Switzerland is a relatively compact country with great train connections throughout. We chose to spend a long weekend in and around Geneva before continuing on to Zurich for a business trip. Three days is the perfect amount of time to travel from Geneva to Lausanne to Montreux and experience the French-speaking part of Switzerland. We spent one night in Geneva and one night in Lausanne. Come along as we discover gorgeous lake views, world-class museums, and fantastic city culture.
Switzerland Flight Arrangements
In Europe, airlines don’t typically try to gouge you on one way fares so consider flying into Geneva and out of Zurich to maximize the ground you can cover on this 3 day weekend in Switzerland. On the flight into Geneva, get a window seat and keep your eyes open to see if you can spot the jet d’eau, Geneva’s famous fountain in the middle of Lake Geneva.
Avail of Free Public Transportation
Switzerland is very forward thinking when it comes to tourists and transportation. Geneva offers a free ride on public transit from the Geneva Airport to the city. Grab a ticket near baggage claim before you exit. The city of Geneva also gives visitors a free transport card during their stay to make it easy to explore the city. Pick up a transit card at your hotel when you check-in. Lausanne does the same and offers visitors free transportation during their stay. Of course, Swiss trains make it super easy to get between cities too.
Left: Street art in Geneva
Middle: Pink building in Geneva
Right: Bridge with local flags flying in Geneva
Where to Stay in Geneva and Lausanne
In Geneva, we stayed at Ibis Geneve Centre Nations which was close to the United Nations and a 15 minute walk to the train station. Hotels in Switzerland can be expensive so we availed of a last minute half price deal through the Geneve Tourism Office and paid 106 CHF for one night (about $106 USD at the time of writing). In Lausanne we chose to stay at the more upscale Royal Savoy Hotel as a special treat. A deluxe room with a city view cost the equivalent of about $300 USD at the time of writing. The Royal Savoy Hotel Lausanne offered sumptuous rooms (we even had a small balcony) and impeccable service.
Things to Do in Geneva
So, why visit Geneva in the first place? Let’s walk through some of the cool things to do in Switzerland’s second largest city.
Geneva Street Art
When you arrive in Geneva, keep your eyes open for some some very cool street art near the train station. The art work that we saw was both traditional and three-dimensional with a large bus incorporated into the piece.
Walk Lake Geneva
The centerpiece of any visit to Geneva is a walk on Lake Geneva. There is a path that goes under a bridge over a busy road to get away from the traffic that skirts the water. We spotted a ton of cool birds and a well coiffed hedge or two lining the path.
Left: Water bus on Lake Geneva
Middle: Parc de La Grange in Geneva
Right: Carved wooden seats at St. Pierre Cathedral
Take a Water Bus Across Lake Geneva
The Geneva Transport Card includes the water buses across the lake. It takes less than 10 minutes to cross and you get some great views. As a bonus, on our arrival at the M3 boat terminus, there was a beach volleyball tournament on and we scored a free Caffe Latte. I definitely felt bad for the athletes because it was pretty cold when we visited Geneva in May. If the weather is cold and windy when you visit Geneva, consider sitting inside the protective cabin on the boat or wear something waterproof. There is a chance you’ll get sprayed by the water from jet d’eau on the boat ride across Lake Geneva.
Stroll Geneva Parks
We discovered some awesome parks like Parc des Eaux-Vives and Parc de La Grange in Geneva. You’ll find amazing displays of flowers including L’horloge fleurie (the flower clock) in Jardin Anglais. It takes about 30 minutes to walk from the M3 boat terminus to L’horloge fleurie (just across the lake from where you started). En route, stop to admire the jet d’eau up close.
The Stained Glass of St. Pierre Cathedral
We made it to St Pierre Cathedral in Geneva (about a 10 minute walk from L’horloge fleurie just before closing time at 5:30 and got to see the magnificent stained glass and carved wooden seats.
Left: Savory crepes
Middle: Reformation Wall in Geneva
Right: Stained glass on the University of Geneva campus
Snack on Crepes in Geneva
We took a quick break for crepes at Saint-Pierre not far from the cathedral to tide us over until a late dinner.
Visit the Reformation Wall
Next up, we visited the rather stern looking Reformation Wall. John Calvin, a key figure in the Protestant Reformation spend the latter years of his life in Geneva. The Reformation Wall is an international monument honoring key figures in the reformation. The Reformation Wall was erected in 1909 on the grounds of the University of Geneva campus that Calvin founded and commemorates the 400th anniversary of Calvin’s birth and the 350th anniversary of the founding of the university.
