Switzerland’s second city is perhaps the world’s first. Birthplace of the United Nations and home to all manner of international organisations, Geneva is set on the shores of beautiful Lake Geneva within view of towering Mont Blanc. Bustling and modern, the compact city is perfect to explore on foot. The clichés about local bank balances may well be true but Geneva is also rich with culture and visitors will find a disproportionate number of shops, galleries and museums for a city of its size.
Lake Geneva’s idyllic shores make the perfect starting point for any tour of the city. Catch a glimpse of the snow-capped Jura Mountains then take in the Jet d’Eau fountain, Geneva’s most prominent man-made landmark. From there it’s an easy stroll to the city centre, which is packed with top-class museums including The Museum of Natural History, Museum of Far-Eastern Art and the watch-themed Patek Philippe Museum. At the heart of the city you’ll find the huge 12th century St-Pierre Cathedral and from there you can head south and wander 18th century Carouge, or make a visit to the United Nations headquarters or the International Committee of the Red Cross.
You can literally eat your way around the world in Geneva, with a United Nations of delicacies on offer. French dining is by far the most popular of the cuisines with Genevois dining more inspired by nearby Lyon, 160km across the border than by local Zurich. Le Chat-Botte is a popular choice and provides a dignitary meal to people of any profession. The facades of many restaurants may reinstate the city’s image of riches but it is possible to eat well on a budget in Geneva, particularly at one of the Genevois cafés. Café du Soleil is one of the oldest restaurants in Geneva and serves a Swiss fondue worth much more than the bill.
Where to Stay
Geneva has a surprisingly good selection of accommodation for visitors on all budgets. Those wishing to mix with the international glitterati can really splash out at Parc de Eaux-Vives, a luxurious 18th century mansion with an unbeatable view of Lake Ganeva, while Beau Rivage Geneva is all opulence and has been run by the Mayer family for four generations. On the opposite end of the price range, Hotel Lido has good clean rooms and a handy downtown location. Some more good news for those on a budget is that anybody staying in Geneva is entitled to a free travel pass on local transport.
Small in area, Geneva is big on shopping options. Rue du Rhone is a shopping strip that rivals anything in Paris and London and should be your first port of call. Bargain hunters may find themselves resigned to window-shopping on this well-heeled street but those with a taste for the finer things can really treat themselves. Watches are particularly popular purchases in Geneva and local Swiss brands Patek Phillie, Swatch, Omega, Piaget and Frank Muller are all widely available – just don’t expect a local discount! You’ll find a lot more for a lot less at Plainpalais Flea Market, held every Wednesday and Saturday. Interestingly a lot of international workers come to sell here meaning you can find interesting items from all over the world.
Geneva Like a Local
It may be hard to find locals in this city of United Nations but you will find them. Carouge, just south of the city, actually started its history as a parcel of land owned by the King of Sardinia located outside the walls of Geneva. Today the area still bears the imprint of its Italian architects and has become a somewhat bohemian ghetto, home to many of Geneva’s creative scene. The thriving bars and restaurants are as much an attraction as the architecture and Carouge is the perfect place to rub shoulders with people in Geneva for longer than the length of a business conference.