Geneva is Switzerland’s second-most populous city, and one of the world’s biggest centers of international diplomacy. Here used to be the initial headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Although the United Nations is now headquartered in New York, the organization still retains a large presence in Geneva at the Palais des Nations.
How to get there
Geneva airport is served by almost all European carriers as well as a few daily trans-Atlantic flights. You can have a direct flight to Geneva from Montréal’s Trudeau International, Washington’s Dulles and Newark International on United, and New York’s Kennedy. But if you are visiting Geneva from other parts of North or South America you will have to change planes. The same goes for passengers from Asia-Pacific region. To get into town from the airport, you can take free public transport ticket from a ticket machine located in the baggage claim area – to the left before the the Green Corridor of Swiss Customs. The machine prints you the ticket valid for 80 minutes for Geneva and suburbs. With this ticket you can either use Train or Bus to reach center of Geneva. The fastest is by train. Bus number 10 bus leaves every 15 minutes from 5am to 1am. The stop is near Airport Arrivals level, Entrance number 4. If you decided to go to Geneva with train he Swiss Federal Railway in Geneva (and the rest of French-speaking Switzerland) serves Geneva’s Gare de Cornavin with trains to Neuchâtel, Bern, Basel, Zürich, St. Gallen, Luzern, Interlaken and the Valais. Most trains arriving in the Gare de Cornavin and have the Geneva Airport as their final destination (if they come from elsewhere in Switzerland). If you go with your own or rented car take the motorway network that will bring you right into Geneva, only 40km from Annecy and 80km from Chamonix with customs such as at Bardonnex – Saint-Julien en Genevois. You will need the compulsory motorway sticker (single annual CHF40 fee) to come through this customs office. Purchase of the motorway tax sticker (aka Vignette) at one of the customs is obligatory in order to drive on Swiss motorways.
Things to go
Geneva has good public transport. Transports Publics Genevois has frequent buses, trams and mouette (boat), as well as suburban train service to within a block or two of most locations in the city and canton. The city is divided in these areas – Old Town (vieille ville) and St. Gervais, Paquis, Plainpalais, Hopital and Eaux-Vives.
The old-town can be easily visited on foot starting anywhere around the tour boat dock on Lake Geneva, or if you come from the Cornavin station, walk down to the Bel-Air island and continue straight on uphill to the old town. If you cross the bridge “Pont du Mont Blanc” you’ll get to the English Garden where you can see the famous flower clock and a sculpted bronze water fountain. Then you can cross the street (and go up the hill (on Place du Port and Rue de la Fontaine). If you climb the the long stairs passage you will end up behind Saint Peter’s Cathedral. After visiting the cathedral, which is Geneva’s well-known landmark, you can exit the courtyard and be right in front of Geneva City Hall. From there you can easily walk down to the Bastions Park where you can find the famous Reformation Wall memorial.
Geneva has good streets if you want to get around by bicycle. If you want to know the best routes, you should get a copy of the beautifully designed VELO-LOVE plan de ville, which is available at all bike shops in the city.
Nearby places to see
Jet d’Eau, the Rade (visible from most of the Lac Léman waterfront). It’s open daily 10AM-11PM. This is one of the crowning symbols of Geneva is the monumental Jet d’Eau, a fountain of water pumped 140m into the air. The spectacular plume was once an occasional pressure release for hydro-power generation on the Rhône River, but people liked it so much that in 1891 the city created a permanent pumped fountain.
Cathédrale St-Pierre, Place St. Pierre is located at the highest point in the Old Town and is opened October – May, all week from 10AM-noon and 2PM-5PM except on Sunday when it opens 11AM-12:30PM and 1:30PM-5PM. Aside of the cathedral the Old town in general is worth walking around in for a hour or two. Here you can see Rousseau’s birth house and various antique shops with all sorts of interesting stuff in the windows. Palais des Nations is located on 14, Avenue de la and is open daily from April – October 10AM-noon and 2PM-4PM and from July – August 10AM-5PM (the rest of the year is open Monday to Friday 10AM-noon and 2PM-4PM; except over the Christmas holidays). It was built to house the League of Nations, and is worth visiting because of the magnificent Assembly Hall, in addition to the large collection of public art, the library, and the landscaped grounds.
Jardin anglais or the English garden is a small garden at the lake where people like to spend their lunch break. Here you can see the famous Flower Clock and the entrance is free.
Quartier des Grottes, Place des Grottes is located north of Gare Cornavin, is an area with interesting shops and a series of residential buildings called “les Schtroumpfs” (1982-1984), where the architects tried to avoid all straight lines, leading to an unconventional Gaudi-like appearance. The entrance here is free.
International Museum of the Reformation is a new museum where you can see spiritual and cultural elements of the Reformation. Unique objects and manuscripts, rare books, engravings, and paintings illustrate the close ties between Geneva and the Reformation.
Museum of the International Committee of the Red Cross is open every day, except Wednesday, from 10AM-5PM. If you happen to visit Geneva during the Christmas holidays and New Year, don’t waste time to visit this museum because it will not be open.
Telepherique du Saleve (Saleve means cable car) is located just over the French Border. This high alpine ridge has a breathtaking view of Mt. Blanc and the Lake Geneva area and has long walking trails.
Events during the year
In March you can see the Motor Show. In May the Caves Ouvertes. This is a free annual event where you can taste sample wine at Geneva’s wineries while exploring the canton’s rural side. In June there are Bol D’Or Yacht Race (biggest in Europe) and Fête de la Musique, which is a three day festival when the whole City of Geneva is a stage. The musical offerings include children’s choirs, punk rock, chamber orchestras, jam bands, avant-guard jazz, klezmer, and drum and bass DJs. The venues are as diverse as the music, with stages inside and out of l’Usine, Parc des Bastions, and even Cathédral St. Pierre. There is also a wide assortment of international food and drink for sale, which can be a bit pricey. The easiest way to get information is to just head to one of the parks listed above and find one of the free newspaper-style festival guides. It includes time-tables and maps.
In August you can be part of the Fete de Geneve. This is a week long party that has the best fireworks display in Europe. December is reserved for L’Escalade.
Accommodation and best time for visits
Geneva can be pricey city with plethora of expensive hotels and accommodations, but you can get fairly reasonable prices in hostels such as Youth Hostel Geneva, City Hostel Geneva, Cité Universitaire, or in the midrange hotels such as Citadines Genève Ferney Voltaire, Hotel Residence St.James, Hotel Savoy, Hotel Lido etc. The restaurants and the bars in the city as well as the shops have quite high prices. French is the main language here, but you can find people who speak German, English and Italian as well. The best season to visit this proud and beautiful city is during July and August when the weather is breezy and pleasant. Keep in mind that this is the most crowded season. You can also visit the city all year round, but the winters can be freezing and the springs quite cold.