What if you went on a trip to Geneva? With the Leman lake, its parks, its numerous museums, its chocolates and its good restaurants, Geneva is a city which mixes nature, culture and gastronomy!

What are the must-sees in Geneva? What are the best ways to discover the city at a lower cost? Where to go to the restaurant? Where to stay?… Discover this Swiss city full of surprises with this travel guide!

Geneva in short

  • How to get there? Geneva is very well served by train. The Lyria high-speed train takes you to the city center in only 3 hours from Paris; 4h20 from Marseille or 2h from Lyon!
  • How to get around ? Geneva has a good public transport network (streetcar and bus) and even bus boats, the “mouettes” to cross Lake Geneva. When you stay in a hotel, you will receive a free transport card valid from the day of your arrival to the day of your departure and which gives you unlimited access to the Geneva network. The historic center of Geneva is not very large and can easily be visited on foot; to go a little further, you can also order a cab via the TaxiPhone application.
  • When to go? It all depends on the activities you plan to do! If you want to enjoy Lake Geneva or go to the Geneva countryside, prefer spring or summer. But to discover the cultural aspect of Geneva, you can go all year long.
  • How to communicate? Switzerland has several official languages: French, German, Italian and Romansh, but Geneva being very close to the border with France, it is the language of Molière that dominates here nut most Genevans are also English speakers.
Beautiful place in Geneva

Tips to visit Geneva

Opt for the Geneva City Pass

Valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours, this pass is the essential tool to enjoy the city to the fullest! It gives you unlimited access to public transport but also – and especially! – free or reduced prices on many activities.

For example, you can enjoy free guided tours, enter most museums freely, take a boat cruise on Lake Geneva, discover the city on a mini-train, ride a pedalo, etc.

30 CHF for 24h ; 40 CHF for 48h ; 50 CHF for 72h

For a night booked in Geneva, receive the Geneva Resort Pass

From July 1st to August 31st, for a night booked in the city, you will receive the Geneva Resort Pass which will give you access to more than 100 activities for free or at a reduced rate.


Geneva: a city with a rich history

The history of Geneva has been marked by several characters, first and foremost Julius Caesar who came to counter the arrival of the Helvetians who were migrating in search of food. A fine strategist, Caesar destroyed a bridge to slow down their progress but asked the locals to feed the migrants and give them seeds so that they could leave and plant cereals on their land. It was these Helvetii who built the present Switzerland. Caesar called the city Genova (“the mouth” in Latin): Geneva had found its name!

Mosaic representing Caesar pushing back the Helvetians

Rousseau‘s birthplace, Geneva and more widely Switzerland owe a lot to the philosopher of the Enlightenment. With his books describing the beauty of Helvetia, he influenced many 19th century aristocrats who came to discover the country for themselves. Some of them stayed for years in Geneva’s hotels and bequeathed part of their fortune to the city. The city pays homage to him: in the center of the city, there is the Rousseau Island where a statue of the philosopher is enthroned.

One of these aristocrats who was seduced by Geneva was the Duke of Brunswick. He died here in 1873, bequeathing a large sum of money to the city on condition that a mausoleum be built in his honor. This mausoleum, built on the edge of the lake, is still visible. It is a copy of one of the Scaligeri tombs in Verona. Thanks to his legacy, the city was able to transform itself considerably by creating theaters, gardens and schools…

Mausoleum dedicated to the Duke of Brunswick

Other celebrities have stayed in Geneva. This was the case of Sissi, the Austrian princess who was unfortunately murdered in the city and of the writer Mary Shelley who, one stormy night, gave birth to her famous Frankenstein in the surroundings of Geneva.


15 must-do activities in Geneva

Go see the water jet

Geneva wouldn’t really be Geneva without its water fountain which has become the emblem of the city. With its 140 meters high, it propels 500 liters of water per second!

Must-sees in Geneva
The well-known Geneva’s water jet

What is the origin of the Geneva water jet?

Its history is quite unusual and begins in the 18th century. The watch factories used the power of water to turn their machines, but the hydraulic force was so strong that it was feared that the pipes would break and that the water would flood the city. To avoid this risk, the excess water was spurted out in the middle of the lake, as a way to evacuate the excess pressure: the water jet was born.

But at the time this water was very dirty and polluted the lake. In the XIXth century, we became aware of the hygiene problems caused by these discharges and we moved the factories. The water jet was no longer necessary but it was kept for its tourist use.

To see the jet d’eau up close but also to discover the city from another angle, you can take a one-hour cruise on Lake Geneva.

Geneva
Tip: this cruise is free with the Geneva City Pass!

Take an interest in watchmaking history

As you can see, the history of Geneva is closely linked to the history of watchmaking. To better understand how Geneva became the capital of luxury watchmaking, you can visit the Patek Philippe Museum which presents five centuries of watchmaking history with some 2500 watches!

