Geneva is widely known as both a banking hub and the watch making capital of the world. It sits ideally and picturesquely on Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman), in the shadow of the Swiss Alps and Mont Blanc. When you are on the road as we set out to be for a full year, away from home and friends and family, the only realistic way to accomplish this is on a semi-tight budget. As such, we’ve felt the need to amend or shorten plans in certain strategic locales. Geneva, while beautiful, and certainly worth taking several days to explore, is a very expensive city.

Article Summary

Calling An Audible

The reality is that we had not one but two affordable Airbnb rentals (very hard to find in Geneva) get cancelled or not confirmed within the week leading up to our planned visit. As we searched for new even remotely affordable or centrally located accommodations, Geneva started looking less and less likely to fit into our plans. We had been told of the grandeur of Mont Blanc, Lake Geneva, and several surrounding attractions and certainly wanted to take advantage. But sometimes in football and in life, you have to call an audible. In the words of Peyton Manning, “Omaha, Omaha”. Or better yet, as my Hardin-Simmons University quarterback Jordan Neal would put it, “Purple 82, Purple 82”.

Free Public Transportation from Geneva Airport

Our revised itinerary turned Geneva into a day trip instead. We had just flown in that morning from Porto, Portugal, and our Flixibus tickets to Annecy, France were not until the early evening. Through a bit of research, we learned that the City of Geneva generously offers a Free Train or Bus Ticket from the Geneva Airport to the city center, that is good for 80 minutes from the time it’s issued. This means that Geneva is a great destination to explore on a long layover, which is exactly what we did that day on May 22, 2019. In the airport, look for the machine next to the information booth at the end of the baggage claims. It says in large yellow letters on a blue sign, “Free Ticket”.

You press the button, your ticket prints, and presto, you’re headed to the heart of Geneva, by train, at our favorite price of “Free”.  The kind folks at the information booth also offered us two different maps of the city and talked us through points of interest that were walkable from the Geneva train station in the city center.

Luggage Lockers at Geneva Train Station

They also told us about lockers available for luggage storage, which is the ultimate hack and key to exploring any new place on foot when you don’t have an overnight stay. The central train station in Geneva is quite massive, so finding said lockers was actually not as simple a task as it should have been. The key was the blue rectangular sign that we eventually found with a luggage and key symbol.

All XXL lockers were already taken, which would have held all 4 of our bags in one locker for €12. Our Away 21” Carry-Ons ended up requiring a Large sized locker by themselves, while our Tumi backpacks would fit in a Small sized locker. So €14 and two locker rentals later, we were foot loose and fancy free, sans-bags, for the next 6 hours.  Put your bags in, close the door till the green light turns red, then pay from the closest screen (it took our U.S. based cards with no Pin, which was great and surprising for most European kiosks).

Len and JJ Travel Tip:
JJ and I have been doing this luggage storage hack for years, especially at the end of Cruises when we don’t have a flight until much later in the day or evening. Admittedly, we had never used lockers before (like in the movies!) though. My inner-geek was in freakout mode.  What we have done in places like San Juan, Miami, and New Orleans, is take an Uber or Taxi or walk to an area or beach location that we want to explore that day. Then we find the most reputable or trustworthy looking hotel, the bigger the better, to store our bags. The trick is to not let the conversation of whether or not you are a guest of the hotel ever come up. Bigger hotels see so many people on a daily basis, all you need to do is go to the bell hop or bag drop and say “We’d like to drop our bags with you”. Calmly hand them at least a $5 dollar bill, and they will be more than happy to securely store your luggage for the day, hotel guest or not.

At the “Geneva” Train Station, the first stop only 7 minutes from the Airport, you can find all sorts of things such as restaurants and shops in a mall-like setting. But the most important thing of which is those aforementioned lockers for rent to temporarily store your luggage. You don’t want to go on a 3-5 hour walking tour, up hills and in the heat with all your stuff in tow.

Lake Geneva

It was clear even to us as first time visitors and Swiss novices that Lake Geneva is the focal point of the city. If you want to see both people and wildlife out and about in their natural habitat, the Lake is the place to be. There are ferry boats and water taxis wizzing bye, ducks swimming, people crossing pedestrian bridges, flags flying, and birds singing, all under the skyline of beautiful Swiss architecture and the snow capped Swiss Alps. Talk about quality of life. No wonder the cost of living is so high in Geneva. It was all starting to make sense.

Jet d’Aue

While viewing Lake Geneva, at certain intervals of the day, you will unmistakably see and hear the Jet d’Aue. In existence since 1886, this extremely powerful water fountain reportedly reaches heights of 140 meters and pumps out 500 liters of water per second. It’s one of the most recognizable landmarks and features in Geneva. You can see the Jet d’Aue and the crystal clear waters of Lake Geneva in the video at the top of this article.

Reformation Wall

The Reformation Wall, also known as the International Monument to the Reformation, is a monument with statues featuring William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and John Knox. The monument pays tribute to the Protestant Reformation, and specifically Calvinism, which has it’s roots in Geneva.

The wall is located adjacent to the campus of the University of Geneva, which was also founded by John Calvin. It was built to commemorate Calvin’s 400th birthday, and the 350th anniversary of the University of Geneva.

Calvin College

A final remnant and tribute to John Calvin in Geneva is the Calvin College or “College’ Calvin”. It was founded by Calvin in 1559 and is the oldest secondary school in Geneva. The campus is small, but unmistakably beautiful.

Watch Making Capital of the World

I’m no watch guy, and I’m pretty sure JJ’s Apple Watch was made in China, but if we were serious watch people, we would consider buying a timepiece in Geneva. The logos and signs of world renowned watch brands such as Rolex and Patek Philippe can be seen throughout the city.

Len and JJ’s Overall Rating:

Worth Visiting At Least Once

We found that Geneva, like a Rolex watch, is ungodly expensive. We live by the mantra of “you get what you pay for”, and we believe the qualify of life and standard of living is warranted. But when a “value” meal at Five Guys Burgers and Fries, a cheap restaurant by Geneva standards, sets you back $30… it’s probably time to get the heck out of dodge.

It made for a memorable and photo-worthy day-trip no doubt. We would also love to go back in the winter and hit up Mont Blanc or do some snowboarding. Hopefully with a little more planning, and saving, we’ll do exactly that in the future. Still, we loved Geneva’s progressive “Free Public Transportation from the Airport” initiative. We wish more cities would offer this. Fellow budget-minded travelers should consider our day-trip / short layover plan if they want to hit the highlights of Geneva without breaking the bank.

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