Geneva, CH

Switzerland’s hidden gem, Geneva, is one of its most picturesque cities. Located in the shadow of the Alps, Geneva is often called the world’s most compact metropolis and the “Peace Capital.” For newcomers, it may be hard to choose what to do, what to see, and where to stay in Geneva.

Here are some things you should know when traveling to Geneva:

  • Language: While Geneva has several languages, French is the most common. Nevertheless, Geneva is an international destination, so many people speak and understand English.

  • Currency: Swiss Franc. Euros are accepted in most restaurants, bars, cafes, etc., but you will probably have to pay a premium.

  • Credit Cards and Banks: Credit cards are widely accepted and there are ATMs everywhere.

  • Climate: In Geneva, as in most European cities, summers are warm and winters are cold. It’s often rainy and gray in the winter, with temperatures in the 30s. The summers are very warm and sunny, with highs reaching 70s and 80s.

Travel Tip: Take advantage of the Geneva Pass! With this pass, you can visit over 50 attractions while saving money. The museums, the lake, and more are available for 24 hours, 48 hours, or 72 hours. Additionally, you have access to free public transportation. Take advantage of this low-cost option to get the most out of your trip.

Best Time to Visit

When planning a trip, timing is paramount, so consider when to visit Geneva carefully. Depending on the weather and tourist numbers, you may be able to be outdoors sightseeing at the best time or stay at the most affordable accommodation. Each of these factors has its own trade-offs, so you may have to decide which one is most important to you.

It is generally advisable to visit Geneva between June and September when the weather is at its warmest. It’s usually pretty mild in Geneva during the summer, making it an ideal location for sightseeing. Obviously, this also means that demand for accommodation will be higher during this time of year due to the high number of tourists. September and November may be a better time to visit instead of the summer crowds. In autumn, the weather remains pleasant enough to spend time outdoors, but hotel rates should be more affordable.

Another consideration is coming to Geneva in winter. People flock to the region for skiing during this time, which is one of the busiest and most expensive times to travel. It’s also going to be cold and snowy during December and March, so general sightseeing isn’t ideal. It is worth noting, however, that Geneva hosts the L’Escalade festival every December, which is quite fascinating.

Things to Do

To ensure you make the most of your sightseeing time, be sure to read through my list of top things to do when visiting Geneva.

Explore The City on Foot

Each time we visit a new city, we begin with a free walking tour whenever possible. This is a great way to see the highlights on a budget and get a feel for what the city has to offer. A couple of free walking tours are offered by Free Walk Geneva

Most tours last 2 to 2.5 hours and are led by local guides who are passionate about the city, its history, and its culture. Try the International Geneva tour if you are more interested in the United Nations (UN), World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Even though these tours are free, always remember to tip your guide at the end.

Include a Food Tour

One of the coolest ways to discover a city is to take a food tour and learn more about its cuisine and history. There is a chocolate tour and an Old Town history tour offered by Local Flavours. The tour includes information about the origins and history of chocolate in Switzerland, a visit to the historic center of the town, and a chocolate sampling by local artisans. At the time of this writing, ticket prices for the 3-hour tour are 90 Swiss Francs (CHF) for adults and 63 CHF for children.

Explore Old Town

Old Town Geneva

A good place to start is Geneva’s Old Town. Although it lacks the extensiveness or consistency of other historical centers in big cities in Europe, the Old Town still has a wonderful atmosphere that’s a pleasure to explore.

Geneva’s old town is full of things to see and is a destination in and of itself. Old-fashioned architecture dating back to the 12th – 18th century, cobblestone streets, and fountains are all in abundance there. At the same time, it’s a very cozy place filled with modern cafés, shops, and restaurants.

Old Town also has some interesting touches. In the gardens of Jardin Anglais by the waterfront, you’ll find the L’horloge fleurie or floral clock. It is also home to a variety of independent and upscale boutiques, which make shopping one of the most popular activities there. When it comes to luxurious window shopping, make your way to the Rue du Rhône. Other attractions include the Promenade des Bastions, the large city squares Place Neuve and Place du Bourg-de-Four, Grand’Rue street, the City Hall, several museums, and churches. Below are some of the most important attractions.

