City Guide to Geneva, Switzerland
Home of Frankenstein and the best chocolate in the world.
Situated on Lake Geneva, in Switzerland’s western-most corner sits Geneva. While it is known for more political reasons –the Geneva Convention, hosting the United Nations headquarters to name a few- it’s a true global city (48% of residents are foreign nationals) thanks to the more than fifty international agencies based in the city. The city has been home to some major players in history, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, John Calvin, and more. Mary Shelley famously wrote her famous novel, Frankenstein, in a mountain vacation home overlooking the city, inspired by the dramatic landscape around her.
Located between two mountain ranges and on Lake Geneva, one is never in need of a view. Weather is usually mild in the spring and fall, but is known to be very cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and rainy always (bring an umbrella). Surrounded on three sides by France, French is the most widely spoken language, unlike other parts of Switzerland (English is also widely spoken, thank goodness). Geneva incorporates all of one’s favorite things –fresh bread, delectable cheese, famous chocolate, and local wine– so visit ready to eat. Smaller and less visited than Zurich, Switzerland, the country’s largest city located in the German-speaking area and famous for it’s skiing, Geneva has a charm all it’s own.
What to See
Cathedral St. Pierre: In the heart of the Old City (or Vieille Ville) sits this awe-inspiring structure. Dating back to the fourth century, the cathedral is one of the oldest structures in the city and offers a wealth of information on one the most important events in Geneva’s history- The Protestant Reformation. As the birthplace of John Calvin, Geneva was one of the centers of this momentous time. Climb to the top of the tower for one of the best panoramic views of the city.
Mont Salève: Possibly the only place to get a better view of Geneva is at the top of this nearby mountain. Take the bus across the border into France for a perfect day hike and an amazing view of Mont Blanc, the tallest peak in the Alps. While Mont Salève is great for hiking, hang-gliders and para-gliders can be found taking off from the Chalet mid-way up. Take the cable car up for 8 euros and hike 30 minutes up to the top if you don’t have all day!
Jet D’Eau: Literally translated as ‘jet of water’, this bizarre fountain on Lake Geneva originally regulated water pressure at a nearby hydraulic plant, but its 140m height eventually became an established piece of Geneva’s identity.
Jardin L’Anglais: Located between the Old City and the Lake, this park is great for just lying in the sun and relaxing. There is a gazebo stage where live music is often played and a trendy (read: expensive) restaurant found towards the front. Bonus: at the west entrance if the park is the “world’s most photographed clock” made entirely of flowers (plus it actually keeps time)
La Bains des Paquis: This “beach” is in fact a jetty-like thing that shoots out into the lake. People can often be found lying in the sun and swimming in the lake on warm, sunny days, but be aware many people will choose to forego their bathing suits.
Back in the Old City, walk to Bourg-de-Four Square at the very center. Full of cafes, shops, chocolate shops, and more is exactly what you would expect the oldest place in the city to be like. The buildings largely unchanged, the nearby streets are full fo history.
Fun for Free
Notoriously one of the most expensive cities in Europe (and the world), most places will offer a student price for tickets, and many attractions (the cathedral, parks, Jet D’eau, Geneve Plage, most museums) are free. Temporary attractions at museums are also free on the first Sunday of every month.
What to Eat
Near the University of Geneva, students and locals alike frequent Rue de l’Ecole De Medicine. The street features bars and cafes; check out Restaurant Radio, Le Kraken Bar, and the rest that line the street.
Cheap Eats: To keep from breaking the bank, look for Kebab and Mediterranean restaurants, the most reasonable prices in the city, filling and delicious. Try Parfums de Beyrouth near the train station.
Splurge: Chez Ma Cuisine. Not expensive by Swiss standards, but definitely by a traveling college student’s, this place is worth it. Located in Bourg-de-Four Square, the food is delicious and well worth the price tag for a hearty meal.
Try this: Fondue! One of the city’s signature dishes thanks to nearby Gruyere, Switzerland. It can be expensive and most places will stop selling fondue once the weather warms up, so plan accordingly! Don’t leave without stopping in a chocolate shop, try Läderach near the river!
While Geneva does not have nightlife quite like that of other European cities, there is still plenty to do. The bars that line Rue de l’Ecole de Medicine stay open late, but during the summer check out the pop-up terrace bars, like Le Barje. Situated on the river, and operating out a food truck-like cart, Le Barje offers food, drinks, seating and music along the river and under lights hung from the trees.
The public transportation in Geneva is wildly efficient and easy to use. Pick up a weekend metro pass to have access to all the buses, local trains, and even boats across the lake. It’s well worth it and gets you everywhere.
Switzerland is not part of the EU and therefore does not use the euro, so make sure to exchange for Swiss francs before you leave the main train station. Many restaurants close between lunch and dinner every day (2pm-5pm), so plan accordingly. Many places –restaurants, shops, and grocery stores- close on Sundays as well. Most ethnic food restaurants will still be open, however.