The Swiss city of Geneva is a great destination for a city break. What are the best things to do in Geneva Switzerland? Check it out now!
The city of Geneva is located in eastern Switzerland, near the border with France. It is the second largest city in Switzerland in terms of size, after Zurich.
Geneva was founded by Romans in the fourth century BC and has played a prominent role on the world stage ever since. From the Reformation in the 16th century, when it became a haven for Protestant refugees, to the 20th century, when Geneva became the European headquarters of the United Nations. Geneva has always been at the heart of important world events.
Why should you visit Geneva? Apart from its historical significance, Geneva is a paragon of Swiss charm and elegance. In addition, the city is beautifully situated on the beautiful Lake Geneva and is surrounded by impressive (snow-capped) mountain peaks.
So book that trip, pack your suitcase, and discover the beautiful city of Geneva. In this article, you’ll read all about the best Geneva sights.
The best things to do in Geneva Switzerland
Are you planning on visiting Geneva? There are many beautiful sights and fun things to do in the city. Here’s an overview of what to see and to do in Geneva!
The Jet d’Eau, one of the city’s most recognizable and iconic landmarks, is an impressive fountain. The fountain can reach a height of 140 meters, which is almost as high as the London Eye.
On clear days, you can see this jet of water from miles away. Originally part of the local hydropower plant to regulate the pressure in the pipes, the fountain is now a beloved symbol of the city and a must-see for any visitor. At night, the Jet d’Eau is beautifully illuminated, creating an enchanting image against the dark sky.
Palais des Nations
Geneva is the home of the United Nations and the Palais des Nations is its headquarters. This massive complex, the UN’s second largest facility after New York, exudes history and diplomacy. It was originally built in the 1930s as the headquarters of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the UN.
You can visit the Palais des Nations on a tour. It costs about 16 CHF and can be booked through the official website. Bookings can be made from 3 months in advance. Be early, as they sell out quickly.
During the tour, you can enter the beautifully decorated meeting rooms and the impressive Assembly Hall, where important international decisions are made.
In the square in front of Palais des Nations is a huge statue of a chair with a broken leg. This massive wooden sculpture, which stands a whopping 12 meters tall, depicts a giant chair with a broken leg. It has stood there since 1997 and was created by Swiss artist Daniel Berset
The Broken Chair is a symbol of opposition to land mines and cluster bombs and serves as a constant reminder of the victims of such weapons. It is an expression of hope and solidarity, a plea for peace and humanity. Standing there, under the shadow of the Broken Chair, you are reminded of the need to strive for a world without weapons that destroy so many innocent lives.
Musée international de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum is a moving tribute to humanitarian efforts around the world over the years. Opened in 1988, the museum offers a unique perspective on the history of the Red Cross. From its founding by Henry Dunant in 1863 to its contemporary role in global humanitarian aid.
Through interactive displays, personal testimonies, and original documents and objects, the museum tells the stories of victims, aid workers, and all those touched by the work of these organizations. It’s very interesting if you’d like to learn more about historic events.
Lake Geneva, also known as Lac Léman, is a beautiful vast lake on the border between Switzerland and France. It is the largest alpine lake in Europe with crystal clear water reflecting the surrounding mountain peaks and the sky above.
In the summer months, you can enjoy water sports such as sailing, windsurfing, and swimming. In addition, there are many parks and promenades along the lake (including the Promenade du Lac), which are perfect for a long walk or a picnic.
Fun to do: take a boat ride on Lake Geneva.
Parc La Grange
Located on the shores of Lake Geneva, Parc La Grange is one of the most beautiful parks in the city. The hilly park is beautifully landscaped with green lawns, old trees, and blooming flower beds. This makes it a perfect place to relax and you also have a beautiful view of Lake Geneva.
It is also home to the city’s largest rose garden, with more than 200 varieties of roses in full bloom during the summer months. At the center of the park is the beautiful Villa La Grange, an eighteenth-century mansion that now serves as a museum.
