Geneva is a great base from which to explore Switzerland and is one of the greenest cities in Europe with over 20 parks. You can easily reach the nearby ski slopes or simply spend time exploring the city and surrounding area. Here are our our top tips on what to do in Geneva, Switzerland.
What to Do in Geneva, Switzerland
Did you know that Geneva isn’t just a city, but also the capital of the canton of Geneva. This French speaking region of Switzerland hosts over 900 international companies and is famous for its lake.
Geneva is a great city break destination. It’s compact size makes it easy to get around and there are lots of interesting things to do in Geneva.
This Swiss city is a lot more affordable than you might think, with free public transport for those staying in a hotel overnight and lots of museums that are free to enter. The Geneva Pass gives discounts, free offers and surprise gifts at over 40 Geneva attractions.
1 – Carouge
This picturesque suburb of Geneva is a nice place to come to on Wednesdays and Saturdays when the bi-weekly market takes place. The buildings here are all low rise and many are in the Mediterranean style.
There’s an arthouse cinema and a street with colorful umbrellas suspended in the sky. It’s one of the most Instagrammable places in Geneva.
On the date of our visit, they had temporarily replaced the umbrellas with Japanese paper koi carp in honor of an upcoming festival. You can easily take bus number 11 or tramline 12 from Geneva to Carouge.
2 – Chocolate Tour
For a fun way to explore the city, don’t miss the Chocolate Flavours Tour. It’s run by Local Flavours Tours, who know the best Geneva chocolatiers. Their friendly and knowledgeable guides will share many anecdotes with you.
From the history of Swiss chocolate to the local tradition of breaking a chocolate cauldron, you’ll learn a lot. Many of the chocolate shops in Geneva have been in business for hundreds of years and are still family owned.
They each have their own specialty, and you’ll taste chocolate fondue, truffles and ganaches on this fun Geneva tour. There’s also a boat ride across the lake included.
3 – Geneva Old Town
The largest old town in Switzerland, the Vieille Ville of Geneva has some interesting landmarks. There are many quaint cobbled streets with picturesque buildings such as this bookshop.
Next to the Arsenal on Rue de l’Hotel de Ville, is Geneva Town Hall or Etat de Ville. Currently being renovated, this 15th century building has a magnificent paved ramp.
The ramp was built between 1555 and 1578 and gave access to the upper floors on foot or on horseback. In the Alabama Room, the first Geneva Convention was signed in 1864, founding the International Red Cross.
4 – Longest Bench in the World
Close to the Town Hall, you’ll find the Promenade de la Treille, a small park with an old chestnut tree. Since 1818, an official records the first bud on this tree, as it signifies that Spring has arrived.
Next to it, the Banc de la Treille is considered to be the longest wooden bench in the world. It is 120 meters long and boasts sweeping views of Geneva city centre.
5 – Old Arsenal
A few minutes away from the cathedral on Grand-Rue, you’ll find the Arsenal. This arms store was built in the 17th century and used to store military weapons up to 1877.
There are still some cannons outside, although now they’re purely decorative. On this spot each year in mid December, Geneva celebrates the Escalade Festival.
In 1602, The Duke of Savoy’s invasion was defeated by Mère Royaume, who threw a cauldron of soup onto the heads of the Savoy soldiers. The event is commemorated by chcolate cauldrons filled with marzipan vegetables, that are broken open by the youngest and wisest festival participants.
6 – Place du Bourg-de-Four
This lively square is the oldest in Geneva. Lined with cafes and restaurants, it was once a Roman forum.
7 – Reformation Wall
One of the most well known Geneva landmarks, Reformation Wall can be found in the Parc des Bastions on the edge of the Old Town. Dating from 1909, it is a striking monument to the Reformation’s founding figures: John Calvin, Theodore Beza, William Farel and John Knox.
8 – St Pierre Cathedral
The Old Town Cathedral is an imposing building on Place du Bourg-de-Four. Construction of St Pierre Cathedral started in around 1160 but the monument has undergone many modifications since then.
It has also changed from being a Roman Catholic building to a Reformed Protestant Church. During the Reformation, the Cathedrale St Pierre was the church where John Calvin was based. He was a French reformer who became a theological reformer in Geneva.
Climb 157 steps up the church towers for far reaching views of Geneva Lake and le Jet d’Eau.
9 – Palais des Nations
Geneva hosts the largest number of international organizations in the world. One of the most famous is the Palais des Nations, home to the United Nations Office in Parc de l’Ariana.
Over 100,000 visitors tour the Palais des Nations each year. The one hour tours are available in over 15 languages if you book in advance.
The visits include different rooms depending on the meetings schedule of the United Nations. This may include The Assembly Hall, The Council Chamber where many historic negotiations have taken place and The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room.
10 – Broken Chair
The Broken Chair commemorates the victims of landmines worldwide. Created by Swiss artist Daniel Berset and the carpenter Louis Genève, it stands 12 metres high.