TIP: Make sure you visit the small islands on the Rhone river as well. In addition to cafés and restaurants, the islands offer takeaway sandwiches, and you can join the locals for a picnic on Ile Rousseau.
1. Jardin Anglais

Just below the Old Town area is the English-inspired Jardin Anglais, or “English Garden”, a historic urban park on Lake Geneva. This park dates back to 1855 and used to be an ancient harbor.

Located on the southern shore of Lake Geneva, the Jardin Anglais covers around 6 acres in the heart of Geneva. This garden is filled with pretty trees, flowers, a fountain, pavilions, and statues, as well as an overview of the lake and Jet D’Eau. It is the perfect place to escape the crowds of the city and enjoy a peaceful time.

2. L’horloge fleurie

A unique attraction in Geneva and a famous feature of Jardin Anglais is the L’horloge fleurie (Flower Clock), which is a large clock made of flower arrangements. The L’horloge fleurie was built in 1955 as a tribute to the Swiss watchmaking tradition.

12,000 flowers make up the arrangement, which are changed to reflect the changing seasons. This is one of Geneva’s most popular attractions. As part of the walking tour around the garden, many tours include Flower Clock, which is an excellent photo opportunity.

The Geneva Flower Clock was the world’s largest outdoor clock made of flowers until 2005, when Tehran, Iran, built its 15-meter clock.

L’horloge fleurie (floral clock) looks slightly different with the changing seasons.
3. Parc des Bastions

The Reformation Wall is on the edge of Parc des Bastions, so make relaxing in this park part of your visit to the Reformation Wall. This park is quite big, and it has some relaxing areas where you can get away from the bustle of the city. Also, if you are visiting Geneva with children, this is an excellent place to visit.

Promenade des Bastions, which runs through the center of the park, is a popular meeting place for locals. Sports enthusiasts or strollers, commuters on bikes, people doing sports or out for a leisurely stroll.

Giant chess and checkers can also be found here, and an ice skating rink is available in winter. If you have some free time in Geneva, this is a great place to visit. 

Chess and checkers in Parc des Bastions
4. Reformation Wall
Four leaders of the Protestant Reformation

At the southern edge of the Old Town, you’ll find the Parc des Bastions and a large stone monument known as the Reformation Wall. Standing on the grounds of the University of Geneva, the monument honors the four main leaders of the Protestant ReformationJohn Calvin, Guillaume Farel, Théodore de Bèze, and John Knox. Calvin also founded the university.

The monument and its looming sculptures were installed against Geneva’s 16th-century city walls. The unveiling of the Reformation Wall in 1909 coincided with the 400th anniversary of Calvin’s birth.

Reformation Wall
5. St Pierre Cathedral (Geneva Cathedral)

St. Pierre Cathedral (Geneva Cathedral), situated on a small hill in the center of the Old Town, is one of the most notable landmarks. Although the cathedral’s Neoclassical facade dates from the 18th century, most of its structure was built in the Gothic style in the 12th century. 

Though there have been churches here since the 4th century, most attention is paid to its relationship with John Calvin, the famed reformer. Located inside the church where he first attended in 1541 is his personal chair. During a visit to the church, visitors have the opportunity to explore the crypt and climb the towers for spectacular views of the surrounding area.

Geneva Cathedral
6. L’Ancien Arsenal

L’Ancien Arsenal (Old Arsenal) is a former military installation located just a few minutes’ walk from the Town Hall in Geneva’s Old Town. It was once used to store weapons and gun powder, but now it houses the State Archives.

Geneva’s distant warlike past can be seen in the architecture of the building, which resembles a fortified mansion with five cannons to defend it. This site was originally an open-air market for the Romans but was covered in the early 15th century. In 1588, arcades were added, followed by a granary that eventually became a military depot between 1720 and 1877.

