Best Things To Do in Geneva
Geneva furnishes quite a few activities for whiling away a couple of days, like the Museum of Natural History, Old Town shopping excursions and lounging at Pâquis Baths and the Conservatory and Botanical Garden Geneva. Geneva also boasts breathtaking river, lake and mountain views; and for avid skiers, the French Alps are less than an hour away. If it's nightlife you're after, you might be better off heading to nearby Lausanne.
Updated January 27, 2018
- #1View all Photos#1 in GenevaNatural Wonders, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Recreation, Swimming/Pools, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Straddling the Franco-Swiss border is Lake Geneva, a 224-square-mile lake formed by the Rhône River. It has been a popular vacation spot for years, drawing such memorable names as Audrey Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin and Sophia Loren. In fact, many of Lake Geneva's visitors (including Hepburn and Chaplin) were so smitten with the area that they became permanent residents.
If you're looking to spend some time away from the city, there are plenty of attractions located along the lake's shores. Explore the vineyards and wineries in Lausanne on the lake's northern shore, or head to Montreux for belle epoque architecture. Back in Geneva (at the lake's southernmost shore), you can go swimming at the Pâquis Baths and watch the Jet d'Eau.
- #2View all PhotosfreeMont Salève#2 in GenevaHiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
No matter how physically fit you are, odds are you'll enjoy checking out Mont Salève. Situated about 12 miles southeast of Geneva across the Franco-Swiss border, this mountain offers a plethora of hiking and mountain biking paths, as well as paragliding and cross-country ski trails. If you don't want to break a sweat while visiting, climb aboard Mont Salève's cable car, which drops visitors off at an observation deck with a restaurant.
Previous visitors praised Mont Salève's hiking trails and views of Geneva. Many also enjoyed watching paragliders jump off the mountain and airplanes taking off and landing at Genève Aéroport. However, the mountain's proximity to Geneva makes it easy to forget that this natural wonder is in another country, so remember to bring your passport (to present at the border) and euros (for purchasing items on-site).
- #3View all PhotosfreeJet d'Eau#3 in GenevaSightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
No visit to Geneva would be complete without seeing one of its most iconic sights: the Jet d'Eau. Built in 1886 to help control a nearby hydraulic plant's water pressure at night, this impressive fountain spews water 459 feet into the air. Its central location in the middle of Lake Geneva means you can see it from a variety of downtown locales.
Many previous visitors enjoyed catching a glimpse of this water fountain and suggested walking up to it via its pier for the best views. However, several cautioned that the fountain is not on all of the time, including when it is closed for annual maintenance in October and/or November. Hours vary by day and season, but generally, the fountain operates from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. in the summer, with reduced hours in the winter.
- #4View all Photos#4 in GenevaEntertainment and Nightlife, Historic Homes/Mansions, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and Nightlife, Historic Homes/Mansions, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Overlooking Lake Geneva by the Jet d'Eau, this park features a nearly 130,000-square-foot manicured garden filled with pools, pergolas and 200-plus kinds of roses. Additionally, an 18th-century villa – which is now a restaurant and hotel – still resides on the property, and complimentary concerts are hosted every summer at the on-site Théâtre de Verdure.
According to former visitors, The Grange Park is a "beautiful" and "tranquil" place that's ideal for all types of travelers. Couples will appreciate the property's romantic atmosphere, and families will enjoy its playground and wading pool. Theater enthusiasts, meanwhile, can watch a variety of performances (for a fee) at The Orangerie Theater, including classics like "Macbeth" and "The Three Little Pigs."
- #5View all Photos#5 in GenevaBeaches, Recreation, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Recreation, Swimming/PoolsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If you want to relax and enjoy picturesque views of Lake Geneva, make your way to the Pâquis Baths. Located in the Pâquis-Nations neighborhood of Geneva's Rive Droite area, this man-made beach was originally built in 1872 and has been open to the public since 1890. Today, it continues to welcome locals and tourists alike, offering a deck for sunbathing, two hammams, two saunas, a restaurant, water sports activities and a climbing structure. Sandboxes, diving boards, a wading pool and a Tyrolean (or zip line) are also available for kids.
