Free Things To Do in Geneva, Switzerland
Updated: Nov 4, 2022
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Geneva is one of Switzerland’s most luxurious cities, and it’s also one of the most beautiful. It’s home to more than 200 international organizations, including the United Nations and the International Red Cross, and has been dubbed by many as the Capital of Peace. Geneva is also known for being a huge financial centre in Europe, so it’s definitely not the cheapest city in Europe to visit on a budget. That being said, there are surprisingly quite a lot of free things to do in Geneva.
Before getting into the attractions and some budget friendly places to eat in Geneva, it’s helpful to know that transportation in Geneva is completely free. As long as you’re staying in some form of paid accommodation in the city, you’ll receive a free Geneva transportation pass at check-in that will last for the duration of your stay. This includes trains within the city, trams, buses, and the famous yellow mouettes (yellow shuttle boats). With this pass, it couldn’t be easier to get around Geneva, and I guarantee you’ll love exploring this incredible Swiss city. We decided to walk for most of our trip as the weather was perfect, so make sure you pack good walking shoes with you as well.
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Free Things To Do in Geneva, Switzerland
Is Geneva expensive to visit? Well, it’s probably one of the most expensive cities you’ll ever come across, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put it on your list of places to visit in Europe because it’s pretty amazing. There are numerous free things to do in Geneva to add to your itinerary that’ll help you save money for other important parts of the trip (like eating!).
Geneva’s most famous attraction, the Jet d’Eau, dates back to 1886 and is situated in Lake Geneva. It was originally used to relieve pressure from the city’s pumping station at the end of the day, but the water jet became so popular with visitors that they decided to move it to Lake Geneva for everyone to enjoy. It now stands as a symbol of strength in the city, and is a must-see attraction in Geneva. On a clear day, you may even spot a rainbow near the fountain which is beautiful to see. The Jet d’Eau is one of the top things to see in Geneva and won’t cost you a penny to look at.
Bains des Pâquis
Built in 1872, the Bains des Pâquis is a popular spot for locals who want to relax in the sun or take a quick dip in Lake Geneva. There were plenty of people swimming in the lake when we visited in October, and in the wintertime these baths are turned into saunas. Exploring this artificial peninsula is one of the more unique places to visit in Geneva, and is definitely worth it if you have some spare time on your hands - even if you aren’t planning on swimming.
Located in front of the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva (Palais des Nations), the Broken Chair has stood as a symbol against landmines and cluster bombs since 1997. It’s made entirely out of wood and stands at 12 meters high. If you have a tour booked of the UN or are planning to visit the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, then it’s worth stopping here to admire the sculpture, which is still one of the best free things to do in Geneva.
Whenever we have a bit of spare time in our itinerary, we like to head to the Botanical Gardens in whatever city we’re visiting, and the one in Geneva didn’t disappoint. It’s located a short walk from the UN Headquarters, and is home to over 16 000 species of plants, shrubs, and trees. If you only have one day in Geneva to spare, this probably won’t make your list, but for those of you who have a few days to explore the city then it’s worth keeping in mind and is free to everyone.
Perle du Lac Park
There are many beautiful parks to walk around in Geneva, but none are quite like Perle-du-Lac Park, located along the banks of Lake Geneva. It’s one of the most wooden parks in the city, and recent archaeological evidence has found that this site was used by the Romans more than 2000 years ago. Walking around the park is a tranquil experience if you have the time, and you can always hop on a mouette back to the city centre when you’re done to save time walking.
Jardin Anglais and the Flower Clock
Sitting opposite the Jet d’Eau is the Jardin Anglais (English Garden). Apart from being a nice place to sit along the waterfront, it’s also home to a few interesting points of interest that are worth taking a look at. One of the most popular attractions here is the beautiful Flower Clock, which was created in 1955 and soon became one of the city’s most visited spots by tourists. The Flower Clock changes throughout the year, as different flowers start to bloom, so it’s always interesting to see what it looks like.
Parc de La Grange
Another beautiful park to visit in the city is Parc de La Grange, which is located a short walk from the Jet d’Eau and is sometimes overlooked by tourists as it’s not considered a must-do in Geneva. Nevertheless, it’s a park with a history dating back more than 4000 years and today is home to greenhouses, the largest rose garden in Geneva, and a stunning 18th century villa which is open to the public only once a year.
A short tram ride through the streets of Geneva will bring you to the city’s very own slice of the Mediterranean. Carouge is a small hamlet modelled after Nice, with beautiful Mediterranean architecture, boutique shops, and quaint eateries lining the streets of the old town. It’s unlike any other part of Geneva that you’ll visit, and although there aren’t too many things to do in Carouge other than shopping and eating, it’s worth exploring on foot for a couple of hours at least.
Walk around the old town
You can’t visit Geneva without visiting the old town. The labyrinth of cobblestone streets, photo-worthy squares, and quaint storefronts and restaurants can easily take a full day out of your itinerary. Walking around the old town was my favourite free thing to do in Geneva, even in the rain. Many of Geneva’s historical attractions are located in this part of the city, and you can even join a Chocolate Tour that mixes eating with history for the ultimate Geneva experience.
