Geneva on a Budget: Cheap Eats, Free Transport and More

Switzerland is expensive - but there are ways to save money

Geneva is by no means a cheap destination, but like all destinations, there are many free and inexpensive things to do. With these tips, your wallet be able to reemerge relatively unscathed

  • 01 of 07

    Five Cheap Eats in Geneva

    Chez Ma Cousine Budget Restaurant in Geneva
    ••• Alper Çuğun / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Geneva is by no means a cheap destination, but like all destinations, there are many free and inexpensive things to do. With these tips, your wallet be able to reemerge relatively unscathed.

    Geneva is a city where a kebab from a questionable-looking stand can top $15, finding an affordable sit-down meal in the central city is certainly a challenge.

    You have two options for eating cheaply in Geneva: hunt around in the city itself, which will probably mean you'll probably end up eating ethnic food such as Chinese and Middle Eastern (food you can probably get cheaper and better in your own country) or to pop across the border to France.

    Eating Across the Border in France 

    Take the number 12 tram from the center of Geneva to the end of the line and then walk across the border into the French town of Gaillard. Here you will find restaurants that are much cheaper than in Geneva. Read more about the Best Restaurants in Gaillard According to Tripadvisor.

    Cheap Eats - Affordable Sit-Down Meals...MORE in Geneva, Switzerland

    Generally, the university area of Plainpalais is a good bet for food on the less painful end of 'extortionate'.

    1. Buvette des Bains; quai du Mont-Blanc 30, +41 22 738 1616; Probably the best deal in town. Office workers in the know flock to this eatery on the jetty by the lake for its daily lunch specials for CHF 12.
    2. Chez ma cousine; rue Lissignol 5,  +41 22 731 9898; They do one thing and they do it right: chicken and fries. The outdoors terrace is a great place to watch the people go by in this Old Town establishment.
    3. Carosello; Boulevard Georges-Favon 25, +41 22 328 5640; Good pizzas, and the daily special (pizza with salad) goes for around CHF 15.
    4. Manora, Rue de Cornavin 6, +41 22 909 41 11; Self-service cafeteria on the top floor of department store Manor. A wide choice, complete with a panoramic view of the city.
    5. Boky, rue des Alpes 21,+41 78 628 16 99; Some praise its extensive Chinese menu, some say it's gross, but one thing's indisputable: It's hard to find a cheaper dinner in the city center than here.
    6. Parfums de Beyrouth, Rue de Berne 18, 1201 Genève is "a hole in the wall kind of place, but any of their "assiette" plates for CHF 16 are more than enough to feed two people and are pretty tasty" according to a Chowhound reviewer.
  • 02 of 07

    Free Transport in Geneva

    Tram geneva
    ••• Rachel Lewis/Getting Images

    Leave your rental car behind. Geneva's notorious riverside traffic means you're better off without a car. Besides, it's doesn't cost a nickel to travel in and around Geneva. Yes, you heard me, you can get around free in Geneva.

    Free Public Transit in Geneva

    Every person staying in a hotel, hostel or camping place in Geneva is entitled to a handy little Geneva Transport Card, which gives them unlimited travel around the city and near suburbs for the entire duration of your stay. Ask for it at your hotel or hostel, and make sure you carry a passport with the card. Visit the official site for more information.

    Free Airport Transfers in Geneva

    Before you leave the baggage claim area, look out for a machine that says "free ticket," right by the exit. This is no scam. Just press the button, and you'll get a ticket valid for the next 80 minutes on trains, buses and trams, completely free - enough to get you to your hotel.

    Free Bikes in Geneva

    Renting a bike can cost you...MORE more than 30 CHF a day. Despair not -there is a free alternative. Geneve Roule provides free bikes during the summer months for four hours at a time. 

  • 03 of 07

    Free WiFi in Geneva

    Free wifi is available throughout Geneva
    ••• Free wifi is available throughout Geneva. EyesWideOpen/Getty Images

    Throughout Geneva, there's free WiFi--great news for those of you who are addicted to your iPhones. Look out for a network called "((o)) Ville de Geneve." The coverage is spotty, but hey, it's totally free. There are plenty of hotspots scattered throughout the city. See the coverage map here.

