Geneva, with its infamous private banks and wealth, it doesn't seem like it would rank high among Europe's most budget friendly cities. However, take away its booming financial sector and Geneva is at its core, a beautiful Swiss city surrounded by snow-capped mountains and alpine lakes. While the city wears it obvious luxury with pride, for budget travellers that know where to look and what to do, Geneva can be enjoyed on a shoestring budget.
The words "good" and "cheap" are not often used in the same sentence in terms of Geneva's gastronomical pursuits. With two slim pork chops costing $12 in grocery stores, and pizzas costing as much as a decent steak back home, affordable eats can seem a rarity.
One of the best deals in town comes from the Buvette des Bains. Essentially, it's Geneva's answer to fast food. Like a flock of migrating birds, office workers in Geneva travel to Geneva's most famous landmark, the Jet d'Eau, for lunch or an after work snack. Visitors can enjoy salads and daily specials like thick sliced ham with gratin potatoes, served with wine in a plastic cup. Admission to the area only costs about a dollar while meals are dished up for about $8. The admission fee also provides swimming access in the lake and access to a sauna.
Free Public Transportation
There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but free public transportation is a real deal. One of the nicest privileges for those visiting Geneva is that every visitor that is staying in a hostel, hotel or camping spot within the city is entitled to a Geneva Transport Card. This allows unlimited free travel around Geneva, via its clean and efficient tram system throughout the duration of their stay. Visitors need only inquire about it at the reception desk of their accommodations.
Pick Up Thrifty Souvenirs
Don't be tempted by the touristic boutique stores and chocolate shops in Geneva's Old Town. Rather, shoppers should look elsewhere in the city for bargain deals.
One of the best places to shop for souvenirs is the Plainpalais Flea Market. It is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays. It's true what they say; one man's trash is another's treasure. Visitors can find anything from antique Swiss army knives and cuckoo clocks to last year's haute couture. However, for those still eager to sample Swiss chocolate, they can find surprisingly good prices at Manore. Although it is a mega department store, you'll find goods from famous Swiss, French and Belgian chocolatiers at a lower cost.
As one of the greenest cities in the world (20% of Geneva's surface area is made up of public parks), one of the cheapest ways to see Geneva is to get outdoors. The city even comes with its own mountain. Mount Saleve sits just a few kilometres outside the city; the city basks in its intimidating shadow. Although the mountain is technically over the border in France, it is still beloved as Geneva's own. From the base, visitors can attempt a difficult hike during the summer, or take the 1,379 meter climb via a cable car for a superlative view over the city. The summit features a cafe as well as a number of picnic spots. More daring visitors can even paraglide back down.
Take in a Free Museum
For all its $900 pair of shoes and solid gold watches, Geneva does excel in making its finest attractions the most affordable. Museums likes the Museum of History and Science, the Natural History Museum, the rare manuscripts at Espace Lullin and the Institute of Voltaire are all free, all the time. Alternatively, the domestic artifacts at the Maison Tavel, the ceramic art at the Arianna Musum and the Museum of Art History have their permanent exhibits available for free of charge. Their temporary exhibits are only free on the first Sunday of each month. With such a line up of free museums to tour, it will be hard to squeeze anything else in; however, a visit to European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is a must. CERN, the birthplace of the internet and world's biggest laboratory for the study of particle physics, provides free admission and exhibits pertaining to the important work that was and still is being done there.
Explore the City by Water
Boat tours are the most popular way to explore Geneva, but they are also the most expensive. Instead, spending around $10 provides a more exciting opportunity. During the summer months, one can find a myriad of paddle board and windsurfing operators. They offer lessons, rent equipment and lead tours along the lakefront. It's a cheaper, more fun and a good excuse to get wet all while taking in Geneva's natural splendor.
Have you ever travelled Geneva on a shoestring budget?
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