It stands at 140m and shoots up water with an incredible force, just be careful you don’t get wet!

  • United Nations European HQ

Front entrance to United Nations European HQ in Geneva.

As someone who is hugely interested in current affairs, I couldn’t wait to get inside the Palais des Nations. Tours are offered for 12CHF per adult but there are discounts for university students. What you see on the tour depends on the day you visit; we were able to sit in on a meeting about military action in the Middle East which was very interesting! Don’t forget to bring your passport, you will have to show identification and be searched before you are allowed to enter.

  • Red Cross Museum

Situated opposite the UN, it is great to do these attractions on the same day. The museum documents some of the most harrowing atrocities committed by humanity. Entrance fee is 15CHF which includes an audio guide though they offer free entry on the first Saturday of every month. Home to a manner of moving exhibits, the Red Cross Museum is a must if you are visiting Geneva.

Final thoughts…

Whilst it was more expensive than a long weekend in Bristol, our trip to Geneva did not break the bank. The visit required a fair bit of frugality for a few weeks, as well as some advance planning but I can now conclusively say that Geneva does not have to be off-limits to the average budget traveller. Most of us won’t be able to afford the kitsch boutiques and the glitzy hotels but if you get your kicks from the simpler things in life (for example giant chess sets) you will still fall in love with Geneva.

Have you been to Geneva? What would you recommend?

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