With the crisp Alpine air, stunningly picturesque setting and truly cosmopolitan sophistication of Geneva just a quick and inexpensive flight away, there innumerable reasons to visit this beautiful Swiss city. If skiing is your aim you might be tempted to skip Geneva altogether; the nearest slopes are less than an hour’s ride from the international airport. But to dismiss Geneva as nothing more than a stopover without exploring further would be a heinous mistake. Need more convincing? Look no further than our list of varied suggestions for the 10 best things to do in Geneva.
1) Visit the CERN Particle Physics Laboratory
If you don’t know your quarks from your neutrinos take a fascinating journey into the world of particle physics and quantum mechanics at CERN, home of the famous Large Hadron Collider. This free tour provides an insight into our understanding of how the universe works and whether or not time travel really is feasible. The CERN laboratories are also the birthplace of the internet as we know it; here you’ll see the very computer from which Sir Tim Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web, as well as the very first internet server. Feel free to ask as many questions as you like – they may not be able to answer everything, but if anyone is likely to be capable of taking us back to the future it’s the dedicated propeller-heads at the CERN Particle Physics Laboratory.
2) Surrender to the Lure of the Swiss Chocolatier
Geneva is blessed with a host of outstanding chocolatiers which produce the finest truffles, pralines, fondants and chocolate confections on the planet – often the product of closely-guarded family recipes which have been passed down through generations of chocolatiers. Succumb to a tasting session at La Maison du Cacao, take a behind-the-scenes technical tour at the Chocolaterie Stettler or for the ultimate in decadent chocolate indulgence take a chocolate bath (yes, really) at ‘After the Rains’ Spa.
3) Stroll Along the Shore of Lake Geneva
The vast crescent-shaped Lake Geneva is easily accessed from the city and is the kind of location that demands and endless supply of camera batteries. Backed by the Alps (from some points the might Mont Blanc may be glimpsed) the lake is surrounded by charming towns and villages, rolling cow pastures, vineyards and forests. Wide promenades, landscaped gardens and artificial beaches add to the pleasures of Lake Geneva and there are plenty of opportunities to take a boat trip and get a whole new perspective on the landscape, city and lake as well as being able to view the spectacular Jet d’Eau water fountain at close range.
4) Hunt for Bargains at Plainpalais Flea Market
Each Wednesday and Saturday, come rain or shine, the Plainpalais district of Geneva is taken over by one of the largest flea markets in Switzerland. Rows and rows of stalls are piled high with souvenirs, bric-a-brac, collectible items, books, records, clothes and even the occasional genuine antique. Starting early you can rub shoulders with the masses of locals and other visitors eagerly scouring the market for bargain buys. Amongst the many goods on sale are items that have been collected worldwide by employees of the many international organisations based in Geneva, such as the Red Cross, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations. If haggling is your forte then you may find yourself flying home with a far heavier suitcase than you arrived with.
5) Look down on Geneva from the nearest Mountaintop
Some might consider this a bit of a cheat, as you’ll actually be in France (so don’t forget your passport). Just a twenty minute ride from Geneva, across the border you’ll find the Telepherique Du Salève: a gondola cable car which gently ascends Mont Salève every fifteen minutes. At a height of 1,380 meters the fresh mountaintop air will blow away any cobwebs and the sweeping views over Geneva, the lake and the surrounding mountain ranges will blow you away! If you’re the active outdoorsy type then you’ll be delighted by the opportunities for hiking, climbing, mountain-biking and even paragliding offered by Mont Salève. If all that sounds a bit too much it’s just as acceptable to sit back and soak up the views from the panoramic restaurant.
6) Step Back in Time in Geneva’s Old Town
Largely free from vehicles, atmospheric narrow cobbled streets wind between tall shuttered buildings. Here and there you’ll discover a hidden courtyard or an unexpected fountain. This is Geneva’s Old Town, a living history lesson best explored on foot. Many of Geneva’s historic landmarks can be found within the Old Town such as the magnificent twelfth-century Cathedrale de St-Pierre (St. Peter’s Cathedral) under which archaeological excavations reveal the history of the site dating back two thousand years. Elsewhere in the Old Town, Geneva’s oldest house – the Maison Tavel – is now a fascinating museum charting domestic life in Geneva from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.
7) Tour the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG)
Set next to Geneva’s beautiful botanical gardens, the United Nations buildings are architecturally impressive from the outside and equally impressive within. Knowledgeable guides will explain the history and work of the United Nations and you’ll get to see the famous Assembly Room, Council Room and Human Rights Room as you tour the buildings. Besides the original 1920s décor, many artworks – gifts from different Member States – are on display. If you’re really lucky you may get to eavesdrop on a meeting of international delegates in conference.
8) Enjoy an Evening of Culture
Geneva is no slouch when it comes to world-class entertainments and culture. The majestic Grand Theatre de Geneve, opened in 1876, is an opulent opera house and boasts the largest stage in Switzerland. Today the Grand Theatre de Geneve presents opera, ballet, recitals, orchestral concerts and – occasionally – theatrical performances. Classical music enthusiasts will be in their element at the Victoria Hall. Created by the architect John Camoletti and gifted to Geneva by Queen Victoria this exquisite concert hall, world renowned for its acoustics, was renovated in 2006 to ensure that the highest standards of comfort and enjoyment are maintained. Equally stunning is the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices. Standing in the Rhone river, Geneva’s former hydroelectric pumping station is now a beautiful and sophisticated cultural centre, a stunning location in which to attend rock and classical concerts, theatre, fashion shows and the occasional political rally.
9) Discover why Swiss Timepieces are the Best in the World…
The Patek Philippe Museum is a love letter to the craftsmen who have created beautiful and intricate timepieces throughout history. This fascinating three-storey museum charts the company history of this revered watchmaking company from its establishment in 1850 through to the present-day, and also houses perhaps the largest single collection of timepieces in the world with items dating back to the sixteenth century. Exhibits include finely jewelled and intricately engraved and embellished watches from the eighteenth century, exquisitely painted ‘portrait’ watches and timepieces that have made history such as a watch that belonged to Elvis Presley and one that has travelled to the Moon and back.
10) … and Spend Time Admiring a Clock Made of Flowers
A fifth of Geneva’s area is dedicated to public gardens and none is more popular than the Jardin Anglais (English Garden), established in 1859. This manicured oasis of horticultural calm not only offers respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, but also provides beautiful views of nearby Lake Geneva and of the iconic Jet d’Eau fountain. However, the chief claim to fame of the Jardin Anglais is the presence of the famous ‘flower-clock’. This symbolic tribute to Geneva’s watchmaking industry is created from 6,500 plants which bloom in accordance with the changing seasons and has been keeping time since 1955. As if a clock created from flowers wasn’t sufficiently impressive, it’s worth noting that the second-hand is the longest in the world.