Geneva, home to Europe’s largest Alpine Lake, is a smart, cosmopolitan city which is constantly mistaken for being the capital of Switzerland. It’s where the headquarters of the World Trade Organisation, World Health Organisation, International Committee of the Red Cross, the second-largest branches of the United Nations and World Bank are. There are luxury hotels, boutiques, jewellers, restaurants and chocolatiers too.
Dive beneath this shiny facade and there’s a fascinating city to explore with neighbourhood bars and cafes, the nearby mountains and more to discover. If you’re planning a trip to this popular Swiss city then here are some of the best things to do in Geneva.
1. Spend time at Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva is the biggest Alpine lakes in Europe. Come summer, the beaches are full of people relaxing. There are yachters, rowers and water skiers braving the cool waters and it’s generally the place to be. However, even in winter it’s worth taking a stroll around Lake Geneva’s shore.
2. Climb the Salève
Geneva’s local mountain is Mount Salève and it’s home to some of the best views of the city. It’s quite an easy hike (about 1 to 2 hours long) and is a great way to work off all that fondue! If you prefer the quicker, even easier route then opt for the cable car from Veyrier.
3. Get to know the Palais des Nations
Home to The United Nations, you can explore The Palais des Nations on a guided tour. On the tour you’ll learn about the history of the United Nations and how the organisation has helped shape the world we live in today.
4. Get science-y at CERN
Just on the outskirts of Geneva is CERN and the 27km ring of the Large Hadron Collider. If you time your visit right (when the collider isn’t on) you may get to step inside. However, when you can’t go inside there’s also the Microcosm and the CERN Laboratory. Here you can learn about how the scientists working there are trying to crack the secrets of our universe.
5. Watch the Jet d’Eau
It’s pretty difficult NOT to see the Jet d’Eau on your trip to Geneva. It shoots water from Lake Geneva 140m into the air, you can apparently see it from way up on Mt Salève too!
Eat fondue at Bains des Pâquis
Bains des Pâquis is one of the most popular beaches in Switzerland during the summer but, from September to April restaurant La Buvette de Bains draws crowds thanks to its fondue. They also do a fondue au cremant (sparkling wine fondue) which is worth a try. It’s hard to beat the atmosphere here while you gorge on cheesy goodness.
6. Explore Vieille Ville
Geneva’s old town is a beautiful maze of narrow and hilly streets. Start your exploration off at Place du Bourg-de-Four. This is the oldest place in Geneva and is now full of cafés and shops. Take any street and wander around the old town for a morning or afternoon. Getting lost is half the fun!
7. Explore the fleamarket of Plainpalais
Every Wednesday and Saturday at Plainpalais square you can browse Geneva’s massive flea market. There’s everything from furniture to war memorabilia and all sorts in between.
8. Window shop the luxury boutiques
You’ll find many designer brands and jewellery in Geneva. Rue du Rhone is where the biggest designer brands can be found. Alternatively head to just Rue de la Croix d’Or for more affordable (but still pricey) shops and department stores.
9. Explore the Italian side of Geneva in Carouge
The area of Carouge was constructed in the 18th century by Italian architects and began life as a separate town to Geneva. It feels very different from the centre of Geneva with a more Mediterranean looks and feel. There are some great cafes, bars and shops to explore here so it’s worth spending a day exploring.
10. Find calm in Parc Alfred Bertrand
Parc Alfred Bertrand is a quiter park option than Jardin à l’Anglaise. It’s been open since 1940 and is a pretty place to relax after exploring nearby. If you visit on a Thursday there’s a little market right next to the park.
11. The Russian Church of Geneva
The Russian Church of Geneva is a bit of a hidden gem. It’s got huge golden domes and offers an insight into the Russian community of the city. It was built in 1859 and is steeped in history.
12. Pointe de la Jonction
Sure, the main water feature is the Jet d’eau, but Pointe de la Jonction deserves a mention too. This green spot is where the locals head to during the summer.
There are deck chairs, a bar and fewer people too. It’s also interesting because of its location: it’s right at the confluence of the Rhone and Arve rivers.
These two rivers are a different colour which makes a super interesting two toned river at this point.
