Things to do in Geneva
Geneva, a cosmopolitan and international city in Switzerland, is located on the shores of Lake Geneva, close to the French border. Known worldwide for its wealth, it is one of the 5 richest cities in the world. It also has quite much to offer to tourists!
To help you organize your stay in the city, I have made a list of the 15 best things to do in Geneva.
In addition to the must-see attractions, I will also give you my best tips and advices as well as recommended itineraries to visit Geneva and its surroundings in 1, 2 or 3 days.
As you know it, Geneva is one of the most expensive city in the world, so I have prepared for you a selection of the hotels that offers the best bang for your buck at the end of the article.
Let’s plan your trip to Geneva!
- Things to do in Geneva
- 1. The Jet d’Eau of Geneva
- 2. Geneva Old Town
- 3. Geneva Saint Peter’s Cathedral
- 4. Treille Promenade
- 5. Bastions Park – Parc des Bastions
- 6. The Jardin Anglais and the Flower Clock
- 7. Parc de La Grange and Parc des Eaux-vives
- 8. Bains des Pâquis
- 9. Visit the United Nations Office
- 10. Broken Chair sculpture
- 11. Geneva botanical garden
- 12. Geneva Museums
- 13. Do a cruise on Lake Geneva
- 14. Attend a concert at Geneva Victoria Hall
- 15. Going to Geneva International Motor Show
- The Geneva Pass
- Things to do around Geneva
- Geneva: what to do in 1 day?
- 2 days in Geneva
- 3 days in Geneva
- Where to stay in Geneva?
- Where to eat in Geneva?
- How to go to Geneva
- Geneva tourist map
1. The Jet d’Eau of Geneva
Geneva’s Jet d’Eau fountain (litteraly “water jet”) is the symbol of the city since the creation of its decorative version in 1891. You may not know it, but its first intent wasn’t to be aesthetic. It was in fact a solution to a technical problem! The first version, 30m high, acted as a safety valve for a water facility located in the city.
The current version, dating from the 1950s, is 140m high. Every second, more than 500 litres of water are expelled at a speed of 200 km/h. In every moment, 7 tons of water form this magnificent water jet!
Located on the Jetée des Eaux Vives (Eaux Vives jetty), the water jet is nowadays a must-see tourist attraction in Geneva.
2. Geneva Old Town
Geneva Old Town, the largest historic centre in Switzerland, is where you will find some of the most emblematic places to see during your visit to Geneva. It’s very easy to visit on foot!
Here are the old town highlights:
- Geneva Saint Peter’s Cathedral and the Chapel of the Maccabees
- Calvin College (“Collège Calvin” in French), which dates from the 16th century and is the oldest in the city
- The Bastion Park
- The Reformation Wall
- Place du Bourg-de-Four, a square with fountains and numerous cafes and restaurants. The facade of the Museum of Art and History is superb. From there, the famous secret passage “Degrés de poules” leads to the cathedral.
- Treille Promenade
- The Tavel House (Maison Tavel), the oldest private house in Geneva, now converted into a museum
- The Molard Tower: Well, it’s not exactly in the old town, but just at the exit, on Molard Square. It was built in 1591, has a clock and is decorated with arms linked to the history of The Reformation and Geneva.
During your visit to Geneva Old Town, you should also pay attention to the streets names: rue du Purgatoire (Purgatory) and rue d’Enfer (Hell) are next to rue de la Croix d’Or (Golden cross) and rue de Toutes Âmes (Every Souls)!
Some of these tourist attractions definitely deserve a dedicated paragraph, so I will give you more information about them soon!
3. Geneva Saint Peter’s Cathedral
At the heart of the old town, you can find the is the St. Peter’s Cathedral of Geneva (“Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Genève”). Built for the Catholic rite, it then became a Protestant place of worship in 1535.
If you have never seen a Protestant church, you may be surprised once inside: according to Calvinist spiritual codes, the interior is extremely simple: all the ornaments and signs of opulence have been removed.
Things to see during your visit:
- Climb the 157 steps leading up to the towers, which will give you a nice view of Geneva
- The chapel of the Maccabees, whose decoration contrasts with the austerity of the cathedral. That’s what I liked best during the visit!
- Visit the archaeological site in the basement, where you can see the foundations of the old cathedral.
