Between the museums, outdoor markets, mountains of chocolate, and shopping, Geneva is truly a hidden gem in Switzerland. Surrounded by the Alps, the city is the definition of the “city of peace.” There are so many different things to do in Geneva so it can be hard to decide just what to see, what to do, and where to stay if you’ve never visited before, so I've compiled my ultimate guide to Geneva here for your next trip to Switzerland!
What to Expect in Geneva
Language: They speak a few languages in Geneva, but the main one is French! However, Geneva is a highly international destination, so many people understand and speak English.
Currency: The primary currency is the Swiss Franc. Most restaurants, bars, cafes, etc., accept the euro but you will most likely have to pay a premium rate. Credit cards are widely accepted, and ATMs are widely available.
Climate: Like most places in Europe, in Geneva, you will experience warm summers and cold winters. The winters can be extremely rainy and gray, with highs in the 30’s. Summer is quite warm and sunny, with highs in the 70’s – 80’s.
Travel Tip: Get a Geneva Pass! It will allow you to visit over 50 attractions and save money while doing so. For 24, 48, or 72 hours, you get to explore museums, the lake, and more. It also gives you access to free public transportation! It’s a low-cost way to get the most out of your stay.
To learn more about what to expect before you go, visit the Geneva Tourism website.
Getting Around Geneva
Taxis: There are also taxis readily available when needed. You can order them by phone or hail them in the street. They are required to speak English by law, making it more comfortable if you don’t speak French. Beware that rates increase at night, on Sundays, and on holidays.
Public Transportation: I used public transportation the entire time I was in Geneva! Trams, boats, and buses around Geneva are easy to use and should get you everywhere you need to go.
Car: If you’re looking to rent a car, the roads are in good shape in Geneva, and you will find driving to be pretty easy. The only thing to look out for is the rate for parking.
Walk + Bike: If you want to get a little bit of exercise, there is always the option to rent a bike or to walk around. There are bike rentals available at Rentabike at Cornavin Railway Station.
Mandarin Oriental Geneva
Situated alongside the Rhone River, the Mandarin Oriental Geneva is located only 5 short minutes away from Old Town and the cultural and touristic districts. It features 189 modern art style rooms and a Michelin star Indian restaurant.
Location: Rhône River
Hotel Beau-Rivage Geneva
This luxurious five-star hotel is a top member of the Leading Hotels of the World. It features 90 rooms, 18 of which are suites with an incredible view of the lake. You’ll find beautiful chandeliers inside along large windows. It will have you feeling like royalty.
Location: Quai du Mont-Blanc 13
This grand hotel has been welcoming royalty and celebrities since 1872. On clear days, you can see the snow-capped Mont-Blanc and the Jet d’Eau fountain. You will be welcomed with brass finishes and vases full of long-stemmed roses, making the rooms feel rich and historic.
Location: Kongens Nytorv
Hotel Les Arcades
If you’re looking to see Geneva on a budget, Hotel Les Arcades is the place for you. This budget-friendly hotel is a 20-minute walk from Geneva city center. All rooms include wifi, cable TV, a DVD player, and a large window with a view.
Location: Place de Cornavin 14
Hidden away in Geneva’s art district, the Tiffany Hotel is just a 10-minute stroll to Lake Geneva. There is also a selection of cafes and bars that are walking distance. It’s brightly colored with peacock hues and all the rooms are different in shape and size due to the building getting narrower towards the roof.
Location: 3km From United Nations
Ritz-Carlton de la Paix
During the 19th century, Geneva saw a tourist boom which led to the building of the Ritz Carlton. Once a favorite of Grace Kelly, this smaller lakeside hotel was revamped and given a very contemporary and trendy feel without losing all the historic features. It features 75 rooms and an in-hotel chocolate shop.
Location: Lake Geneva
La Cafe de Certoux
This charming family-run country inn offers Italian and Asian influenced cuisine that will not disappoint. There are two rooms inside and a terrace shaded by lime trees that can be enjoyed in the warmer weather.
Cafe de la Place
The best part about Cafe de La Place is that you will always experience something different everytime you visit. The menu varies depending on seasonal ingredients. The French cuisine has a southern European influence that will leave you wanting more.
This French cuisine is based on the tradition of French gourmet cuisine. Much like Cafe de la Place, the menu tends to change based on the seasons. Plus they have a very wide variety of wine options if you are a wine lover.
This is one of the oldest chocolate shops in Geneva. Opened in 1939, this family-run chocolaterie features chocolate made by hand. It’s known for its black truffles which are hand-coated, something that is rare these days.
Located on the top floor of the Bonogenie department store, BG Cafe offers panoramic views out of the floor to ceiling windows. They’re known for their smoothies, coffee, tea, and pastries. It’s a great spot to enjoy a light meal while walking around.
