Visiting Geneva - What to See and Do
(Geneva International Airport GVA, Switzerland)
Switzerland's second-largest city is the lakeside Alpine gem of Geneva
. As the world's HQ for international agencies and governmental organisations, the city exerts plenty of star power and pedigree. This is a very classy city boasting a striking setting along the banks of Lake Geneva, with the Alps rising in the distance.
Even in the cobbled historic Old Town, the cosmopolitan style of this city is evident. Manicured parks, promenades and little clusters of commercialism create a miniature city within the city. Most of the top sightseeing attractions are here, like the Flower Clock and the English Garden. Right next-door to the Old Town is the brilliant blue lake with its world-famous Jet d'Eau fountain.
Besides the superb opera, chocolate shops, luxury boutiques and international range of dining options, Geneva gives visitors plenty of outdoor recreation to work with. Sailing on the lake is the big summer activity, while winter lures skiers to mountain resorts like Chamonix. You can even swim in the lake at Geneva Beach or simply enjoy a stroll or bike ride along its scenic promenade. Bring plenty of holiday spending money, though, because the city is an expensive indulgence.
Ten things you must do in Geneva
- The Old Town is easily the top spot for visitors who want to experience the historic grandeur of the city. Most of the star attractions are here, including the Cathedral of St. Pierre and the Flower Clock. Medieval cobblestone streets and stone buildings create the perfect atmosphere for dining, drinking and shopping - all of which are top-flight and rather expensive.
- The English Garden is one of those urban parks that makes you sigh with pleasure. It brings the worlds of nature and humanity together in perfect harmony right in the heart of Geneva. The highlight here is certainly the Flower Clock, one of the city's icons. More than 6,000 living flowers adorn this huge clock all year round, creating a stunning image of colour and technology.
- The most famous site in the entire city is probably the Jet d'Eau, the world's tallest water fountain. This marvel shoots a stream of water more than 140 metres / 459 feet into the air on the edge of Lake Geneva. A walkway allows visitors to get close to the fountain, but you are guaranteed to get wet from the powerful spray. Most people enjoy the sight from the safety of the promenade.
- The Cathedral of St. Pierre dominates the Old Town district. Built between the 12th and 15th centuries, it is a massive structure with plenty to see inside. Its organ has 6,000 pipes and the view from the northern tower stretches all the way across the lake into the Alps. There is also an interesting archaeological site next-door, digging deeper into this ancient location.
- The liveliest district of Geneva is Les Paquis, a wonderful working neighbourhood that provides a welcome contrast to the well-heeled atmosphere of the Old Town. This is the place to go to mix with the regular folks of the city and enjoy some of the most appealing bars, clubs, bistros and shopping.
- One of the best ways to experience this city is from the water. There are many ways to get out on Lake Geneva and take in the skyline of the city, along with the Alps and the Jura Mountains beyond. If sailing isn't your thing, you can always book a ride on a classic steamer boat and cruise the lake. These old-style cruises leave from the Quai du Mont-Blanc, while little sailboats can be easily rented from vendors set up at every other quay.
- If you can make it to Geneva in June, you can witness the city's top annual event. The Bol d'Or lake regatta is reputedly the most significant lake regatta in the world. It draws some 600 sailboats and 3,500 sailors for this race that crosses the lake. The spectacle of all those colourful sailboats on the water in June is simply magical, and the city itself buzzes like no other time of the year.
- Geneva's public parks are one of its crowning achievements. These lush grassy areas have been in place for centuries, giving the city its refreshing natural feel. Le Perle du Lac and Parc Mon Repos are two of the best, though the city's 1902 Botanical Garden is also pretty sweet. Cross the lake on a boat and explore the Parc la Grange and Parc des Eaux Vives.
- The Palais des Nations is a great representative of the city's historic role as international peacekeeper. It is the present home of the United Nations in Europe, and also happens to be the continent's second-largest complex behind France's Versailles. Daily tours of the main attractions last about an hour and are in English, giving visitors a look inside the esteemed halls where diplomacy tries to take root.
- Arguably the top museum in Geneva is the Museum of Art and History. Inside, visitors will discover a very interesting and eclectic collection of artwork and artefacts from Europe that spans the ages. Medieval stained glass, ancient Greek pottery, Swiss clocks and a healthy collection of masterpiece paintings ensure a well-rounded couple of hours of cultural immersion.