Right in the bustling heart of Geneva, where the flowing Rhone River meets Lake Geneva, you will find an oasis of peace and nature: Île Rousseau. This picturesque island, named after the famous philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is a tribute to his love of nature and the ideas of freedom and democracy he promoted.
The island is accessible via a small pedestrian bridge and it is a wonderful place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Relax under the shade of the trees and observe the ducks and swans bobbing quietly in the water.
Bains des Pâquis
Bains des Pâquis is a kind of pier in the middle of Lake Geneva. It is a bustling and beloved hotspot among Geneva residents. Here you can enjoy a snack or drink on the nice terrace or go swimming or sunbathing while enjoying the panoramic view of Lake Geneva and the Jet d’Eau.
The Jardin Anglais, or the English Garden, is a charming park located on the shores of Lake Geneva. This beautiful garden was created in 1855 and is known for its vibrant flower beds that bloom year-round.
The garden’s most iconic feature is the L’Horloge Fleurie or Flower Clock. An ode to the Swiss watch industry since 1955, this unique work of art features a dial made of thousands of flowers that change with the seasons.
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire is one of Switzerland’s largest and most important museums. It opened in 1910 and contains a wide range of collections. The permanent collection includes works from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, including masterpieces by artists such as Konrad Witz, Rembrandt, Cézanne, and Rodin.
There is also an impressive collection of Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities and a wide range of applied arts, ranging from weapons and watches to furniture and ceramics.
You can visit the museum for free, but a donation is greatly appreciated.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Geneva, you’ll find the Église Russe, a Russian Orthodox church. Built in 1866, this church attracts immediate attention with its golden onion domes.
You can visit the church for free, and inside you will see detailed frescoes and beautiful carvings. A special place that offers you a glimpse of the rich traditions and rituals of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Old Town (Vieille Ville)
Vieille Ville is the old city center of Geneva and is a must-see for any traveler. This picturesque neighborhood, full of narrow streets and historic buildings, feels like an open-air museum. Here you will find, among other things, the majestic Cathédrale Saint-Pierre and Maison Tavel, the oldest house in Geneva.
Bourg-de-Four is the city’s oldest square and a perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee while people-watching and taking in the atmosphere.
The Cathédrale Saint-Pierre is a beautiful cathedral in the Old City. It was originally built in the fourth century and later rebuilt in the 12th century. The cathedral is an unusual mix of architectural styles, from early Christian to Gothic.
Cathedral highlights include the archaeological site under the cathedral, where you can discover 2,000 years of history, and the chapels of Macchabées and Saint John, which are beautiful examples of Gothic art. The cathedral is perhaps best known for its association with the famous theologian John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, who preached here in the 16th century.
Do you like good views and don’t you mind climbing 157 steps? Then climb to the top of the North Tower for breathtaking panoramic views of Geneva and the surrounding countryside.
The cathedral itself is free to visit. Climbing the towers costs CHF 7.
Another special building in Vieille Ville is Maison Tavel. This remarkable property is the oldest building in Geneva. Maison Tavel was originally built in the 12th century and later rebuilt after a fire. It now functions as a museum dedicated to the urban history and daily life of Geneva. One of the highlights is a detailed relief model of Geneva as it was in the nineteenth century.
You can visit Maison Tavel for free, but a voluntary contribution is appreciated.
Reformation Wall (Mur des Réformateurs).
The Reformation Wall, known as the Mur des Réformateurs, is a powerful monument in Geneva that commemorates an important turning point in European history. This impressive 100-meter-long monument is integrated into the old city walls in the beautiful Parc des Bastions.
The monument is dedicated to the leaders of the Protestant Reformation, a movement that had a profound impact on the religion, culture, and politics of Europe. The four central statues represent the main figures of the Reformation: John Calvin, Guillaume Farel, Théodore de Bèze, and John Knox. They are flanked by bas-reliefs depicting important events of this revolutionary period. It is not only a tribute to the past, but also a lasting reminder of the ideals of freedom of conscience and thought.
