Geneva Travel Guide

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Geneva Travel Guide

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With more than 200 international organizations, a stunning namesake lake and a cosmopolitan feel, Geneva is perennially appealing. Its flawless beauty and chic personality comes with a hefty price tag, to be sure, but whether you stay just one day or splurge on several, you’ll find it well worth the francs. The cuisine, the lake and Alps views, the shopping, the museums, the gardens – it’s all picture-perfect, so come, enjoy. Here’s your essential Geneva travel guide, with answers to your pressing questions.
 
How Long Do I Need in Geneva?
Geneva is a fairly compact city, so if you’re pressed for time, you’re in luck. You can visit most of the major sites in Geneva is just two or three days. If you have more time, go beyond the city into the Swiss and French countryside for more European exploration – the Bernese Oberland, Basel, Lausanne, Interlaken and more are all a short drive or train ride away.
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What Can I Do in Geneva in One Day?
If you truly have just one day in Geneva, it’s still possible to canvas most of the major sightseeing destinations. Start with one of Geneva’s most iconic sights, the Jet d’Eau. Shooting 460 feet into the air, this impressive fountain can be seen from as far as 30 miles away on a clear day. On spring and fall evenings, the Jet d’Eau is illuminated to dazzling effect. (If you can, book a hotel room that has a direct view of the famous fountain.)
 
Then, move on to the Flower Clock in the Jardin Anglais. The clock was created in 1955 and features approximately 12,000 flowers and plants in an arrangement that changes by the season. Of course, this being Switzerland, the time is precise!
 
Later, take a cruise on Lake Geneva, admiring Mont-Blanc, the UN and the shoreline of Geneva from another viewpoint. After your sailing excursion, explore Geneva’s Old Town on the Left Bank. Wander the charming cobblestone streets and squares past historic building, museums and passageways, to Old Town’s centerpiece, St. Peter’s Cathedral.
 
If you can sneak in a second day in Geneva, continue your visit by adding on some of the city’s fantastic museums. We suggest the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, the Musée International de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge (Red Cross Museum) and the Palais des Nations.
 
To make the most of your Geneva itinerary, pick up a Geneva pass for admission to many of the city’s top attractions.
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What Is Geneva Famous For?
Geneva is a decidedly upscale, lakeside Swiss city that woos with high-end jewelry, excellent boutique shopping, extravagant hotels, superb dining, chocolate and more. It’s famous as the home of the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, the Red Cross, the World Bank and the United Nations. You won’t want to miss the historic Old Town, Lake Geneva, the Jet d’Eau, the Paquis Baths, the St. Pierre Cathedral, the views from Mount Saleve, the Patek Philippe Museum watchmaking museum and the nightlife and dining of the Paquis District.
 
Is Geneva Expensive to Visit?
Ranked as one of the top 15 most expensive cities in the world, Geneva is well worth its upscale price tag. This makes it an excellent city to visit for one or two days before moving on into France, Italy or the Bernese Oberland.
 
Is It Better to Visit Geneva or Zurich?
Geneva has the advantage of being conveniently located near France and Italy – making a day trip into either country easily accessible. Zurich is in the heart of Switzerland, better positioned for visiting the inner part of the country. Additionally, Geneva feels like a large town, or small city, compared to busier, larger Zurich.
 
To learn about Switzerland’s role on the world stage – visiting CERN and learning about the United Nations – choose Geneva. More than 190 countries are represented by the living and working population of Geneva. You’ll hear languages from all over the world. Zurich has much of its own culture to celebrate, and a vast number of intriguing museums, but is less diverse.
 
If it’s the lake life that is drawing you in, Lake Geneva (also known as Lac Léman) is larger than Lake Zurich. The views of the Alps are incredible and water sports abound.
 
Money-wise, Geneva is less expensive than Zurich when it comes to accommodations, food and entertainment. And speaking of food, there’s an incredible array of flavors on the menu in Geneva – with its proximity to France and Italy, you’ll find those traditions and dishes here as well.
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Does Geneva Have Public Transportation?
Covering just six square miles, Geneva is easily navigable by foot or via public transportation. Pick up a free Geneva Transport Card and you’ll be able to use the tram, water taxis, trains and buses. Walking and using the tram are the most efficient means of getting from place to place.
 
Hop on the No. 15 tram to visit popular Palace of Nations, the Pâquis Baths and the Conservatory and Botanical Garden Geneva on the Rive Droite (Right Bank). Use the No. 12 tram to visit the sights in Rive Gauche (Left Bank), such as the Museum of Natural History and St. Pierre Cathedral Geneva.
 
The yellow water taxis (or Les Mouettes) will whisk you across Lake Geneva from the Rive Droite to the Rive Gauche. The most useful water taxi terminals for sightseeing tourists are Geneve Jardin Anglais (near Old Town and the Jet d’Eau) and Geneve Eaux Vives (across the street from Grange Park).
 
What Can You Do in Geneva for Free?
 
