Top 10 *Free* Can't Miss Moments in Geneva, Switzerland
It's that time of year - the fresh-faced interns are flocking to Geneva to embark upon careers in humanitarian work, global health, or diplomacy. And their bright faces will dim just a little when they realize that, fulfilling though their internship might be, Geneva is dang expensive city to live in on a *non-existent* budget.
No fear, dear interns and other tourists! Geneva is an exquisite city, and there are in fact plenty of things to do for free.
1) Visiting the Jet d'Eau
Ok, let me be clear. The Jet is actually just a big stream of water shooting into the air. It’s the world’s biggest fountain, and has some really cool details about it, but really – I can just picture a group of engineering students smoking some pot one day and going “Duuuuude. You know what would be cool?”
I recognize that. It’s a silly, slightly-phallic nonsensical bragging point. But at the same time…
It’s flipping awesome.
For obvious reasons, they only run it during spring, fall, and summer, and not when it’s particularly rainy. But on a warm day, venturing out onto the pier, getting soaking wet, seeing the city from a completely different standpoint, and marveling at the rainbow created by the falling water catching in the sunlight…it’s a must for any Geneva visitor.
2) Strolling Place des Nations
Geneva is home of a boggling number of humanitarian organizations, and a high density of them are clustered around one gorgeous public square and foundation display. From Place, you can view the stunning entrance to the Palais des Nations, headquarters of the United Nations, the famous Broken Chair sculpture dedicated to victims of land-mines, and monuments to Mahatma Ghandi, victims of the Srebrenica massacre, and much more. The Place is also a key public transport hub, meaning you'll be caught up in a bustle of tourists and busy professionals alike. Though much of the material on display here is certainly heavy, during the summer the plaza comes alive with fountains that delight businessmen and children alike.
3) A run through the outskirts
When I picked a neighborhood in the suburbs of Geneva in which to live, I expected it to be quiet. I didn’t expect it to be quite so charming and gorgeous. It seems like every time I went out for a run I would turn down a new road, get distracted, and well…the run would dissipate a bit. Take the bus to Grand-Saconnex on the edge of town, and enjoy a lovely trail past a wheat field and towards a gorgeous overlook of the lake.
4) Stroll Carouge with Cheese
Carouge is a delightful neighborhood in Geneva known for its historic, Italian-inspired architecture. On it's own, Carouge is a great place for site-seeing, but try to make it out on a Wednesday or Sunday, when the Place du Marche features a mouth-watering display of local cheeses, wines, bread, and produce.
5) Stuff your face at Plainpalais
The largest open-air market it town, Plainpalais is open on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. But that's not all - on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the plaza boasts an impressive flea market. Regardless of the state of your pocket money, the Plainpalais market, especially on the weekends, is bustling, stimulating, and hands-down the best people-watching in the city. If you have money to spend, come hungry - in addition to your traditional produce and bread, you'll also find food stalls with Moroccan, Chilean, Brazilian, American, and more...my personal favorite stall featured a giant wall of rotisserie chicken, slowly cooking and dripping juices onto a veritable trough of potatoes below.
6) Visit the St. Pierre Cathedral
An impressive and historically important site, this church is definitely worth your time. The church is typically open between 10am-5pm, but be mindful of any worship services or other programs occurring. Throughout the summer, it's not unusually for the church to host free choral or organ concerts. For 5 CHF, you can climb to the very top of the spires - read more about my adventures with that here!
While in Old Town, take the time to wander. Old Town is the oldest part of the city (SHOCKER) where you can see the original city wall, the oldest house in the city (dating back to 1334 and also free to visit!), and some of the original streets, fountains, and architecture. The small, winding streets are charming, and though it may or may not be the longest bench is the world, the Trielle Pomenade is still pretty relaxing to sit on and offers a pretty view of the rest of the city.
7) Hike Mont Saleve
Switzerland is hikers heaven, but most of the big hikes are a couple hours outside of Geneva. If you just have to scratch that hiking itch while in town, Mont Saleve is here for you. There are several ways up the mountain, including hiking trails and a cable car for those who would rather enjoy the view without breaking a sweat.
...or, if you follow my past "advice," get lost and end up in France.
8) Outdoor Movies and Outdoor Music Festival
Since Geneva is such a famously expensive city, I was shocked to find so many free, outdoor entertainment options while visiting, particularly in the summer. Stand-outs include celebrating Swiss National Day on August 1st, which features country-wide celebrations including a blow-out at Parc des Bastions, fireworks on the lake, and followed by the annual Fêtes des Geneve. June's Fête de Musique is a phenomenal, lengthy and sprawling celebration of all things musical, when the heart of the city turns into a performance center. The United Nations Headquarters offers free tours and events throughout the year, including screenings, outdoor yoga, and more, so keep an eye on their page. Outdoor movies are popular in Geneva, with free summer-long showings at CinéTransat, Ciné Plage, and Ciné Laconnex (for best results, pair with a bottle of cheap wine and some cheese from the grocers). In December, the Fête de L’Escalade, is a reenactment-heavy celebration of a failed military surprise-attack on the city circa 1602.
9) Think Deep at Parc des Bastions
It can be hard to remember that Geneva is a college town. Parc des Bastions offers a glimpse at the nerdy delights of living among an intellectual crowd, paired with creative ways to enjoy the outdoors. This little oasis offers life-size chess and checkers, weird turf-covered loungy chair thingy-ma-bobs, plenty of faux-philosophers debating their latest reads, a playground, food stands, a skate rink (in the winter), and great people watching (year-round). Situated between the University of Geneva, Old Town, and several museums, your IQ goes up with each hour you spend there. The park also features the impressive (occasionally creepy, in the wrong light) Wall of the Reformation.
10) Free Walking Tour
Geneva's compact size, well-maintained public spaces, and safety make it an exceptionally walkable city. It's easy enough to set out in one direction and explore as you go; for those interested in a little more structure, the city now offers free walking tours - can I get an amen?