Drink from a water fountain
This may not sound very exciting at first, but hear me out. Unless stated otherwise, all drinking fountains across Switzerland provide drinkable water. This means that you can fill up your reusable bottle at whatever water fountain you come across and it’s completely safe. The old town in particular is filled with old water fountains that have been beautifully constructed, so we had quite a lot of fun filling up and admiring them at the same time.
Budget Friendly Places To Eat in Geneva
Wondering if there are any affordable restaurants in Geneva to go to? The first thing we noticed while browsing menus in Switzerland was how incredibly high the prices were compared to other countries that are also known for being pricey to visit. Eating in Geneva doesn’t need to completely blow up your budget, you just need to know where to look to avoid the tourist traps.
The Barista Lab
For all you coffee lovers out there, we’ve found the perfect spot for you. The Barista Lab can be found near La Jonction, a short tram ride from the old town, and they’re known for their specialty coffees as well as being an eco-friendly and sustainable café. I’m not a big coffee drinker myself, so I tried out their chai latte which was amazing. Their lattes are served with really cool latte art so they’re worth ordering just to see that! The Barista Lab is also a popular brunch spot in Geneva, and serves up a selection of tasty baked goods as well. If you want an exceptional coffee in Geneva, you won’t want to miss this café.
Ukiyo Noodle Bar
While we were in Geneva we had a craving for noodles, so we were very pleased to come across Ukiyo Noodle Bar. They have two locations in Zurich, and their dishes are very fairly portioned for the price you pay. We tried a bowl of their Ramen and Udon for our main dishes which were cooked to perfection and very flavourful. To start we ordered the vegetable gyozas and the takoyaki, and for dessert we had to taste the mochi ice cream - definitely worth indulging in! The restaurant itself is anime themed so you’ll get the full experience eating at Ukiyo Noodle Bar.
With unrivalled views of the Jet d’Eau, Hunch might be the perfect brunch spot in Geneva’s city centre. Hunch offers a small but delicious selection of brunch dishes, with everything from pancakes to burgers on the menu. They also have some great options for smoothies and fresh juices if you want something healthy to pair with your meal.
The Feisty Frenchie Toast was my pick which came with fresh fruits and dulce de leche drizzled on top which perfectly balanced the sweet and savoury. The Fishy Potato Waffle is a popular choice on the savoury side of the menu, with the potato waffle being handmade and very fluffy. Hunch is a great spot to stop for brunch if you’re visiting Geneva on a budget, and you can take your food to go as well if you’re in a rush.
It’s hard to eat healthy while travelling, but luckily Melrose Kitchen has opened up a permanent base in Geneva that’s bringing a piece of LA to the city through acai bowls and healthy food. They cater to all types of diets so it’s a great option for everyone. We decided to build our own acai bowls which were delicious and full of fresh ingredients - even the granola is made on site.
On top of acai bowls, they have matcha drinks, superfood smoothies, coffees, teas, and iced drinks. Not to mention their selection of homemade healthy baked goods (which we of course took a couple of). The space is quite small, but there is a bench against the wall to eat at. We took our food to go and sat along the waterfront and thoroughly enjoyed everything we ordered. Melrose Kitchen is definitely one of the best places to eat in Geneva if you want to stay healthy!
Where To Stay in Geneva
MEININGER Hotel Genève Centre Charmilles
Switzerland isn’t the cheapest when it comes to accommodation - even hostels can be pricey. Having had an amazing experience at the MEININGER Milano Lambrate in Milan a couple of years ago, we decided to book with the MEININGER Hotel Genève Centre Charmilles for our first couple of nights in Geneva. The MEININGER Hotel is located in the Charmilles district of Geneva, nestled between nature and the city centre, with easy and quick transportation links to the main attractions (there’s a bus stop across the road).
The hotel is very modern and is space themed so you can expect a few quirky additions to the room and common spaces. We stayed in one of their quad rooms which offered two single beds and a set of bunk beds, a spacious private bathroom with a walk-in shower, lockers inside the room, and a desk. When we arrived the desk had a few treats on it which was a nice added touch. There was a TV on the wall and a heating/AC system that you can adjust to the temperature you want.
There are a lot of amenities within the hotel that you can take full advantage of. These include a communal kitchen, a bar area, lots of desks and tables to work from, and a games room with pool, table football, and a unique seating area. Breakfast consists of a buffet of mostly continental items with a few hot food choices such as eggs, hash browns, and beans. Adding the breakfast to your booking will probably save you a bit of money compared to eating in the city centre, so it’s a good option. Overall we loved our second stay at a MEININGER Hotel and the room and location of their Geneva hotel couldn’t have been better for our first stay in the city.
>> Click here for the most up to date prices at MEININGER Hotel Genève Centre Charmilles <<
So far Geneva has been the most expensive city we’ve visited, and that’s saying a lot as we’ve been to Iceland which wasn’t cheap. But don’t count Geneva out just yet. There are many free things to do in Geneva, Switzerland both in the city centre and a little outside of it. There’s also a lot of history to uncover here, so a self-guided walking tour wouldn’t be a bad option. As long as you plan ahead and make sure you stay within your allotted budget, you’ll have a fantastic time in this beautiful Swiss city.
Have you visited Geneva and the surrounding area before? I’d love to get your thoughts on the city and any tips for other free things to do here for the next time we return - feel free to leave a comment below! You can also get in touch and follow me on Instagram for helpful travel tips.
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