Tour de l’Île
The Tour de l’Île, is a relic of a bygone era. Dating back to the 13th century, this impressive tower is all that remains of an ancient fortress that once stood on the island in the Rhone River. This is where Geneva was originally founded. Despite the ravages of time, the Tour de l’Île still stands proudly, a silent witness to the city’s long and often tumultuous history.
The tower itself is not open to the public, but you can admire it from the outside.
Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève
One of my favorite places in Geneva is the Botanical Garden. This vast green paradise, located near the United Nations headquarters, covers 28 acres and is home to more than 12,000 species of plants from around the world.
The beautiful park has many different gardens, there are ponds, rock gardens and a hill with old trees. Perhaps the highlight are the four conservatories, each with its own theme: the Tropics, the Desert, the Temperate Climate, and the Rainforests. Personally, I loved warming up here on a cold spring day.
CERN or Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, is one of the world’s leading centers for scientific research and a must-see for any science enthusiast visiting Geneva. Located just outside the city, the complex is best known for its particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, which made it possible to discover the Higgs particle, a fundamental breakthrough in physics.
There are also exhibitions and you can take a guided tour. You will learn more about the fundamentals of particle physics, how the accelerator works, and the many discoveries that have been made.
Staying overnight in Geneva
As you can see, there is plenty to see and do in Geneva and you can have a great time for a few days in this city. Therefore, it is recommended to spend a few nights in the city. These are some of the finest places to stay in Geneva:
- MEININGER Hotel Geneva Centre Charmilles – A bit outside the center, but modern and affordable. It is a hostel/hotel, so there are dormitories (with a weird double bed in the middle, but you can always ask for another bed) in addition to regular hotel rooms. There is a communal kitchen where you can prepare your own meals. A very convenient place to stay if you are visiting Geneva on a small budget.
- Hôtel Rousseau Plus. (3⭐) – Great location in the city center within walking distance of most Geneva attractions. The rooms are modern and comfortable.
- Les Armures (5⭐) – Are you looking for a luxurious and unique place to stay? This beautiful hotel is housed in the Old Town, in a 17th-century building. It has a historic ambiance and is equipped with all (modern) conveniences. Breakfast is of very high quality.
Check Booking.com for more options, prices, and availability.
Free public transportation in Geneva
If you sleep in one of the hotels or hostels in Geneva, you get a Geneva Transport Card for free. This pass allows you to use public transportation, buses, streetcars, shuttle boats, and trains for free within the canton of Geneva. Even from the airport to the city!
Public transportation in Geneva is very well organized and goes frequently. Use Google Maps to look up stops and check route times.
What language do they speak in Geneva?
The language of communication in Geneva is French. However, almost everyone also speaks German and English as well.
Book a trip to Geneva
Would you like to visit Geneva? These websites are useful for booking your trip.
🚆 Travel to Geneva by train – Geneva is easily accessible by train from all over Europe. Check Rail Europe to find itineraries and train tickets.
✈️ Travel to Geneva by Plane – Geneva also has an international airport. Check WayAway to find the best deal on plane tickets.
🎡 Tours and Activities – Would you like to learn more about the history of Geneva or do you want to go on a fun day trip? Check Get Your Guide.
🚂 Swiss Travel Pass – Would you like to see more beautiful places in Switzerland during your holiday? Make it easy on yourself and purchase a Swiss Travel Pass. This gives you unlimited access to trains (including panoramic trains!), buses, and boats, and you can also visit more than 500 museums. Buy your Swiss Travel Pass now!
Read more about Switzerland
Want to know more about Geneva and the most beautiful places to visit in Switzerland? Make sure to get one of these travel guides full of tips.
In addition, you can read more about a trip to Switzerland on this website. Check out one of these articles:
- Switzerland Bucket List: 15 beautiful places
- Jura Crest Trail: an amazing long distance hike in Switzerland (from Zürich to Geneva)
- Tips & the best places to visit in Interlaken
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