Geneva, the capital of fondue, chocolate, luxury watches, Swiss Army Knives, and world peace.
They all sounds great. But an $8 coffee, not so great. We are budget travelers and our friends lovingly warned us about the prices.
Telling others that you are going to Switzerland on “a budget” just before Christmas, gets you some sympathetic head-nods and half grins. Switzerland is rated the most expensive country in the world to visit, with Geneva being one of the ten most expensive cities in the world to live in!
We really did not want to skip over Switzerland until we were older (aka retired with more money). To our surprise, we found it doable and we were able to enjoy it’s many Christmas charms and festivities.
Do + See
Lake Geneva: Geneva is located on the shores of Western Europe’s largest lake, and surrounded by the magnificent Alps. Unfortunately, the weekend we visited, fog and light rain followed us from Edinburgh. We had lovely views of the Alps from our plane, but not from the shores of the Lake. Glaciers in the French Alps are bright turquoise and flow directly into the deep blue waters of the Rhone River, which is fed by the lake. The two colors mix together and give the lake an extraordinary marbled look!Bike/Jog/Walk/Snack on a bench. Take advantage of the paths surrounding the lake.
Mount Blanc: From Geneva you can usually see Mount Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps. The combined views of lake and alpine mountains, yes please! We opted for a more affordable train ride through the villages that line the shores of Lake Geneva. However, a rental car to Blanc would be the perfect day trip from Geneva, as it is only an hour away.
St. Peter’s Cathedral: It was here, where John Calvin lead the Protestant Reformation. Inside the church there is still a wooden chair once used by Calvin (yep, Ryan got a picture with it). Get a workout by climbing the towers of the Cathédrale Saint Pierre, where you can enjoy the best view of Geneva. Only 157 steps of the north tower to experience one of the city’s most breathtaking (and oldest) views. Be sure to go to the north tower so you can go outside for an unrestricted view for nice panoramic pictures of the city and Jet d’Eau.
Jet d’Eau (Water Jet) Fountain: Geneva’s most famous landmark shooting water 140m into the air. It is Europe’s tallest fountain, which blasts 132 gallons of water. The jet is a prominent feature in Geneva’s skyline. It is taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Statue of Liberty, and Big Ben! We even learned that is turned on by hand every morning by a jet caretaker at exactly 9am, according to a precise Swiss watch, of course.
Old Town + City Centre : The Old Town should be next on any visitors itinerary. A patchwork of pavement cafés, museums, designer retail and art galleries. Geneva’s most famous shopping district is full of designer retail + Switzerland’s famous watchmakers like Rolex and Cartier. Not part of our budget trip, but still really interesting to learn more about the birthplace of watchmaking, the industry + the luxurious window displays.
Afternoon in Carouge: Carouge is a quiet neighborhood in Geneva with colorful buildings, local cafes, and charming boutiques.It was actually spell-bounding, walking along the streets, the Mediterranean-style houses, a number of gardens and the small artists’ workshops.
Carouge takes you back in time. Many locals would introduce Carouge to you as a “small Italy”. It is one of those areas which immediately stands out from all the rest, absolutely incomparable to the rest of the city. Cool architecture. Cozy cafes. Variety of bistros. Unique antique shops and vendors. We cannot recommend it enough- an afternoon or evening stroll, go for a café or dinner here for sure.
Montreux Christmas Market: Christkindlmarkt. Marché de Noël. Weihnachtsmarkt. I am obsessed with them and a bit of a Christmas market ‘junkie’. Most are full of wooden huts, homemade delicious treats, stunning decorations and unique gifts. I love to embrace the festive atmosphere. Slowly strolling. Amazing scents. Herds of jolly market-goers. Regional specialities- completely overwhelmed by auras of waffles, fondue and spices.
We spent a good half day in Montreux. As daylight gently turned to night, Montreux started to sparkle. Before roaming the market we sat on a bench looking at the lake, people watching and soaking it all it. Each little cabin, boutique and restaurant glowing with lights, gave us that warm Christmassy feeling despite the cold weather. We loved indulging in the fragrant cocktail of cinnamon, fruit and spiced wine, treating ourselves to a warming mug of Glühwein. Vin Chaud. Glögg. Mulled Wine … delicious!
The Christmas market at Montreux was highly recommended as an absolute must see. A touch of class and a whole lotta sophistication. If you like dramatic scenery and Christmas ambience mixed with some light shows, pots of fondue + music, then you will love it too!
Day Trip to Vevey: A charming town on the north shore of Lake Geneva. This French -speaking town created milk chocolate (1875) and was the final home of Charlie Chaplin. Vevey is known for its outdoor market on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. Buy a glass of wine, listen to brass bands + Swiss folk music, and watch traditional craftsmen at work in the market.
Eats + Drinks
It is easy to indulge/overindulge in Switzerland. Everywhere you turn there are places to try raclette, fondue, truffles, sausages, chocolate of every variety, wine and pastries. We were surprised by all the international restaurants but I guess it makes sense with Geneva being such an international hub for the UN and where it is located geographically. Like always, we relied on Happy Cow to find good gluten-free options and local coffee joints.
Geneva was such an unexpected surprise.
There were so many fun things to see and history to learn. We brought home the best souvenirs — fine Swiss chocolates, an antique clock for our mantle and Santa mugs from our mulled wine at the Christmas market.
Have you traveled to other countries during the holidays?
We hope you are enjoying a lovely holiday season celebrating with friends and loved ones, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Blessings and peace as you begin 2017!