Geneva is located on the westernmost point of Switzerland and actually borders France. It sits on Lake Geneva (also called Lac Léman) and is a diverse city that is full of unique things to do including museums, city views, food tours and so much more. Geneva is perfect to visit year round as each season has its own set of cool attractions. Christmas is an especially great time of the year to visit as the Christmas markets are open and if you’re lucky enough to be visiting around December 12th, you’ll also be able to experience a beautiful festival called L’Escalade that’s unique to Geneva.
WHAT TO DO IN GENEVA
GO ON A CHOCOLATE TOUR
I think many people will agree that any food tour is a good idea but when it comes to a chocolate tour, I think the vote would be unanimously yes. Switzerland offers some of the best chocolate in the world and if you find yourself overwhelmed with the myriad of chocolate shops located in Geneva, then book a chocolate tour with Local Flavours Tours. This 3 hour tour is run by Antonia, a charming tour guide who will give you the most thorough history on chocolate as well as little anecdotes that will leave you smiling. This particular chocolate tour hits about 5 chocolatiers and has you tasting everything from hot chocolate to pastries to truffles. Best of all, you also get to see much of the city during your tour. As mentioned below in the itinerary section, this tour is perfect for 2 days in Geneva.
STAY AT THE FAMILY OWNED HISTORIC HOTEL ON THE LAKE: BEAU RIVAGE
The Beau Rivage is a five star hotel that overlooks the lake and was established by the Mayer family in 1865. It’s beautifully decorated with period antiques and still manages to preserve some of the original handiwork and architecture. The staff are welcoming and the accommodations perfect that your stay truly feels like a luxurious historical stay. History buffs will enjoy the suites as they are each named after a famous person who stayed there years back (suites are provided with a short bio as well).
If you prefer to stay elsewhere but would still like to experience parts of the Beau Rivage, you can book one or more of several different activities they have available. During winter, they hold a chocolate party every Saturday and Sunday of the month. This includes a chocolate fountain and many other sweets. During this time, the Beau Rivage also offers a pastry class for children.
VISIT THE ST PIERRE CATHEDRAL
This 850+ year old cathedral was initially built by Roman Catholics and later transformed into a Protestant church during the Reformation. It is known as the home church of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. The cathedral has a beautiful pillared entryway with an equally beautiful interior.
CLIMB ST PETER’S TOWER
If you’re visiting the cathedral, you’ll want to add climbing the tower in the church to your list of what to do in Geneva. The city views you’ll see at the top are fantastic and well worth the time and energy spent climbing the 157 steps to the top. Aside from that, getting to the top is a bit of an adventure. You have to climb one tower and then walk across to the other where you’ll climb further up. Once at the top, you’ll find several different angles of the city.
This festival is native to Geneva and is a true commemoration of independence. The festival is held around December 11-12 (or the weekend nearest to these dates) and is a fun celebration filled with re-enactments, chocolate, singing and food. I wouldn’t hesitate to plan my trip to Geneva based off this festival as it’s (obviously) held once a year. During the celebration, a secret passageway is opened to the public; walking through you can admire the old walls and the fact that the doors will close on it until next year’s December rolls around.
CRUISE ON A LUNCH BOAT
This one is for all foodies. Reserve a table on board the “Savoie” and enjoy a meal prepared by Philippe Chevrier’s team as well as a trip around Lake Geneva. It’s delicious, scenic and definitely one of the most unique things to do in Geneva.
VISIT BAIN BLEU FOR A REAL MOROCCAN HAMMAM EXPERIENCE
This spa might look plain from the outside but once you step through its doors you’ll see why it made this list. First you’ll enjoy the two pools, one inside the building and the other outdoors. Both are modern and incredibly relaxing and best of all, heated. Once you’re finished in the pools, you can begin your hammam portion. Allot 3 hours for the full experience.
TAKE A FONDUE MAKING COOKING CLASS
No visit to Switzerland is complete without some cheese fondue. One of Geneva’s traditional restaurants Edelweiss offers cooking classes for learning how make fondue. You can opt for a package that includes dinner if you want to make into a full meal. The fondue from Edelweiss is amazing and makes for a romantic date idea.
This unique alpine cheese is served melted on a plate of meat and potatoes. It’s a specialty so be sure to look for it on the menu!
TAKE THE TRAM TO CAROUGE
Carouge is a quaint suburb of Geneva located about 20 minutes by tram from Old Town Geneva. As soon as you walk off the tram, you’ll instantly feel like you’ve stepped into Italy or France as the houses lining the streets are colorful and give off a very different vibe than the rest of Geneva. Carouge is fun for a half day visit.