Patek Philippe Museum
Rue des Vieux-Granadiers 7
https://www.patek.com/en/company/patek-philippe-museum/the-museum

ALSO READ: Measuring time, the history of Geneva watchmaking

Learn how to assemble a watch

And if you are interested in how a watch works, go to Initium Watches, which organizes workshops with a watchmaker. You will learn how to disassemble and reassemble a watch mechanism and you will also be able to make your own watch by customizing the hands, dial, case, bracelet and mechanism: enough to have a unique watch that you will not find on other wrists! Classes last from 3 hours to 1 day and are conducted with a master watchmaker.

Initium Watches
Grand-Rue 17
https://initium.swiss/en/homepage

Climb the towers of the cathedral

St. Peter’s Cathedral is a must-see. From the outside, it looks like no other, one might even wonder if it is really a cathedral because its architecture is so different…

The explanation comes from its history: this cathedral was built at different times. One tower is in the Romanesque-Gothic style; the other one was built in the 16th century; the portal dates from the 19th century; as for the chapel located on the right of the cathedral, it dates from the 15th century! An unusual mishmash which should incite you to discover the interior and to climb the 157 steps of the towers which will allow you to enjoy a superb 360° view on Geneva and the lake.

View of Geneva from the towers of the cathedral
The view of Geneva from the cathedral’s towers

When leaving the cathedral, don’t miss the chapel of the dead, a jewel of neo-gothic art.

Geneva Cathedral
Courtyard of Saint-Pierre
Free entrance to the cathedral (only the access to the towers is not free)
Tip: access to the cathedral towers is free with the Geneva City Pass!

Visit the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

Did you know that the Red Cross was born in Geneva? In 1859, while on a business trip, Henry Dunant witnessed the battle of Solferino and was shocked by the terrible sight of bloodied men and horses. He hurriedly returned to his native Geneva to write the Memoirs of Solferino in which he testified to what he had seen and laid the foundations for humanitarian aid:

“Wouldn’t there be a way, during a time of peace and tranquility, to form relief societies whose purpose would be to have the wounded cared for, in time of war, by zealous, devoted and well qualified volunteers for such a work?”

He finally managed to mobilize enough people so that in 1864 the first Geneva Convention was signed, which aimed to protect the victims of armed conflicts and was the founding act of the Red Cross.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, located in the international district next to the UN, presents the different missions of the organization in a modern and interactive scenography that allows us to exchange with “witnesses”, personalities who have contributed to the development of the Red Cross or who have benefited from its actions, all over the world.

Red cross museum
Entrance to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

Did you know that?

In addition to the Red Cross, the “Red Crescent” sign was adopted by Muslims so as not to offend their faith. In recent years, a new symbol has been created: the “Red Crystal”, a sign without religious or political connotations.

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
Avenue de la Paix 17
https://www.redcrossmuseum.ch/
Tip: this visit is free with the Geneva City Pass!

Tour the chocolate factories

Have you always dreamed of being able to test the different chocolate makers in a city? Well, in Geneva it is possible with the Choco Pass!

This very gourmet pass allows you to visit 7 partner chocolate shops where you will be offered a tasting plate generally including 5 or 6 different chocolates. This is a good way to get an overview of Geneva’s delicacies.

Offered at 30 CHF (about 30 €) for adults and 6 CHF for children, this pass is valid for 1 year after its purchase and is activated for a period of 24 hours from its first use.

Swiss chocolates in Geneva

Going to Carouge

Located at 30 minutes walking distance from the center of Geneva, the city of Carouge gives the impression to travel in the south! With its colorful houses, its pedestrian areas and its numerous shops, it has a very pleasant atmosphere.

If you are lucky, you will come across a market day where you can discover local products.

Carouge district

Visit the Bodmer Foundation

Created by Swiss bibliophile Martin Bodmer (1899-1971) who spent his life assembling one of the world’s most important private collections, the Bodmer Foundation brings together some 150,000 books and manuscripts.

Among the masterpieces in the collection are the Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed in Europe between 1452 and 1455; a “Book of the Dead” papyrus containing funerary texts to help the deceased rejoin the gods; and the forerunner of the paperback book, a Venetian version of Dante’s Divine Comedy printed with oblique typography to reduce the size of the book and make it more accessible to students.

Bodmer foundation
The Bodmer museum
Bodmer Foundation / Bodmer museum
Route Martin Bodmer 19, Cologny
https://fondationbodmer.ch/
Tip: this visit is free with the Geneva City Pass!

Stroll in the Parc La Grange

With more than 21 hectares, the Parc La Grange is one of the green lungs of Geneva. During the summer and until the end of September, this park welcomes outdoor sculptures for the 3rd edition of Sculpture Garden.

La Grange Park
Quai Gustave Ador

Discover the Ariana Museum

The Ariana Museum, Museum of Ceramics and Glass, is located just a few steps from the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, in a sumptuous palace built at the end of the 19th century.

Ariana Museum
The impressive palace of the Ariana Museum

Did you know that?

This museum is the work of Gustave Revilliod. This rich Swiss collector had this palace built and named it Ariana, in honor of his mother, to house his private collection. At his death, he donated the property and his collection to the city. His will is on display in the museum.

