Ten things to do in Geneva

Chocolate, clocks and countryside: Ten things you must do in GenevaGeneve Tourisme & Congres


If you're looking for a cosmopolitan city for a short break, Geneva is one of Europe's gems - with a lovely lake setting and surrounded by mountains. Forget what you've heard about it being a hub for billionaires and businessmen. The Swiss city has plenty of cultural treasures, relaxing rural spots and a few surprises for discerning travellers.

From a clock made of flowers to its famous fountain, browse Geneva's highlights...

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Ten top things to do in Geneva
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Ten things to do in Geneva

The Jet d'Eau, one of the world's largest water fountains, is a famous landmark of the city. Built in 1951, it shoots 500 litres of water per second at a speed of 200km per hour and at any given moment there is 7,000 litres of water in the air. You can get close enough to the Jet d'Eau via a stone jetty but be careful of the wind changing as you may end up drenched! Top tip: If you're travelling in a large group (minimum of 10 people and a maximum of 12 over the age of 10), the company that manages the Jet d'Eau, SIG, organises tours of the control room, where you can see the machinery and even press the button to start the fountain. You'll need to book well in advance and visits are weather dependant.

Just a ten-minute drive outside the city centre, you'll find beautiful vineyards, quaint villages and countryside charm in rural Geneva. In pretty Dardagny there is a beautiful castle and the must-visit book shop Librairie Occasion, which is set in a house with books in every corner. Nearby in Choully, you can enjoy lunch at the Auberge de Choully, which uses locally grown ingredients and has a huge list of wines from neighbouring vineyards. On the northern side of Geneva lies Celigny, a rural gem surrounded by the canton of Vaud. There is a fountained square, waterside lawns, a stream and the delightful restaurant Buffet de la Gare, which serves wonderful seasonal dishes. Try the courgette spaghetti. Wine lovers shouldn't miss the wine and nature trail that takes in Genevan food, wine and charming villages on foot in Bourdigny, Choully, Peissy, Russin and Dardagny.

Take the tram 12 or 13 to the post-medieval suburb of Carouge with its Mediterranean-style atmosphere. There are bustling streets, trendy boutiques, coffee houses and shaded squares to discover. Chocoholics should stop at Philippe Pascoet on Rue Saint-Joseph for some of the best Swiss chocolate around. On the same street you'll find a wonderful clock shop with quirky designs by Jean Kazes. Look out for Cinema Bio, a classic cinema landmark that dates back to 1912, and the 18th century Catholic Church of Saint Croix with its bell tower.

If you're travelling to Geneva in the summer, a visit to Lake Geneva to cool off and go for a swim with the locals is a must. Bains des Paquis is where the young and old, students and businessmen, come to meet, sunbathe and enjoy the water. There's a restaurant, diving boards and changing facilities. In the winter you can relax in the sauna, unwind with a Turkish bath and keep warm with fondue. When you're not swimming in it, a walk along the promenade is irresistible, day or night.

Geneva is known as the city of peace and there's nothing more inspiring than seeing the human rights, humanitarian aid, environment and health organisation buildings that make up International Geneva. The United Nations Building is the second most important centre of the United Nations after New York, where more than 25,000 delegates meet annually to negotiate world peace and it has 193 flags in alphabetical order (so nobody's feelings are hurt!). The Broken Chair outside the building remembers the scandal of land mines and stands as a reminder to visitors of Geneva. The impressive Palais Wilson on the lakefront houses the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and in the UNHCR Library there is a reading room containing works on diverse subjects, like refugees and human rights. The Red Cross Museum is where you can get acquainted with the 130-year history of the aid organisation.

From camp sites to luxury hotels, there is an endless choice of accommodation in Geneva. But if you want to be close to the Jet d'Eau, main shopping streets and the old town, stay at Hotel Bristol, a classic and elegant hotel located steps away from Lake Geneva with a mahogany bar where live music is played and cosy bedrooms. At breakfast there is a harpist playing relaxing music and after a day of shopping or sightseeing, you can enjoy the Jacuzzi, saunas and colour-therapy lounge in the spa. Classic rooms from £195 per night including a Geneva Transport Card.

A perfect way see the city, the Jet d'Eau and Lake Geneva is from the water - and a gourmet cruise is the ultimate experience. You'll feel like you've taken a step back in time as you watch the surrounding villages and magnificent landscapes of rolling hillsides and steep cliffs glide by. CGNS's Belle Epoque lunch cruise on a Savoie paddle boat allows you to sample a delicious menu from top Swiss chef Philippe Chevrier on the first class deck. On a budget? Take a water taxi from one end of the shore to another. Whether you're staying at hotel, hostel or camping site, you'll be given a Geneva Transport Card, which enables you to travel for free on buses, trains and boats for your entire stay!

Geneva has a few surprises for visitors who look hard enough. The romantic Treille Promenade is home to the world's longest wooden bench measuring 120 metres and made from 180 boards. Along the city's quay lies the Brunswick Monument - the tomb of linguist and musician Charles d’Este-Guelph who spent his last three years in Geneva and promised to leave the city a tidy sum of money if a mausoleum was built for him in a 'worthy location'.

The two stones that make up the Niton Rocks are situated in the water near the Jardin Anglais and have been there since the end of the Ice Age. They are believed to have been used for rituals and sacrifices during the Bronze Age. The Ariana Museum houses 20,000 ceramic and glass objects and is the only museum in Switzerland dedicated to kilncraft.

The Saint-Antoine car park could be the most fascinating car park you've ever seen as it doubles up as an archaeological site! Plus, don't miss the Schtrumpfs Building in Les Grottes neighbourhood. The apartment block was built by three architects who wanted to construct the most unconventional building possible.

Visit the Flower Clock at the edge of the Jardin Anglais. The floral timepiece is a symbol of Geneva and the seconds hand is the largest in the world measuring more than 2.5 metres! The clock comprises eight concentric circles and the colours change each season.

Take a drive through upmarket Cologny, where the billionaires live. You can see the house where Mary Shelley wrote the classic novel Frankenstein and from Geneva Golf Club enjoy magnificent views of Lake Geneva.

Whether you fancy a luxury watch, a Swiss army knife or chocolate, Geneva is great for all kinds of shopping. Rue du Rhone is the place for window shopping with high-end watch shops including Patek Philippe, Chopard and Raymond Weil. Bargain hunters should head to the Plainpalais Flea Market, where you can pick up antiques, records and vintage clothes while mingling with the locals.

Take a stroll through Geneva's Old Town where you can wander the maze of cobbled streets and stop for a coffee in the city's top meeting place, the Place du Bourg-du-Four, with its 18th century flowered fountain and 16th century architecture. A few steps away lies the mesmerising St Pierre Cathedral with its tower offering panoramic views of the city, neoclassical facade and stunning Chapel of Maccabees. Maison Tavel is where you can learn about the urban history and daily life of Geneva through photographs, engravings and furniture, plus there's a huge scale model showing Geneva before 1850. The political heart of the city, the Town Hall, is also worth visiting with its 16th century architecture, large and winding paved ramp and pretty courtyard. Opposite is the Cafe de l'Hotel de Ville - a popular spot with the Genevese, which has a sophisticated menu and a perfect location for people watching!

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