In addition to this, the visit to Geneva St. Peter’s Cathedral is an opportunity to learn more about the history of Protestantism. The International Museum of the Reformation is located right next door, in the Mallet House (“Maison Mallet”).
Another important place in the history of Protestantism, the Auditoire de Calvin (Calvin’s Auditorium) is also close to the Cathedral.
4. Treille Promenade
The Treille Promenade (“Promenade de la Treille”) is located on the outskirts of the old town, not far from the town hall. In addition to being the oldest in Geneva, it is especially known for its 2 curiosities:
You can find the longest wooden bench in the world on this promenade: 120m!
This is also where “Geneva official chestnut tree” (le “marronnier officiel” in french) is located. Each year, Its first leaf announce the arrival of spring in Geneva .
5. Bastions Park – Parc des Bastions
Located at the foot of the old town, under the Treille Promenade, the Parc des Bastions is particularly appreciated by students, because of its proximity to the university.
There are 2 main attractions to see in this park:
- The 100m-long Reformation Wall was erected in honour of the men who worked for the Reformation and the creation of Protestantism. In the middle of the wall, you can admire the 5m tall statues of 4 great preachers: Jean Calvin, Guillaume Farel, Théodore de Bèze and John Knox
- The Giant chess games: The Bastions Park has a playground with 6 giant chess games. This is the opportunity to play (or watch) a game in an original setting during your visit to Geneva!
Every year, the music festival (fête de la musique) takes place in this park.
6. The Jardin Anglais and the Flower Clock
Thanks to its proximity to Lake Geneva and its many shaded areas, the Jardin Anglais (“English Garden” literally) is a popular public garden for tourists and locals. Whether you want to rest for a few minutes or take a short stroll by the lake, it is a must-see when you visit Geneva.
In this garden, you can also find the famous Flower Clock (“Horloge Fleurie”). It’s Geveva’s classic selfie spot, being, with the Jet d’Eau, one of the most photographed places in Geneva! It commemorates in an original way the watchmaking tradition of the city.
In the Jardin Anglais, you will also find the National Monument (“Monument National”), which commemorates Geneva’s attachment to Switzerland in 1814. At the north-western end of the park, you can cross the Mont-Blanc bridge, which crosses Lake Geneva.
If you’re in town during summer, in the evening, you may have the chance to attend a free concert in the old music kiosk.
7. Parc de La Grange and Parc des Eaux-vives
These two parks are located on the banks of Lake Geneva, on the Quai Gustave-Ador (left bank), less than 10 minutes walk from the Jet d’Eau. For me, these are the 2 most beautiful public gardens in Geneva. Another big advantage: even in the middle of summer, they are never crowded!
The Parc de la Grange, the largest in the city, has some very nice attractions:
- Its rose garden, the largest in Geneva, is open access.
- The Théâtre de l’ Orangerie and Théâtre de Verdure
- The ruins of an ancient Roman villa
- In summer, you can even find sheeps in the park!
Another good point: it’s possible to picnic and even have barbecues on the specially designed barbecue area. There is also a children’s playground and a paddling pool. Perfect for a family stay in Geneva!
The Parc des Eaux Vives, where the excellent restaurant hotel des Eaux-Vives is located, is also worth a visit. It’s very well laid out, has a large lawn and many large conifers for you to rest in the shades.
The flower beds are very well maintained and there is even a place with a waterfall! Special mention for the small wooden bridges, they are super aesthetic. Geneva is a rich city, and it shows.
8. Bains des Pâquis
The Bains des Pâquis (Pâquis Bath) is a very important place in Geneva city life. In addition of being the ideal swimming spot in the heart of the city, it’s also very pleasant for its friendly and joyful atmosphere. Everyone, at every age, is coming here! Very far from the bling-bling Geneva we are used to see!
Admission costs 2 francs and it’s also possible to eat there. It’s simple, tastes good, and the prices are also very reasonable for Geneva.
The site offers other services, such as nautical activities, massages etc… There is enough things to do to spend a whole day there in the summer.
And in winter, it’s Sauna, steam bath and Turkish bath!