In front of the statue there are fountains which you can walk through and surprisingly not get wet if you time it well.
11 – Geneva Botanical Garden
Another free Geneva attraction, the botanical gardens are beautifully maintained. Located on Chemin de l’Impératrice, they house over 16,000 different plants.
The Conservatory and Botanical Garden is one of the most popular photo spots in Geneva. It was created in 1817 and is spread over 28 hectares.
12 – International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent
This interactive museum tells the story of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. Situated on Avenue de la Paix, close to the United Nations, it’s an imposing building that was renovated in 2013.
The museum has three themed areas, Defending human dignity, Reconstructing family links and Reducing natural risks. In the Chamber of Witnesses, 12 holograms bring the Humanitarian Adventure exhibit to life.
13 – Musée Ariana
This beautiful 19th century museum is located in the peaceful international district, close to the United Nations. Also known as the Musée Suisse de la Céramique et du Verre, it showcases 27,000 ceramic artworks.
The museum interior is as spectacular as the exterior. Spread over 3 stories, Musee Ariana has a vaulted Grand Hall and impressive pillars.
Admission to the permanent collection is free, while for the temporary exhibitions the cost is 8 CHF per adult, 6 CHF for senior citizens and students and free for those under 18 years old or upon presentation of the Geneva Pass.
Musée Ariana is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm and closed on Monday.
14 – Lake Geneva
This is the largest lake in Central Europe, spread between France and Switzerland. At 580 square kilometers, Lake Geneva is also the biggest lake in Switzerland.
The Genevois, as the inhabitants of Geneva are known, make the most of the lake at every opportunity. There are several beaches and lidos that are popular in Summertime.
You can also cycle and walk around many sections of the lake, or hire a pedal boat or kayak. Another great way to see the area is to go on a river cruise of Lake Geneva.
15 – Bain Bleu
For a truly relaxing experience, head to Bain Bleu Hammam & Spa on Quai de Cologny. The contemporary building has panoramic views of Lake Geneva and is spread over 3,000 m2.
Inspired by Oriental traditions, the spa has a sense of mystery with alcoves, stylish lighting and shadow play. On the ground floor you’ll find the changing rooms, a relaxation pool and massage treatment rooms.
Head up a floor to the steam room and to the roof terrace for the bar and outdoor spa pool. Enjoy the massage jets, Bistro Lounge and 360° views of Lake Leman, Lake Geneva’s other name.
We highly recommend the hammam circuit too. You start in a steam room which opens your pores before progressing to the scrub room.
Rub your body with the Oriental black soap and glove before heading into the relaxation area. There’s a large dipping pool and hot stone paved area where you can stretch out.
Another warmer steam room awaits before the final space, a Moroccan cafe with herbal teas and a relaxation area with daybeds. We guarantee that you’ll leave feeling on top of the world.
16 – Bains des Pâquis
This popular Geneva lido on Quai du Mont-Blanc transforms into a sauna in the Winter. There’s a hammam and Turkish baths as well as the Buvette des Bains restaurant.
17 – Brunswick Monument
This mausoleum was built in 1879 for Charles II, the Duke of Brunswick. He left his fortune to the city of Geneva in return for the construction of this lakeside monument.
The Duke specified that his mausoleum must be a replica of the Scaliger Tombs in Verona, Italy. Behind the Brunswick Monument, there’s a charming cafe and fountains.
18 – Dinner Cruise on a Belle Epoque Boat
One of the most fun dining experiences in Geneva is to take an evening cruise on board a Belle Epoque paddle steamboat. Le Savoie was built in 1914 and fully restored in 2006.
The original steam engine has been retained and a new cost-efficient boiler was installed. What’s unusual about this riverboat is that passengers can watch the ship’s staff and the machinery in operation from the deck above.
The Lake Geneva river cruise is three hours long, giving ample time to enjoy dinner and to take photos from the rear deck. Come with an appetite to take full advantage of the four course Chef’s Table dinner. Standout dishes include seabass with seasonal vegetables and apple tarte tatin with a Calvados coulis.
19 – Eaux-Vives Beach
A new Geneva attraction, the beach at Eaux-Vives opened in June 2019. From next year, there will be food trucks as well as a restaurant at the site.
20 – Ferris Wheel
Whether you’re with kids or you’re a big kid yourself, the Ferris Wheel is a fun thing to do in Geneva. You’ll have a great view of the Water Fountain as you glide 50 metres in the air.
The Geneva Ferris Wheel is located close to the Floral Clock. It has 36 cabins and runs every day from the beginning of June up to the end of September.
21 – Geneva Water Fountain
Probably the most iconic Geneva landmark is the Water Fountain. Known as the Jet d’Eau, this impressive sight is the world’s tallest water fountain.
The water jet reaches 140 meters high, and is turned on by a caretaker each day. If the weather is stormy, the fountain won’t always be switched on as it might drench everything around it.
