The good news about Switzerland is their currency is pretty easy to figure out. 1 Swiss Franc equals roughly 1 USD, so when you see 25CHF on a lunch menu, you don’t have to pull out the calculator to figure out how much money you’re actually spending. The bad news is that 25CHF is the price of a side salad. Switzerland, especially its larger cities, is extremely expensive; but don’t let the high cost of living deter you. Geneva is one of the world’s most international cities, and they go out of their way to make travelers’ lives easier. If you do your homework, and take advantage of Geneva’s many deals and discounts, your Swiss experience doesn’t necessarily have to carry a Swiss price tag.
1. Use free airport transport.
An easy way to save money in Geneva from the outset is to take advantage of the free transportation from the airport. When you land, you can pick up a free transport pass for Zone 10, which covers pretty much anywhere in Geneva you’d want to go. The ticket is good for 80 minutes, and can be used on trains, busses, and trams.
2. Avoid hotels and hostels.
I’m always a big advocate of Airbnb. It’s a more local experience and usually gives you more space than a hotel room, but I appreciate it most in cities like Geneva, where hotels range from $150-$200 a night. Find an Airbnb north of the Rhône. You’ll save money by not staying in the heart of Old Town, and it’s no more than a 10 or 15 minute walk across the river. If you’re wondering about hostels, the pickings are slim. There are only a few options, and due to lack of competition the prices are no bargain.
3. Keep your drinking to student bars.
Since a whiskey and coke can cost as much as $17, I should probably just tell you not to drink at all. But even though Geneva isn’t Barcelona, and no one really comes here just for nightlife, you shouldn’t let drink prices keep you in on a Saturday night. Your best bet is going to college-oriented bars, which cater to students on a budget. Try L’Elephant dans la Canette near the University of Geneva in Old Town, or The Clubhouse, a sports bar just across the river.
4. Don’t dine out. Cook.
Now that you’ve got a cheap, cozy Airbnb, don’t let the kitchen go to waste! Switzerland’s high cost of living hits hardest at lunch and dinnertime, where even light meals can set you back $25. I didn’t believe this advice until I ordered an individual pizza (think the size of a frozen DiGiorno), and saw the 32CHF bill. So stock up on groceries and save yourself the expense.
5. Do your shopping in France.
Expats and those actually living in Geneva might be more willing to incorporate this tactic into their routine, but even if you’re only in Geneva for a week, you can still save a ton of money by taking your business across the border. This might sound like an extreme step, but the French border is actually only 15 minutes away, and France is much cheaper than Switzerland. Busses run frequently to Ferney-Voltaire (north) and Annemasse (southeast). Go shopping in Annemasse, buy some souvenirs or even groceries, and be back in Geneva in less than 20 minutes.
6. Free entertainment at Parc des Bastions.
If you’re worried about the cost of entertainment, don’t be. Geneva is a lively city with tons of free festivals, concerts, and outdoor exhibitions. Surrounding the University of Geneva, the Parc des Bastions is a great place to find unexpected, free entertainment. The park hosts live music and movie events, as well as art exhibitions. During my visit, a medieval fair was going on with vendors, food, costumes, and fake jousting for kids. I had just wandered into the park by chance, but ended up spending the whole afternoon there, and it didn’t cost me a cent. There are also two giant chess boards at the park’s entrance, which are always entertaining to watch (or play, if you don’t mind an audience).
7. Get cheap seats.
My first day in Geneva was a Wednesday, and we weren’t exactly sure what to do at night. On a whim, my friend and I decided to go to an opera at the Grand Théâtre de Genève. We were expecting astronomical ticket prices, but when we got to the box office we found we could get tickets (nosebleeds) for as low as $40. If you aren’t picky about seats, you can see a unique show in a beautiful theater for relatively cheap. And like a baseball game, when we noticed open seats in front of us, we just moved on down. Of course, you do risk accidentally taking the seat of someone who might come back from the bathroom a minute later, but if you’re lucky you can end up pretty close to the stage, all for the price of a cheap seat.