Geneva – Switzerland
Geneva - Switzerland
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Medieval Pagus Major Genevensis

Not even a month since our last time in Switzerland when we used Zurich as our base airport for visiting Liechtenstein and Lake Constance, we came back but this time to spend the weekend in Geneva and Lausanne, cities that we did not visit before and that we were looking after a while awaiting for a good flight deal to come. Well, basically booking flights elsewhere, as it was always cheaper going to other countries and cities than coming to Geneva.

Knowing that Geneva is pretty small and that for sure we would visit everything on the first day, the plan for the next day was to reach Lausanne. Coincidence-wise, another weekend by one of the greatest lakes in Europe. First, Lake Constance a month ago, then Lake Garda merely 2 weeks ago and now Lake Geneva. All of them with something in common, the Alps. Same landscapes and same beautiful small villages all around.

Geneva is the second largest city in Switzerland and also one of the most important ranking among the top 5 for the highest level of life of any other city in the world. Having that in consideration, you can imagine how expensive everything is. We already had our experience in Zurich and Basel previously, but here in Geneva seemed to be even more expensive than the others. Bear this in mind as this won’t be a cheap weekend. The worst part comes the moment you need to find something to eat… Well, McDonald’s was thankfully there to our rescue. Lunch and dinner on Saturday, dinner on Sunday. A variation for Sunday lunch? Burger King. Well, obviously not everything in their menus is bad and unhealthy. It is either that or paying almost 25£ for a ridiculously small Margarita pizza in the cheapest place we saw! No thank you, for great pizza at normal prices I can go elsewhere in Europe and of course Italy for the best.

As opposed something you will be surprised is on the transports. They are absolutely for free! As you read this believe me. Upon arrival at the airport you can get a free ticket to anywhere within Geneva from where you collect your luggage, this is, before exiting to the arrivals terminal. Make sure you find the machine here as otherwise there is no other machine giving free tickets and you will need to pay 3.50 CHF for the ticket. And if that is not enough, the best is that your accommodation (hotel, B&B, hostel) will provide you with a ticket for the whole duration of your stay for unlimited free transportation. All this is further explained below in the transport section. It is a bit similar to the city of Luxembourg in this terms. Transportation for free.

The city is so compact that you don’t need to spend any time trying to find yourself around or how to follow to see the sights, it’s all very simple just by walking the few streets around the old town. That’s why you will see there is not really any need for spending 2 full days in here while you have the perfect occasion to go elsewhere around the lake. I honestly would not imagine spending 2 days in Geneva as I would not know what else to do.

Only one place, a must visit in my opinion, lies outside the city limits and already in France, minutes away walking from the border. This is the Salève cable car, where from the top station and after a little extra hiking on foot, you will have a great view of the Mont Blanc and surrounding mountain range. Being so easy to reach, not to mention you can use your free travel card to get there by bus, it is no excuse why not to go. Bear in mind you will need to pay in Euros though, but cash points are available just in case.

For more information about Geneva check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Switzerland currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.

What to see and do in Geneva

  • Old Town Called as Vieille Ville is the oldest and most historical area of the city. Small bending streets on a hill, leading to the centre point at the very top, the Cathedral.

Saint Pierre Cathedral Located at the highest point of the old Town, construction started in the 11th century in Gothic style. An 18th century restoration gave it the neoclassical façade you see today. There is an archaeological tour that shows you the remains beneath the cathedral which dates to pre-Roman times. You can climb the Cathedral’s tower to the top from where you will get the best views of the city and lake. There is no lift.

-Collège Calvin Founded in 1559 by John Calvin is the oldest public secondary school in Geneva.

Hôtel de Ville and the Tour Baudet This is the City Hall. Beautiful buildings with nice surroundings.

-Rousseau’s House Now a museum located on the very same house he was born in 1712 as one of the most famous citizens of Geneva to date telling the story about his life and his philosophy.

-L’Ile Tower One of the few visible remains of the 13th century castle.

  • Place Neuve Immediately to the south of the Old Town is the 19th century expansion of the city. Elegant avenues, parks and buildings encircling the old town.

-Grand Theatre Built in 1879, renovated after a fire in 1951.

-Conservatory of Music Beautiful building founded in 1835, the oldest music education institution in Switzerland and one of the oldest in Europe. 

-Musée Rath It is the oldest purpose-built art museum in Switzerland.

-Parc des Bastions Nice small park with nice gardens and sculptures such as the Mur des Réformateurs, a wall showing some of the famous people of the Reformation movement.