All information on services, schedules and prices are available on the Bains des Pâquis official website (in French)
9. Visit the United Nations Office
The Palace of Nations (“Palais des Nations”), a superb building from the beginning of the 20th century, is the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. Considered one of the world’s most important diplomatic centres, it is also home to many international political, economic and scientific institutions.
If I tell you about it in this list of the best things to do in Geneva, it’s because many guided tours are organized there. You will have the choice between the following visits:
- Palais des Nations visit: Ideal if you would like to learn more about UN activities
- The history of the Palais des Nations: art and architecture oriented, this guided tour allows you to discover the history of this emblematic building.
- UN History: In addition to visiting the Palais des Nations, you will also visit the League of Nations Museum, which exhibits the history of the UN through archival documents.
- Guided tour of the Ariana Park: Find out more about the history and management of the 45-hectares park surrounding the Palais des Nations. Visit possible from April to September.
10. Broken Chair sculpture
The Broken Chair sculpture, a giant 12-metre-high wooden chair with a torn foot, stands next to the United Nations headquarters in Nations Square.
Sponsored by Handicap International, it was placed in front of the Geneva Palais des Nation in 1997 and symbolizes the fight against the use of anti-personnel mines.
11. Geneva botanical garden
The Botanical Garden of Geneva is located between the Palais des Nations and Lake Geneva. Little known to tourists, it is an oasis of greenery that is worth a look after the visit to the United Nations headquarters.
It is very well laid out, has several greenhouses reproducing various climates (tropical, temperate etc…), a small Japanese garden and much more! And you know what? Admission is free.
12. Geneva Museums
In addition to the ones I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, here are a few other museums that I found interesting in Geneva. They’re all free when you have the Geneva Pass, which I’ll tell you more about a bit later in the article.
- CERN Particle Universe: An excellent exhibition about the origin of the universe and particle physics, and no need to be a physics engineer to appreciate! It is outside Geneva city centre, but easily accessible by bus number 18. Plus, it’s free for everyone.
- CERN Microcosm: While you’re at CERN, have a look at the second permanent exhibition! Also free.
- La Cité du Temps (The City of Time): A small museum, an exhibition space and a restaurant, including a collection of Swatch watches that showcases the design evolution over 30 years. Situated in the middle of the Rhone, it’s accessed via the Machine Bridge.
- Patek Philippe Museum: As you know, Geneva is one of the most important places in luxury watchmaking and this museum is a fine tribute to the know-how of Swiss watchmakers.
- Art and History Museum: Located in the heart of the old town, close to Place Bourg-de-Four, it is the largest museum in Geneva. The permanent exhibition is free for everyone.
- Ariana Museum: It’s the museum of ceramics and glass, it may not seem so exciting at first sight, but the interior architecture alone deserves a look. It’s close to the Palais des Nations.
- Russian Church of Geneva: This Orthodox church is not strictly speaking a museum, but it is well worth to be included in this list, if only for its remarkable and unorthodox architecture (Ahahahahaha😋) here.
13. Do a cruise on Lake Geneva
Whether it’s to see the city and the Jet d’Eau from a new angle or to visit the surroundings of Geneva, there are many themed cruises on Lake Geneva. Here are a few of them:
- “Geneva Tour” Cruise, to visit the Geneva shores in 1 hour
- Evening cruise: a good meal and a stroll on Lake Geneva. What else could you ask for?
- Numerous cruises to visit Geneva’s surroundings, such as Nyon, Yvoire, Lausanne or the vineyards on the lake shore
- Cruise on the Rhone: From Geneva, it is also possible to make a mini cruise on the Rhone, up to Verbois.
It’s also possible to rent private boats (including a pilot) for a family or romantic escapade on Lake Geneva.
All information about the Geneva cruises is available on this website.
14. Attend a concert at Geneva Victoria Hall
Built between 1891 and 1894 as a tribute to Queen Victoria, Geneva Victoria Hall is the most beautiful concert hall in the city, renowned worldwide for its excellent acoustics.
Unfortunately it can’t be visited, but it is really worth to attend a classical concert music, if only to admire its grandiose interior architecture!
It should be noted that the Victoria Hall is not the main concert hall in Geneva. It’s the Grand Theatre, but it is not of great architectural interest.
You can find the Victoria Hall programme on Geneva official website.
