Looking for the top things to do in Geneva? This guide will help you plan your visit, so you don’t miss out on any of the fantastic sights this beautiful city has to offer.
Let us help you discover Geneva’s top attractions and make the most of your stay in this beautiful lakeside city.
Introduction to Geneva
Geneva is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city in the south-west of Switzerland. It lies on the border with France, so makes it a perfect gateway if you are going to the Alps.
As well as its magnificent mountains, Switzerland is famous for chocolate and prestigious watch-making industry. However, the compact city of Geneva has much more to offer and it’s easy to spend a few days here. Discover what the city has to offer its visitors and plan your own itinerary.
Geneva is very much a city of two halves, the Old Town and the International Zone. It has many attractions in both, which all are located around its famous lake, Lac Léman.
Lake Geneva (Lac Léman)
You cannot visit Geneva without noticing the stunning Lac Léman (often known as Lake Geneva), one of Geneva’s most popular attractions.
Geneva sits on the southern tip of the enormous lake and most attractions are located around its borders. You can see Mont Blanc in the background, giving you majestic views wherever you go in the city.
There is a tree-line promenade at the edge of the lake, so you can stroll at your leisure. In the summer, you can take a boat trip on Lake Geneva.
The Jet d’Eau is the iconic fountain in Lake Geneva which dominates the city. This former release-valve became a tourist attraction in 1891, when it could only shoot water 90m into the air.
Later, in 1951, a new pumping system gave it the capacity to shoot water at 200 km per hour to a height of 140 metres. It is now Geneva’s most famous landmark.
The Jet d’Eau is manually operated and only works when it is warm enough. However, we were there in February and it was looking truly spectacular. A great place for a selfie at any angle.
Bain des Pâquis
Bain de Pâquis has a mini beach and swimming pool in the lake, where you can swim in the summer. It also has a sauna, hamman and massages.
It’s also worth going to try its open-air restaurant. Bain de Paquis offers a dish of the day and a traditional fondue. The restaurant is very popular and has a quite manic queuing system, but the food and atmosphere are good.
Top tip: They only accept cash in Swiss Francs.
Flower Clock (L’horloge fleurie)
If you cross the bridge (Pont du Mont Blanc), you will come directly to the famous Flower Clock in the English Garden (jardin anglais). This is both a flowerbed and a working clock.
The bed has thousands of different flowers, which change according to the season. The Flower Clock works to high Swiss precision standards, using satellites for accuracy.
The English Garden is a good place for a walk. As well as the Flower Clock, it has a fountain, several monuments and a bandstand. It’s an ideal place for a picnic.
Place du Molard
Not far away, you can find Place du Molard in the centre of Geneva’s shopping area. On the ground, blocks welcome you in the six UN official languages and these are illuminated when it turns dark.
Geneva's Old Town (La Vieille Ville)
When you visit Geneva, allow time to wander around the charming, cobbled streets of its Old Town. As you wind your way through the maze of alleys, you cannot fail to admire the history and culture that confront you at every turn.
There are also plenty of opportunities for al fresco dining or you can just stop for a drink and watch the world go by.
St Peter’s Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint Pierre)
Looking down on the old town is the magnificent Cathédrale Saint-Pierre. This impressive building was built in the 12th Century for Catholics. However, in 1535, during the Reformation, it became a Protestant place of worship. Today, you can still admire the high ceilings, enormous organ and intricate stained-glass windows. Even better, admission is free.
Outside, in front of St Pierre’s Cathedral, you can see archaeological remains from preious churches on the site. If you have time, climb the tower for panoramic views over Geneva’s city and lake.
Tavel House (La Maison Tavel)
A short distance from St Pierre’s Cathedral is Geneva’s oldest house. Tavel House was built in 1334. Later, in 1963, it was bought by the city of Geneva, who transformed it into the museum of the history of Geneva.
Old Arsenal (L’ancien arsenal)
Behind the cathedral is Geneva’s former military arsenal. The Old Arsenal was originally a granary, but is now a museum housing weapons used to defend Geneva. The front is guarded by 5 canons and on the walls are 3 colourful mosaic frescoes depicting key events in Geneva’s history:- Julius Caesar’s arrival in town, the reception of the Huguenot refugees, and Geneva’s first trade fair.
