Geneva Bucket List: 15 Things to Do in Switzerland’s Second Largest City
Ahh, Jet d’eau. It’s an iconic attraction in Switzerland, almost synonymous with the mention of Geneva. This fountain sits in the lake and soars over 140 meters high in the sky — higher than the Statue of Liberty! When I Googled the city name, the water stream is the image that dominated the top results. And I can understand why, it is pretty impressive. You definitely want to see it and revel in its magic, which will be effortless while exploring the city.
But, there is so much more to Geneva.
Known as the city of parks and surrounded by breathtaking mountains, Geneva is a mix of European charm, old world architecture and a modern trendy vibe that begs to be explored.
Geneva Bucket List: 15 Top Things to Do in Switzerland’s Second Largest City
WHAT TO SEE + DO
1. Take a Helicopter Over Geneva
There is no better way to get your bearings of a city than from a birds-eye view, and what better way to do that than on a helicopter. My thrilling ride with Swiftcopters took us by the iconic Geneva lake, along the nearby Switzerland-France border and atop the snow-capped Jura Mountains. It put the city into perspective.
The narrow cobbled streets of Geneva’s old town are begging to be explored–every nook and cranny. Around any corner could be a picturesque cathedral, charming architecture, lush park or delicious Swiss cafe.
There are plenty of fun things to do in the old town. Don’t miss climbing the tower of St. Pierre Cathedral (see #6) or going underground to witness the archeological remains, dining at the long-standing Café Papon (it opened in 1808) or enjoying a cocktail at the center square of Old town, Place du Bourg-de-Four.
Geneva is the birthplace of luxury watch making and it shows—fancy boutiques, interesting museums and artisan watchmakers line the streets.
You can easily tour the shops on your own (Geneva Watch Tour has a great map), but it’s hard to truly understand the craftsmanship that goes into a fine watch unless you witness the intricate detail that goes into the making. Many shops offer an exclusive opportunity to take a behind the scenes look into the making of their luxury time pieces.
I had a backstage look at the watchmaking of the high-end brand Roger Dubuis, known for being an innovative creator of world architectural tourbillons. While touring their manufacturing building they slapped a $35,000 Velvet Jewellery watch on my wrist. Ooh la la. Plus, I took a workshop on disassembling and reassembling one of their luxury watch faces, piece by piece. It wasn’t an easy thing to do!! Each screw and part was so small that I had to wear a magnifying glass to see it and tweezers to manipulate.
After touring their factory, the cost of these keepsakes seemed justifiable, at one station a women was in charge of hand placing symmetrical lines on one of the dozens of tiny parts, this one the length of a grain of rice. I had never been a watch fan until now.
I have ridden a bicycle, but never an electric one. I have been to a vineyard, but never by bicycle. Ebiketour will take you on a bike ride you will never forget — along the vineyards, on small windy roads and through the outskirts of Geneva’s city center. Don’t want to ride through vineyards? Ebiketour has almost a dozen other tours to choose from too!
Besides the stunning views, another perk was that it was a ride with a quarter of the work. With just one pedal rotation, electric bikes can propel much further than a normal 10-speed, which makes this ride so much more enjoyable.
The Swiss are known for their luxurious thermal bathes and spas, but none may be quite as chic or affordable than Les Bain Bleu Hammam & Spa, With jacuzzis, whirlpools, massage jets, bubble loungers and a renewing hammam on premise, you can soak, lounge, heat, bathe and scrub for hours.
On my visit, I first took a relaxing soak in their 3767.37 square feet of aquatic indoor/outdoor areas. The interior baths were elegantly moody with soft lighting, dark tile and a trendy rain shower. The outdoor rooftop bath, which conveniently overlooked the lake, was more vibrant with young families frolicking.
After your soak in the baths visit the cafe for a quick beverage, then head to the relaxing hamman to participate in their unique 6-step circuit—steam, scrub, rest and dry.
On Tuesdays the Hammam is reserved exclusively for women. The Baths remain open to everyone.
6. Climb the Tower of Saint Pierre Cathedral
In the heart of the Old Town lies the Saint Pierre Cathedral, which dates back over 850 years. The Romanesque style church has two main towers that boast the best panoramic view of Geneva from the top.
The fairly steep climb is just over 150 stairs, which is not nearly as bad as my 1200 step climb to the top of Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka or even the 463 stairs of the Duomo in Florence. But at the peak, you will be rewarded just as handsomely with the best view of the city.
Even if you are typically not a museum person, make an exception to visit The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva. It is one of the most unique in the world. The museum documents the humanitarian works of the Red Cross, and is a very moving experience.
Interactive exhibits take you through 150 years of history, plus challenges in the world today. The stories of the twelve witnesses are key to your visit, so make sure to get the audio guide!
Geneva has almost 40 museums scattered throughout the city. You can see some of the favorites here.
