.Top 10 Best Things To See and Do in Geneva
by Catherine Mikton
The Most Important Things to See and Do on a Trip to Geneva
If you you’re looking for a weekend away, you may fancy a trip to Geneva, which is only 3 hours travel from Zurich. We contacted Catherine Mikton a resident of Geneva to get the low down on what to do in this French speaking part of Switzerland, and she has come up with a full itinerary of things to see and do in Switzerland’s second largest city. Over to Catherine….
Geneva An International City With Lots To Offer
Geneva has a completely different vibe from the rest of Switzerland. With over 42% of the city’s residents being non-Swiss, it certainly is a very international city. On the surface, it’s all about private banks, exclusive boutiques and fancy hotels, but once you get to know Geneva, you realize that it offers so much more than meets the eye. It is no surprise that it was voted Europe’s leading city break destination by the World Travel Awards a few years ago. Here are some of my top attractions in Geneva that I would recommend visiting, with all the links at the bottom of the page.
1. The Old Town
One of my favourite things to do in Geneva is to meander through the old town and explore the pretty boutiques and galleries here. This is a unique part of town where you will feel like you are wandering around a village, with its narrow cobblestone streets. Few cars are allowed to venture in this part of town, which makes it all the more special. If you want to get a better understanding of what life was like in Geneva in the past, stop off at the Maison Tavel.
This museum, housed in the oldest private residence in Geneva and restored to its former glory, will give you a glimpse of what bourgeois Geneva life was like in the 18th and 19th century.
2. St Peter’s Cathedral
I would really recommend stepping into St Peter’s Cathedral in the heart of the old town. Although it has a rather plain interior, it is an impressive building, built on an archaeological site with treasures dating back to antiquity that can also be visited. When you enter, off to the right, there’s a rather pretty chapel that is worth stepping into. If you aren’t keen on churches then, I’d really recommend climbing up the 157 steps (there is no lift!) to the top of the tower; from here you get the very best views of Geneva and will be able to figure out the layout of the city to make the most of your visit.
3. Reformation Wall and the Parc des Bastions
In the heart of the Parc des Bastions, opposite Geneva’s opera house, you will find the imposing Reformation Wall monument. Here you can view the majestic figures of the reformation leaders: John Calvin, William Farel, Theodore Beza and John Knox. Above the statues is Geneva’s motto: Post Tenebras Lux (Light After Darkness) – always a good reminder that when things get rough, better days are always around the corner! At night, the monument is beautifully lit up. In the summer, the Parc des Bastions is also a lovely park to just relax in. There’s a giant chessboard, which is popular with locals and a pretty café.
4. The Flower Clock and the Water Fountain
Don’t miss out on walking along the lake, take in the flower clock and the Jardin Anglais and the famous Jet d’Eau (water fountain). The flower clock has become a tourist symbol of Geneva since it was first inaugurated in 1955. With its 6500 flowers, it is replanted throughout the year with seasonal plants and, of course, is a guardian of Swiss time-keeping in Geneva!
Just behind the flower clock is the Jardin Anglais, stroll through this park to reach the famous Jet d’Eau, a Geneva symbol. First inaugurated in 1891, this 140-meter high fountain gushes out water at the impressive speed of 200 km/h, pumping 500 liters a second. It runs most of the year, except on very windy days. It is often lit up in different colours at night.
5. The Russian Church
This 19th-Century Russian Orthodox Church, topped with gold onion domes and filled with treasures, is one of my favourite places in Geneva. Inside it features the most beautiful icons from the 16th to the 20th Century as well as treasues from the Russian imperial family.
It was built in the second half of the 19th Century by the many Russians who had come to Geneva to. It underwent a renovation a short while ago and is now as shiny inside as it is from the outside.
6. The United Nations and the Broken Chair
Geneva is also known as the humanitarian city of Switzerland. With 22 international organizations based here and countless NGO’s, it has a truly international feel to it. I would really recommend taking the one-hour guided tour of the United Nations building, the European headquarters of the United Nations and the second largest UN office after New York.
Built between 1926 and 1936, the Palais des Nations as it is called locally, houses some truly amazing conference rooms and works of art. Tours are available in no less than 15 languages.
Standing right opposite the UN, you cannot miss the Broken Chair first inaugurated in 1997. This imposing 12-meter high sculpture of a wooden chair, with a missing leg, was built on the occasion of the signing of the Ottawa Treaty to Ban Landmines and has become a symbol of all the men, women and children who have fallen victim to these silent weapons of war.
7. The International Red Cross Museum
Visit the International Red Cross Museum and its interactive exhibit. This unique museum is a place for reflection; it invites visitors to relive the humanitarian adventure. The exhibitions are articulated around three themes: defending human dignity; restoring family links; and reducing natural risks. Each of the three sections is designed by a different architect and offers a modern and thought-provoking design with some very surprising touches.
