Geneva knows it’s gawp-worthy gorgeous. In the Swiss city famed for its neutrality, manmade beauty lives in harmony with natural splendour. Hop between museums and mountains. Duck in and out of markets and meadows. Step into a castle before stepping into lake shallows. Whether you want a gentle holiday filled with strolls and boat rides or a thrilling break packed with skiing, cycling and more, make sure to take in the views. There’s a reason the longest bench in the world can be found watching over the city’s scenery – Geneva’s dramatic vistas are worth dwelling over.
Visit in spring to mosey around flourishing gardens (there are more than 60 in the city) and walk along a promenade past blooming chestnut trees. Plan for a summer trip to bathe in beaming sun rays and mirror-like lake water. In autumn, visit a vineyard dripping in sweet grapes and see the city washed in warm yellows and vivid reds. Or pack your skis for a winter break and dash through dazzling snow on a nearby Alpine mountain before indulging in a bowl of hot, gooey fondue. Choose your adventure and book your flights to Geneva now.
We have a great selection of quality hotels in Geneva to recommend. Hotel D'Angleterre sits gracefully on the edge of Lake Geneva with views of the Jet d’Eau and Mont Blanc. This heritage hotel dating to 1872 is a certified landmark known for its stunning neoclassical facade and dedicated staff – some of whom have been welcoming guests for record-breaking lengths of time. InterContinental Hotels Geneva hefts some historical weight, too, having played host to an array of globally significant events since the 1960s. Peace talks and summits have brought big names to the hefty doors of this hotel in the diplomatic district – Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Princess Diana among them.
Mandarin Oriental Geneva shines on the right bank of the Rhone with its river-facing windows. Book a suite to enjoy breakfast on a private terrace; look down at the clear water and up at snow-capped Alpine peaks. Or stay at Crowne Plaza Geneva and book a guest room with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the Alps. This hotel is right next to Geneva Airport and gives you access to transport links.
If you want to see a different part of Switzerland, touch down in Geneva and head to a skiing destination like Gstaad. Le Grand Bellevue, looking like it belongs on a Christmas card as it peeks through flurries of snow, is snuggled in the charming Swiss mountain village. Get cosy in a turreted tower suite and stare at the forest, village or mountains as you sip a specialty hot chocolate. Dream about whizzing down the slopes and wake up to Switzerland’s illustrious scenery just waiting for you to get out there.
See the landscape’s jewels jostle for attention, from massive Lake Geneva to the immense Alpine mountains reflected in its rippling water. Listen to the sounds that score the city. Hear the Bise wind blowing, the Jet d’Eau (water jet) rushing 140 metres into the sky and traditional Swiss clockwork ticking. Smell fragrant roses in immaculate gardens and taste rich chocolate from ribbon-tied boxes – before buying yourself another box (or ten) to take home.
Where are the best things to see in Geneva?
It can be seen from around 30 miles away – in fact you'll probably see it before your plane has even landed – but the iconic Jet d’Eau proudly roars in the Eaux-Vives district. Once you’ve been wowed (and likely sprayed) by the display up close, head to a green space. Gaze at Lake Geneva and the Jura Mountains from a grassy perch in Eaux-Vives Park. Admire a picturesque manor house and rose garden, blossoming with 200 varieties, at La Grange Park. If you’re taking a summertime stroll, you might even hear sweeping music floating over from a free Theatre de Verdure concert.
Cobblestone streets snake through Geneva’s Old Town, passing doorways into quaint cafes and antique-stuffed boutiques. See reformation leader John Calvin’s previous preaching ground, the Cathedral of St Pierre. The church, standing tall with towering columns and vivid stained-glass windows, watches over the historic city’s secret passageways. Climb 157 steps up the north tower to face a knockout view of huddled rooftops and sparkling Lake Geneva embraced by Alpine mountains. Then, after you’ve stood at the top of the cathedral, venture beneath it to an archaeological site flaunting ancient artefacts. Our 2.5-hour city tour ends at the Old Town and gives a useful introduction to the area.
The Bastion district sits below Old Town and is home to Parc des Bastions: the city’s oldest and largest park. Amble among graceful Japanese maples, tall Himalayan pines and bundles of other trees crowned with vibrant leaves. Stand like a small speck in front of The Reformation Wall’s giant statues of John Calvin, William Farel, Theodore de Beze and John Knox. Take a seat in the old gazebo, now a brasserie called Kiosque, where the sun gleams through huge, panelled windows and onto little vases stuffed with flowers. Then play a game of oversized chess before admiring buildings stuffed with culture at nearby Place de Neuve.
Geneva has a long history of hosting international organisations from around the world and today hundreds reside in its International District. This is also where you’ll find the European headquarters of the United Nations. Tour the Palais des Nations and step inside the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room. Look up – the ceiling is a spectacle literally dripping with vibrant colours. Visit the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum nearby to see affecting exhibitions on humanitarian action.
Step into a Mediterranean medley of pastel houses and babbling fountains in Carouge. This separate city, close to Geneva’s centre, owes its Italian charm to Sardinian architects. Quaint boutiques and restaurants leave their shutters flung open and their doors ajar for meandering tourists. Courtyards dappled in shade and dotted with tables welcome passersby to stop for a spell. A bohemian atmosphere floats through the streets, justifying Carouge’s reputation as ‘The Greenwich Village of Geneva’. Spend a morning gorging on fresh fruit at the farmer’s market (Wednesdays and Saturdays) and once you’ve had a good mooch around watch an indie movie and sink an Italian soda at Cinema Bio.
Where are the best places to ski near Geneva?
The ski resort of Courchevel, around two hours from Geneva Airport, is part of the Three Valleys in the northern French Alps. Expect groomed slopes, pistes winding through forests and off-piste challenges such as Les Avals valley. On clear days there are dramatic views of Mont Blanc. Sample some apres-ski luxury in the resort’s five villages with a glitzy night of revelry fuelled by Michelin-starred dining.
Meribel, also in the Three Valleys, is peppered with Savoyard hamlets and villages full of wooden chalets. Ski on piques, in snowparks and along freeride routes. Look out across the mountains, where spruces and pines huddle together in forests. Mont Blanc might show its face on a clear day. Meribel is a great choice for families thanks to its fun zones and ski schools. After a day on the slopes, breathe in the fresh alpine air on a terrace or gather around a table at a high-altitude restaurant.
Stay at the foot of Mont Blanc in Chamonix. The renowned French valley, around an hour from Geneva Airport, is regarded by many as the best freeride resort in the world. Adventure-seekers congregate around Vallee Blanche, raring to take on the legendary 20km off-piste route complete with glaciers and crevasses. Once your skis are off, get cosy with a craft ale or dance beneath a chandelier at a famous mountain clubbing spot. Chamonix is all about good times and gloat-worthy shredding.
What are the best things to do in Geneva?
Wade in Lake Geneva’s crystal-clear water at Bains des Paquis: a well-loved public bathhouse with glorious views. In the summer, see the sun paint the harbour with shimmers as you swim. Raise a toast on the terrace as a rainbow dances on the Jet d'Eau. In the winter, take an invigorating plunge into the brisk water as the snow-capped Alps look on. Then warm up with a hot bowl of fondue au cremant (fondue with sparkling wine) inside a wood stove-heated cabin. Swimming not really your thing? Sink into one of the steamy Turkish baths instead.
Learn about Swiss clockwork. Geneva’s clockmaking tradition goes back to the 16th Century Reformation. Goldsmiths reacted to John Calvin banning jewellery by retraining and selling intricately detailed watches instead. Browse the beautiful showrooms of Swiss artisan watchmakers for a stunning timepiece of your own, listen to clocks that have been ticking for centuries at the Patek Philippe Museum, or take a lesson in clockwork mechanics from a master at Initium. Then wander to the English Garden and watch the Flower Clock’s hands point to pansies and primroses as it marks time. L'horloge fleurie, crafted from 6,500 flowers, has featured in so many photoshoots it’s practically an Instagram model at this point.
Take a quick trip from Geneva to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), where the awe-inspiring Large Hadron Collider discovered the ‘God particle’ and propelled physics towards a better understanding of the universe’s creation. Book a tour of the laboratory and peek inside a control room. Step into the Data Centre where the World Wide Web was born. See how teeny tiny particles have a humungous effect at Quantum World. Then design a star and learn how your own particles made their way to you at the Our Universe exhibit.
Follow in the footsteps of Frankenstein’s monster and visit Mont Saleve. Technically the rocky mountain stands on French ground, but Genevans tend to consider it their city’s balcony. Mary Shelley described her Gothic monster scaling Saleve’s overhanging sides – but luckily you can just take a cable car to the top. Catch it from Veyrier and watch Swiss towns and cities shrink beneath you as the lake sprawls itself over the landscape. Hike up to the observation deck at the peak or through woodlands into an open meadow with a view of Mont Blanc on clear days. Feeling adventurous? Paraglide, bike, or cross-country ski. Or make like Frankenstein’s creature and go rock climbing (just use the appropriate equipment, of course).
Make your way from Geneva to Montreux – a journey that takes around an hour by train – and walk along a waterside path lined with flowerbeds and sculptures to reach Chateau de Chillon. Cross an 18th Century bridge and roam stone-walled halls inside the dreamy medieval castle. Gaze up at vaulted ceilings and faded coats of arms. Look for Lord Byron’s name carved into a pillar in the shadow-filled dungeon. Peek out from the castle’s keep for a grand view of the lake and mountains. If you’re visiting in the winter, you might see the red tops of the towers dusted in snow. Alternatively, in the summer you can visit Plage du Chateau de Chillon and bathe in the rippling lake as it reflects the castle watching over you. Want to take the hassle out of planning? Check out our day trip to Montreux.
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