The Swiss city of Geneva is one of the top cities to visit in Switzerland. There are plenty of things to do in Geneva from historical sights and monuments to museums, parks and shopping opportunities. Geneva is the second most expensive city in Switzerland and amongst the top 10 expensive cities in the world. If you are planning to visit Geneva on a budget here are free things to do in Geneva that you must include on your list.
Geneva Old Town
The Geneva Old Town is a well-preserved charming neighborhood with 2,000-year-old history. The cobbled stone streets are lined with historic buildings, squares dotted with fountains and quaint cafes that will transport you into a time warp. Old Arsenal is a 15th-century building with an open-air museum on the ground floor which houses 5 cannons dating back to 17th century and remarkable colorful frescoes on the history of Geneva on the walls.
Visitors can walk through and explore the Old Arsenal for free. Enjoy wonderful views of the Geneva City rooftops with iconic Jet d’Eau fountain in the backdrop from Agrippa-d’Aubigne Terrace. There is also a small playground for children.
St. Pierre Cathedral
One of the most important landmarks of the Old Town of Geneva is the St. Pierre Cathedral or St. Peter’s Cathedral. which is free to enter. The church is built in Gothic style and dates back to the 12th century. There is no entrance fee for the St. Peter’s Cathedral. The interior of the cathedral has remarkable stained-glass windows and one of the largest collection of Gothic and Romanesque capitals.
Visitors can climb the two cathedral towers for breathtaking views of the Geneva City, Geneva lake and the Jet d’Eau for a small entry fee. The ticket to the tower is free with a Geneva Pass. Half the way to the tower there is a corridor which connects both the tower where one can enjoy close up view of the cathedral roof. Also worth a visit inside the cathedral is the Maccabee Chapel decorated with beautiful Gothic paintings and the archaeological site of the previous basilica dating back to the 4th century. There is a small museum on archaeological findings. There is an entrance fee to enter the museum but is free with Geneva Pass.
United Nation and Broken Chair
The Place des Nations is one of the popular landmarks in Geneva. The square is dominated by a gigantic broken chair with one leg broken. The sculpture was erected to symbolize a stand against the landmines.
The magnificent structure stands opposite to the UN. Though one cannot enter the premises of the UN, taking a picture of the row of the flags of 192 member nations of the UN is popular with the tourists. The square of Place des Nations also is a great place to be with the kids who would enjoy playing in the choreographed fountains in the square.
Jet d’Eau and Jardin Anglais
The Jet d’Eau is a large fountain and symbol of the city of Geneva, it was installed in 1886. The fountain pumps water to an altitude of 140 m and is visible from most parts of the city.
The Jardin Anglais created in 1855 is a beautiful public park on the banks of Lake Geneva. A quay at the end of the park leads to the fountain, visitors can get close to the fountain and get wet. Inside the park, there is the ‘National Monument’ which was erected to 1869 to commemorate the incorporation of Geneva into the Swiss Confederation.
The gorgeous Flower Clock or the L’horloge Fleurie is a popular Geneva attraction and is a symbol of the watchmaking tradition of Geneva. There is also a wooden pavilion, a sculpted bronze fountain, and several benches along the promenade which offers great views of the lake and the Jet d’Eau.
There are two restaurants in the garden one is La Potiniere a cafe restaurant and the other is Bateau Geneve, a boat turned restaurant on the water which is also historic for it is the boat boarded by Elizabeth, Empress of Austria to travel to Montreux after being stabbed. (We learned more about this on a visit to the Sisi Museum in Vienna)
Visit the Brunswick Monument
The Brunswick Monument, neo-Gothic-style mausoleum, is one of the top landmarks in Geneva. The monument is the resting place of Charles Frederic Auguste Guillaume, the Duke of Brunswick and was built to commemorate his contributions.
There is a small coffee shop on the premises. Brunswick Monument is also a great spot to enjoy the view of magnificent Jet d’Eau.
Reformation Wall and Parc des Bastions
Parc des Bastions is about 8-10 minutes walk from the Geneva Old Town. Parc des Bastions is the site of Geneva University, one of the oldest building in the city and the University Library.