RIDE THE TAXI BIKE
Taxi bikes are a fun way to see the city and get to where you want to go. Thinking about visiting during winter? No worries. The drivers equip each taxi bike with blankets so you’ll be warm as you ride.
VISIT THE PATEK PHILIPPE MUSEUM
Swiss watches are unparalleled and if you’re a watch connoisseur, you’ll want to visit the Patek Philippe Museum. This museum contains so much history on watches and so many examples that you could easily spend a few hours here. This is a great spot to add to your Geneva things to do list!
TAKE A WATCHMAKING CLASS
If you love watches but you’re more of a hands on person, then look into a watchmaking class at Initium. You can opt for the half day class where you learn how to put together or take apart the internal workings of a watch or you can choose the full day class where you get to create your own watch from start to finish and customize it according to your preferences.
EAT AT ONE OF GENEVA’S MICHELIN STAR RATED RESTAURANTS: LE CHAT BOTTÉ
If you want to enjoy a special and romantic night out, then reserve a table at Le Chat Botté. This restaurant is part of the Beau Rivage Hotel and is an extraordinary display of artistic flair and exquisite foods. Chef Dominique Gauthier outdoes himself on each dish. One of my favorites was his apple creation, a composite apple made of a sugar exterior and a pureed interior. The dessert looks exactly like an apple.
VISIT THE DUKE OF BRUNSWICK MONUMENT & THEN ENJOY A DELICIOUS LUNCH AT THE COTTAGE CAFE
This monument is one of the most iconic places to visit in Geneva and has an interesting history. The Duke of Brunswick willed his wealth to Geneva as long as they created a mausoleum for him overlooking the lake. So the monument was constructed in his honor. Interestingly enough, the Duke died in the Beau Rivage. The Cottage Cafe is located right behind the monument and serves delicious salads with a fun view. I’d highly recommend the vegetarian lasagna as well as the warm goat cheese salad.
RIDE THE WATER TAXI
Though considered a means of transportation, the water taxi is a fun mode to take as it’s completely different than any other type of transportation. This taxi is a great way to cross the lake from the newer side of Geneva to Old Town.
WANDER THROUGH VIEILLE VILLE AKA OLD TOWN
Old Town is a fun maze of small streets and alleyways and a lot of cute shops. This is where a lot Geneva’s charm and life is centered and where most of the amazing restaurants lie. Be sure to walk through Place Bourg du Four.
This garden is located in the International District and houses some fun plants. It’s free entry and a bit off the beaten path and so a great option for a relaxing few hours.
MONT BLANC BRIDGE
This bridge connects the newer side of town to Vieille Ville. It’s fun to walk through both day and night to gain totally different perspectives and views. During Christmas, you get especially cool views of the other bridges all lit up.
One of the most famous Geneva points of interest is the Jet D’eau. This water jet is a gigantic fountain that shoots water up to a height of 450 feet. If you are looking to photograph something iconic in Geneva, then look no further than this landmark.
BAINS DES PÂQUIS
While Bain Bleu is an intimate, relaxing and romantic experience, the Bains des Pâquis are great if you’re looking for something more lively and cheap. They offer a great place to swim and hang out and there are restaurants on-site which offer fondue! Tuesdays are a “ladies only” day.
PARC DES BASTIONS
This famous Geneva park is located outside the old walls and is a fun park to walk through. During Christmastime the entire park is transformed into a Christmas market. However, year round the park serves as a plan to stroll, relax in and even play life-size checkers and chess! Make sure you check out the Reformation Wall.
JARDIN ANGLAIS AND THE FLOWER CLOCK
In true Swiss fashion, Geneva has created the world’s largest flower clock. As its name suggests, this clock is composed of seasonal flowers and rests in the Jardin Anglais. The Flower Clock is prettiest during summer but can be visited year round.
VISIT THE INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT
If you’re staying in the hub of Geneva overlooking the lake, you’ll want to take the tram to see the International District. This is where the statue of Ghandi as well as the Palais des Nations aka the United Nations are located. Across from the UN, is an enormous wooden chair that’s missing a leg. This chair serves as a reminder of the lives lost and money spent on numerous mines located across Europe and is the symbol of Geneva’s efforts towards peace and freedom. Also, this is the area where you’ll find The Red Cross history museum that is now officially named The Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum.
DAY TRIP TO MONT BLANC
Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, is only a day trip from Geneva. You can take public transport or a car over to Chamonix (about an hour away). Chamonix is a cute French village located at the base of Mont Blanc. There are several activities you can do including taking a cable car up the mountain, stepping into the void (the glass enclosed space hovering over the mountain) or exploring Chamonix.
