Visiting the international city of Geneva

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The city of Geneva is a global city. We discovered more than just banks, jewellers and chocolate shops during our city break

Geneva in Switzerland is the very definition of a global city. With nearly half its population made up of foreign nationals and expats, it seems only right that the city is home to the United Nations headquarters as well as a further 20 international agencies including the Red Cross and World Trade Organization.

It was here that the Geneva Conventions were signed and today the city is a symbol of progress. From a charming and historic city centre to international landmarks and institutions, the city of Geneva is emblematic of modern 21st century Europe.

We spent an extended weekend exploring the city of Geneva and discovered more than just banks, jewellers and chocolate shops. Here’s what we did.

1. Jet d’Eau (Water Jet) at Lake Geneva

city of Geneva jet d'eau

Wherever you go in the city of Geneva, you’ll likely be in line-of-sight of this record-breaking water fountain. It’s Geneva’s most famous landmark and is visible throughout the city thanks to its height of 140 metres.

We spent our evenings wandering the banks of Lake Geneva looking out across the Jet d’Eau before indulging at one of the city’s many gelaterias.

2. Allée des Nations at Palais des Nations

city of Geneva UN

The Palace of Nations (Palais des Nations) has served as the headquarters of the United Nations and its predecessor, the League of Nations, since 1936. Overlooking Lake Geneva and the Alps, the Palace of Nations hosts thousands of intergovernmental meetings every year.

Across from the palace is the impressive Broken Chair sculpture, a monument to the organisation’s opposition to land mines and cluster bombs. Guided tours of the palace are available in 15 languages and last one hour.

3. Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

city of Geneva red cross museum

We visited this fascinating museum with its permanent exhibition, The Humanitarian Adventure, as well as a temporary exhibition about Gandhi. The main exhibition explores three major challenges in today’s world: defending human dignity, restoring family links and reducing natural risks, while simultaneously conveying a unique history of humanitarian action.

The museum strikes the perfect note: widely informative and deeply poignant.

4. CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research)

city of Geneva CERN

We brushed up on our particle physics before our visit to CERN, but despite the efforts of our tour guides (who are also nuclear physicists), we didn’t really understand much!

Scientists here operate the largest particle physics laboratory in the world and are probably the smartest people we’ll ever meet. As such, we stayed silent whenever they asked if the group had any questions!

5. St. Pierre Cathedral

city of Geneva - st pierre

Geneva’s most famous church is over 850 years old and offers excellent views across the city centre and Lake Geneva from the North and South Towers. Located in the city of Geneva’s Old Town district, the cathedral sits atop an archaeological site where remains of the previous basilica were found. A small museum is located onsite with the unearthed artefacts on display.

6. Place du Bourg-de-Four

city of Geneva - old town

Geneva’s Old Town is a maze of small streets and picturesque squares filled with cosy cafés, restaurants, galleries and museums, and Place du Bourg-de-Four is at the heart of it.

The main square is supposedly the oldest place in Geneva and hosted a Roman marketplace for centuries. We met up with one of Kia’s old friends and enjoyed a coffee and snack while watching the world go by in every language you could imagine.

7. Maison Tavel

city of Geneva - maison tavel

There are bigger and grander museums in Geneva (Natural History Museum and Art and History Museum to name just two) but we really enjoyed this intimate museum in the Old Town. Maison Tavel, built in the 12th century, is the oldest house in Geneva and displays a range of artefacts and historical objects.

One of the best exhibits is the multimedia presentation and 3D map of how the city of Geneva developed over the centuries from a medieval trading town into the modern international city it is today.

8. Patek Philippe Museum

city of Geneva patek phillipe

One thing about Geneva and Switzerland in general is that it’s always on time and there’s a very good reason for that. Watchmaking was pioneered and refined in Geneva by Antoni Patek who had a passion for timepieces and developing them into the luxury watches for which the country is known today.

The Patek Phillipe Museum maps the history of luxury watchmaking from the 16th century to present day and hosts a giant collection of precious clocks and watches.

9. Jardin Anglais and L’horloge Fleurie (Flower Clock)

city of Geneva flower clock

Jardin Anglais (English Garden) is home to what was once the largest flower clock in the world. Unfortunately, it holds the title no longer but it does still have the world’s longest second-hand at 2.50 meters! The iconic clock was created in 1955 as a tribute to the city’s watchmakers. Unmistakably Swiss.

The city of Geneva is home to some other excellent parks including Parc des Bastions, Parc de la Grange and the Botanical Gardens.

10. Mont Salève cable car

city of Geneva mountain
Image: Yann, CC BY-SA 3.0

Mont Salève at 1,100 metres (3,600ft) is geographically in France, but is just a short bus journey away. It offers sweeping views across the city of Geneva as well as Mont Blanc and the Alps.

The cable car journey takes less than five minutes but the panoramic vistas from the top will keep you entertained for hours. In addition to the views, there are exciting activities on offer including paragliding, climbing, mountain biking, trekking and skiing in the winter. Bus no. 8 from the centre of Geneva goes to the cable car station that takes you to the summit of Mont Salève.

City of Geneva: THE ESSENTIALS

What: Visiting the international city of Geneva, Switzerland.

Where: We spent two nights each at the Eastwest Hotel and Tiffany Hotel. The first offers contemporary rooms with an alluring blend of East and West décor. Rooms are sleek and modern and come equipped with a Nespresso machine – a bonus that did not go unnoticed! Tiffany in the Arts district is more traditional and exudes Art Nouveau style throughout its 19th century building.

Both four-star hotels offer excellent onsite facilities and restaurants as well as access to the Old Town along with the city’s main transport hubs. Parking is available but unnecessary given that the hotels supply guests with public transport passes for free!

When: Geneva is situated in the Alps so is best visited between April to October during the spring, summer and early autumn months.  

In winter,  the cable car doesn’t run and many of the attractions close earlier and/or on the weekends. Additionally, the Jet d’Eau is only operational from 10am to 4pm compared with the summer months when it stays on until sunset.

July and August are the best times to visit for weather, but it is also the most crowded and expensive time of the year to visit. Because of the city’s international and business clientele, weekends are often quieter and good deals can be found at hotels.

How: The city of Geneva is one of the most well connected in the world. The international airport is located just 4km from the city and is easily reached by public transport.

The main train station is Gare Cornavin where there are many international and domestic train connections. It is also the centre of the city’s system of buses and trams, which of course run like clockwork.

Geneva is covered in depth in Lonely Planet Switzerland.

Lead image: Atlas & Boots

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