-Old city walls Few parts remain from the walls that once circled and defended the old town.

  • Lake Area The most elegant areas of the city are by the shores of the lake and the bridges connecting both. Nice gardens and promenades at both sides with beautiful sights, sculptures and monuments.

-Tour d’lle Once the only checkpoint on the road from the European North to the South linking the two river banks of the Rhône.

-Brunswick Monument Located right by the Quai du Mont-Blanc on the northern shore of the lake was built in 1873 as a Mausoleum for the Duke of Brunswick.

Jardin Anglais On the opposite bank of the river is this little garden with a nice flower clock.

-Jet d’Eau Is one of the most recognisable symbols of Geneva, a fountain of water pumped 140 meters into the air. It’s origins were no other than a pressure release for the hydro-power generation on the Rhône River which due to its popularity among the citizens, was created as a permanent monument since 1891.

  • Cornavin Place Is one of the largest squares and the major transport hub where most bus and tram routes meet by the central train station. Located on the north side of the city.

Notre-Dame Church Built between 1852 and 1857 in Gothic style. Located just at the front of the train station. Inside you will find the statue of Our Lady of Geneva, given to the church by Pope Pius IX. The statue is the symbolic start of the Via Gebennensis for the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.

-Central Train Station Serving the city since 1858, the current reincarnation is an art-deco design from 1931.

  • Quartier des Grottes Located farther to the north of the train station is this rather curious and interesting neighbourhood where the highlight are the residential buildings built between 1982 and 1984 with a Gaudi like appearance where straight lines are non existent. Those buildings are known as “Les Schtroumpfs”.
  • Palais des Nations Originally built to house the League of Nations. CHF 12 for adults, 10 for students. You will need to have with you a passport, ID card or driver’s license. It is located to the north of the city. Take bus number 8 and get off at Appia, the Palais in 14 Avenue de la Paix, not far from the bus stop. To my opinion, an absolute waste of time. We were waiting in the queue for almost 1 hour, for a tour that was supposed to start at 14.30. It was 14.20 when we left and only around 20 people made the way inside security in all this time.
  • Belle Epoque Vessels Those original paddle steamers have become integral part of the Lake, national heritage and a tourist attraction in itself. Built between 1910 and 1927 they do still sail between the cities across the lake as if on the first day. La Suisse (1910), Savoie (1914), Simplon (1920) and Rhône (1927).
  • Salève Cable Car Although on French territory it is really near Geneva city and easily accessible by taking bus number 8 to the last stop Veyrier Douane. From the top you will get an amazing view of Mount Blanc at one side, and the city and lake Geneva.
  • Lausanne Not far from Geneva is this beautiful city, also directly on the shore of Lake Geneva. Check here for a travel guide.

Transports

The airport is located to the north west, very near the city centre. Upon landing and right before you exit the baggage reclaim area to the arrivals terminal building, there is a machine expending free public transport tickets. This ticket is valid for 80 minutes after is printed and is valid on trams, buses or trains covering the whole city and suburbs. Keep your boarding pass of your flight in case an inspector is checking for tickets, they will ask for it in order to be valid.

The fastest way to reach the city centre is by train. With frequencies of train around every 15 minutes and a journey duration of only 6 minutes, it is unbeatable by any other transport. If you want to take a bus, both number 5 and 10 goes to the central train station.

The city is well connected to the European rail network meaning it’s easy to arrive by train from neighbouring countries like France, Germany and Italy.

Within the city a great bus and tram network covers almost any street and every place you would need to reach as a tourist. Tickets cost 3.50 CHF for a single trip, 8 CHF for a day travel card, valid for 2 people on weekends! But this gets better when I tell you that if you are staying overnight in Geneva, either at a hotel, hostel or B&B, you are entitled to get a free travel card for the whole length of your stay. Your hotel will provide with this to you, and if not given upon check in, ask them for it.

Accommodation

Welcome to an expensive city. Opting for a 4* or higher? Well be prepared to pay, or to be by the airport area unless you want to be in France instead and commuting to Geneva with the consequence waste of time this can carry. A good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.comAgoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.

We found a “good” deal on the Hotel Lido. Although twice as much expensive as what we are used to pay for a hotel elsewhere in Europe, it came still as one of the best prices across all the hotels of the same category around. Located right in the city centre not even 5 minutes away walking from the train station was just all we needed. Very basic with old décor but comfortable, with included breakfast and nice and friendly staff.

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