The area that really stands out for me is the exhibition on restoring family links. To access this part of the exhibition you have to navigate your way through a narrow, dark passage hung with full heavy metal chains. This is just one of many highly symbolic features you will come across whilst visiting this museum. A visit here will leave you reflecting on on the futility of war and its terrible consequences.
A short tram ride from the city centre, cross the river Arve and discover the very pretty town of Carouge an independent entity with Sardinian roots and a bohemian feel. Wander around the narrow streets and enjoy its quaint artisanal boutiques and artists’ galleries.
Stop off at one of the many tearooms and shady terraces and take time to simply soak up the atmosphere. Wednesdays and Saturdays are market day here. If you are a movie buff, head to the Cinéma Bio where you will be able to escape the inevitable blockbuster and enjoy an independent movie. At night, it becomes a vibrant neighbourhood with its many trendy bars and cosy restaurants. In the winter, it also has one of the prettiest Christmas markets I’ve ever been to.
9. The Patek Philippe Museum
This beautiful museum is housed in a building from the early 20th Century and expands over four floors. As might be expected from a luxury watch brand, the museum is elegant and plush and has over 2000 extraordinary pieces on display dating as far back as 1540. For watch lovers, there is a very impressive collection of Patek Philippe watches, including watches enjoyed by royalty from Queen Victoria to the King of Siam. The Museum also houses important clocks from other makers and has several examples of early clocks that only showed the hour.
Follow the guided tour to get a good overview of the exceptional timepieces on display and to learn all about the history of Swiss watchmaking and Patek Philippe.
10. Bain Bleu Hammam and Spa
If you need some rest and relaxation, then pop your swimming suit in your bag and head over to Bain Bleu, a stone’s throw from the city centre next to Geneva Plage, along the shores of Lake Geneva. This delightful urban Turkish-style offers 3000 m2 of stylish facilities dedicated to rejuvenation; it provides an enchanting escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Designed with a North African theme throughout, it offers a very sleek indoor bath, an incredible 6-step hammam and a very cool rooftop pool, terrace and lounge-café with an indirect view on Lake Geneva and the Jura beyond. All the pools are heated to 35 degrees centigrade. The décor plays on a mixture of incredible textures, ranging from grey concrete to bright turquoise mosaics mixed in with north-African furnishings in hues of deep orange, gold and red. This is a great place to come to at the end of the day to unwind.
Where To Stay
There are lots of great hotels in Geneva. Here are two which we have stayed at and can highly recommend:
Hotel Bristol Geneva – 4 Star Superior
Located very centrally less than 10 minutes walk from the main railway station and just 2 minutes from the Lake, the hotel has recently been renovated and now has a lovely little spa and a gym too. Its restaurant Cote Square has been awarded 16 Gault Millau Points. Very friendly and welcoming.
Address: Rue du Mont-Blanc 10, 1201 Genève
La Réserve Geneva
Located in beautiful parkland a little outside the city centre, this luxury 5 star hotel boasts a magnificent spa and a Michelin Star Chinese Restaurant. They have a private boat to ferry you to the city and back. Very luxurious.
Address: Route de Lausanne 301, 1293 Bellevue
Tel: +41 22 959 59 59
Read all about our stay at La Réserve Geneva here
Practical information & getting around:
- If you are staying in a Geneva hotel you will receive a free public transport card that will give you free access to all the buses, trams and boats.
- A Geneva Pass can be purchased for 1, 2 or 3 days providing discounts, preferential rates and free entry to over 40 of Geneva’s attractions.
- The “Maison Tavel” is open every day except Mondays from 11am to 6pm. Entry is free.
- St Peter’s Cathedral is open from 1 June to 30 September from 9:30am to 6:30pm Monday to Saturday and on Sundays from 12 noon to 6:30pm. From 1st October to 31st May it is open Monday to Saturdays from 10am to 5:30pm and Sundays from 12 noon to 5:30pm. Entry is free and there is a CHF 5 fee to access the tower.
- The United Nations – Tours are available between 10.30am and 12 noon and 2pm and 4pm weekdays. The adult tour fee is CHF 16
- The International Red Cross Museum is open 10am to 6pm April to October and 10am to 5pm November to March. It is close on 24, 25 and 31st December and on 1st of January. The entry fee is Chf 15 for an adult.
- The Patek Philippe Museum is open Tuesdays to Fridays from 2 to 6pm and Saturdays from 10am to 6pm. It is closed on Sundays, Mondays and on national holidays. The entry fee is Chf 10.- for an adult.
- For more information on Parc Des Bastions see here.
- The Bain Bleu Hammam and Spa is open every day from 9am to 9:30pm. On Tuesdays the hammam is reserved exclusively for women. The spa is reserved for adults only from 6pm to 9:30pm every day. The entry fee starts at CHF 35.
- Please note all prices correct at time of writing
With thanks to Catherine Mikton for this great guide to Geneva.
Catherine Mikton a Swiss-American yoga teacher based in the Geneva area.
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