8. Visit the Village of Hermance
The picturesque village of Hermance is on the shores of Lake Geneva, just under an hour from the city center. It will be easy to watch the hours of the afternoon disappear while exploring the narrow streets, enjoying the beachfront and dreaming about residing in one of the old houses with lilac wisteria hanging off the balcony.
Don’t leave without dining at Cafe du Quai where you can indulge in a plate of the local perch that is caught right in lake Geneva!
Barely over the France border, the cable car of Mont Salève will take you to an altitude of over 3600 feet to give a breathtaking panoramic view of Geneva. And it does it in less than five minutes! On the summit you can go mountain biking, hiking, paragliding or simply watch the sunset while dining window-side at L’Horizon.
Located inside the Parc des Bastions, a botanical garden smack-dab in the middle of city life, the Reformation Wall is a tribute to a religious movement in the 16th century. The 325-foot long monument, that is built into the old city walls, honors great leaders in the religious upheaval that divided Catholic Europe.
Besides chocolate, there is no better souvenir to bring home from Switzerland than a Swiss Army Knife. They can come in very handy too! The Victorinox Flagship store in Geneva has a knife assembly station where you can create your own Swiss Army Knife that is personalized with your choice of blades and accessories, plus have it engraved with a special message.
WHAT TO EAT + DRINK
12. Eat at the Chef’s Table at Le Chat Botte
With a Michelin starred chef, Le Chat Botte exemplifies gastronomical delights at its finest. A simple dinner on any evening would be a special treat, but for a more unique bucket list experience book a seat at the chef’s table with chef Dominique Gauthier.
Tucked away in the corner of the busy kitchen, guests will be dining in the middle of the action on a tailor-made menu. Wine connoisseurs will be delighted with their list, as well as the wine cellar that has an extensive collection of over 22,000 bottles (some dating back to 1911!).
Millions of people around the world, including myself, are die-hard chocolate lovers and the Swiss make some of the best. The country is at the forefront of chocolate manufacturing and the proof is in the tasting. At the Stettlerlaboratory you can try your hand at making your own chocolate bar and candies. The most delicious thing to do in Geneva!
Come prepared — during the couple hour class, there will be a lot of sampling!
14. Learn to Make Fondue
Fondue was invented as a way to use stale bread and aged cheese in the cold winter Swiss months when fresh produce was unavailable. It is now one of the most recognized Swiss dishes and quite possible the most delicious. What can be better than a hot pot filled with a blend of gooey cheese?
You can get your fondue fix at the hotel restaurant Les Armures or Café du Soleil near the United Nations. For a more unique experience take a fondue making class at the lively Edelweiss where you can learn to cook your own pot of cheese as musicians perform traditional instruments in the background. While there, don’t forget to take a blow into the traditional alphorn (long wooden horn)!
Enjoy the hospitality at the luxurious Beau-Rivage, a unique 5-star hotel that sits on Quai du Mont Blanc, opposite the renowned Jet d’Eau fountain. Exceeding guests expectations begins as soon as you enter through the revolving doors. The classic lobby impresses with a central fountain, marble pillars and colorfully tiled floors. My room had all the essentials to make you never want to leave: plush pillows, a soaking tub and a view of Jet d’Eau. It didn’t hurt that the Michelin-starred French restaurant Le Chat Botte (see #12) was located just off the lobby.
Not only is this a place of extravagance, it is also filled with history. Now operated by the fifth generation of the Mayer founding family, it has a legendary past dating back to 1898. Eleanor Roosevelt worked on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights here. The Empress Sissi of Austria died here after being stabbed by an anarchist just a few blocks away (there is one suite named in honor of her). The signing of the 1918 founding of Czechoslovakia was done here. If these walls could talk!
Tip: The purchase of the Geneva Pass gives you access to free public transportation, plus it offers over 40 attractions and activities that are free or discounted!
Essential Tips for Visiting Geneva
Getting There: The Geneva International Airportis a major hub and most airlines will fly into it. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. From the airport to the city center, you can use the train or bus, take a shuttle or take a taxi.
Where to Stay in Geneva: It’s best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. TheHotel des Alpes (moderate) is a great choice in the heart of Geneva. For something on the less expensive side, try theNash Pratik Hotel, which includes an airport shuttle,located in Cointrin. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the Hôtel de la Cigogne, on charming Longemalle Square, or theLe Richmond(airport shuttle included), located right on the shores of Lake Geneva.Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Public transportation is the best way to travel while in Geneva, but if you choose to rent a car, RentalCars.com has great deals. If you are not renting a car, there are plenty of options. Taxisand Uber are available all over the city, plus most of the top attractions can be accessed with the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus.
City Transportation Passes: The Swiss Travel Pass is valid on all public transportation in Switzerland (train, bus, and boat), as well as the Glacier Express and Bernina Express. It also includes free admission to more than 490 museums. There are several options for purchasing the Swiss Travel Pass, but the popular 4 days consecutive (2nd class) Swiss Travel Pass costs €247.
Best Tours in Geneva: You can find some of the top tours at Get Your Guide or Viator, and here are some of the top ones: