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Surviving the Swiss Prices: 3 Tips for Affordable Meals in Geneva

Sharan Sekhon
July 20, 2022

Switzerland is known to be one of the most expensive places in the world. No one quite prepares you for just how expensive it truly is, though. I am privileged to have gotten scholarships to help me pay for baseline expenses like tuition, but at the end of the day, you have to eat more than hostel breakfast if you’re going to have a meaningful and successful dialogue experience!

We are staying at the youth hostel here in Geneva, which, although does have a shared kitchen, is in a different building than our rooms and is not ideal to rely on. Also, you have very busy days and likely will not have time to utilize it. Here’s what I’ve picked up in the last two weeks on how to ensure I’m fed and am satisfied and fulfilling my nutritional needs despite this!

Tip 1: Grocery Stores are Your Friends

The main issue in managing expenses is food. A typical restaurant meal will be about 23-25CHF (~24-26USD) plus about 5CHF(~6USD) for a soft drink, sometimes more! If you’re eating at a restaurant for both lunch and dinner, that can cost 60CHF(~62USD) a day! Other things, like souvenirs and gifts, are things you can compromise on, but you have to eat. That’s a non-negotiable! So, do not get carried away. Plan for a couple of nice meals at restaurants over the month, but for daily meals, a much better idea is getting prepared food from a grocery store and picnicking by the lake!

There are two chains of grocery stores that are common here: Coop and Migros. Both places have prepared foods like salads, poke bowls, wraps, and sandwiches, but also hot meals like soup and rotisserie chicken! These meals’ prices usually hover around 7CHF and are large enough to fill you up, but on occasion, the sandwiches are large enough to even split them with someone.

If you’re grabbing dinner on your way home, it’s nice to grab a microwave meal sometimes if you want something like lasagna or just for a change of pace. I have found microwave meals for as cheap as 3.50 CHF.

As American students, we think of fast food as a “cheap” option. Not here! Here, a Burger King medium fries is 5.40CHF, and it’s a smaller portion than we’re used to! So, stick to grocery stores and corner stores for more affordable options. I found a large corner store nearby the hostel, which has a great inventory with lots of different snacks from lots of different places for reasonable prices. That being said, snacks are awfully expensive…don’t buy pringles…you can get through a month without pringles. However, granola bars are great to have on hand during long days. You can get a pack of 6 for about 4CHF from the grocery, which is slightly cheaper than the vending machines.

Tip 2: Wander Further Inland from the Lake

Typically, prices on the lake are going to be higher! If you wander further in, often closer to the main train station: Cornavin Gare, prices are lower. For example, on the lake, you may pay upwards of 15CHF for a sandwich, whereas further inland, a few blocks, you can find a Lebanese place with sandwiches for 7CHF. Also! Going further inland is exciting as you get to explore other neighborhoods. If you cross the lake from the hostel (with the transport card from the hostel, you can use the mouettes free of charge), reach a more residential neighborhood, and find cafés and restaurants with more reasonable prices. You can also stumble upon open-air markets where lunch is usually much cheaper than a sit-down place. However, I have noticed that fresh fruits are expensive at these markets, so try to grab an orange from the hostel or stick to the grocery store sales for fruit.

In Old Town, Panini Fabrizio, a food truck, is on Wednesdays and Saturdays, where a panini is 10CHF. It is Professor Garcia’s recommendation so check it out! Other than that, though, Old Town is a bit pricier. If you walk about ten minutes from Old Town, you can find cheaper and more “local” places to eat.

Tip 3: Takeaway, Takeaway, Takeaway

Takeaway food is cheaper than if you sit in a restaurant here. Just last night, I chose to order my pizza for takeaway, and it was 12CHF; if I had chosen to sit there, it would have been 17CHF! Also, another good thing about eating nearby the train station is that there are a lot of takeaway places. You can get sandwiches, shawarma, and even pasta for about 10CHF. Takeaway places don’t always provide cutlery, so try to remember a set of cutlery for when you pack!

Another advantage of takeaway is that you get to eat by the lake where it’s cooler. Not many places are air-conditioned here, and eating in a stuffy restaurant can be uncomfortable after having spent all day in formal business clothes. If you get takeaway, you are not only controlling your budget, but you can also find a cool place to enjoy your meal.

Bonus tip:

While grocery stores are a great option, keep in mind to take advantage of where you are! You’ll have a UN badge if you’re on the Geneva dialogue. When you’re at the UN, there is a café with sandwiches for around 5CHF and yogurts and pastries. Also, the UN cafeteria is cheaper than most restaurants, and you can get a large meal for around 15CHF. It’s reasonably priced with generous portions from which you can pack leftovers for dinner! The UN even has vending machines where you can get coffees for as low as .60CHF! Some days when I’m tired of the hostel breakfast, I have gotten a vending machine waffle for 1.80CHF and a coffee for .70CHF.

At the end of the day, it’s about making sure you’re fed! If you meet some locals, they can usually point you in the direction of a more affordable dinner as well! If you have more specific questions, email me at [email protected]

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