36 Hours in Geneva, Switzerland
The search result came up: Geneva, Switzerland. Apparently this was the cheapest EasyJet flight from Alicante Airport to points east in Europe, where I was heading next. I clicked “Buy,” and set about researching my next destination.
Only then did I discover that I had a one-way ticket to the most expensive city in Europe.
Fortunately, it was just a stopover on my way to (much more affordable) Croatia. I love the New York Times travel section’s “36 Hours in…” series, so I did my research and set about planning the perfect mix of budget-balancing and indulgent activities for my day-and-a-half sojourn in the city. Now here is my (budget-friendly) version of the New York Times classic:
36 Hours in Geneva: The Budget Guide
I knew I needed to balance all the things I wanted to do (sipping champagne at the Ritz) with things I could afford to do. I was nearing the final few months of my travels and my budget was getting a tiiiiny bit tight, and I didn’t want to run out before I was finished seeing and doing everything I wanted to see and do. Here are the ways I chose to save.
The City Hostel, Geneva
My intention was to find a nice AirBnB to live the ‘local’ life in Geneva. But one look at the available rooms and I knew that I needed something more central (and cheaper). The City Hostel got decent reviews on HostelWorld and TripAdvisor, so I booked in. While my jaw dropped at the shocking $50 USD/night price tag (for a dorm bunk!) it was one of the cheapest options in the city, so I grudgingly forked over my credit card details and reminded myself I was getting double points. I’m glad I did. The location was excellent, and I could easily walk to most points in the city.
See & Do
Bains des Paquis
A great, inexpensive way to pass a couple of hours? At the ‘baths’ on Lake Leman. With the jetstream of water and a deep blue lake as a backdrop, you can lounge on a beach or swim in the baths with the locals. You walk across a footbridge from the walking path along the lake, pay the CHF2 fee to access the baths, and can spend as long as you like lounging in the sun and crisp Swiss air. Yes, it’s absolutely packed in the summertime, but but for CHF10 you can sneak away to the hammam for some peace and quiet (just check when they’re open).
I whiled away a morning here, stretched out on a blanket reading a book and updating my travel journal. It may have been my favorite few hours in the city. So many beautiful lawns, flower beds, and charming little pergolas dot this lakeside park, and you can see them all for free! Stroll along the winding pathways to find that perfect spot of grass, grab a coffee (so good in Switzerland!), and just relax in the sun. Pure bliss. When you finish, head out to the main road that borders the park and check out the iconic Flower Clock on the way across the Pont du Mont-Blanc.
Cathedrale St. Pierre
Much of Switzerland’s history is tied up in the Reformation, the Protestant movement against Catholicism. The Cathedrale St. Pierre is the adopted home church of Protestant leader John Calvin, and it’s towers dominate the Old Town of Geneva. But no matter your religious persuasion, the architecture, stained glass, and stunning views of the city and Lake Leman make this a can’t-miss. If you have an interest in the Reformation and the history of Geneva, consider a visit to the Reformation Museum, just around the corner from the Cathedral (CHF13, Closed Mondays).
The United Nations
Geneva is home to the global community of the United Nations, and the impressive compound is worth a visit if you’re going to be here anyway. The Palais des Nations offers one hour tours for interested tourists, but don’t make my mistake and fail to check what times tours are offered, or all you’ll get are photos of the majestic lawns and the member nation’s flags.
Cheap might be a little generous here. There is no truly cheap place to eat in Geneva, especially if you’re coming from a place like Spain, where €20 nets you a tapas feast and gobs of wine. But the Swiss take their food as seriously as the French (they just get less credit for it), so it’s worth the indulgence.
Chez Ma Cousine
There are a few of these charming little chicken joints dotted throughout Geneva, and they are fantastic. I wandered into the Old Town location as I explored the area, and I’m so glad I did. I got the warm goat cheese salad and a glass of Chasselas, a common white wine in Switzerland. Oh. My. Lord. Culinary perfection. The goat cheese was breaded and quick-fried, the dressing was phenomenal, and the crisp, dry wine was exactly what the lunch needed. Sure, the meal set me back CHF20 (for a freaking salad, c’mon), but in Geneva, that’s cheap.
Buvette des Bains
The Baths on Lake Leman (mentioned above) have a charming little cafe that just happens to have a fantastic fondue! The menu also features tons of yummy tapas-like snacks to nosh on between dips in the pool or sunbathing sessions. Grab a charcuterie plate or tartine and make your tastebuds happy.
What’s travel without a little indulgence here and there? In Geneva, your money is best spent on the food. Okay, I’d probably say this about just about anywhere, but it’s seriously true here. And in a country that’s most famous for it’s cheese (and if you’ve read this blog at all, you know my feelings on cheese), it’s best to splurge on exactly that. Which brings me to…
Restaurant les Armures
Nestled in the heart of Old Town, this restaurant attached to Hotel les Armures is bona-fide famous for it’s Swiss fondue. A bubbling pot of cheese for a meal? Um, sign me up. While the historic dining room creates a cozy ambience, go for the outdoor seating in the summertime. A cozy little laneway has got to be the most charming place to scoop chunks of bread dripping with gooey, delicious cheese straight from the pot to your mouth.
When I indulge, I go all out. So I said ‘to hell’ with my budget and ordered everything. A half-bottle of Fendant du Valais was the first order of business. Made from the Chasselas grape, it was also crisp and cool, but I didn’t love it by itself. My first course was an endive, goat cheese an apricot salad, and damn can the Swiss make a salad! The sweetness and tang of the salad had me warming up to the Fendant. Then came the piece de resistance: A bacon and wild mushroom fondue.
The waiter kindly informed me of the proper way to eat the fondue (the trick is to swirl it every time you dip the bread), and I dug in with gusto. Oh, creamy, gooey, melty perfection! I did my best to polish it all off, but it was just impossible by myself. I sat in the warm summer evening, stuffed full of warm cheese, sipping on a glass of cool wine, and I couldn’t help but tip my head up to the sky and smile my thanks to the universe. I was in the happiest of happy places.
Are you planning a trip to Zurich and want to know a way to do that on the cheap? Check out this post by Angeline at Travel Moments, 10 Cheap Things You Can Do in Zurich.
How do you manage to keep your budget in check when you visit a pricy destination? What’s your favorite indulgence when you’re ready to splurge? Tell me in the comments!