Under these arcades, there is an artillery museum with five period cannons, similar to those used to defend the city’s ramparts, along with three colorful, battle-themed mosaics depicting key periods in local history: Julius Caesar’s arrival in 58 BC; the Fair of the Middle Ages; and Huguenot refugee arrival after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

7. Maison Tavel

Within walking distance of Geneva Cathedral is the Maison Tavel or Tavel House, a historic house turned museum. A wind-swept fire in 1334 destroyed the house, which was rebuilt in the 14th century and is the oldest private residence in Geneva. The traditional house offers a glimpse of what it was like to live back then. As part of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (Art and History Museum), the museum also presents elements of the city’s history.

8. Place du Bourg-de-Four

A picturesque spot with plenty of history is the Place du Bourg-de-Four in the Old Town. Geneva’s oldest square was once home to the ancient Roman marketplace. In this pleasant plaza there are rows of wonderfully quaint houses, now home to restaurants and cafes, that create a fantastic atmosphere. This is the place to see the heart of Geneva’s Old Town.

Place du Bourg-de-Four in the Old Town, Geneva

Patek Philippe Museum

Visiting Switzerland would be incomplete without seeing Swiss watches, the country’s most famous export. The list of Swiss watch brands is endless, from Omega and Rolex to Swatch and Victorinox. Geneva is probably one of the best places to learn about Swiss watchmaking history.

A museum dedicated to one of the oldest names in watchmaking, Patek Philippe, can be found in Geneva. There are so many things to see and do in Geneva, but if you’re interested in watches and watchmaking history, then the Patek Philippe Museum is a must.

An incredible museum, the Patek Philippe Museum is housed within a beautifully restored factory just a short walk from the old town. A visit requires at least 2 hours so plan your time accordingly. You will receive a free guided tour as part of your ticket price. This is the best way to explore the museum and learn about the company’s history and interesting facts about certain watches. More information is available on the museum’s website.

Art and History Museum

As an international city and cultural hub, Geneva has a lot of museums. Geneva’s Art and History Museum, located on the edge of the Old Town next to Place Bourg-de-Four, is one of its finest and the permanent exhibition is free. 

While Swiss art is the focus of the museum’s exhibitions, among Geneva’s Art & History museum’s most famous works are paintings by Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, and Sisley. Besides fine art, it also has quite an impressive archaeology collection that includes an Egyptian mummy and Classical antiquity statues. The beautiful building is worth visiting even if you don’t plan on visiting the museum.

Across the street, you’ll find Parc de l’Observatoire, a pleasant park that’s great for a quick break in the midday heat. 

Geneva Art and History Museum

Jet d’Eau

Almost every large city has a landmark that is universally recognizable. The Jet d’Eau is Geneva’s iconic symbol – a huge water jet that shoots water 140 meters (460 feet) high. Jet d’Eau can be seen from almost anywhere along the lake, but it’s really worth seeing up close to fully appreciate how powerful it is. It is only operational in the warmer months, usually between March and October.

Geneva’s iconic Jet d’Eau

Lake Geneva Boat Tour

The city of Geneva lies at the southern end of Lake Geneva, the largest body of water in Switzerland and one of the largest lakes in western Europe.

You can experience the lake best by taking a river cruise. Numerous excursions operate from Geneva (and other points around the lake), lasting anywhere from an hour to an entire day. You can even take a dinner cruise or a fondue cruise!

A Geneva Pass comes with a choice of sightseeing cruises of approximately an hour in duration. These will provide you with scenic views of the city against an alpine backdrop. Alternatively, you can book a cruise on Lake Geneva here.

For those who prefer to propel themselves, there are other ways to get out on the lake. Stand-up paddle boards and pedal boats can be rented for use on the lake and are included with a Geneva Pass.

Water activities and cruises can be weather-dependent and seasonal. Also, cruises may be cancelled if the minimum passenger requirements aren’t met.

Brunswick Monument

Brunswick Monument

A mausoleum dedicated to Charles II, the Duke of Brunswick, the Brunswick Monument was built in 1879. 