Wander the University of Geneva Campus
On of the most fun things to do in Geneva is have a wander around the University of Geneva campus. We stepped inside one of the buildings. We had noticed a pretty amazing looking stained glass window from the outside and wanted to see what it looked like from the inside. Our exploration led to a lecture hall with a backdrop of stunning stained glass. We tried to be discreet, however, you need to be careful because the lights are motion sensitive and we were suddenly bathed in light when we tried to sneak into the lecture hall for a photo.
Discover the Inspiration for Frankenstein in Geneva
Did you know that Mary Shelley got the inspiration for Frankenstein during a stormy visit to Geneva? There is a statue honoring her and her creation on display there. Geneva’s Frankenstein looks nothing like the stereotypical Frankenstein you see in movies and in cartoons today.
Things to see in Geneva Switzerland:
Left: Frankenstein statue
Middle: L’horloge fleurie
Right: Jet d’eau at night
Drinks in Carouge
Thanks to our free Geneva transportation card, we took the tram to Carouge, a happening and quaint neighborhood. Carouge offers lots of cool shops to browse (most close up at 6 pm or earlier so keep an eye on the time), quintessential Swiss shuttered architecture and fun wine bars like Qu’ Importe. The shops were closed by the time we arrived in Carouge so we had a brief wander around the neighborhood to admire the architecture and then sat down for a pre-dinner glass of wine.
Left: Swan fountain in the Carouge neighborhood of Geneva
Middle: Chocolate fondant at Chez Gregoire
Right: Glass of wine at Qu’ Importe in Carouge
Dinner at Chez Gregoire
We made a reservation for dinner at popular Chez Gregoire. We enjoyed a goat’s cheese salad with honey and dried fruits, a filet of pike from Lake Geneva, and sliced beef with tarragon. We saved room for a lovely chocolate fondant for dessert. Everything went down well with a bottle of Swiss red wine from the wine region near Geneva. Chez Gregoire offered us a great meal in terms of flavors but the service could have been better. Chez Gregoire just didn’t seem to have enough staff working on a busy Friday evening.
Breakfast at Coffee Lab
After a restful night’s sleep in Geneva, stop for a breakfast of champions: cappuccino and pan au chocolat in at Coffee Lab to start the day.
Tour the United Nations in Geneva
One of the most popular things to do in Geneva is visit the United Nations. It’s a little confusing to buy tickets for the UN tour but we eventually figured it out. If you are standing in the park with the dancing fountains and large chair looking at the UN, follow the road around to the left for about 10 minutes and you’ll see the entrance. There are four tours a day starting at 10:30 am with the ticket booth opening at 9:30 am. Make sure to get there at least 30 minutes early. The tickets are free but you need to show identification and go through security before entering.
On the hour long tour, we learned about the fascinating history of the United Nations and its predecessor, the League of Nations. We enjoyed seeing the historic architecture and got to see inside a number of the chambers used for important UN conferences. The UN in Geneva is also full of works of art from around the world. Want to know the most surprising and amazing thing about visiting the UN? There are peacocks that live outdoors on the property. As we were approaching the entrance, a peacock appeared with its plumage on full display!
Tour of the United Nations in Geneva
Left: Peacock fully displaying its plumage
Middle: View out the window of the historic League of Nations Buildings
Right: Conference room with painted ceiling at the UN
Things to do in Lausanne
Traveling from Geneva to Lausanne takes about an hour by train. We combined visits to both Geneva and Lausanne into a long weekend. Let’s now take a look at all the really cool things to do in Lausanne.
Explore Old Town Lausanne
Warning: Lausanne is very hilly. Take some time to explore Old Town Lausanne but recognize that it can be punishing on foot. At least Lausanne also includes a free transit pass with a hotel stay so we could take the metro part way up. Wander the streets of Old Town Lausanne to see what catches your fancy but make sure to pop into the Église réformée Saint-François to see the awesome organ.
Shop for Swiss Chocolate
When in Switzerland, you need to pick up some chocolate. We enjoyed some delicious orange chocolate from Durig Chocolatier. They even gave us an extra praline for free. I tried one filled with passionfruit.
