Geneva, Switzerland may be one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world thanks to the large number of international organisations who are based there. Despite this, Geneva also has a lighter side and offers plenty of things to do for visitors to enjoy. After numerous visits to this beautiful Swiss city, I’ve come up with a list of the 10 best things to do in Geneva.
- 1 Wander around the Old Town
- 2 Visit the Palais des Nations
- 3 Get Wet from the Jet d’Eau
- 4 Go on a Segway Tour
- 5 Indulge in Chocolate and Fondue
- 6 Chill out in Ariana Park
- 7 Head to the Waters of Lake Geneva
- 8 Ride River Rapids
- 9 Pop over to France’s Flower Village
- 10 Visit the fairytale-like Chillon Castle
- 11 Adventure in You Recommendations: Where to Stay in Geneva
Wander around the Old Town
Get a feel for the history of Geneva by wandering around the cobbled streets of the Old Town.
Amongst the many interesting sights to see are Geneva’s oldest house, Maison Tavel, which was built in 1334 and is now a museum, the 13th century Cathedrale St.-Pierre, Place du Bourg-de-Four, an ancient marketplace dating back to the Middle Ages, and Hotel de Ville where the first Geneva Convention was signed in 1864.
Grand Rue, the pedestrianised main street, is the perfect spot to sit outdoors, grab a coffee and people watch.
Visit the Palais des Nations
Built in the 1930s, Palais des Nations was originally the home of the League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations. Today it is the European headquarters of the United Nations and also houses the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.
The building has been extended on numerous occasions and now contains around 2,800 offices and over 30 conference rooms, giving it the title of the world’s largest convention centre for peace and security.
Despite its important and serious role, some sections of the Palais des Nations are open to the public including the Assembly Hall – which is larger than the Paris Opera House – and the Consultation Hall which features magnificent frescoes.
Most visitors are keen to see the impressive display of flags that line the entrance to the Palais des Nations. There is a flag representing each member state of the UN.
Get Wet from the Jet d’Eau
Geneva’s iconic Jet d’Eau, one of the tallest fountains in the world, started life more humbly in 1886 as the temporary pressure release outlet of a power plant. With its impressive plume of water spouting into the air, it quickly gained popularity and was relocated to the centre of the lake and made a permanent fixture in 1891.
Today, the Jet d’Eau is the symbol of Geneva.
When the fountain’s ‘jet’ is released, it shoots 500 litres of water per second into the air, with the water reaching up to 140 metres high.
To feel the full force of the fountain yourself, talk a walk along the jetty that leads from Promenade du Lac to the fountain. Here you can stand and wait for the next blast of water, but beware – you WILL get wet!
Go on a Segway Tour
If your feet are tired from pounding the pavements give them a rest and explore the city by Segway. Two and a half hour guided Segway tours start daily at 10 am next to Geneva’s Cornavin Railway Station.
Admire Geneva’s lovely waterfront as you zip along the lakeside promenade before passing by many of the city’s famous landmarks and beautiful parks.
Indulge in Chocolate and Fondue
No visit to Switzerland is complete without enjoying Swiss chocolate and cheese and what better way is there to do that than to visit a chocolate maker or enjoy a fondue cruise?
Favarger has been creating chocolate products in Geneva for almost 200 years and you can learn more about the chocolate making process on a 90-minute tour of the factory – with the added bonus of a tasty souvenir to take home!
For more chocolate samples, book yourself on a three-hour chocolate walking tour of Geneva which visits a number of artisanal chocolatiers in the city.
Cheese lovers: On board the Friday night Fondue Cruise is where you should aim to be. Enjoy a unique Swiss meal whilst cruising the calm waters of Lake Geneva. (Bookings are essential.)
Chill out in Ariana Park
The grounds beside the Palais des Nations, Ariana Park, are home to a number of important monuments including the Celestial Sphere.
Well worth seeing is the Broken Chair, a 12-metre high work of art, symbolising the campaign against landmines. The chair, with only three legs, was created out of 5.5 tonnes of wood by sculptor Daniel Berset in 1997.
It stands proudly in the Place des Nations encouraging all who see it to urge their governments to ban the use of landmines.
Editor’s Note: Check out our Complete Guide on Where to Stay in Switzerland
Head to the Waters of Lake Geneva
To really appreciate the size of Lake Geneva and for stunning views of the Swiss and French Alps, hop aboard a boat for a lake cruise.
Water buses (known as Mouettes) are a popular form of public transport, whilst passenger ferries operate on three different routes between Switzerland and France.
My preferred option is to sit back and enjoy a leisurely cruise on one of the Belle Époque paddle steamers that ply lake.