While it might seem strange that Geneva has a monument to an 18th-century German duke, the reason is the city of Geneva received Charles’ entire fortune after his death. This amounted to over 20 million Swiss Francs involved, an amount that provided funds for the construction of many new buildings in the city.

For the city to qualify for the funding, it had to fulfill two stipulations in his will. The first was a nice funeral, and the second was the building of a monument to honor him. An impressive three-story marble monument was built with around 10% of the funds received by the city.

Temple de St-Gervais

An ancient Romanesque church from the 10th century, as well as a 4th-century sanctuary, are the foundations of this Protestant church. As a result of the Reformation, a religious reform movement that split from the Roman Catholic Church, in the 16th century, it became a Protestant church. 

Excavations in the late 20th century revealed the remains of a Gallo-Roman temple and the first evidence of human habitation in Geneva. Explore the building’s architecture and stained glass windows from the early 20th century. There is no admission fee, but please dress respectfully since it is a place of worship.

Palace des Nations

With a history of neutrality and a lack of involvement in wars for centuries, it is perhaps no surprise that Switzerland is home to the main offices of the United Nations (UN). I recommend using public transportation or a bicycle to get to the Palais des Nations (United Nations Office in Geneva), which is a bit further from the other Geneva attractions.

Broken Chair monument stands across the street from the Palace of Nations.

You will have to book ahead if you want to get inside the UN; spontaneous visits are not allowed. There are two tour options available. The first tour focuses on UN activities in Geneva, visiting rooms where various important international meetings and negotiations take place. Second, there is a thematic Art and Architecture tour, which is more focused on the building itself than on the United Nations activities. You can find more information and book a tour of Palais des Nations here.

The picturesque Ariana park surrounding the UN Geneva office is a pleasant place to visit if you are not into politics, history, or architecture. Reservations are not required for that. One of the most significant places in Geneva worth a quick visit when you’re in town is the Palais des Nations.

There’s a huge broken chair outside the building you shouldn’t miss. The memorial commemorates people who have lost limbs to landmines.

Tip: You could easily spend the whole day in this part of Geneva. You can also visit the nearby Red Cross museum and Botanical Garden if you have time (see below for more information).
Palace des Nations (Palace of Nations) in Geneva

Botanical Gardens and Conservatory

Geneva’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens occupies some 28 hectares in a beautiful park near Lake Geneva. While the gardens date back to the early 20th century, the city’s botany traditions date back much further.

The Conservatoire et Jardin Botanique is home to more than 14,000 species, including rock gardens, horticultural plants, medical plants, a zoo by the lake, and so much more. There are all kinds of plants in this living museum and it is extremely well cared for. It is also home to one of the largest herbariums in the world, with over six million specimens. Sadly, the herbarium isn’t often open to the public except for a few occasions each year.

If you are visiting Geneva in late spring or summer, this is one of the most beautiful places to visit. It’s one of the few Geneva attractions where you don’t need a lot of money to have fun – the conservatory is free to visit.

Geneva Botanical Garden
Tip: You might also want to check out the nearby Parc Villa Barton, Perle-du-Lac Park, and Parc Mon Repos if you enjoy parks. These parks are located along Lake Geneva’s shoreline, all offering spectacular views of the crescent-shaped lake. You can take a stroll in the morning, ride your bike in the afternoon, or play on the playground with your children. One of Park Villa Barton’s most impressive features is its giant sequoias.

Red Cross/Crescent Museum

A unique place to see in Geneva, the Red Cross Museum is consistently rated one of the best museums in the city.
The museum offers a fascinating insight into humanity’s history. This museum has a lot of interactive displays that are extremely well done.

During your visit, you will encounter the experiences of people who have lived through wars and disasters of all kinds and gain a good understanding of humanitarian work. It might not be the best place for small kids, but otherwise, it’s worth checking out. A visit should take between one and two hours.

The museum’s website provides opening times and more information.

International Red Cross / Red Crescent (Photo: Red Cross website)

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