Lausanne’s Olympic Museum
The Olympic Museum is one of the top things to do Lausanne. There were all sorts of cool exhibits at the Olympic Museum including:
- Olympic torches and medals
- A display of mascots and merch
- Jesse Owens’ shoe
- A jersey from the 1980 USA hockey team who upset the USSR to take gold
The outdoor Olympic Park in Lausanne also was pretty cool with neat sports-themed sculptures and lake/mountain views. A full-price adult ticket to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne cost 18 CHF (about $18 USD) at the time of writing.
What to see in Lausanne:
Left: the organ at Église réformée Saint-François
Middle: mascots at the Olympic Museum
Right: Lake Geneva
Walk Lake Geneva
Walk from the Olympic Museum back to Lausanne town (takes about 10 minutes) along Lake Geneva. We even stumbled upon the Lausanne Malt Festival and got to try some craft beer from Jorat. Keep an eye out for steamboats cruising on Lac Léman.
Posh Dinner at Brasserie du Royale
We treated ourselves to an upscale dinner at Brasserie du Royale at Hôtel Royal Savoy Lausanne. We loved the wild garlic foam with bacon-wrapped monkfish and chicken with gruyere gnocchi. We also had beetroot with apple sorbet and green asparagus to start all washed down with a bottle of Swiss red wine, of course.
|Dinner at Brasserie du Royale at Hôtel Royal Savoy Lausanne|
Things to do in Montreux
For the final day of our weekend in French-speaking Switzerland we traveled from Lausanne to Montreux and then onward to historic Chateau de Chillon. I have to give a hat tip to the Swiss rail customer service rep that we spoke to for being extra tourist friendly. We tried to book train tickets from a machine and then went into the ticket office to ask a question. We were proactively told that we get a discount on the train day pass and could buy admission to Chateau de Chillon right there. We ended up getting almost 10 CHF back even though we now also had tickets to Chateau de Chillon!
Take the Slow Train to Château de Chillon
Savor the views from the train between Lausanne and Montreux Switzerland. We took the S2 which is a little slower but stops more places which means more photo ops of the vineyards dotting the hillside in the Vaud canton. Upon arrival at the Veytaux-Chillon train station take a detour from the path that runs between the train tracks and the lake en route to Château de Chillon. Take the narrow staircase down to the water where you’ll be rewarded with some awesome views of historic Chillon Castle.
Left: view from Chillon Castle
Middle: view of Chillon Castle
Right: vineyards in the Vaud canton from the Lausanne to Montreux train
Tour Chillon Castle
The self-guided tour of Chillon Castle was fascinating inside and out. Château de Chillon is extremely well preserved and full of history from the 12th century Savoys to 16th century Bernese. Hear about François Bonivard’s imprisonment and Lord Byron’s 20th century poem about it. Bonivard was a 16th century Geneva patriot who ran afoul of the ruling Savoys. Plan to spend a couple hours exploring Chillon Castle and admiring the magical views over the lake.
Eat Pizza at San Luca Restaurante
Head back to Montreux for lunch. We enjoyed comforting pizza and lasagna at San Luca Restaurante. I would highly recommend this restaurant.
Get the Full Queen Experience at Montreux Casino
Did you know that Freddie Mercury of Queen fame settled in Geneva for a time? Some of Queen’s albums were actually recorded here. In fact, Queen owned a recording studio in Montreux back in the day. Check out the Queen Experience at the Montreux Casino. The Queen Experience mainly covers the period of the band’s history tied to
Pay Tribute to Freddie Mercury
Take a walk along the water in Montreux and discover a statue of Freddie Mercury looking out over Lac Léman. When we visited Montreux on a Sunday in May, there was also live jazz music and a market set up along the shores of the lake.
Things to see in Montreux and nearby:
Left: Fork in the water in Vevey
Middle: Freddie Mercury statue
Right: Flowers along Lac Léman
Walk the Flowered Paths Along Lake Geneva in Montreux
Definitely take some time to walk along the relaxing flower-lined paths along Lac Léman in Montreux. The bright yellow and orange flowers definitely brightened my mood.
Detour to Vevey
Finish the day with a detour from Montreux to Vevey. An Old Town stroll, “The Fork” and Charley Chaplin outside the Alimentarium plus a glass of wine at Le Cárre was sadly all we had time for before our return from Montreux to Lausanne to pick up our bags for our onward journey to Zurich.