Locals in France and French Switzerland fully embrace the tradition of apéro; that’s an early evening drink. Head to Qu’Importe in Carouge and work your way through their extensive range of French, Italian and local wines during your stay in Geneva. There are also some great cocktails and beers with delicious tapas to complement your drinks.
14. Les Enfants Terribles
Les Enfants Terribles is a wine bar, interior design store, a hair salon and is sometimes used for concerts and shows! Definitely check it out and make sure to try one of their delicious juices or homemade quiches.
15. Shop for Swiss chocolate
Bit of a chocoholic? Even if you’re not you know you can’t come to Switzerland without trying their world-famous chocolate! Browse Geneva’s high quality chocolate shops such as Chocolat Auer who have been churning out delicious truffles since 1820.
16. St. Pierre Cathedral
On your way through the Old Town, stop off at St. Pierre, Geneva’s cathedral. The building dates from the 11th century and entry is free. However, if you want to enjoy the views from the tower you’ll need to pay 5 Swiss Francs and 8 more to explore the archaeological excavations below the cathedral.
17. Parc des Bastions
There are many nice parks in Geneva but if you’d like to play a spot of chess in the open air then head to Parc des Bastions. There are several giant chess games here and even if don’t play it can be fun to watch others doing so.
18. Reformation Wall
On one side of Parc des Bastions is the Reformation Wall. This was built into the old city walls to celebrate John Calvin’s 400th birthday in 1909. It’s the Protestant Reformation in a large type, with huge relief statues of the key figures of the radical religious movement from William Farel to Oliver Cromwell. Look out for the carving of renowned Scottish Calvinist John Knox, preaching from his Edinburgh pulpit.
19. Jardin Anglais
This pretty stretch of grass and woodland on Quai Gustave Ador has several features, including a floral clock (L’horloge fleurie). The flowers are planted with interlocking circular flower beds representing Geneva’s connection to watch-making.
20. Cruise Lake Geneva
There are plenty of boat tours that leave from one of Geneva’s four docks at Pâquis, Mont-Blanc, Jardin-Anglais and Eaux-Vives. One of the best views comes by taking a cruise towards the upper eastern portion of the lake.
21. The first Red Cross
You’ve surely heard of The Red Cross; the international humanitarian movement with over 97 million volunteers, members and staff worldwide. In Geneva you can see the very first Red Cross building and visit the museum, which takes a look into the history of humanitarian action.
22. Explore Quartier Carouge
Before 1816, this quarter just south of the Vieille Ville was a separate town. It has colourful buildings and is a charming place to wander around thanks to the leisurely ambience. Carouge has many artisan shops, vintage boutiques, antiques dealers and a market at Place de Marchéon on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Geneva’s main flea and farmers’ market trades on Wednesdays and Saturdays, as well as the first Sunday of the month. There are seemingly hundreds of stalls selling furniture, antiques, books, jewellery, homeware and more.
24. Parc de la Grange
The largest of Geneva’s city parks is Parc de la Grange. There are two theatres in Parc de la Grange which are in action from May to September and they are worth visiting if you’re visiting Geneva in summer.
25. Quartier des grottes
Around 10% of all Genevans live in this neighbourhood near the centre. This area is chaotic, young and bohemian and is almost the opposite of what you expect when you think ‘Geneva’. Explore Les Grottes for cafes, theatres, cinemas, left-field independent shops and colourful buildings.
26. Chez ma cousine
This student institution has the strap line ‘On y mange du poulet’ (we eat chicken). Go here for big portions of chicken, potatoes and salad at an incredible price.
If you’re in Geneva in the summer be sure to check out CineTransit. During this event you can watch a movie for free in Parc de la Perle du Lac.
28. Fêtes de Genève
Geneva’s longest running festival takes place for 10 days in August. Fêtes de Genève features pop-up restaurants and hosts more than 200 concerts, activities and parties. The final night sees a spectacular fireworks display by the lake.
Geneva’s biggest festival takes place in the second week of December. It’s lots of fun and involves plenty of sweet marzipan-filled marmites en chocolat (chocolate cauldrons). Torchlit processions light up the Vieille Ville and a bonfire is lit in the cathedral square to celebrate the defeat of Savoy troops in 1602.
How to get to Geneva
You can often find cheap flights using Skyscanner from London to Geneva. Alternatively, catch the Eurostar and then take the TGV for a more scenic route.