Geneva has a reputation for being one of the most expensive European cities. If you’re wondering if that’s really true and how expensive the city actually is, this is the only guide you need to read!
I will tell you about the average cost of everything you need to know about in Geneva, from the prices at supermarkets to the cost of hotels. I’ll provide exact numbers so you have an idea of what things cost in the city and also compare the prices to those of other major cities throughout the world.
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Public transportation is one of a few things that’s not expensive in Geneva. Anyone who visits Geneva is eligible for a free public transport pass; the only prerequisite is that you stay at accommodation registered with Geneva Tourism & Congress. Pretty much all the hotels in Geneva are in this category, as well as most of the privately owned apartments.
If you prefer Airbnbs to hotels, I highly recommend you contact the host before booking and inquire if they are registered with Geneva Tourism & Congress. If they’re doing everything by the book they should be, and you should receive an online form to register for the pass three days before your planned arrival.
Everything within the UNIRESO network of public transportation in Geneva is included in this pass, so trains, buses, trams, boats, and even a trip from Geneva airport to the train station in the heart of the city. It’s absolutely worth the effort it takes to fill out the online form because you can save quite a bit of money if you don’t have to pay for public transport tickets. Plus, you get to ride a boat on Lake Geneva free of charge!
It is important to note that the public transport card is valid only in Zone 10, so the entire city area as well as some suburbs.
The bulk of your Geneva trip budget will be spent on accommodation. You can save money on food, museum tickets, and tours, but you’ll still need to pay at least 100 CHF per night for a very basic 2-star hotel. In all honesty, 100 CHF per night can’t even get you a private bathroom in most hotels in central Geneva, so you either need to allocate a bigger budget for a better room or choose accommodation outside the city center.
The latter is certainly what I would do, especially with the free public transport ticket. Also, keep in mind that Geneva is a pretty small city, and staying in a suburb would mean just traveling into the city for 10 minutes on a tram every day.
Budget accommodation in Geneva is anything up to 150 CHF per night (for two people), and this can range from hostels in the heart of the city to some good hotels (with tiny hotel rooms) outside the city center. If you can spend 150-300 CHF per night for a hotel, you can book most of the mid-range hotels in the city center.
I would like to point out that I once spent around 300 CHF for five nights in Rome, just to give you an idea of how expensive accommodation in Geneva is compared to other cities in Europe.
Finally, if you’re looking for luxury Geneva hotels, you will be spoilt for choice. From the Mandarin Oriental to The Woodward, there’s absolutely no shortage of premium hotels with excellent service in this expensive city.
You have to eat while you’re traveling, and this will be another major expense in Geneva. Naturally, the restaurants in the old town are significantly more expensive than those in the suburbs, so try to avoid eating in the city center as much as possible because you’re just paying tax for the location.
On average, you can expect to spend around 20-25 CHF per meal in Geneva, without drinks. A classic margarita eaten at a restaurant in the city center will generally cost 15-20 CHF, but probably 10-15 CHF in a restaurant outside the city center. The main courses are 20-30 CHF in old town restaurants, but under 25 CHF in restaurants further away from Geneva old town.
Most restaurants in Geneva list two prices for their dishes – one is for eating at the restaurant and the other one is for takeout. It’s always cheaper to get food to go, so do this if you want to save money on every meal.
Supermarkets in Geneva have reasonable prices and grocery shopping is a great way of saving money on food during your stay. Sure, it’s nice to treat yourself every once in a while, but do you need to eat every single meal at a fancy restaurant? Of course not. You can survive on sandwiches for lunch for a few days while you’re in the city, and you can easily save 100+ CHF on meals if you do this.
You can get 500 grams of pasta for less than 2 CHF, and then 500 grams of tomato sauce for also less than 2 CHF, and that’s a decent meal for at least four people for less than 5 CHF. Well, of course, you also need oil, salt, and some other spices, but those are things you can purchase just once and use throughout your trip.
