When, you mix chocolates, with financial services and then zip them along close to the speed of light in the world’s largest particle accelerator, you produce Geneva, the second largest city in Switzerland and one of the coolest locations on the planet. Geneva has a reputation for wealth but it also produces excellent food, creamy chocolate and masterful time-pieces. If there is one destination that wears many hats, then it’s surely this lakeside city at the foot of the Alps.
Geneva is an ancient city which first entered history during the Iron Age when it was a border town between the Allobrogian and the Helvetti tribes. It was captured by the Romans in 121 BCE and was a staging ground for Julius Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul in the 60s BCE. During the 16th century, Geneva was a major centre of the Protestant Reformation that splintered Europe and prompted the formation of the countries we known today. In 1863, the Swiss humanitarian Henry Dunant met with other social activists in Geneva. They drew up the First Geneva Convention and initiated what would become known as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Geneva can take the pressure!
Here’s a Pro-tip: Of Switzerland’s three official languages, French, German, and Italian, French is most widely spoken in Geneva.
Geneva Airport is located 4 km (2.5 miles) from the city and serves direct flights across continental Europe and many international destinations. Once you reach the terminal, you can hop on the train which takes 7 minutes to reach downtown. Pick up your complimentary Uniresto ticket at the airport. This grants you 80 minutes of free travel in the city as a welcome gift. Alternatively, you can hop in one of the taxis outside the terminal, which will cost approximately 35-45 Swiss Francs (£27-£35) to reach the city centre.
In terms of things to do in and around Geneva, the city is blessed with natural wonders, historic architecture, and annual festivals. These are my tips on how to spend your days in the city:
- Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) – Life in Geneva revolves around its crescent-shaped lake. You need only peer across the water to see the snow-capped peak of Mount Blanc. Stroll along the promenade or board a boat from the Genève Mont-Blanc ferry terminal for a scenic cruise across the lake. During the warmer months, you can even hire a stand-up paddleboard, although this experience might be a bit too immersive!
- Jet d’Eau– Rising to a height of 140 metres, this iconic plume of water is the very emblem of Geneva. It shoots 500 litres of water into the air every second and is a marvel to see at night.
- Vieille Ville– Geneva’s Old Town is a maze of historical buildings, public squares, museums, boutiques and cafes. The neighbourhood ascends up a hill and is steep in places but you can catch your breath on the Treille Promenade which hosts one of the longest benches in the world. As much as I love to roam at leisure, here’s a few places to check out:
- –Musée d’Art et d’Histoire– this huge gallery showcases archaeological, applied art and fine arts collections.
- –Place du Bourg-de-Four– the oldest square in Geneva is a picturesque spot for a coffee and a spot of people watching.
- –Cathédrale Saint-Pierre Genève – originally built as a Roman Catholic cathedral, the church was converted to a Protestant house of worship at the time John Calvin took up residence.
It’s easy to flag down a ride in Geneva!
- Bains des Pâquis – cool off at these public baths that provide a unique perspective of the city, lake and fountain. During winter, you can warm up at the sauna. Hammans and massages are available all year.
- Palais des Nations – brush up on your world affairs trivia with a tour of the United Nations. Notable sights include the Assembly Hall, council chamber and the avenue of flags from around the world. You can combine your visit with the adjacentInternational Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, a thought-provoking landmark.
- Le Festival du Chocolat (Festichoc) – every year, Geneva hosts the annual chocolate festival which brings together the finest chocolatiers in a country famed for its production of the sweetest treat. The festival is held in Versoix, late March or early April over a weekend so you will need to align your dates.
Skiing in Geneva won’t leave you piste!
- Skiing – thanks to its prime spot close to the Alps, Geneva is conveniently located for a number of French ski resorts. Chamonix, Flaine, Samoensand Les Gets are some of the closest options with a transfer time of less than 90 minutes from Geneva Airport. The ski resorts of 3 Valleys are a 3.5-hour drive away.
- Hiking & Biking– there are dozens of cycling routes and hiking trails that start from the city. I enjoy cycling west along the Rhone towards the French border by bike to discover Geneva’s vineyards or roaming through the Versoix woods with my camera.
Here’s another Pro-tip: Keep your eyes peeled for chocolate shops such as Du Rhône Chocolatier and La Bonbonnière Chocolaterie. Warm up with a mug of hot chocolate during the Swiss winter.
Michelin-starred restaurants rub shoulders with charming family-owned cafés in Geneva, meaning you’ll never go hungry. Here are some of my top picks:
- Chez ma Cousine– This cosy venue in Vieille Ville specialises in free range chicken dishes served rotisserie style, from the grill, or tossed into a fresh green salad.
- Cafe du Soleil – Flee the touristic fondue spots and head to this leafy terrace to experience the best fondue in town as well as other Swiss specialities.
- Living Room Bar & Kitchen– With exceptional views across the lake towards Mont Blanc, this Swiss-Nordic restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton hotel presents an unforgettable experience in its luxe dining room.
Can I have Fon-don’t instead?
Geneva may not have the party reputation of other European cities like Dublin and Berlin, but what I love about the city is its abundance of cosy cocktail bars where diplomats whisper secrets or just relax after a hard day. These are my tips for relaxing:
- MET Rooftop Lounge– This bar, atop the Hôtel Métropole Genève, lets you drink up views of the lake and fountain as you sip your Aperol Spritz! A number one recommendation for summer.
- Le Verre à Monique– Swill, sweet Swiss cocktails in a sophisticated yet relaxed bar with exceptional service and quality.
- Chat Noir Club – As one of the few places in Geneva that you can listen to live music, I’m sure you’ll love this classic venue.
Here’s another Pro-tip: If you’re a wine drinker, book a tour of the vineyards that wrap around the city.
This wealthy city is brimming with accommodations that will ensure you sleep soundly in style. Skip the chain properties and stay in one of these boutique hotels:
- Hôtel Les Armures– dating back to the 13th century, this 5-star property in the heart of Vieille Ville seamlessly brings together traditional comforts with modern style. The on-site restaurant is one of the best in the city for authentic Swiss fare.
- Hotel N’vy– the bohemian hotel is one of the coolest places to stay in Geneva. There’s a Californian style bar and a New York themed restaurant on site.
The dress code in Geneva is re-formal!
- Hotel Des Tourelles – located in the St. Gervais quarter, this hotel is perfectly positioned for the airport, ferry, and Vieille Ville. There are rooms to suit all budgets, with the loveliest ones providing views of the Rhone.
Ironically, given its heritage of watchmaking, Geneva is a city that invites you to lose track of time and bask in the majestic architecture, engrossing history, and excellent food scene. Whatever time of year you visit, your enjoyment will accelerate to light speed!