15. Going to Geneva International Motor Show
Every year in March, the Geneva Motor Show (“Salon de l’Automobile de Genève”in french) , one of the world’s most important car shows, takes place at the Palexpo in Geneva.
If it has such a good reputation, it’s not so much for its exhibition area or the number of visitors (there are bigger car shows in the world), but for its high-end and exclusive positioning.
For the big manufacturers, this is really a not-to-be missed event, a great place to present their most beautiful concept cars. Go have a look if you enjoy exclusive cars!
The Geneva Pass
The Geneva Pass allows you to enjoy free admission and discounts on 50 attractions and activities in Geneva for 24, 48 or 72 hours. For example:
- Admission to all museums and sites mentioned in this guide is free of charge
- Several guided city tours by train, bus and on foot
- Several cruises on Lake Geneva
- 1 hour of canoeing or half an hour of pedal boat
- Discounts on numerous activities and tours, such as Segway city sightseeing, Rafting on the Arve river and several escapades around Geneva
The Geneva Pass also offers free public transport for the duration of its validity.
You can click on the button below to purchase the pass:
Once you will have purchased your pass, you will have to exchange the vouchers at Geneva Tourist Information Center, located at 18 rue du Mont-Blanc, 1211 Genève.
Things to do around Geneva
As I have lived next to Lake Geneva for 4 years, here are my 3 favorite things to do around Geneva.
Sometimes called “the balcony of Geneva”, Mount Salève is the best place to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city and Lake Geneva, all the way to to the Jura. This is a great day trip from Geneva.
You can go there by car, by cable car or even on foot, for the bravest amongst you! If you wish to do so, you will find the detailed itinerary, as well as a short family walk starting at the top of the cable car in this PDF document. Quick tip: save it on your smartphone, it may be useful the day of your visit!
Once you reach the top of the cable car (1100m above sea level), you will be able to do various activities in addition to a nice walk:
- Biking, bikes are available for rent on Saturday and Sunday
- And in winter, sledding and initiation to skiing!
Rates of the Mont Salève cable car:
Full price: 11,30€. Details of special rates can be found on their website. If you own the Geneva Pass, the cable car is included and is therefore free of charge.
Cable car schedule:
Open every day, from 9:30am to 7pm. Thursday, Friday and Saturday until 11pm.
Take a look at their website before you go, it will give you the latest information you need for your visit.
The magnificent medieval village of Yvoire, one of the most beautiful villages in France, is situated on the shores of Lake Geneva, about 45 minutes by car or bus from Geneva.
Nicknamed the “Pearl of Lac Leman”, this ancient fishing village is today a famous tourist attraction of Lake Geneva region. This is the perfect destination if you want to escape from Geneva for an afternoon.
What you shouldn’t miss in Yvoire:
- Yvoire castle
- The garden of Five Senses, recognized as a “remarkable garden” by the Ministry of Culture
- Small craft shops
- “Les Galets” ice cream shop/creperie, which is excellent!
Visit Lavaux Vineyard Terraces and its typical villages
Another superb day trip from Geneva, Lavaux Vineyard Terraces and its typical villages. You don’t need to be a wine lover to enjoy the place, the reasons people go there is first and foremost for the magnificent landscapes.
With the terraced vineyards that seem to descend into the lake and the Alps in the background, the Lavaux vineyards simply offers the most beautiful views of Lake Geneva coast.
Here are the 5 typical villages to see during your day:
- Saint Saphorin
During your trip, you can also make a stop in Montreux, a nice city, well known for its Casino.
Geneva: what to do in 1 day?
If you are planning to visit Geneva in one day, the best is to focus on the Old Town and the left bank, with a quick nautical activity on Lake Geneva at the end of the day. You don’t have a lot of time, so let’s see how to optimize your itinerary!
- Start your visit in the old town, at Place Bourg-de-four.
- Continue on the Treille Promenade
- From there, you can go down to Parc des bastions to see the Reformation Wall.
- Return to the old town and end the morning with a visit to Geneva Cathedral or the Tavel House according to your preferences.
- Lunch break in the old town
- Time to head to Lake Geneva and the Jardin Anglais. You can make a mini detour to see the Molard Tower.
- don’t forget to take a picture in front of the Flower Clock!
- We continue along the lake with the Jet d’Eau, symbol of Geneva and the Parc de La Grange and Parc des Eaux-Vives.