R&R-seekers, families and water lovers rave about the Pâquis Baths, adding that it is a great place to people-watch and cool off on a hot day. Visitors also praise the affordable yet tasty meals (especially the cheese fondue and salads) served at the on-site eatery, La Buvette des Bains. But remember, all of this attraction's facilities (excluding the restaurant) are only open from May 11 to September 16.
- #6View all Photos#6 in GenevaMuseums, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Nestled alongside Geneva's northern border between the Palace of Nations and Lake Geneva, the Conservatory and Botanical Garden Geneva offers a serene setting for relaxing. This living museum features a variety of gardens, where visitors will find seasonal flowers, herbs, Swiss plants, rosebushes and more. Multiple greenhouses, a library, a gift shop, a carousel, a restaurant and an animal park are available as well.
Recent travelers appreciated this attraction's complimentary admissions and beautiful plants. Many also enjoyed watching the museum's peacocks roaming around the animal park and recommend spending a few hours on-site to read a book or have a picnic. Others suggest visiting before or after a flight, since the property is less than 4 miles east of the airport.
- #7View all Photos#7 in GenevaChurches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDChurches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This cathedral – often described as a mash-up of Roman, Gothic and neoclassic stylistic elements – has survived centuries of turmoil. Its most notable chapter occurred in the mid-16th century when it was used by John Calvin as a vessel for the Protestant Reformation. Today, the St-Pierre Cathedral continues to dominate the Old Town skyline, beckoning visitors to come explore its intricate (and conflicting) design and learn about its turbulent history.
The interior of the cathedral is lined with fourth-century mosaics, 12th-century columns and 15th-century frescoes, making it a feast for any art-lover's eye. Make sure to see Calvin's chair and the Chapel of the Maccabees, which is filled to the brim with lavish 18th-century decorations. Recent visitors recommend paying 5 Swiss francs ($5) or buying a Geneva Pass (which includes entry) so you can climb the church's towers. Admission to other parts of the property is free.
- #8View all Photos#8 in GenevaMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
If you're traveling with one or more budding naturalists, then a visit to Geneva's Museum of Natural History is a must. Situated in the southeastern part of the Eaux-Vives neighborhood within walking distance of Lake Geneva and St-Pierre Cathedral Geneva, this animal-themed museum houses replica habitats filled with taxidermy animals, including owls, weasels and polar bears. Temporary exhibits about everything from ants to dinosaurs are also offered. Plus, kids can participate in free interactive workshops on select Wednesdays (such as ones that focus on microscopes or origami) and complimentary field trips to look for critters.
Although some recent visitors said the Museum of Natural History's displays were "boring" and difficult to understand since they lacked English translations, others praised its "interesting and extensive" exhibits. What's more, many appreciated the property's free admissions. A few travelers were especially impressed with the museum's living two-headed turtle, Janus.
- #9View all Photos#9 in GenevaSightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDSightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Occupying an impressive amount of land near the Conservatory and Botanical Garden Geneva, the Palace of Nations was constructed at the end of the 1920s as the headquarters for the now defunct League of Nations. Today, this massive complex (one of the largest in Europe) is home to the U.N.'s European office.
You'll have to join a guided tour if you want to go inside; then you'll see such points of interest as the Assembly Hall (where the U.N. General Assembly gathers) and the Council Chamber (home to the Conference on Disarmament). Previous travelers were especially impressed with the sight's architecture, manicured gardens and informative tour guides.
- #10View all Photos#10 in GenevaMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
One thing Switzerland is known for is watchmaking and enameling, and one of the best collections of timepieces can be found in the Patek Philippe Museum. There are two exhibits permanently on display here: the Antiques Collection, with a wide variety of timepieces dating back to the 16th century, and the Patek Philippe Collection that showcases pieces made by the Patek Philippe company, one of the most esteemed watchmaking companies in the world.
Although you're surrounded by watches, some say it's fairly easy to lose track of time here, even if you're not a watch enthusiast. However, some past visitors wished the museum permitted photography inside.
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