Ride River Rapids
The mighty Rhone River runs through the centre of Geneva and provides plenty of activities for the adventurous.
Canoeing and stand up paddle boarding are popular activities on the Rhone, whilst you can get the adrenaline pumping as you ride the rapids of the Arve or Dranse Rivers on a white water rafting experience.
Pop over to France’s Flower Village
There are pretty villages and towns dotted all around the shores of Lake Geneva but the prize for the prettiest of all must surely go to Yvoire.
Situated on the French shores of Lake Geneva, Yvoire is officially classified as one of France’s most beautiful villages and it also bears the nickname, The French Flower Village. A visit to Yvoire will leave you with no doubt why!
The village’s Medieval streets are lined with pretty stone buildings adorned with flower boxes blooming with colour. It seems every corner you turn, the flowers are bigger and brighter and the displays more impressive.
Aside from the gorgeous flower displays, Yvoire is also home to a 13th-century castle which sits proudly on the shores of the lake. The castle is a private residence and not open to the public but the excellent Garden of Five Senses, which is located in the castle’s former kitchen garden, can be visited.
Wandering the streets of Yvoire you’ll come across numerous boutiques and artisan galleries. There are stores selling the usual tourist ‘tat’ but Yvoire offers a good selection of unique souvenirs to remember your visit with, too.
Yvoire can be reached by ferry or paddle steamer from Geneva. It can also be visited on a 5-hour lake cruise from Geneva.
Visit the fairytale-like Chillon Castle
At the opposite end of the lake to Geneva, between Montreux and Villeneuve, is Chillon Castle which looks like it was built especially for a Disney movie. Sturdy walls and turrets towers enclose the castle, which sits on a small peninsula jutting into the lake.
Throughout the centuries Chillon Castle has been used as a fort controlled by the Counts of Savoy, a summer residence for nobility, a weapons and ammunition store, and a prison.
Although it was first mentioned in 1150, it wasn’t until the British poet Lord Byron wrote about the Castle in his poem ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’ that it became famous. He was inspired by the story of inmate François Bonivard, who was imprisoned at Chillon from 1530 to 1536.
Chillon Castle is open to the public year-round (except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day). A number of restored rooms are open for viewing including Bonivard’s Prison. The Castle can be reached by public transport from Geneva.
Adventure in You Recommendations: Where to Stay in Geneva
Setting sights on this postcard-perfect city for your next European escape? If you’re currently checking where to stay in Geneva, check out our top picks for your hotel accommodation in this amazing tourist destination.
Geneva Hostel – This centrally located property is set in a historic, 19th-century building with non-smoking rooms, facilities for disabled guests, and a Swiss cuisine restaurant. Guests can also explore the nearby beach and Lake Geneva. You can also use the free Geneva Transport Card (which comes with your accommodation) to commute to any point in the city via the bus at the Gautier Bus Stop, which is just four minutes away by foot.
Hotel de Geneve – Located in Saint-Gervais et des Grottes, this is a decent, budget-friendly option for people looking at the old town area in Geneva. Geneva Town Hall and Bains des Paquis are just a short walk away, and the hotel is also close to the station and public transportation pick/drop off points. The staff are pretty friendly and nice, and the hotel serves a good breakfast spread.
Ibis Styles Geneve Mont Blanc – This popular hotel is favored by guests for its accessibility to the train station, establishments, and Lake Geneva, decent non-smoking rooms, great facilities for disabled guests, and great city views from the terrace. Aside from a good breakfast selection, guests also have all-day free access to coffee and tea.
Kipling Manotel – This hotel offers a perfect home for guests who wish to live in the quieter side of downtown Geneva and those who like to taste authentic French cuisine at the nearby Hotel Royal. It is also eight minutes away from the nearby beach. Kipling Manotel is popular for its facilities for guests who are doing a little bit of work or business while on vacation. Kids under 12 years old can get a free breakfast here.
Les Amures – You can easily live a charmed life in this unique, luxury hotel located in the heart of the city’s historic quarter. Run by the prestigious Borgeat-Granges family, the atmosphere, rooms, fine cuisine, are quite exquisite. Les Amures is close to old Geneva’s tourist hotspots, shopping district and the lakefront promenade.
Hotel d’Angleterre – Close to the Geneva Stadium and a nearby beach, this five-star hotel is perfect for those who enjoy a bit of walking and scenery. Although the rooms are furnished in old-world glory, they are tastefully designed, with some offering the best views of the city or Lake Geneva. The world-class staff make sure your special requests are accommodated and deliver beyond expectations.