GENEVA: LAKESIDE PROMENADES AND LUXURY SHOPPING
It might be a small city, but there are still many gems to discover in Geneva. Here’s a list of the best things to do in and around town – from all the major touristy places, to instagrammable photo opportunities, to the local favs (I’ve been living in Geneva since 2017):
You will already see it from afar: Geneva’s impressive landmark has an altitude of no less than 140 meters (460 ft)! The Jet d’Eau (French for “water jet”) is located where Lake Geneva empties into the Rhône.
You can get a good view of it from practically anywhere in the city, but a good point would be the Pont du Mont-Blanc. If you cannot see the fountain from here, it is very likely switched off, which is the case on windy days or when it gets below 2 °C / 35 °F. You could get really lucky though and catch the Jet d’Eau with a rainbow, or, on special occasions, illuminated in bright colors at night.
Have a look at Jet d’Eau’s very own Instagram (tag it in your photos and you might get featured)!
St. Pierre Cathedral
The main church of Geneva is located very prominently in the heart of the old town (you can already spot the church down from the lake). The cathedral was built Roman Catholic around 1160, but has been converted into a Reformed Protestant Church during the reformation in 1535. The style is a bit mixed – the basilica was first started in Romanesque, further constructed in Gothic style, and in the 18th century, a Neo-Classical main facade has been added.
When visiting the church, do not miss having a look into the colorful Maccabees Chapel: turn directly to the right after you have entered the main church.
To access St. Pierre Cathedral, you need to do a little climbing from the city center / lakeshore up to the old town. There are tourist signs all over the city guiding you to the church.
You can even do some more climbing, 157 steps to be precise, up to the towers of the cathedral, and have one of the best views of Geneva. Purchase the tickets for the towers inside the church.
If you are not so keen on climbing up, have a crêpe at the crêperie next door and enjoy a great view of the towers. 🙂
The old town (“vieille ville”) is obviously a good reason itself to go up the steep cobblestone alleys of ancient Geneva.
Enjoy the view over Geneva’s rooftops from here and realize how high the Jet d’Eau really is when it peaks even over the tallest buildings. You will find a lot of galleries and individual art or jewellery shops in the old town. Notice that almost all buildings are kept in the same color: gray – which has its own charm!
Take a picture of the typically Swiss flagged street Rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville and while you are there, quickly visit the inner courtyard of Geneva’s city hall (“hôtel de ville”); walk up the stony staircase.
Simply wander around in the narrow streets of the old town – you can never get lost because if you feel you do, just follow the streets or stairs back down and you are in “new” Geneva again.
English Garden, Flower Watch, National Monument
Take a selfie at the Flower Watch (“L’Horloge Fleurie”), then walk the few steps to the National Monument (“Monument National”), stroll on the banks of Lake Geneva (get your souvenirs here), and find some quietness in the English Garden (“Jardain Anglais”).
In summer (June/July/August), take a ride on the Ferris wheel “Swisswheel” and enjoy the magnificent view of the city and the lake from above.
Île Rousseau, West Side (Right Bank) of the Lake, Boat Ride
Your starting point would be the Île Rousseau, that you can access from the pedestrian bridge Pont des Bergues across the Rhône River. After that, follow the bridge back to the mainland and take a right turn on Quai des Bergues. The famous 5 star Four Seasons luxury hotel on your left is a perfect spot for car watching and the Ladurée shop next door has the best macarons in town. Go straight to take a stroll along the lakeside promenade. Stop for good ice cream (you can totally have a scoop after your maracon(s)!) at Muller’s Factory, find the little sign where Elisabeth, Empress of Austria, has been assassinated in 1898 and her statue on your right, and take a photo of the abundant Brunswick Monument on your left.
From here you can take one of the little yellow and red “Mouette” boats to the other side of the lake. They are public transport boats, so simply use your TPG bus/tram day ticket or get a “saut de puce” ticket valid for 1 stop at the orange TPG ticket machine and take the M1 boat to “Molard”.
A Classic: The Red Sightseeing Bus
Explore Geneva’s highlights on a classic sightseeing bus tour. There are three tours to choose from, or you can even do all of them if you have the entire day.
1) International Tour (red bus): international organizations and major tourist attractions like the flower watch or the Jet d’Eau; takes about 75 minutes, departs at Place du Rhône and Quai du Mont-Blanc
2) Old Town Tour (mini-train): takes about 35 minutes, departs at Place du Rhône
3) Parks and Residences Tour (mini-train): takes about 35 minutes, departs at Quai du Mont-Blanc
Get your tickets directly at the bus. Visit the official website for more info.
Shopping & Window Shopping
Shopping is a bit tricky in Geneva – it is not one of the cheapest cities in the world.
Dressing up posh and strolling through Rue du Rhône for some window shopping (Cartier, Tiffany’s, …) and people watching is fun.
