Most Recommended Activities in Geneva, Switzerland
When you think about Switzerland, visions of fairy-tale landscapes—including scenic villages and rolling hills, snow-capped peaks, clear lakes, and quaint towns—pop into your head. Nonetheless, the Swiss cities are just as remarkable, as I found out on a family trip to Geneva.
These urban centers, which are bursting at the seams with art, architecture, culture, and history, offer an additional incentive to tourists who want to see more than just the natural wonders that have made Switzerland famous.
ARRIVING IN GENEVA
Under a clear blue sky, our overnight flight from New York City touched down at Genève Aéroport in the wee hours of the morning. When taking a cab, the trip from the airport to the heart of the city only took around twenty minutes.
However, if you’re not carrying a lot of luggage, the train is a fantastic option (tickets are free at the airport) that will have you in the heart of the city in under seven minutes.
While traveling to our hotel, the Auteuil Manotel, we quickly learned that the city’s historic core is a must-see. For the following three evenings, it would serve as our home. The hotel’s convenient position in the heart of this very walkable city made visiting all the local attractions a breeze.
Upon first seeing the lake, the amazing buildings, and the breathtaking vistas of the Alpine mountains, I was eager to begin our exploring.
THE LAKE, FOUNTAIN AND BRIDGE
We slept for a moment and then headed out onto Rue de Lausanne, a typical urban street with sleek trams zipping back and forth. Keep in mind that all guests of Geneva’s hotels, hostels, and campgrounds are entitled to a free public transportation card good for the duration of their stay.
We decided to travel to Geneva, Switzerland, on the southwestern tip of Lac Léman, also known as Lake Geneva. The lake was formed in a crescent by the Rhône River. Lake Geneva is Switzerland’s largest lake and the largest Alpine lake, and its southern coast borders France.
We could make out the icy peaks of the Swiss and French Alps in the distance. When we got to the lakefront promenade, we were surrounded by beautiful nature. Countless yachts and boats floated in the crystal clear water, and elegant mute swans glided by.
While taking in the sights from a nearby bench, my jaw dropped at what I saw. After arriving in Geneva, one of the first things I did was take note of the city’s most recognizable landmark: the Jet d’ Eau, a water fountain unlike any other.
Originally constructed in 1886 to relieve and regulate the pressure in a hydraulic plant, its aesthetic value quickly grew. These days, the water rises an incredible 460 feet, and on cool spring and autumn evenings, it’s lit up with lights.
While relaxing on a bench near the fountain, you may take in views of the Mont Blanc Bridge, also known as the Pont du Mont Blanc, another landmark of Geneva. The bridge stretches across the Rhne River where it begins its journey away from Lake Geneva, linking the city’s left and right banks. As you go around the bridge’s walkways, you’ll find that the rows of flags make for a picturesque backdrop.
The Flower Clock, or Horloge Fleurie, may be seen at the Le Jardin Anglaise. Photography by Susmita Sengupta
A WALK IN THE OLD TOWN
A beautiful maze of cobblestone alleys, charming squares, eccentric museums, and a plethora of old buildings, Geneva’s Old Town (or Vieille Ville) has a history dating back 2000 years. The oldest Swiss settlement is today a bustling tourist destination with plenty of places to eat and stay. You can get a great overview of the Old Town from a little train excursion, which we found to be a very upbeat and enjoyable experience.
St. Pierre Cathedral, sometimes known as St. Peter’s Cathedral in English, towers over the historic district. A church has stood there since the fourth century, but the current cathedral wasn’t constructed until the eleven-hundreds.
Various architectural details, from Gothic arches to Neoclassical columns and pediments, serve as physical manifestations of this spirit. It was a Roman Catholic cathedral until the 16th century, when John Calvin, the leader and theorist of the Protestant Reformation, made it his home church and it became a Reformed Protestant church.
The Chapel of the Maccabees, with its beautiful painted ceilings and amazing stained glass windows, and Calvin’s chair are two sights that no visitor should miss.
The cathedral is in the center of Old Town, and only a short distance away are two more attractions. A private mansion built in the 14th century, the Maison Tavel was destroyed by fire and changed hands several times before being elegantly restored by the city of Geneva in 1963 and then transformed into the Museum of Urban History and Daily Life in 1986.
Take some time to appreciate the sculpted heads and turrets that decorate the building’s exterior. Explore the vaulted 12th-century cellars, the 18th- and 19th-century rooms that have been faithfully reconstructed, and the many temporary and permanent displays if you have the time.
We checked out the five historic cannons known as L’ancien arsenal, which were used to defend Geneva in the past. Built in the 17th century as a granary, it later served as a military warehouse and is now the location of the State Archives. There are stunning wall murals depicting important moments in Geneva’s history that serve as a backdrop for the cannons.
PARKS AND MONUMENTS
After a long day of sight-seeing, we decided to give our feet a break at Bastions Park. One of Europe’s greenest cities, Geneva has been recognized on the geneve.ch website.
In addition to beautiful landscaping, the Parc des Bastions in Geneva is home to historic buildings, fine dining establishments, and the city’s first botanical garden. As soon as you step foot in the park, your eyes will be drawn to the massive chess pieces. It is here that you’ll find the Reformation Wall, a significant landmark in Geneva.
There are portraits of Reformation leaders like John Calvin, John Knox, Guillaume Farel, and Thèodore de Bèze carved into the white marble sculpture that stretches over more than 300 feet.
Geneva’s floral wonder, Le Jardin Anglaise, is not to be missed. Armand Auberson, a landscape architect, conceived of the Flower Clock, also known as L’ Horloge Fleurie, in 1955.
The clock, made of thousands of plants and blossoms, was created to honor the excellence of Geneva’s watchmaking industry. Established in 1855, this park is a verdant urban haven with winding walks and century-old trees. Its crowning feature is the magnificent Four Seasons fountain.
We paused for a photo op in front of a gigantic bronze statue depicting two women dressed in traditional garb and gazing out over the lake. The National Monument was sculpted by Robert Dorer in 1869 and is located in the English Garden; it portrays two women holding hands to symbolize the union of Geneva and Helvetia.
The Duke of Brunswick, Charles d’Este-Guelph, wanted a grand send-off and a fitting memorial upon his passing, so he had the mausoleum known as the Brunswick Monument constructed in 1873. It is now a historical landmark since its neo-Gothic style and design are based on the Scaligeri family tomb in Verona, which dates back to the 4th century A.D.
MUSEUM HIGHLIGHTS OF GENEVA
There is certainly no shortage of museums in Geneva, and while some may be seen while strolling through the historic district or the city’s many beautiful parks, others deserve their own dedicated exploration. Unique and noteworthy museums like these serve as the standard by which others are measured.
The first Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Henri Dunant, founder of the Red Cross, in 1901. His life and accomplishments are commemorated at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva, Switzerland. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to see the museum.
An emotive and often personal experience of the work done by this organization during times of war, conflict, and natural disaster is provided through the many exhibits and interactive displays.