Did you know that Geneva’s jet was originally created to release pressure from a hydraulic pumping system. These days its purely decorative and disperses 500 litres of water per second.
22 – Jardin Anglais
Translating as the English Garden, this Geneva park at Quai du Général-Guisan is famous for its floral clock. The garden itself dates from 1855 and the Flower Clock was unveiled in 1955.
The park is spread over 25,000 square metres and is modelled on an English landscaped garden. The flowers in the clock vary depending on the seasons but it’s always an attractive sight. As you would expect for Switzerland, the time is always right on this clock!
23 – Parc de La Perle du Lac
One of the most scenic green spaces in Geneva is the Parc de La Perle du Lac. Popular with walkers and runners, it can be found at Rue de Lausanne on the lakeside.
Within the park, you’ll find the Villa Bartholoni, which houses the Musée d’histoire des sciences. Like many of the museums in Geneva, it is free to enter.
Inside there are some interesting displays of astronomical objects on the ground floor and a fun interactive display on the first floor. In Summertime, Geneva municipality runs a pop up cafe outside, La Barje.
24 – Patek Philippe Museum
Swiss watches are famous worldwide for their precision and stylish designs. One of the most famous Swiss watch brands is Patek Philippe.
Located in a restored Art Deco building on Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers, the Patek Philippe Museum tells the story of the brand and of watchmaking over 5 centuries.
There are more than 2000 exhibits, as well as a library with over 8000 publications about time.
25 – Pop up Terraces
There are quite a few Summer pop up bars where you can relax by the lakeside in Geneva. Some of the most popular are:
- Bronzette – this relaxed bar on Quai Marchand is right by the water’s edge. Enjoy a cheese raclette or roast chicken while you soak up the sun. They also have yoga classes and live music here. Open until 15 September.
- La Barje – a local association that organizes several Geneva pop-up bars, including La Barje des Lavandières, a colorful caravan on the Promenade des Lavandières, and Les Sciences at the Science Museum. Open from mid May until September.
- L’Escale – with a games area, this popular pop-up bar on Quai Gustave-Ador is run by locals aged between 15 and 25 and is open from end of June to beginning of September.
Where to Eat in Geneva
There are all kinds of restaurants in Geneva, from fine dining to casual brunch places. Here are a few of our favorites:
- La Potiniere – this restaurant has a fantastic location within the Jardin Anglais on the banks of Lake Geneva. On Tuesdays and Thursdays you can enjoy live music here.
- Marcel – an informal brunch spot on Rue des Eaux-Vives – try the meatball salad or truffled quesadilla with fontina cheese.
- Cottage Cafe – on a sunny day, there’s nowhere more charming than this former gardener’s cottage next to the Brunswick Monument fountains on Rue Adhemar Fabri. Enjoy the views of the lake and the goat’s cheese salad.
- Edelweiss – famous for its quirky Swiss decor, food and traditional entertainment including yodelling.
- Trilby Restaurant – located inside Hotel N’vY on Rue de Richemont, Trilby specializes in fresh, regional Swiss food in a contemporary ambiance. Try the seabass tartare and the grilled tuna fillet with piperade vegetables.
Where to Stay in Geneva
There are quite a few 4 and 5 star hotels in Geneva city centre. Hotel N’vY is centrally located on Rue Richemond, just 10 minutes walk from Geneva train station.
This stylish Geneva hotel has a contemporary vibe, with many artworks and colorful touches. In the spacious bedrooms there is Philips Hue ambiant lighting, Bluetooth connectivity and sound systems as well as luxurious Etro toiletries.
Relax in N’vY Bar, Tag’s Café and Trilby Restaurant and admire the artworks by Bruno Catalano, Triny Prada and Mr. Brainwash. A collection of electric guitars adds to the eclectic ambiance.
Getting to Geneva
Most international airlines fly to Geneva, including British Airways, easyJet and Swiss. It’s also easy to reach the city by train, as Geneva is a major transport hub.
Getting Around Geneva
You can easily get to Geneva city centre from the airport. There’s a train station right next to Geneva airport which goes direct to Gare Cornavin.
The journey time is only 6 minutes and the distance is 4 kilometers. There’s also a bus which departs from in front of the airport and takes 20 minutes.
What’s best is that transport to and from the airport and around Geneva is free if you’re staying in a hotel. The Geneva Transport Card gives unlimited free travel for the duration of your stay on buses, trains, trams and taxi-boats known as Mouettes.
Taxis are also widely available, and you can even rent an electric boat to get around. Geneva is a fairly compact city that also lends itself well to walking.
Have you ever been to Geneva? Read all our Switzerland travel tips here.
Like this Geneva travel guide? Pin for later or share with friends
Thanks to Hotel N’vY and Geneva Tourism for their hospitality
This post contains affiliate links
Published at Sat, 01 Aug 2020 22:53:54 +0000