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Cheap, free, and local-endorsed things to do in beautiful places

Geneva

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  • French-speaking city on the extreme western end of Switzerland
  • Home to many influential international organizations like the United Nations
  • Positioned on Lake Geneva, Switzerland’s largest lake

Metro Population: 946,000 (#2 in Switzerland)

When To Visit: March-October

Climate: Warm in the summer, cool in spring and fall, cold with some rain and a small amount of snow in winter

Geneva (French: Genève), the largest city in the French-speaking region of Switzerland, is an exceptionally cosmopolitan city as the home to the United Nations, the Red Cross, and many of the world’s largest intergovernmental agencies and non-profit organizations. Its 460 foot tall Jet d’Eau fountain on the edge of the Old City in Lake Geneva is Geneva’s most recognized landmark and one of the tallest fountains in the world. While not an especially large city, Geneva is full of fascinating landmarks and beautiful cobblestone streets to explore.

Photo: St. Pierre Cathedral

Where To Go in Geneva

Geneva Old City

Pont du Mont Blanc: A walk across this beautiful bridge connecting the north end of the city to the Old City and lined with Swiss and city flags is a must. Free. Pont du Mont-Blanc, 1204 Genève

Flower Clock (L’Horloge Fleurie): Located in the lakeside English Garden, this clock on the side of a small hill is formed of colorful flowers – a wonderful and unique landmark. Free. Quai du Général-Guisan 28, 1204 Genève. +41 22 909 70 00

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Flower Clock

Jet d’Eau: Over 400 feet tall, Jet d’Eau is one of the tallest fountains in the world, and it was actually created as a safety valve but kept for asthetic reasons. It’s visible from most parts of the city and definitely Geneva’s most recognizable landmark. Head to Jette d’Eaux Vives, a dock that allows you to walk right up to it and feel its mist on your face. Free. Quai Gustave-Ador, 1207 Genève.

Place du Bourg: A lively historic plaza with patio restaurants, a large fountain, and some of the best people-watching in Geneva. Place du Bourg-de-Four, 1204 Genève

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Geneva from St. Pierre Cathedral

St. Pierre Cathedral: The most famous church in Geneva. It has a typical Romanesque style you’ll find in many European churches, but its dramatically large size makes it a very special spot. For 5 franc, you can climb to the top of both of the church’s towers – follow long, steep spiral staircases to the top and get rewarded with the best views of the city and Lake Geneva. Free. Place du Bourg-de-Four 24, 1204 Genève. +41 22 311 75 75

Maison Tavel: A free museum located inside the oldest house in Geneva. It has several levels to explore with super old-school furnishing, views of the city and Jet d’Eau, and a basement crypt with just a tad of spookiness. Free. Rue du Puits-Saint-Pierre 6, 1204 Genève. +41 22 418 37 00

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Maison Tavel

Park Promenade de la Treille: The longest wooden bench in the world that was featured on The Amazing Race in 2016. Sit, relax, and enjoy the great view of the city and surrounding hills from this very special green bench. Free. Rue de la Croix-Rouge, 1204 Genève.

Parc des Bastions: A large park with pleasant walkways and several giant chess and checkerboards. Prom. des Bastions 1, 1205 Genève.

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Parc des Bastions

Reformation Wall (Monument international de la Réformation): Best viewed from Parc des Bastions, this wall just below the Promenade de la Treille bench has stone figures of the four leaders of the 1500s-1600s Protestant Reformation, of which Geneva was one of the hotspots and a refuge for Protestants escaping Catholic countries. Prom. des Bastions 1, 1204 Genève. +41 22 909 70 00

Greater Geneva

Broken Chair: A gigantic chair with one leg partly missing meant to represent the destruction caused by landmines across the world. It has 5.5 tons of wood and is 36 feet tall! Free. Place des Nations, 1202 Genève (across from the United Nations)

United Nations: You must arrange a visit ahead of time if you’d like to go inside the headquarters of this incredibly influential organization. Even without one, it’s fun to peek through the fence at the rows of flags from all of the member countries in front of the building. $22 including guided tour ($15 for students). Palais des Nations, 1211 Genève. +41 22 917 12 34

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The United Nations

Geneva Botanical Gardens and Conservatory (Jardin Botanique): Opened in 1812, this pleasant park is a nice place for a stroll or a relaxing break from exploring; be sure to go inside the large greenhouse and take the spiral staircase to the top. Free. 1202 Genève. +41 22 418 51 00

Church of the Holy Trinity: This shockingly unique building that’s shaped like a hand grenade/ball is a must-see! You can usually enter for free, unless there’s a service going on; even if not, the outside architecture is the most remarkable. Rue du Mont-Blanc 14bis, 1201 Genève. +41 22 731 51 55