Ariana Museum
Ariana Park
Avenue de la Paix 10
Tip: this visit is free with the Geneva City Pass!

Go to the countryside to discover the Geneva vineyards

It only takes about 20 minutes from the city center to find yourself in the middle of the countryside, in the heart of Geneva’s vineyards! For a change of scenery and to discover another side of Geneva, you can opt for a guided tour in an electric tuktuk with Taxibike.

What to do in Geneva
Visit Geneva and its surroundings by e-tuktuk!

Your guide will show you some of the 80 wineries that surround Geneva and that are not very well known in France since Switzerland exports very little wine.

Reservations on https://www.taxibike.ch/

For example, Les Perrières, a family estate since 1794, now run by the 8th generation of the Rochaix family and which today covers 100 hectares! On the menu of this estate, no less than 25 different grape varieties, including Aligoté, a Geneva speciality, and Gamaret, a variety created in Switzerland, slightly tannic and aged for one year in oak barrels.

Domaine Les Perrières
Route de Peissy 54, Satigny
https://www.lesperrieres.ch/

Take a ride on the Ferris wheel

It may be a cliché, but Ferris wheels are an excellent way to get exceptional views. The one in Geneva will allow you, for 7 CHF (7 €) to have a beautiful view on the lake of Geneva and on the city.

Geneva Ferris wheel
The Geneva’s Ferris wheel
Big Wheel of Geneva
English garden, quai du Général Guisan
From June to August

See the City Hall

Here is a beautiful symbol of the respect of the Swiss for their institutions. Here, the doors of the city hall are open day and night, without any security guard. So you can easily go and have a look inside this remarkable building, if only to see the ramp made in the 16th century, a real technical feat for the time, which allowed the donkeys to carry the wood up to heat the different rooms.

Hôtel de Ville de Genève
Geneva City Hall
Rue de Candolle 9

Visit the MAMCO

Visit the MAMCO, the museum of modern and contemporary art created in 1994 and which takes place in a former factory. Here, there is no permanent exhibition but many temporary exhibitions.

Museum in Geneva
MAMCO Geneva
Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 10
https://www.mamco.ch/

Understand the history of Geneva at the Maison Tavel

Located in the heart of the old town, this museum is a must. It allows you to discover the history of Geneva thanks to remarkable bas-reliefs that show you the city as it was at different times.

You will see in particular the layout of the old and large fortifications destroyed in 1849 which took twice the size of the city and which influenced the organization of Geneva as we know it today.

Maison Tavel, art and history museum of Geneva
Rue du Puits-Saint-Pierre 6
Tip: the price is free, you can pay (or not!) according to your interest for the museum and your budget

Discover Voltaire’s last residence

A few kilometers from Geneva, in France, on the other side of the border, is the Château de Voltaire, the last residence of the philosopher of the Enlightenment. Entirely restored a few years ago, this castle is worth a visit.

Château de Ferney-Voltaire
Ferney-Voltaire castle
Voltaire castle
Allée du Château, Ferney-Voltaire
https://www.chateau-ferney-voltaire.fr/
Tip: this visit is free with the Geneva City Pass!

And also…

Geneva is a very pleasant city where nature is never far away. Take the time to stroll through the city, to get off the main roads and into the smaller streets. You will find remarkable buildings all along your walk.

Stroll around the lake at nightfall to see the city light up.

Geneva water jet
The Geneva water jet at nightfall

Best places in Geneva

Where to eat?

There is no lack of restaurants in Geneva but you still have to choose the right ones! I have prepared a selection of 8 restaurants located in different areas and with different styles:

Where to eat in Geneva?

Where to sleep?

As far as accommodation is concerned, Geneva also offers many choices.

Here are two suggestions of hotels that I particularly liked:

Hotel Longemalle, in the heart of the city

It’s hard to find a more central hotel than the Longemalle Hotel! Located in the heart of the city, it’s the perfect place to put your bags if you want to be able to discover (almost) everything on foot.

Entirely renovated a few years ago, the Longemalle is a chic and warm establishment, a place where you feel good and where you would like to stay for a while. When you make your reservation, I advise you to ask for a room on the street side, on the upper floors, to be able to enjoy a beautiful view of the lake and the Ferris wheel.

Longemalle Hotel in Geneva
View of Geneva
View of the Geneva Lake from a room of the Longemalle Hotel

It is also within this hotel that you will find the Balila, an excellent Lebanese restaurant that I talk about in this article. Attention: reservation is advised several days in advance if you wish to dine there!

Hotel N’vy, near the train station

About ten minutes from the train station, in the Paquis district, the N’vy hotel is an establishment with a modern decoration where about thirty works of contemporary art decorate the common areas.

In the rooms, the headboards were created by the artist Meres One from quotes from the book “On the Road” by Kerouac.

Hotel in Geneva

Map of Geneva

Find all the good addresses mentioned in this article on this map:


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Geneva travel guide

Have a nice trip!


Article proposed in partnership with Geneva Tourism

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