Brasserie des Halles de I’lle
If you’re a big bruncher like I am, this bistro is for you. With incredible views of the Rhone River, you’ll get to experience a buffet like you’ve never seen before. With pancakes, croissants, mousses, cakes, and more, you’ll leave very full and very happy. It’s also a great spot for happy hour. They often have DJ’s playing during the evenings.
Cafe Restaurant du Parc des Bastions
This late 19th-century pavilion is another relaxing spot for breakfast. There is a grand indoor seating area or an outdoor terrace for those warm days. It’s not known for its service and it can be a bit expensive so come when you have time and the money to make it worthwhile.
Restaurant du Creux de Genthod
Placed right next to a quiet beach, you’ll find meals made up of local fish, meats, veggies, and fruit. If you’re visiting during the warmer months, be sure to grab a spot outside to soak in the gorgeous views. Also be sure to try the meringues with cream. They are delicious!
If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, Desplanches is the way to go. The high-ceilinged industrial cafe serves pastries, coffee, salads, and sandwiches. They also have homemade hot chocolate to help warm you up during the cooler months.
Le Cheval Blanc
Out of all the brunch spots in Geneva, this might be the most famous. The buffet offers endless options with quiches, pastries, eggs, and more.
La Belle Epoque
Want to sip on a cocktail while on a boat? La Belle Epoque is a great spot to spend happy hour, drinking a “Jeune eve” cocktail.
When in Geneva, picnic! Head to Migros grocery (with an orange M) and pick up various types of chocolate and cheese. It’s a low-cost way to try a large variety of these selections.
Fish on Lake Geneva
If you want to go fishing on the lake, you will need a fishing permit. Luckily it only costs 10 francs to get a fishing license. These can be bought at many fishing equipment stores throughout Geneva. You can also find a package deal in the summers that includes hotel accommodation, a fishing trip on Lake Neuchatel with a local fisherman and preparation of the fish by the hotel chef.
Explore Old Town
Old Town Geneva offers everything from a stunning cathedral to a number of unusual art galleries. Some of the highlights to see are the Cathedrale St-Pierre, La Place du Bourg-de-Four, Maison Tavel, and the Old Arsenal.
Attend a Festival
Geneva is home to many festivals. If you’re able to, try to plan your trip around one. One of the biggest festivals is the Fete de la Musique, an annual festival that brings musicians from all over the world. This usually happens at the end of June. During the winter there is the L’Escalade festival which is celebrated as a remembrance of the proud defense of Genevans against Duke of Savoy’s army. This typically takes place at the beginning of December in Old Town.
What better way to see Geneva than from the sky? You’ll leave from Saleve mountain in France and make your way over Lake Geneva, the Alps, and more. Flights take off daily and each one takes about 45-60 minutes. It will cost you 150 CHF ($150 USD) per person.
Bains des Paquis
Bains is an artificial peninsula surrounded by a busy beach. During the hot summer days, it’s a great spot to sunbathe and swim. There’s also a zip-line above the water that you can ride. If you’re looking for more of a relaxing experience, you can spend time in the baths and saunas.
Once you’ve enjoyed the water a bit, stop by the restaurant where you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Everything is extremely affordable and ranges from 11 – 18 CHF. During the winter, they do fondue for dinner but it books up quickly so be sure to make a reservation ahead of time.
Rent a Paddle Board
While in Geneva, you’ll want to make the most of the Lake and one of the best ways to do so is to rent a paddle-board. If you buy the Geneva pass, paddle-board rentals are free!
In South Geneva, you will find Plainpalais, a large open space which is known for its flea and farmers markets. The large farmers market happens every Sunday, from early morning until about 5 PM. You’ll find dried fruits, nuts, cheese, jam, and more. The flea market occurs on Saturdays and Wednesdays and you will find everything from books and clothing to decor and tools.
Make Your Own Swiss Knife
At the Victorinox store in Brunnen, you can assemble your own swiss knife and have it engraved. The staff walks you through the entire experience and answer any questions you might have. It’s a super unique souvenir to take home with you.
Red Cross Museum
The International Red Cross Museum first opened up in 1988 and is one of the top museums in Geneva. The exhibitions are very modern rather than traditional and it makes for a very unique experience.
The CERN museum in Geneva has multiple exhibitions like the Universe of Particles and Microcosm. Though it is most famous for its big bang experiment. They are currently trying to recreate the big bang theory. It’s very fascinating to see!
Palais des Nations
The Palace of Nations houses the United Nations Office. The best way to see it all is to take a guided tour. Proof of identity is required for the tours so be sure to bring your passport. Tour times vary so check ahead before you go and don’t worry about making reservations.
Carouge can be considered Geneva’s bohemian or “hipster” neighborhood. You won’t find any large chains but rather you’ll find plenty of local restaurants, cafes, and bars. There is also a theater that exclusively plays indie films. On Rue St-Joseph, you’ll find antique shops, clothing stores, and lots of boutiques to explore.