Buying food at supermarkets is significantly cheaper than eating out at restaurants, and an easy way of saving a lot of money during your trip, especially if you’re traveling with your family or group. Migros and Coop are the two largest chain supermarkets in Geneva, and they have multiple locations throughout the city.
Shopping is something you should try to avoid if you’re on a tighter budget. Geneva has all the luxury shops you can think of, and it’s the perfect city for a shopping spree if you’re used to spending your money on luxury brands along Rue du Rhone, like Bvlgari, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Loro Piana, etc.
On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to shop on a tighter budget in Geneva, as long as you’re not expecting to find great deals on designer brands. You’ll find all the popular high-street stores here (H&M, Zara, Bershka, Nike, etc.), plus the malls in Geneva usually feature a mixture of affordable and more expensive shops.
Geneva also has a flea market that takes place twice a week, and it’s a good place to shop for bargains. It’s unlikely that you’ll find anything for dirt-cheap, but it will be cheaper than shopping at boutiques.
Everyone has their own idea of entertainment, so I’ll try to cover as many different things as possible here. Let’s start with the obvious – tours and entrance tickets to popular attractions in Geneva. Most museums in the city have an entrance fee of 7-15 CHF, and that’s without any discounts, which are often available to children and young adults.
However, there are also quite a few famous landmarks and attractions you can visit entirely free of charge – Jardin Anglais, Parc de la Grange, Palais des Nations, and even Jet d’Eau. You can even tour CERN for free, which is probably the best thing to do on a tight budget in Geneva.
One way to save money on tourist attractions in this city is to just get the Geneva City Pass. It’s worth the money if you plan to visit more than 2-3 museums, plus you’ll get a bunch of other perks like a free boat cruise, free guided walking tour, and discounts for certain tours and at some shops.
On the other hand, if your idea of entertainment is drinking at clubs, I think you’ll need to spend at least 50 CHF for a good time, and that’s if you don’t drink too much (beer). Most clubs have an entrance fee that can be 15-40 CHF and includes just one or two free drinks.
Beer is usually around 8 CHF, although it can be more expensive at fancier establishments. Cocktails and mixed drinks are 15-25 CHF, depending on the type of drink, how fancy the place is, etc.
I’m afraid there’s really no way to save money on going out in Geneva – it’s incredibly expensive, so do it only if you have money to burn.
Why Is Geneva Expensive?
Geneva is expensive because of the high standard of living. The average Swiss salary is CHF 79,980 (annually), and the average annual salary in Geneva is CHF 80,087, so it is slightly higher. The living expenses in the city are so high because the salaries are high, and most residents can comfortably afford the cost of life in Geneva.
Geneva is in a similar price range as New York, Singapore, and even London, with lower prices of rent than most of those cities. Also, Geneva is significantly cheaper than Zurich, so if you’re on a tighter budget, you’ll get more for your money in the southern city.
Tips for Budget Travel in Geneva
Get the Geneva City Pass if you want to visit museums. It’s one of a few city passes that are actually worth the money. I did the math in the guide to the Geneva City Pass, and essentially if you visit just two museums in a day, you’re already getting your money’s worth, not to mention all the other extras that you get access to with the pass.
Pay for the hotel breakfast. It’s absolutely worth it to pay extra for breakfast at the hotel, especially if it’s a buffet or continental breakfast. Load up on breakfast so that you can explore the city for hours without getting hungry, and possibly even skip lunch.
Get food at the supermarkets, otherwise, order food to go. Most restaurants in Geneva offer a discounted rate if you order your food to go. Personally, I’d just stock up on bread rolls, mayonnaise, and luncheon meat and survive on sandwiches, with the exception of some fondue and rosti. It’s the cheapest way of feeding yourself in Geneva, and keep in mind you’re in Switzerland – the cheese in the supermarkets will still be exceptionally good.
Stay at a hotel outside the city center. It goes without saying that the hotels in the heart of Geneva are more expensive than those a bit further away from the city center. You can save money on accommodation by staying in a suburb, and you won’t have to pay anything extra for public transport since it’s free for most tourists.