- If you are motivated, you can finish your day with a cruise on Lake Geneva (departure across the lake, on the Quai du Mont Blanc), or a short pedal boat ride! (close to the Jet d’Eau, better choice if you stay in Geneva for more than a day).
2 days in Geneva
In 2 days in Geneva, you will have time to discover the must-see attractions on the right bank of the lake. In addition to the previous schedule, I recommend you:
- Start your day in style with a breakfast on Lake Geneva at Bains des Pâquis
- It’s also an opportunity to go swim a bit during summer!
- Going now to Geneva botanical garden, about 30 minutes walk: Walk up the Quai Wilson on foot and then in the magnificent Parc de la Perle du Lac, which, as its name suggests, is at the water’s edge.
- It’s now time for lunch! For a gastronomic break, I recommend “Le Vieux Bois” restaurant, behind the Palais des Nations. I will tell you more about it in the “Where to eat” section of this article.
- Then, for your afternoon, you can visit the Ariana Museum, see the Broken Chair and visit the Palais des Nations, in the order that will suit you best depending on where you had your lunch.
- If you didn’t do it on the first day, take the bus to reach the Quai du Mont Blanc and take a boat trip on Lake Geneva!
3 days in Geneva
If you have 3 days in Geneva, in addition to the itineraries of the previous days, I recommend you one of the 3 excursions around Geneva that I mention in this article, namely:
- The Mont Salève, perfect if you have taken the Geneva Pass and would like to make a short excursion with your family.
- The medieval village of Yvoire, a good choice for a quiet day, without running everywhere. Best to see off-season, or at least during the week.
- Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, the place that offers the most beautiful views of Lake Geneva. There is plenty to see, so it’s easy to avoid tourists there!
Where to stay in Geneva?
In order to allow you to move around in Geneva easily, your hotel will provide you with the Geneva Transport Card free of charge. This card allows you to benefit from free public transport during your stay. It is 100% free and offered by all hotels.
- Geneva Hostel: Youth hostel located in the “Les pâquis” district, at 250 meters from Lake Geneva. Bed in dormitory from 30€ per night, breakfast included. The pluses: the view on the lake from the terrace, quiet, private parking and a good breakfast. Without a doubt, you will not find cheaper in Geneva!
- Jade Manotel: 5 minutes walk from Lake Geneva and 10 minutes from Geneva train station. A huge room with a meticulous decoration and furnished according to the principles of Feng Shui from 156€ per night, breakfast for an extra 16€. The plus: the geographical location, the serenity of the rooms. It’s our favorite for being the best value for money in Geneva!
- Hotel Rotary Geneva MGallery by Sofitel : Located in the centre of Geneva, right next to the lake. Classic and elegant room from 230€ per night with breakfast at 30€. The pluses: near the lake, the comfort of the rooms, the friendliness of the staff, breakfast “à la carte”. And all the little additional things that makes a luxury hotel!
- Hôtel de la Cigogne: 5 stars hotel located in the city centre, close to the Geneva lake. Belle Époque style room starting at 470€ per night, breakfast included. Strong points: the location, the amazing restaurant and the very helpful staff. It’s my recommendation for a luxury stay in Geneva!
Where to eat in Geneva?
- Restaurant des Bains des Pâquis: I told you about it in the article, and it’s really a super place to eat well and relatively cheap in Geneva. Great also for a breakfast by the lake!
- Le Vieux Bois: If you are looking for a gastronomic restaurant, in a magnificent setting, this is my favourite in Geneva! Located in Ariana park behind the Palais des Nations, it’s Geneva Hotel School’s students restaurant. The setting is beautiful and the food delicious! You have to make a reservation.
How to go to Geneva
Unless you live nearby, the best way to get to Geneva is by plane. There are a lot of low cost flights going there, especially with Easy Jet.
Geneva Airport is also a small but excellent international airport, from which you can take cheap flights to many destinations!
Once there, you will have to take the train (5 minutes) to reach Cornavin Station, in Geneva city centre.
Geneva tourist map
To help you plan your visit of the city, I have made a tourist map of Geneva, with all the must-see attractions I talk about in this article. You can display the map legend by clicking on the button with a small arrow, in the the top left corner.