When I first moved to the UK for my Master’s program, I knew I wanted to travel around Europe whenever I had a break from school as I had never been to mainland Europe before. Once I realized that going back home for the Christmas holidays was too expensive, it became clear that I could use this time to begin my adventures in the EU. After looking at flights on Google Flights for any destination on the mainland, I found an inexpensive flight to Geneva for only $63! I knew that Switzerland was a very safe place to visit – especially for a first-time solo female traveler – and that it is fairly expensive as well. What I was unprepared for was everything that I learned on this trip, especially about myself.
The first thing to know is that, as indicated above, I have never gone on a trip solely on my own. I have traveled by myself before, but I was almost always meeting up with a friend, family member(s), or for a class trip. So the experience of planning my whole itinerary and findings things to do was fairly new to me and I hadn’t thought much about what to see and do in Switzerland besides just going to a new city and exploring on my own.
On my first day of arriving in Switzerland, I landed in Geneva. Walking through the airport, it quickly became apparent to me how much I under-estimated the expensiveness of Switzerland. Granted the airport is usually the most expensive place, but still, I couldn’t justify $25CHF just for a salad. I will let you know that I arrived in Geneva with a friend who is from Lyon, so we went our separate ways at the train station attached to the airport. I was still trying to figure out how to get to my hostel near the center of the city. After spending 20 minutes trying to figure out the best transportation to the city by using Google Maps (side note: Google Maps is super useful but it does have its drawbacks as it does NOT provide all the possible transportation options on it, learned this the hard way several times), and being too scared to ask for help from anyone at the airport service desks, I ordered an Uber which kept driving in circles for 30 minutes. Later I found out that you can take the train to/from the airport to the central train station in Geneva for free.
Eventually, I gave up on Uber and took a taxi from the airport. This provided another set of challenges as the driver only spoke French and I was still practicing my French so I couldn’t communicate well enough with him to provide directions. I showed him the address for my hostel, he didn’t understand so I showed him the next best place which was the Hôtel Président Wilson. He drove me straight to the hotel and grabbed the bellhop to help grab my bag. It soon came to my realization that it was a 5-star hotel with a Michelin star restaurant and I was definitely not somebody who belonged there. It was very embarrassing trying to explain to the bellhop that it was all a mistake and that the driver didn’t understand my directions. I quickly grabbed my bag and hurried off in the direction of my hostel around the corner.
Once I arrived at the Geneva Youth Hostel, I quickly checked in and dropped my bag off in a locker outside the room. From there I decided to walk around the city of Geneva to see if I could find any interesting museums or a Tourism store with brochures of the things to do in Geneva. About 1.5km walk into the city center, there was a Tourism office that provided cute souvenirs of Geneva branded items with a kids section for those with young children to let them color and play. The brochures I found all promoted things to do that required lots of money (I was on a strict budget) and were not very interesting to me. To be fair, as this was my first trip on my own in terms of exploring a new country, I think I was fairly lazy since I wanted to see things (i.e. United Nations Building, Broken Chair sculpture) that were free or low cost and didn’t require lots of walking (jokes on me because I ended up walking EVERYWHERE!). I did quite enjoy the walk to the UN building, as it provided a unique view of the city. It was a LONGGG walk there though, so I would recommend taking a bus or a bike if you aren’t interested in a 30-minute walk up a winding hill.
Once I arrived, I immediately took photos of the Broken Chair statue located in front of the United Nations building. I know looking at a big chair and taking photos seems silly to some people, but I was genuinely impressed with the sculpture and found it intriguing. Once I finished taking photos of the sculpture, I then focused on the UN building. Even looking through the barred gates, seeing the flags of each represented nation in front of the building with the words “United Nations/Nations Unis” had me awestruck. I was so excited to tour the building after only seeing the outside. The gate that is located in front of the flags and behind the sculpture was closed, so I followed a couple in front of me that seemed to be doing the same thing. We walked all the way towards the back half of the building and tried to enter the gates over there. A guard stopped all of us and informed us that the UN building closed December 16 (I arrived several days later) and would not be open until January 6 (WAYYY too late for me). Upset that I had missed the opportunity to tour the UN building, I started heading back down the hill towards my hostel.
As I was walking back, I noticed that you could see the Geneva Water Fountain from more than a mile away! It was really intriguing to see from that far, but even more impressive up close. On my way back, I stopped at a lovely cafe called Le Fix off of the main street towards the UN building. I had a lovely latte and blueberry muffin while I sat and read my book for a little bit.
After sitting for 30 minutes, I continued down into the center of Geneva and began my souvenir shopping for family and friends. I already knew that Switzerland is known for their amazing chocolate so I walked around the city center of Geneva, near the main train station. After looking at several stores, I found one that offered a small sampling box of Swiss chocolate. So I bought 10.
Afterwards, I walked around the city center more and crossed the bridge towards the luxury stores. The stores are gorgeous to look at, especially the window displays! However, as a student, I was too broke to even consider entering a store like that. Instead, I enjoyed the scenery and looked at the Geneva Water Fountain up close.
Later, I walked around the part of town near my hostel looking for a spot to eat dinner. After a few minutes I found a nice burger restaurant with an American theme called The Hamburger Foundation. Eating alone was very new to me and out of my comfort zone, but I figured I’d rather support a local business instead of a chain like McDonalds. The food was amazing, and so was the lemonade! Side note: I only recently discovered that lemonade is different in every country/continent. So to my fellow Americans, if you see “lemonade” on a menu do not expect it to be like what you get in the US.
Eating on my own was a new experience and one that I was worried about doing, mostly because I was self-conscious and worried what others would think. What was nice about having to eat on my own was the overcome my self-consciousness and to enjoy my own company. I brought a book and my phone with me, thinking that I would distract myself with these while eating. Turns out that I ended up enjoying my own company and soaked up the environment around me, along with the fun of people-watching.
Since I was so exhausted from traveling the previous day, I decided to sleep in until 10/10:30am. While that was very relaxing, it turned out that I missed the morning breakfast at my hostel! I decided to explore more of the city, but first I had to visit Starbucks. Once I arrived at Starbucks, I ordered a latte and a muffin.
If you would like to visit the United Nations building in Geneva, click here to see their tour information so you can plan ahead (unlike me, oops!).