Quite a bit! Here are the top things to do in Geneva that don’t cost a thing:
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1. Play at Lake Geneva
This massive lake (224 square miles and one of the largest in Europe) defines the border between France and Switzerland and was formed by the Rhone River. Make like Audrey Hepburn and Charlie Chaplin and enjoy the stunning beauty of the lake and its pretty shoreline, with the Alps dancing in the background. Hop on a free water taxi for a ride on the glistening lake (take a boat tour, available for an additional cost). Want to get in the water? Swim at Pâquis Baths. There are vineyards and wineries to explore on the lake’s northern shore, in Lausanne, and beautiful Belle Epoque architecture to admire in Montreux.
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2. Enjoy the Panoramic Views from Mont Saleve
Twelve miles southeast of Geneva, across the French-Swiss border, you’ll find hiking, mountain biking, paragliding, cross-country skiing and more on Mont Saleve. Want the views with little effort? Hop in the Mont Saleve cable car and ride up the mountain to an observation deck and restaurant. Reach Mont Saleve for free by driving or taking the No. 8 bus from Geneva to the French border.
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3. Admire the Jet d’Eau
This iconic fountain was built in 1886 and today shoots water nearly 460 feet into the air day and night. It’s free to visit – from the Geneve-Quai Gustave Ador water taxi terminal, or the Rive, Terrassiere or Villereuse tram stops, walk to the Eaux-Vive neighborhood and the fountain’s pier. The fountain – which was created to help control the evening water pressure of a nearby hydraulic plant – is particularly impressive at night during the spring and fall, when it’s lit up.
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4. The Grange Park
You could spend all day in this 130,000-square-foot garden, with its pools, pergolas, 18th-century villa, outdoor summer theater productions and more than 200 varieties of roses. The prak overlooks Lake Geneva and is conveniently close to the Jet d’Eau in the Eaux-Vive neighbohood of the Rive Gauche, so you can’t miss it.
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5. Conservatory and Botanical Garden Geneva
Between the Palace of Nations and Lake Geneva, these serene gardens are brimming with Swiss flora, rosebushes, multiple greenhouses, a carousel, animal park and more. Watch for the resident peacocks who are typically strolling about the grounds.
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6. St. Pierre Cathedral
An enticing blend of Roman, Gothic and neoclassical architectural elements, the St. Pierre Cathedral was used during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. It’s the beacon of Old Town and visitors are invited to come learn about its design and its history. Inside, you’ll find 4th-century mosaics, 12th-century columns and 15th-century frescoes. Don’t miss the Chapel of the Maccabees and Calvin’s chair. Admission is free, but to climb the towers, you’ll pay a small fee.
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7. Museum of Natural History
Nature lovers adore the Museum of Natural History in the Eaux-Vives neighborhood – near Lake Geneva and walking distance from the St. Pierre Cathedral. Check out a huge collection of taxidermy animals, from owls and weasels to polar bears. There are free interactive workshops for kids on Wednesdays. Don’t miss the museum’s resident two-headed turtle, Janus.
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Does Geneva Have a Beach?
If you’re visiting Geneva in the summertime, you can’t leave without a dip in its gorgeous, namesake lake. The water is clean and the temperatures are comfortable from June to September. For this, there are a couple of different beach options (there are actually more than 100 public beaches scattered about the lake, but these are some of the most accessible). The largest beach and swimming area is Geneva Beach in the Cologny neighborhood. There’s a lake beach, yes, but there’s also an Olympic-sized swimming pool, slides and high dives. In Jonction, where the Arve and Rhone rivers meet, you’ll find a less-touristed beach and a more natural experience. Watch for the brave few who jump off the Sous-Terre Bridge and float the river back to land.
 
Along the lake promenade, you can also find Quai Wilson, a large beach and windsurfing spot near the Restaurant de la Plage du Reposoir on Route de Lausanne and a rocky beach at Quai de Cologny.
 
What Else Should I See Near Geneva?Geneva is an excellent jumping-off point for your Switzerland itinerary, given its proximity to both France and Italy. There are multiple day-trip options to lakeside towns, cruises up the lake, cable cars to the tops of mountain and epic ski resorts. Consider adding on the following destinations:
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Bernese Oberland
Just over two hours from Geneva, the Bernese Oberland is a mountain lover’s dream. There are dramatic alpine lakes sitting amidst peaks that soar to more than 13,000 feet high. From here, you can see the jewels of the Jungfrau Region, the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Hike the crisscrossing trails outside the mountain-hugging villages of Murren and Gimmelwald. Consider staying in the Lake Thun region and exploring on foot, by train, by gondola or on the funicular.
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Lavaux Vineyard
Oenophiles should plan to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Lavaux Vineyard Terraces in one of the five Vaudois wine regions. Lavaux stretches from Montreux to the eastern parts of Lausanne. The present vine terraces can be traced all the way back to the 11th century, when the land was ruled by Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries. Walk the footpath from Lausanne-Ouchy to Chillon Castle and taste locally produced wines.
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Interlaken
One can get from Geneva to Interlaken by train in less than three hours or drive the scenic route from Lake Geneva to Saanen-Aigle-Thonen les Bains to Interlake (in four to five hours). This lakeside resort town offers boat cruises on Lakes Thun and Brienz, access to the Bernese Oberland, ample outdoor recreation, swimming, golf, horseback riding, funicular rides into the surrounding mountains and much more. From here, you can jaunt into the Oberland and the Jungfrau region for all the hiking you can dream of.
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Chamonix
If at all possible, tack on a trip to Chamonix and Mont Blanc to your France and Switzerland itinerary. The chic alpine village (and world-renowned ski resort) offers a multitude of restaurants and cafes, shops and hotels. From here, you’ll have jaw-dropping views of Mont Blanc, the most famous peak of the French Alps and Europe’s tallest mountain. Not a skier? Don’t fret – there is rock climbing, hiking, golf, tennis, even paragliding, or just sitting back and enjoying the fresh mountain air.
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Basel
While you’re in Switzerland, Basel is worth a stop. Set on the Rhine River, and close to both France and Germany, the city loves its food and its art. Check out the many fine art museums, or time your visit with the Art Basel exhibition. Dine around at the Marktplatz in Old Town, or the Indoor Market, with foods from around the world. Or, visit during the riotous three-day Basler Fascnacht, Switzerland’s largest festival with plenty of beer, food, parades, poets, art, music and more.

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