Geneva. The capital of watch-making, banking and FN. But wait! There’s more! Geneva is full of hidden treasures just waiting to be uncovered. Let’s explore the city together in this short guide. Here are 10 good reasons to visit Geneva in Switzerland.
When I was in my early 20’s, Geneva was my home. I lived there and loved every corner of the city; as I got older, it was time to move on and explore other parts of the world. Still, Geneva will always hold a special place in my heart! Why? First of all, the scenery of snow-covered mountains and clear lake water is beyond beautiful. Secondly, there’s hardly any better place to be if you’re a true hotelier. But I’ll get back to that in a minute…
Photos by Mille Ayo
1. The chocolate
If you’ve ever been to Switzerland or simply heard of it – or even if you’re just very fond of chocolate (like me!) – you’ll know that this is the place to be if you’re desperate to get your chocolate cravings covered. Geneva, being the main city of the French region of Switzerland, is home to some of the world’s most exclusive boutique chocolatiers such as La Maison du Cacao, Zogg, Teuscher, Chocolaterie des Bergues, Stettler and Auer. Some of them offer private tours whereas others simply make it hard for you to choose which pieces you’re bringing home. It’s a true love affair, Geneva and chocolate. And you shouldn’t miss it when you’re here.
2. The lake
Lake Geneva, or Lac Leman as it’s called in French, is the glue that holds the city together. This beautiful lake is one of the largest in Western Europe and it’s shared between Switzerland and France. There’s nothing better than to sail on the lake on a hot summer’s day; locals know that, so in every village, city and town nestling on the banks of the river, boats and yachts are lined up. All sorts of water sports take place here during summer, but my own favorite activity would be swimming in the crystal clear water. In Geneva, there are several artificial beaches (which are over-crowded from May-September), but they’re still worth visiting. The biggest ones are called Geneve-Plage and Baby-Plage and they can be reached by foot from the city center. My best tip if you’re new to the city: take a boat ride from Geneva-Lausanne (approximately 3 hours) or enjoy a ferry ride to Evian in France. You’ll get to see the surroundings from a whole different perspective.
3. The old town
Even though Geneva is not a big city, its contrasts are truly unique. From billion-$ cars being parked by the concierges in front of the most expensive hotels in the world to old cobblestoned streets and local taverns; this is a city full of surprises. You especially notice this when strolling from one part of the river to the other (Rive Gauche to Rive Droite) and into the oldest part of the city; Vieux Ville. Last-mentioned is full of historical charm and quirky details; it’s without a doubt my favorite part of Geneva. The old part of town is also the bohemian and arty district, where locals sip on chilled white wine during summer and where you can spend a lot of money on antiquities and paintings – or simply enjoy a good meal in one of the cosy little taverns. The oldest square is called Bourg-de-Four; it used to be a Roman marketplace. Today it’s full of cafés and small shops, and in the area is also St. Pierre Cathedral – an architectural wonder, which has been here for 850 years!
Remember to wear comfortable shoes (it’s up hill and cobblestones are not heel-friendly!) and bring your camera for some cool snaps of the city from above.
5. The diversity
If you’re in doubt how to describe an intercultural city, go to Geneva! While the majority of the inhabitants are still Swiss (approx. 55%), you’ll find a very broad diversity of cultures scattered all over the city – and that’s what makes it so vibrant and interesting! A lot of people come here for work (bankers, FN employees, hotel management staff etc.), but first generations migrants actually make up 36% of the city’s inhabitants! The largest ethnic groups include Portuguese, French, Italian and Spanish and that truly proves itself in summer, when everyone’s out partying, dining and enjoying life. The official language is French, but foreign words are filling the air like never before. In some areas, there’s a larger concentration of, say, Spanish and Asian restaurants – go immerse yourself in the local culture and get to know Geneva behind the facade.
6. The great outdoors
No matter where in Switzerland you go, nature should be a part of your itinerary! Geneva is no exception. With majestic mountains throning in every direction (you can see Mont Blanc on clear days), it’s next to impossible not to be eager to hit the slopes, embark on a hiking trip, do some mountain biking etc. The Alps, the lakes and the snow; that pretty much sums up this beautiful country, and from Geneva, it’s possible to reach a ski resort within 1/2 hour’s drive. One of the more laid-back day trips from Geneva is to Mont-Saleve in France. It’s only 12 tram stops from the city center and then you’ll have the view of your dreams (after reaching the top by funicular, that is). At Mont-Saleve, you can paraglide, hike, mountain bike and even ski in winter. The panoramic Alpine views from here are hard to beat!
Extra tip: wine lovers should indulge in the region’s large concentration of vineyards and wine producers. They can be found all around the lake, so treat yourself with a train ride from Geneva to Lausanne (and beyond) to get a glimpse of them.
Have you ever been in Geneva? Do you have some great tips to share? Please leave a comment below 🙂
My quick Geneva guide:
There are almost too many to share here, but I’ll give it a try.
Best pizza? Head to Da Paolo on Rue du Lac. Nothing compares to it.
Best cocktails? Depends on the mood, but I’m fond of L‘Antidote on Rue de la Rotisserie, Arthur’s Rive Gauche and Bistrot23.
Best shopping? Certainly depends on your budget, but apart from the main shopping street Rue du Marché, stroll down Rue du Rhone – one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world. The old town is always worth a visit for its quirky, arty shops – and finally, Plaine de Plainpalais should be visited if you’re a fan of flea markets! Last-mentioned is the largest of its kind in Geneva (goes on on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8-17). The famous farmer’s market is also here on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Last, but not least, head to Carouge. Also known as ‘Little Italy in Geneva’, Carouge is a idyllic and very charming part of the city, which houses lots of small independent shops and nice restaurants.
Best fondue? When in Switzerland, do as the Swiss people! The popular cheese fondue is a must-try, especially at Les Armures and Auberge de Saviese.
Best views? There are plenty of establishments in Geneva with stunning views of the lake and mountains. Some of my favorite places include the rooftop terrace of Hotel Metropole and its gourmet restaurant Parc-des-Eaux-Vives. If you want the full overview, plan a trip to Mont-Saleve, from where you can see both France, Italy and Switzerland.
Best spa’s? Obviously, the La Mer Spa (the first one of its kind!) is a must-try if your wallet allows it. Elegant and luxurious in every way! And I’d always give my warmest recommendations to L. Raphael – a cosy wellness temple in the heart of the city.
Best hotels? Impossible to choose one or two in a hotelier’s city like Geneva. Nevertheless, I’m very fond of Hotel Metropole, Mandarin Oriental and Beau Rivage. If you’re looking for something a bit more boutique-like, try La Cour des Augustins or Hotel Les Armures.