Geneva is a city that has many a different reputation. Whether it be ‘International Political
Powerhouse’ or ‘A City of Swiss Efficiency’, Geneva certainly holds charm and interest in many
I began my journey in Geneva in September 2021, and after arriving to an unexpectedly hot sunshine
with my mum who accompanied me for the first week I went straight to my first home in
Switzerland: the very surprisingly named hotel ‘Hotel Suisse’. This hotel’s proximity to Gare
Cornavain and to the Lac de Genève, made it an ideal way to first experience the city, with
everything I needed within easy reach.
I took a train from Gare Cornavain to Vernier where there is an excellent IKEA. One thing that is certainly true about Geneva is that is a rather expensive city, however, there are cheap ways to navigate it. Going to IKEA to buy your cooking utensils, bed sheets, or even a cheap plant to make
your residence cosier is a much more cost effective way than going to the closest department store
(although they do have their own gems too). The food at IKEA whilst being delicious is also a
economical way to eat in the city, I must admit that on several occasions my friends and I took a trip
to IKEA solely to have lunch or dinner there. What can I say? The meatballs were worth it.
Travel within Geneva will ruin you for all other cities, it is incredibly easy and efficient, even for the
most directionally challenged of us to navigate. During my first week I went to the TPG office at Gare
Cornavain to get my Pass Suisse, the process involves: choosing your plan, giving your details such as
email and phone number and getting an ID photo taken. There are several options available,
however I would personally recommend the one for just the Geneva zone, as this will get you all
around the city. It applies to trains, trams, buses and my personal favourite: les mouettes (the
famous water taxis which ferry you across the lake – giving gorgeous views and adorable vibes).
There is also an option for the Léman Pass which takes you across the French border. This is a good
option if you choose to live in one of the towns on the french border such as Annemasse, as it will
allow you to freely cross over to Geneva whenever you want. However, if you decide to reside in Geneva there is not much value as whenever you want to go to France you can either pay a couple
of francs for a ticket or you can travel all the way to the border on your normal ticket, get off the
stop before France and literally walk across the border. Fear not, no passports or checks are required
With regards to accommodation, there are several cost effective ways to go about it. One of the
main reasons people choose not to go to Geneva is because they believe it will be unaffordable to
live there on a student budget. As I and my fellow exchange friends can attest – it certainly can be
Many live over the border in France where accommodation, amenities and groceries are cheaper,
it’s about a 40 minute tram journey from Annemasse to Uni Mail (the main University of Geneva
building – if that’s where you choose to study). Annemasse itself is a cute little town with lots of
shops, restaurants and bars. Just beware that if you choose to live there that you will need a French
visa instead of the Swiss Residence Permit.
Some take advantage of home stay programmes, in which you stay for free with a Swiss family, the
condition often being that you speak English to their children to help them practise. However, this all
depends on a case by case basis as every host family will have different expectations. It is an
excellent way to practise French, get a real taste of Swiss culture and save money.
The languages in Geneva are also a very interesting factor as Switzerland has three main languages:
German, French and Italian. Which part you are in depends on the language spoken there, for
example: French in Geneva, German in Zurich and Italian in Ticino. However, you will find signs,
translations and speakers of the three languages virtually everywhere, meaning if you want to
practise German or Italian in addition to French you can! I lived with an American, Italian and Swiss
Italian, meaning that I got to learn some Italian, although I would advise you to do as I say and not as
I did and learn more than just the swear words. Geneva is also extremely navegatable for an English
speaker who does not speak French.
A very attractive factor in studying in Geneva is as a student you do not need a visa to live there. You
simply apply for the student residency permit within 2 weeks of arriving, you’ll be allocated an
appointment to go to the OCPM office where they take your details, you pay around 40 CHF and
you’ll be sent your Swiss residency card. This process is far easier and cheaper than getting a visa.
I would be remiss to talk about Switzerland so much without mentioning fondue, a cheese
connoisseur or not Swiss fondue is sure to win your heart. Fondue is easy to find all over the city, but
if you want a truly special experience, I would have to reccommend a trip to Restaurant les Armures,
famously where Hillary and Bill Clinton dined on Fondue.
If you’re coming from the UK, you might be thinking ‘What am I going to do without Nando’s in my
life?’. Well rest assured, I frequented many a time what I like to call the Swiss equivalent to Nando’s
the famous Chez ma Cousine. Relatively cheap for Genevan prices, this restaurant does one thing –
Chicken. Whilst there is not a lot of options on the menu, the delight that simple chicken and potato
wedges can bring during a cold Swiss winter is like no other. This restaunt chain is such a staple of
Geneva that you’re bound to pass one at some point during your stay – and if you resist the
temptation to go in you deserve a medal.
Regarding food, everyone knows you’re never a true local until you go to the supermarket for the
first time and there are several options in Geneva at various price points. The cheapest are Denner
and Lidl, they can be found everywhere and offer the essentials at decent prices. The mid-fancier
range are Coop and Migros, which have more options at slightly higher price points, if you are a
vegan – Migros is going to be your best bet for vegan substitutes. Then there is the love of my life –
Manor, when you shop at Manor, you’re not just getting food – you’re getting an experience. Whilst
this is not really in range of a student budget for frequent shops, if you need speciality items or want
higher quality food, then Manor is your place. Technically a department store, with a food hall to
rival that of M&S, Manor has everything you could ever need – from clothes to stationary to a
bougie picnic lunch, you’ll be sure to find what you need there. My food hall experience was
definitely heightened by being asked out by a self-check out assistant. So if you’re too lazy to cook or
tinder isn’t working out – Manor has your back.
The city itself was an incredible draw to me, the architecture and façades of the buildings are
beautiful and there are many scenic spots to spend your time in Geneva. If you fancy a night of art
and culture, the Grand Théâtre de Genève hosts ballets, operas and plays galore. My flatmates and I
enjoyed a modernised performance of the Nutcracker there around Christmas time. One thing I
would recommend as a must see while you are in Geneva is the UN. The UN has an office in Geneva,
easy to reach at the Nations tram stop, with reasonably priced tickets you can enjoy a guided tour. I
can honestly say that this was one of the highlights of my trip and yes – I did raid the gift shop.
Parc de Bastions is a scenic park near Plainpalais which features the Maison de Langues in which
students of UNIGE can take language courses offered by the university. There is a restaurant/café, in
winter an outdoors ice rink, and giant chess boards free for public use. Parc de la Grange is a large
and beautiful park next to the lake which features hills, trees and a lake view, very pleasant for a
picnic and hanging out with friends. The Jardín Anglais is a green spot next to the lake which is home
to the Wheel, a smaller London eye contraption which allows you to get incredible views of the city.
The Jardín Anglais is also host to food festivals and the christmas market – a market experience that
at can only be described as magical.
The lake itself is an incredible central feature of Geneva with the iconic Jet d’eau. You’ll find bridges
to allow you to cross the river, swans enjoying the lake (far friendlier than in the UK), people hanging
out on the pier by the Jet d’eau and Baby Plage which is a man made beach by the lake. At the start
of my stay when it was hot my friends and I took advantage of the pedalos for hire and swam in the