POINTE DE LA JONCTION
Pointe de la Jonction is a fascinating spot where the River L’Arve meets with the Rhône River. What makes this place is interesting is the extreme contrast in color between the two rivers. The Rhône is turquoise and incredibly clear while the L’Arve is muddied and brown.
TAKE THE CABLE CAR UP TO MONT SALÈVE
From the city center you can take a short bus trip to the cable car that ultimately takes you to the top of this mountain. From the top of Mont Salève you will get to experience scenic views over Geneva or you can hike or paraglide. The cable car is NOT open during wintertime.
MAKE YOUR OWN SWISS ARMY KNIFE
While watchmaking might not be your forte, you might enjoy a class on making your own Swiss army knife with Victorinox. Choose your favorite color and engrave your knife for an even more customized souvenir.
TIPS FOR PLANNING A TRIP TO GENEVA
GENEVA LIVE PASS
When you travel to Geneva, one of the first things you should buy is the Geneva LIVE Pass. It allows you access to around 30 free Geneva attractions (20 others with a discount) and you can grab a pass for 24, 48 or 72 hours. Cost ranges from 26-45 CHF. Tours include a Geneva Old Town mini train tour, the International Geneva open bus tour, a guided walking tour of Carouge as well as the cable car to Mont Salève, the Mermaid’s cruise, Bains des Pâquis (massages at a discount), pedal boat tours, kayak rental, Patek Philippe Museum, St Peter’s Tower, the Natural History Museum and a handful of other museums. You’ll also receive discounts on Segway, taxi bike and private tours. Also included at a discount is Geneva Mystery and Secret Chamber, games you’ll enjoy with friends or family. As you can see, this pass is 100% worth it and will pay itself off in just a few activities.
TRANSPORTATION IN GENEVA
Geneva has some of the best public transportation in Europe and it really can’t be beat. First, Geneva grants an 80 minute pass to anyone arriving at the Geneva airport. This pass grants you access to the trams that will take you into the heart of the city. It not only relieves stress when planning for a visit but it also makes layovers in Geneva extremely convenient and affordable. Second, all visitors get a Geneva Transport Card.
Geneva Transport Card
If you’re staying at a hotel or hostel in Geneva, you will receive a transport card which will allow you free access to any kind of public transportation: water taxis, trams and buses. This pass will last you the entire duration of your stay (2 nights = 2 days of transpiration).
The Geneva airport is unique in the fact that it lies in two countries, both Switzerland and France. You will arrive on the Swiss side but if you’re renting a car for your visit, be careful as you might actually be renting it from the French side. Access between the two sides is fairly easy, however, it can be a bit tricky at times. Follow the signs and ask questions if you still have trouble.
GENEVA ITINERARY SAMPLES
1 DAY IN GENEVA
Day 1 – Check into your hotel, pick up your Geneva Transport Card from the front desk and then walk over to the Duke of Brunswick Monument. If you’re cold, drop into Laduree for a few minutes and grab a drinking chocolate. Next walk over to the dock and take the water taxi over to Old Town. You’ll see the Jet D’eau in the distance and soon enough you’ll arrive on the other side of the lake. Walk through Old Town and find St Peter’s Cathedral. Climb the tower and admire the views over the city.
For lunch, head over to Osteria della Bottega. This cute Italian restaurants serves up homemade pasta (try the ravioli). After lunch, walk over to Parc des Bastions for a quick stroll and then take the tram over to Carouge and explore its many shops and streets.
Spend the evening in Old Town making fondue at Edelweiss (reserve in advance). Take a taxi bike back to your hotel and admire Geneva at night. This completes your 1 day Geneva itinerary.
2 DAYS IN GENEVA
Day 2 – Start your day off with a chocolate tour (reserve in advance). Once the tour ends, you’ll be ready for lunch. Walk over to the Cottage Cafe for a light lunch.
After lunch, head to the Jardin Anglais for a relaxing stroll (you’ll be grateful for it after your morning of chocolate). Stop by the Flower Clock and then enjoy a swim or water sports in the lake. If your visit is in winter, opt for a visit to Bain Bleu for a full bath experience.
Relaxed and refreshed, walk the Mont Blanc Bridge over to Old Town and enjoy delicious steak dinner at Chez Philippe (I recommend the crab cakes, filet mignon and Paris Brest for dessert). This completes your 2 day Geneva itinerary.
3 DAYS IN GENEVA
Day 3 – Begin day 3 of your Geneva itinerary with a day trip to Mont Blanc and Chamonix. Enjoy hiking or skiing (depending on the season you visit) but be sure to come back by dinnertime. You won’t want to miss dinner at the Michelin star restaurant Le Chat Botté.