Bourg de Four
At the centre of the Old Town is the historic square, Bourg de Four. This is the oldest square in Geneva and started life as a Roman forum and cattle market. It now offers a choice of lively cafes, art galleries and tourist shops.
Bastions Park (Parc des Bastions)
Just below the Old Town is the beautiful city park, Parc des Bastions. It is a large green space, with a tree-lined promenade. You can also find giant chess boards, a small playground and Geneva’s first botanical garden.
At the heart of Bastions Park is the Reformation Wall. This giant monument is a tribute to the 4 key players in the Protestant reformation in the 1500s.
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum in Geneva is a good place to visit if you are looking for things to do with children.
The permanent route is free. You can discover stuffed examples of the many species of birds, reptiles and amphibians and mammals living in Switzerland. Additionally, you can discover dinosaur fossils on the top floor.
Geneva - Capital of Peace
Geneva is often referred to as the Capital of Peace and hosts more than 40 international organisations. It is the birthplace of the Geneva Convention and the Red Cross. Geneva is famed for being neutral and is a natural place to start international discussions for peace.
On the opposite side of Lake Geneva to the Old Town, you can visit several of these organisations.
Palais des Nations (United Nations Office)
The Palais des Nations is the 2nd largest of the United Nations office sites. This beautiful art-deco building overlooks Lake Geneva. Outside you can see flags from all member states.
If you want to discover more about the Palais des Nations’ history and current UN activities, book a guided tour. There are 4 tours a day and currently cost 15 CHF for adults. Tours last about an hour, but it is essential to book in advance.
The Broken Chair (la chaise cassée)
In front of Palais des Nations is a giant wooden monumental sculpture, called the broken chair. This enormous wooden chair with 1 broken leg is 12 metres high and weigh 5.5 tonnes.
The Broken Chair was erected in 1997 to encourage nations to sign the Ottawa Treaty. The UN established this treaty to ban the use of land mines.
The Broken Chair was meant to be a temporary structure, but is still there after 20 years. Its main aim is to promote peace and it serves as a reminder to visiting politicians and visitors of the dangers of landmines.
International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent
Near to Palais des Nations, you can find the International Red Cross Museum. This focuses on the history of humanitarian history and the work of the Red Cross around the world.
Entrance is 15 CHF for adults, with concessions for families and groups. The museum is open from 10am to 6pm in summer and until 5pm in winter.
Conservatory and Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens is great for families and kids and was one of our top things to do in Geneva. You can access it if you are walking along the lake towards Palais des Nations.
The gardens are splendid and have over 16,000 different species of plants. There are 3 greenhouses, which hold tropical plants (and great for a warm up if you are visiting in winter).
There is a small animal park, with sheep, deer, flamingos and other birds. For younger children, there is also a small playground.
There are other themed areas, such as the Japanese tea garden, rock garden and historic rose garden.
What’s even better about Geneva’s Botanic Gardens is that admission is free.
Getting to Geneva
Geneva has its own airport, so is really accessible from overseas. If you are going from the UK, there are regular flights with Easy Jet, British Airways, Swiss, Flybe and Jet2. Direct flights take about 1 hr 45 mins.
When you arrive at the airport, the city is on a direct route by train and only takes 7 minutes.
Getting around in Geneva
As Geneva is a very compact city, it is very easy to walk around. You can go by foot from the train station to the Old Town in 15 minutes.
There is also a good system of public transport and you can easily get a bus, tram or train if you want to go out of town.
The Geneva Pass will give you free transport and access to many of the attractions. You can buy it for 1, 2 or 3 days. Prices in February 2020 are:
- 1 day: 26 CHF
- 2 days: 37 CHF
- 3 days: 45 CHF
Currency in Geneva
The currency of Geneva is the Swiss Franc (CHF). However, many businesses will also accept the Euro, but will give change in francs.
Official language of Geneva
The official language of Geneva is French. However, being such an international city, many speak English and other European languages, such as Italian and German.