Parc de Mon Repos: A tranquil lakeside park with flowers and grassy lawns that connects to the Lake Geneva boardwalk. Free. 1005 Lausanne. +41 21 315 57 15

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Parc de Mon Repos

Bains de Paquis: A series of public baths with a popular eatery and great areas for sunbathing and relaxation. During winter, the baths become saunas. 2 franc admission (may vary). Quai du Mont-Blanc 30, 1201 Genève. +41 22 732 29 74

What To Eat in Geneva

You’ll find Switzerland’s food to be exorbitantly expensive ($30+ for a meal that would be $10 in the U.S.), but it is possible to nourish yourself without breaking the bank. It may seem strange to eat ethnic food rather than local dishes, but it tends to be significantly cheaper. Here are a few of the most affordable yet still high quality eats in Geneva.

Restaurant Mike Wong: A fast casual pan-Asian eatery with a variety of curries, noodles, and vegetable dishes at extremely low prices for Switzerland. Boulevard James-Fazy 11. +41 22 731 49 25.

La Buvette des Bains: This outdoor restaurant located inside the Bains de Paquis swimming area (2 franc admission, may vary) has excellent salads and lunch plates, all served with a hearty French baguette. It’s the only affordable place to eat lunch right on the lake. Quai du Mont-Blanc 30. +41 22 738 16 16.

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A greek tomato salad at La Buvette des Bains

Taverne de la Madeline: One of the cheapest places to get Swiss food in the city, but still expect to pay over $20 for your meal. It has a nice patio but no alcohol due to its founders’ involvement in the Temperance Movement. Rue de Toutes-Ames 20, 1204 Genève. +41 22 310 60 70

Chez Ma Cousine: Located near the lively Place du Bourg plaza, this casual restaurant has reasonable prices (in the high teens and 20s) and nice renditions of simple Swiss and European dishes. Place du Bourg-de-Four 6, 1204 Genève. +41 22 310 96 96

Restaurant Zara 2001: Enjoy delicious Ethiopian cuisine with plenty of vegetarian options at this casual, wonderfully low-priced restaurant. Rue de Lausanne 25, Geneva 1201. +41 22 731 06 96

Snack Mama Wasi: Seriously authentic and tasty Peruvian cuisine at quite low prices with very friendly service. There’s a variety of dishes and they make excellent Pisco Sour drinks. Rue de Lausanne 22, Geneva 1201. +41 22 731 22 07

Geneva Nightlife

Floortwo: This swanky rooftop bar is located right on Lake Geneva and has a beautiful outdoor patio. Quai du Mont-Blanc 19, 1201 Genève. +41 22 908 92 24

L’Atelier Cocktail Club: If you’re looking for unique cocktails you can’t find anywhere else, this is your spot. Drinks are great quality and reasonably priced for the city. Rue Henri-Blanvalet 11, 1207 Genève. +41 22 735 22 47

Café Cuba: Enjoy colorful decor and tasty Latin American food at this relaxed bar with a lovely and good-sized outdoor patio. Place du Cirque 1, 1204 Genève. +41 22 328 42 60

Yvette de Marseille: A wildly popular local hangout spot, this lively offbeat bar has great tapas and cocktails and great indoor and outdoor seating. Rue Henri-Blanvalet 13, 1207 Genève. +41 22 735 15 55

Geneva Blog

Click here to read my Geneva blog in which I explore the United Nations area and Geneva’s Old City.

Nearby Side Trips from Geneva

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Musegg Wall in Lucerne

Lausanne: Less than an hour away on the other end of Lake Geneva lies this hilly historic city that is known as the “San Francisco of Switzerland.” Read more.

Bern: Switzerland’s capital city 2 hours to the east is one of the only cities in the world to maintain its central street plan since medieval times and is surrounded on three sides by the River Aare. Read more.

Interlaken and the Jungfrau Region: A resort town sandwiched between two large lakes and just below a gorgeous portion of the Swiss Alps, Interlaken (2.5 hours away) is perfectly positioned to allow exploration of quaint towns and stunning mountain peaks. Read more.

Lucerne: This mid-sized city 3 hours east of Geneva has incredibly well-preserved history, including a 700-year-old wall with several towers, covered bridges with centuries-old murals, and a small but charming Old City. Read more.

Zurich: Switzerland’s largest city 3 hours to the east is known as the world’s most expensive, but has tons of free and quite remarkable historical and contemporary landmarks to explore. Read more.

Liechtenstein: The world’s 6th smallest country only 4 hours east of Geneva is ruled by a prince and has some of the most stunning hiking in Europe. Read more.

 

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