But there’s also some real shopping possible: Start at the beginning of Rue de la Confédération and shop along Rue du Marché, Rue de la Croix-d’Or, all the way to Rue de Rive (tip: La Maison de la Bible).
Get a pink & vegan & gluten free Tapioca at the Wild Girls Deli (Rue du Marché) or refresh yourself at the end of the shopping streets and find some vegan and organic options at Le Pain Quotitien, get a maracon dessert at Ladurée Paris, then head back by shopping the other side of the streets.
For both, to shop or window shop, get off the trams #12, #14, or #18 at the Bel Air station (a great spot for a photo of the Jet d’Eau as well!)
European headquarters of the United Nations & Broken Chair
Learn about the history and works of the United Nations by visiting their largest center after the main one in New York City. The building alone is worth a visit: it has been built between 1929 and 1936, and you can really get the pre-World War II feels here. The guided tours (also in English) are offered daily during the week and last for about one hour, so you can get a good overview of the organization.
Please note that it is a high security location and you will be checked before entering (like at the airport) – you also need to bring your passport. The UN can only be accessed by taking part in a guided tour. Usually there is no need to book in advance, unless you are a big group.
Have a look at the main entrance (famous flags and broken chair) first, then take a short walk up to the public entrance at the Pregny Gate where you can book your guided tour (more info and entry fees on their official website).
While waiting for your tour to begin, send a postcard from UN territory with a special UN stamp! The post office is located next to the souvenir shop where the guided tours start.
Cruise on Lake Geneva
Take a lake cruise departing from Geneva with amazing views of the city and the surrounding towns and castles. There are various options, from one hour trips up to full day trips. I recommend taking the three hour non-stop circuit with the historic Savoie cruise ship, departing from and returning to Geneva’s Jardin Anglais pier with CGN (Compagnie Générale de Navigation), which takes you from Geneva to Hermance, Yvoire, Nyon, back to Hermance and Geneva.
Location of the ticket shop and departure pier. // Find your cruise and more info on the official CGN website.
If you want to visit a really extraordinary Catholic church in Geneva, go check out the Église Ste-Trinité near the central station Cornavin. The church has only been built in 1994 and its architecture (pink granite!) really sicks out.
CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Meyrin
Dig into the world’s biggest playground for physicists and find out what goes on in the 27 km/17 mi long tunnel below Geneva. Unfortunately you cannot go underground, but the Globe, the Visitor Center (that are just across the street from each other), and the free guided tours offer great edutainment!
Check out the big silver sculpture in front of the Globe and see what you can remember from your physics lessons in school. 🙂
Access: There is a tram stop directly at the Visitor Center’s Reception (“CERN”, trams #14 and #18), as well as a big free parking area next to the Globe (don’t worry about the gate, any car can enter; just make sure you park on the white marked spots, not on the blue ones).
Visit CERN’s official visitor website for more info.
The complete opposite of gray Geneva can be found in Carouge, a small neighboring town with a truly mediterranean feel.
Located only about 15 minutes from Geneva, it is easily accessible by tram #12 (parking is terrible there!). Get off at the station “Carouge-Marché” and explore the charming town by foot. Discover the small handcraft and antique shops in and around Rue Saint-Joseph. Look for the many lovely fountains and visit the Catholic church Église Sainte-Croix.
Versoix, Port Choiseul
Even though there is a free small sand beach in the middle of Geneva, nothing beats the beach at Port of Choiseul in Versoix. Situated 30 minutes outside of Geneva, it is worth a visit nonetheless.
The pebble beach is also free of charge and you can easily spend an entire day here: relax on the beach, take a dip into the clear blue water (in summer), take a stroll by the lake, simply enjoy the view of all the sailboats in the wharf, and get your refreshment at the lovely café La Buvette du Port Choiseul. On your way to the café (or back), walk out on the lake on a pier for photo ops and selfies with breathtaking views of Lake Geneva.
If you prefer just hanging out in a shady spot, you are covered as well: There is a huge park directly behind the beach where you can have a picknick under the huge trees. Bring your (veggie 😉 ) steaks and some coal, as there are free public barbecues available for all. Everything you need for a perfect day by the lake!
Jura Mountains: Hiking in Summer, Skiing in Winter (Amazing Views All Year Round)
Only 30 minutes by car from Geneva, the Cable Car of Crozet (France) will take you up the Jura Mountains for a day of hiking or skiing. It is said that you have the world’s best view from up here: you cannot only see Geneva, the Lake, and the Jet d’Eau, but also the majestic Mont Blanc (meaning “White Mountain”), the highest mountain of the Alps and all of Europe.
Find the opening ours of the Fierney Cable Car on the official website.
☞ Blogpost “Skiing in Crozet”
Enjoy your time in and around Geneva!
My guidebook recommendations for Geneva and Switzerland: