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Alps, Chamonix, Switzerland, & France Arrival Tips

Posted Sunday, June 9, 2024

Arriving in Chamonix, views like this will reward you.

The GVA Visitors Center is just across from where you depart from baggage claim.

To the left of the Visitors Center, near a photo booth, you'll find the purple box that dispenses wifi codes. If you can't get one there, go to the Visitors Center.

As of June 2024 this is where most shuttles, except Swiss Tours, meet--next to the Montreux Jazz Cafe.

As of June 2024, this is where the Swiss Tours shuttles depart.

Sometimes in alpinism, the crux of a climb is getting to the climb. Fortunately, the Geneva airport is pretty manageable and with Chamonix only about 1h30m away, that's really not the case with climbing in the French and Italian Alps. That said, there are some ways to make this part of the approach smoother, so read on for some tips.

The Geneva (GVA) Airport

Unlike London, Paris, and other airports, Geneva isn't a hub for much other travel. As such, the place is pleasantly low-key. As with any international travel, you'll first have to go through Immigration—the lines are generally pretty manageable regardless of whether you're an EU passport holder or not. After that, you'll find yourself at baggage claim. If you've got a ski bag or other large luggage, you'll likely find it at Carousel #8. Look for any other bags at the designated carousels nearby. It may also be helpful to know that you are in Terminal 1 and on Floor -1 (negative one). 

If you've got a lot of bags, the good news is that the bag carts are free...the bad news is that you need a 2CHF (Swiss Franc) or 2€ coin in order to unlock them. Of course, that could be hard to come by if this is your first visit! But save one alongside your passport on your way back home. After a first visit to Chamonix, one is always already planning the next!

After heading into the arrivals, spot the photo booth directly in front of you. To the left of it, you'll see a little purple kiosk. Using your boarding pass, you can access free wifi using a code from the kiosk. To the right of all of this, you'll find the yellow-signed GVA Visitors Center, for any questions you've got.

Getting a Shuttle from GVA to Chamonix

You definitely should buy your shuttle ticket in advance, as they do fill up during high season. There are a variety of options, the most common bus/booking agents being Swiss Tours, EasyBus, AlpyBus, and FlixBus. They all cost somewhere in the 20-30€ range, so it's mainly just a matter of finding the time that best suits you. That said, one limitation I've experienced with Swiss Tours is that there's a 50€ charge for changing your ticket if your flight arrives late. So it's either ~25 Euro for a new ticket or 50€ to change the one you have...a rather absurd proposition! As far as scheduling your shuttle goes, if you're new to GVA, I'd suggest a shuttle time 1.5 hours after arrival. 

Shuttle meeting areas are likely to shift around over time, but as of Spring 2024, to get to the the Swiss Tours shuttle spot, go out the main doors to the looker's left of the purple wifi box, walk across two lanes of traffic, then two more and you'll arrive at the “Coach Station”, where your shuttle will arrive. For all the others that I'm aware of, go to the looker's right of the Visitors Center, towards the Montreux Jazz Cafe, and then look for the shuttle station on the left. All of these shuttles will bring you to the Chamonix Sud Bus Arrival Area.

It is also possible to book private shuttles. Some of the more common ones are Mountain Drop-offs, GVATransfers, and AlpyTransfer. And, while it is possible to take a train from GVA to Chamonix, this is not frequently done and is not recommended, as it involves numerous transfers and takes longer than the shuttles.

Airport Food & Other Options

Now that you've got your shuttle situation dialed, if you've got some extra time, you'd probably like to find some food. The first thing you'll notice about Swiss airport food is that it makes US airport food prices look the deal of the century. For a much better deal, go to the Visitors Center and ask for the directions to “Migros” (pronounced “Me-grow) Supermarket. If you were lucky enough to nab a baggage cart, it's an easy 7 minute walk. You can find the directions here. Basically, just go looker's left of the main exit doors for a few minutes and you'll hit an indoor shopping mall area—Migros is at the end of that hallway and it's got a variety of sandwiches and salads at reasonable prices. 

Airport Showers(!)

This is probably more of an option to keep in mind for your departure than for your arrival, but GVA offers showers! They currently cost 15CHF, which includes a towel, which could be well worth the price if you plan to go climbing your last day in Chamonix, before catching an evening flight. Inquire at the GVA Visitors Center for the details. The showers are located to the looker's right of Montreux Jazz Cafe.

Car Rental Considerations

Like any other major airport, there's a plethora of car rental options at the airport. However, remember that the GVA airport spans the border between Switzerland and France. Often, you'll find that the agencies operating in France offer more competitive pricing, though it can involve a bit of walking—tough to do with big bags.

Another strategy is to take the shuttle to Chamonix and then take the train down the valley to rent a car. One odd thing about some of the European supermarket chains is that they also serve as car rental sites. In Sallanches, there's a “Carrefour” Supermarket that offers very competitive daily rates; although getting to Sallanches can be a bit challenging via public transport. “Super U” is another supermarket chain that offers car rentals. You can visit their website to explore current options in the Chamonix vicinity.  

All that said, keep in mind that one of the truly stunning and unique aspects of adventuring in Chamonix is just how accessible so many things are right out your front door or with a little bus bump. While a car can broaden your options up valley from Chamonix and make it easier to access some of the options on the Italian side, it's certainly not a necessity.

Overnighting Around Geneva

Geneva, with all its history alongside its role as a modern hub for finance and international organizations, makes a great rain or rest day option from Chamonix. But you also might decide to stay there upon arrival, just to ease the jet-lag and arrival day hassles. If you do decide to check out Geneva, remember again that Geneva is surrounded by France, and you'll generally find more economical lodging options in France. Some of those options offer shuttles, but some of those options will require a car.


With this helpful road map for navigating around the Geneva Airport, you'll soon be on your way to “The World Capital of Alpinism”—Chamonix, France!