The international monument of the Reformation is one of the most important monuments in Geneva is also located in the park. The monument consists of statues of the four great preachers: Guillaume Farel, Jean Calvin, Theodore de Beze and John Knox in the center with several other statues on either side. The monument inaugurated in 1909 honors the individuals of the Protestant Reformation.
One of the popular attraction with the locals as well as the tourists in the park is the life-size chess sets. It is fun watch them play chess and if you are an enthusiast you try a game too. There is also a playground for kids and a restaurant in the park.
The Botanical Gardens in Geneva is a must visit a place with kids. The green oasis holds a huge and diverse collection of flora species. The animal park especially will be of great interest for the kids. The large enclosures have goats, deer, ducks, swans, flamingoes and more. There are also peacocks which you will usually find enjoying a walk amongst the visitors in the lawns. There is also a two leveled carousel for the kids.
There is also a small rock garden and a restaurant if you want to buy something to drink and eat.
Free Museums in Geneva
There are over 30 museums in Geneva. The city is a haven for museum buffs. Below are the museums which do not have an entry fee so they very well fit into the budget itinerary for Geneva.
Natural History Museum
One of the top things to do in Geneva with kids is to visit the Natural History Museum. The museum has an amazingly large collection of over 200 lifesize stuffed animals, reptiles, mammals and birds. Kids will be fascinated to see huge animals including tigers, giraffes, hippos, deer, rhinoceros, and bears. Apart from stuffed animals, there are rare minerals, fossils, artifacts on human evolution and other geological exhibits on the upper floors. The entrance to the museum is free though there may be a ticket for some special exhibitions.
Art and History Museum
The Museum of Art and History is the largest art museum in Geneva with a huge collection of exhibits. The collection consists of artifacts on the western culture and ancient civilization which includes archeological findings, Renaissance paintings, and objects dating back to the middle ages.
The entrance to the permanent exhibition is free, visitors can explore the exhibits with the help of audio guides which can be rented from the reception.
Maison Tavel or Tavel House is a museum in the heart of the Geneva Old Town. The museum holds an exhibit of artifacts on everyday life in Geneva since medieval times to the 19th century. The museum is a great way to know about the city of Geneva. The museum is housed in a heritage building which is one of the oldest residential building in Geneva. The entrance to the museum is free. The museum is located next to St. Peter’s Cathedral.
The Ariana Museum or Swiss Museum of Ceramics and Glass is housed in a neo-baroque and neo-classical building located next to the United Nations. The museum holds a unique and fascinating collection of porcelain, pottery, stoneware, ceramics, glass artwork, earthenware and more.
Few of the items date back to the 1300s. The entry to the permanent collection of the museum is free. There is an entry fee for the temporary exhibition but free till 18 years old.
Free Bicycles for Rent
Visitors can rent bicycles free of charge for 4 hours. Thereafter the rent starts from 8 CHF for half a day. Check here for details. All you need is a photo ID and a cash deposit of 20 CHF. Electric bikes are available for free at Nations, Carouge, Meyrin, and Versoix at a cash deposit of 100 CHF.
The bicycles are available for rent all year round and are in good condition. You can choose from a choice of bicycles like city bikes, mountain bikes or race bikes. Some of the bikes come with a carrier, kids chair, baby trailer, kids helmet, and other accessories.
Free Walking Tour
One of the best ways to explore the city and know more about the city and its history is to join the guided tours. Free Walk Geneva offers two free walking tours – one lets you explore the important landmarks of the city of Geneva (Daily) and the other walks you through the important international organization (Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays). Choose as per your interest. Both tours last for 2 to 2.5 hours. Get more details here.
Ride the Yellow Boats on Lake Geneva
If you have been to English Garden you must have seen small yellow boats sailing in the lake past the Jet d’Eau. These boats or Mouettes connect four different areas of Geneva on the shore of Geneva Lake – Molard, Paquis, Eaux-Vives, and Geneve-Plage/Port Noir.
The ticket prices are 2 CHF for one trip and 3 CHF for 60 minutes. But it’s absolutely free with the Geneva public transport pass or free transport card which are usually provided by all the Geneva hotels you stay in for the duration of your stay.