    The public library, with strong, free wireless signals, is located inside the Parc des Bastions. The reading room (Salle de lecture) has workspace and electric plugs for your notebook: M-F 9AM-10PM; Sa 9AM-5PM Plainpalais stop on buses and trams.

    There's also free WiFi at the Geneva airport, but you need a mobile phone. Get online first, and the follow the instructions to enter your phone number. A free access code will be sent to you as an SMS. Getting online is completely free, but some mobile carriers will charge you for receiving text messages abroad (yes, AT&T, I'm looking at you).

    Many hotels, restaurants and cafes around Geneva also advertise WiFi, but some require...MORE an existing account with an internet provider. So make sure the establishment has its own free WiFi network before you plonk down and order that coffee.

  • 04 of 07

    Ten Free Museums in Geneva

    Muséum D'histoire Naturelle
    ••• Adrigu / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Geneva has a number of wonderful museums that open their doors for free.

    Completely Free Museums in Geneva

    Geneva Museums with Free Permanent Collections

    These museums open their doors for free everyday, excluding temporary exhibitions.

    Their temporary exhibitions are also free, but only on the first Sunday of each month.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Free Outdoors Activities in Geneva

    Lake Geneva
    ••• Tim Graham/Getty Images

    Go outside and explore Geneva's stunning nature--gratis, of course.

    Lake Geneva Itself

    You're never too far from picturesque Lake Geneva's water. There are 29 access points, the most popular being Bains des Paquis, where people-watching rivals swimming as the sport of choice.

    For the less aquatically-minded, there are also public shuttle boats, which are free with your Geneva transport card.

    Geneva Greenery

    Geneva is a green city, with about 20% of its total surface devoted to parks. In summer, the city even puts out free lawn chairs. Some excellent parks include:

    • Parc des Bastions: play chess on a lifesize board or listen to students strumming their guitars; in Plainpalais/University
    • Parc Cropettes: stretching from right behind the train station, the park features pond; in Quartier Les Grottes.
    • Beaulieu Park:Right across the street from Parc Cropettes, especially great for kids; in Quartier Les Grottes.
    • Jardin Anglais: a popular hangout with the famous flower clock, right on the...MORE lake.
    • Parc des Eaux Vives: a hilly park with gorgeous patches, with its own beach and boat dock; in Eaux Vives.
  • 06 of 07

    Geneva's Free Outdoors Cultural Events

    Cine Transat, free cinema by Lake Geneva
    ••• Cine Transat, free cinema by Lake Geneva. Dr. Emmie-Poo / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Every summer, Geneva hosts a number of cultural events outdoors.

    Free cinema under the stars: From the thousands of titles nominated by Geneva residents, a collection of films are selected and shown in parks from July to August. For more information, visit the official webpage. (Notice some newer films charge entry fees.)

    Free concerts in the sun: In public parks around the city, musicians from around the world give free concerts from July through August. For more a complete schedule, visit the official site.

  • 07 of 07

    Geneva Cheap Shopping

    Shopping for bargains
    ••• Shopping for bargains. Ludovic/hemis.fr/Getty Images

    "Whoa, those shoes cost 950 bucks!" I once heard a Texan gentleman exclaim as he stared at a shop window in Geneva. What he didn't notice was that that was the sale price.

    If you want to splurge, Geneva has no shortage of options. But if you want to save on your souvenirs, things get a little trickier. Here are a few budget shopping options.

    • Plainpalais Flea Market: One man's trash can be your treasure. Lots of old Swiss stuff. Plaine de Plainpalais, Tuesdays and Saturdays 8am to 5pm
    • Manore: Skip the fancy chocolate shops they build for tourists in the old city. This mega department store has a solid chocolate selection at surprisingly good prices. Rue de Cornavin 6.
    • Boulevard Helvetique: Outdoor farmers market for your Swiss produce pleasures. Wednesdays and Saturdays 8am to 1pm.
    • Place Madeleine: Clothing and books. Open on Mondays and Saturdays 8am to 7pm in summer.