Budget Geneva: Dips in the lake, free concerts
July 27, 2009 ·
This city on Lake Geneva with a view of snowcapped Mont Blanc is one of the world’s most expensive cities, with famous shops selling exquisite jewelry and luxury watches. But window-shopping is not the only option for those on a budget. Explore the medieval center of “the city of peace,” its parks and the lake. Take advantage of free transit passes offered to visitors. And enjoy the city’s international ambiance, with residents from 180 countries drawn by the U.N. and other organizations.
GETTING AROUND: Just before leaving the baggage claim area at Geneva airport, look for a machine that dispenses free passes for area buses, trams and trains. The pass is valid for 80 minutes from the time you get it. The train to the city center takes six minutes.
Hotels, hostels and camp sites give guests another free pass for the duration of their stay. You can take unlimited rides on city buses, trams, taxi boats across the lake and return to the airport by train.
Geneva is relatively small — population 188,000 — and most sights are within walking distance of Lake Geneva and the city center. Bikes can be borrowed free at different locations — http://www.geneveroule.ch/en. You only need to show your passport or ID card and leave a refundable deposit of $18.65 (20 Swiss francs).
A pleasant way to cross the lake is in the romantic little yellow taxi boats called Mouettes that stop at five lakeside docks — http://www.mouettesgenevoises.ch/en/index.php.
CHEAP STAYS: The cheapest Geneva hotels start around $93 (100 francs) for a single. The Youth Hostel — on 30 rue Rothschild close to the lake — provides a dormitory bed for $27 (29 francs). Book early because demand is high, particularly in summer, http://www.genevahostel.ch/en/index.html.
At the City Hostel Geneva — on 2 rue Ferrier, near the main train station — dormitory rates are $30 (32 francs). A single room is $61 (65 francs) and a double $81 (87 francs). Book in advance at http://www.cityhostel.ch/english/.
For information on bed and breakfasts on the outskirts, starting at $56 (60 francs) a night, or for camp sites outside Geneva, visit http://www.geneve-tourisme.ch/ and click on “English” and “Accommodation.”
CHEAP EATS: At Geneva’s street festivals you find grilled Swiss sausages and a variety of Latin American food under $10 (10 francs). There are many options walking distance from the main train station. The popular Lebanese cafe Au Parfum de Beyrouth at 18 rue de Berne near the train station has good kebabs and vegetarian falafels for less than $8 (8 francs).
The Paquis Baths at the small lighthouse on the lake has a cafeteria with a lake terrace that offers a menu of the day for $11-$13 (12 or 14 francs) at lunchtime and 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Try homemade cakes and fresh juice. It’s also the most popular swimming spot in the clean lake water. It’s free after 8 p.m., otherwise a little under $2 (2 francs).
Mandarin, 1-3 rue de Chantepoulet, offers dim sum delicacies on Sundays 12 p.m.-5:30 p.m. for about $4.60-$6.50 (5-7 francs) a small dish.
Mosaique, 31 rue du Mole, is a small Eritrean restaurant. The meat dish is $15 (16 francs) and the vegetarian dish $12 (13 francs). Eat with your fingers.
Across the Mont Blanc bridge over the Rhone River leaving the lake, you’ll find Au Big Sandwich, also called Chez Raffaele, at 10 rue des Eaux-Vives, with various sandwiches around $6-$8 (6.80-8.80 francs), homemade salads, pasta dishes and other Italian delicacies to take away.
Chez Ma Cousine at 6 Bourg-de-Four in the heart of the Old Town serves mouthwatering chicken dishes at less than $14 (15 francs).
Les Armures, 1 rue Puits-St.-Pierre, near the cathedral, is one of the most popular places for the famous fondue cheese dish and other traditional Swiss food. The restaurant is reasonably priced as Geneva goes. Fondue is $23-$26 (25-27.50 francs) per person.