Geneva is different from most other Swiss cities as it sits at the western extreme of the country surrounded by France and its inhabitants speak mostly French. It is very much an international city, with 200 international organisations based in Geneva and many UN agencies.
The first thing that you notice as you step out of Cornavin, the main station, is just how cosmopolitan it is. English is widely heard, people of all nationalities are observed and Swiss restaurants are in the minority.
In our opinion, Geneva is not one of the greatest cities in which to linger, rather it is best used as a transit point. For that, Geneva is good, with excellent rail connections and it is a major hub for easyJet, which means lots of cheap flights from all over Europe.
For any time you do spend in this city, which is built around the end of Lake Geneva, the lake itself is an attraction. One of the more interesting things to do here is to walk around the lake.
One of the largest fountains in the world, called Jet d’Eau, is situated at the Geneva end of this huge lake, near where it empties into the Rhône river. Installed in 1951, this fountain jet shoots 500 litres of water per second, at 200 kilometres per hour, up to 460 feet high! It is a sight worth seeing and is well photographed.
A series of small ferry boats called Mouettes Genevoises traverse the end of the lake, so it is easy to combine a walk with a boat trip back to base. There are four regular ferry lines from Quai du Mont Blanc, Quai Gustave Ador, Perle du Lac and Parc des Eaux Vives, and you can criss-cross the lake on them all. The same ticket can be used on ferries, buses and trams in Geneva and your hotel will provide you with a free travel card for this purpose.
Cruising on Lake Geneva is also a good option in the summer months, and there are numerous cruises of varying length, as well as some traditional steamers.
As well as the transport card being made freely accessible, complimentary bikes are available in the summer from the Place de Montbrillant just behind the station and at the Ruelle des Templiers.
The Old Town is worth a walk around. It is centred on St Pierre (Saint Peter’s) Cathedral, where you can climb the 157 steps to the top. Built between 1160 and 1232, and modified in the eighteenth century to a Gothic style, the cathedral is reached by walking uphill from the main shopping area by following Rue du Perron. Beneath the cathedral, and connected by an underground passageway, is a subterranean archaeological site.
One of the best museums we found was the International Museum of the Reformation located in Maison Mallet in the heart of the Old Town, next to the cathedral. The history of the Reformation is traced from earliest days, as Geneva is one of the founding cities of the Reformation.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, one of the world’s great thinkers, was born in Geneva in 1712 and his story is told using an audio-visual presentation at 40 Grand Rue.
The oldest square is the Place Bourg-de-Four in the heart of the Old Town. It is a place of restaurants and antique shops that surround an eighteenth century fountain.
The United Nations headquarters can be visited by the public and is worth a look. The building was built between 1929 and 1936 to accommodate the League of Nations. It became the European Headquarters of the UN in 1946. To go there, take the tram to Place des Nations.
Geneva has some excellent parks. The Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, or Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques, are situated on 28 hectares beside the lake. Their collection of over 16,000 species from around the world includes tropical greenhouses, a arboretum, a garden of scent and touch, areas of medicinal plants and herbs, a rock garden and much more.
Like all Swiss cities, Geneva has good, but expensive, shopping. It is the capital of watchmaking and is well known for its chocolate and Swiss army knives. If you are in town on a Wednesday or Saturday, the flea market operates in the morning on Plaine de Plainpalais.
Close by, in France, is Mont Saleve which, at 1,380 metres, provides good views. Take Bus 8 to Veyrier and then walk to the cable car. At the top is a restaurant with panoramic views. Further afield, but a possible day trip, is Chamonix, for close up views of Mont Blanc.
On the Swiss side of the lake, it is about a 40-minute train ride to Lausanne, the home of the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Museum.Write a Review