Tips for visiting Geneva:
- This is a bilingual city: most people speak French as a first language and English as a second.
- We stayed at the Hotel Metropole and it was amazing. The rooms were clean, updated, cozy with a pretty view of the lake. Each room had a Nespresso Machine, a fridge stocked daily with a big bottle of flat and sparkling water. The gym was also very nice for a European hotel! The breakfast spread was impressive and the service staff was very helpful.
- Ask your hotel about the free transport card. We got one when we checked in and could use all trams and busses for free for the length of our stay.
- Geneva is a great city to get around. It’s easy to walk everywhere. It’s very pedestrian friendly (a lot of crossings). You can take the bus or the tram around town and the train to get to a lot of surrounding cities. There are even multiple ferry shuttles that go from one side of the lake to the other.
- Run/walk around the lake: there’s a pathway that will bring you around it. I went on a run on the last night we were there and ran towards the marina and past it. I got hit with the ‘runners high’: it was at sunset and there was a lot of clouds but they were all lit up in different shades of pink. It was absolutely stunning against the crystal clear blue lake, the swans swimming around and the snow top mountains in the background. Stop at the most famous clock in Geneva, the Horloge Fleurie, a perfect combination of clockmaking know-how and horticultural skill.
- Lake Geneva has the clearest, most beautiful lake water I have ever seen. It varies from shades of turquoise to green to a deep glacier blue.
- A must stop while you are walking around the lake is Bain des Pâquis. The Bains des Pâquis have existed since 1872. Built first of wood, then enlarged in 1889 on stilts, they were reconstructed in cement in 1931-1932. In 1890, the baths became public and municipal and still to this day you can go for a swim, summer and winter, morning to evening. Think of it like a manmade little island, in the middle of the lake surrounded by a beach and docs with ladders to get in. It’s quite wide and you can walk around and just sit down with your book, or jump into the water. You can take it up a notch and spend the day here with a private access to the lake, a sauna, a hammam spa and massages for a fee. Or you can just grab a delicious, fresh, affordable lunch on the lake. Bring cash with you and a hungry stomach. The menu is set at the start of the week and they have a regular option and a vegetarian option as well as staple items such as fondue and soups. They have wines and beers. Expect lines, smiles and great views!
- Old Town: is a great place to just walk around and ‘get lost’. It’s on a hill and many streets are cobble stone. There are a lot of bakeries, restaurants and little shops.
- St. Pierre Cathedral is also in Old town and worth a visit. The construction started in 1160 and finished in 1230: it’s roman and gothic elements combined with the neo-classic monumental porch and impressive organ give it a very unique feel. For 4 CHF (cash only), you can climb the 2 towers and see the bells as well as hidden parts of the cathedral and a superb panoramic view of the city. Wear good walking shoes as the steps are very narrow and windy and there are a lot of them to get to the top!
- You should also walk to the other side of the Old town, towards Promenade des Bastions, and sit on arguably the longest wooden bench in the world on Promenade de la Treille.
- Stop by Librarie Jullien for a step back in time. This bookshop has books as old as 300 years old and has a variety of unique titles. Be warned, the woman was not very friendly and the shop stank of cigarettes!
- For a very tasty and affordable lunch or dinner, stop at Chez ma Cousine. The staff was very nice, the inside is cozy and the food was superb! Their specialty is the rotisserie chicken (organic) and I must say it’s worth stopping in!
- Swiss fondue: I had my very first Swiss cheese fondue (in Switzerland) at Restaurant Les Armures and it was delicious. The waiter suggested I crack pepper in my plate and once you’ve dipped your potato or piece of bread in the melted cheese pot, you then dab it in the pepper before devouring it. It’s quite a heavy meal, and I think one every year (or 5 years) is enough for me but the waitress was telling me they’ve had the same people come every week since they opened and the chef has been there for 30 years! The restaurant is also well decorated, the top floor being older and more traditional with water painted foliage on the ceiling of the Hall of the Knights and the wrought-iron gates dating back to the 17th century. The bottom floor was remodeled to make you feel like you are in an Alpine Chalet. This is said to be the oldest café in Geneva.
- Right below Old town is Parc des Bastions. Walk around the park, sit or watch people skate on the small ice rink (in winter) and people playing chess on human size chess sets.
- Plainpalais is the university area. After a quick walk I can confirm this area has a lot of new coffee shops, trendy art galleries as well as museums. I want to visit the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (MAMCO) as well as the Patek Philippe watch museum. Make sure you check the opening hours before you head that way as the hours are a bit irregular. I absolutely want to make it to The Birdie coffee shop (closed Mondays and Tuesdays) and eat at La Fabbrica.
- If you love chocolate, you’re going to go crazy in this town. There’s a chocolate shop around every corner! I tried Martel, Rohr, Auhr as well as Favarger, Lauderach and La Bonbonnière. It’s very hard to beat Swiss chocolate! It’s so creamy and tastes like heaven!
- Ginger beer: I saw this often on the menu and I wondered what it was until a bartender showed me how to make it: a little bit of ginger syrup poured into a local white beer. It was quite tasty and refreshing!
- If you’re looking for a fun, upscale grocery store or a buffet like restaurant, stop in at Globus. I went to the Globus Genève Grand Magasin and it was awesome! You can get great (food/wine) gift ideas or just get some groceries on the bottom floor or you can stop in for lunch or dinner on the ground floor. You can get anything from crêpes to Swiss fondue to pizza and cocktails!
- If you’d like to treat yourself to a very nice meal in a traditional french decor, head over to Brasserie Lipp. They are known for their seafood towers, oyster bar as well as the mussels. I was very impressed with the quality of the service, the freshness of the food and the vibe. There’s a reason why they’ve been around for over 30 years!
- Quartier des Grottes : I’d read somewhere on the internet that I should explore this area for a hipster, trendy vibe. I was not very impressed. It just seemed a bit abandoned, less polished than the other areas of Geneva I visited. The buildings were a little bit more colorful and I saw a few cool graffiti and street art. I’d walk back here maybe to grab a drink later in the day with friends or before I take the train and stop by La Petite Reine café. It looked very cute!
- Warning: the cappuccinos were disappointing in Geneva. They were very watery and not very strong, and I tried a lot! It was hard to find a coffee shop to sit down with a book and read but I bet you The Birdie coffee shop would have been a good spot.
- Local wines I tried while in Geneva: Lune Rousse (red), Dôle Blanche (rosé), Les belles filles (red).
- Places to try next time: Restaurant et Hotel du Parc des Eaux Vives, Cafe du soleil (over 400 years old and known for their fondue), Cottage cafe (old staple building in Geneva and cozy inside and out), Tiffany hôtel (for brunch), Cafe du Parc des Bastions (dating back to 1882!), La Fabbrica, The Birdie coffee shop, Café clémence and Café Papon.
- Cities to visit next time: Annecy, Carouge, Salève, Evian, Gruyère, Zermatt, Rocher de Naye and snowboarding in La Clusaz and Morzine.
Impressions of Geneva:
In Geneva, or a short bus ride from the city, you can do so many different types of activities such as ski/snowboard, hike, bike, kayak, paddleboard, swim, paraglyde, skydive, snowshoe, run and much more! I counted so many runners, swimmers (yes even in winter in the lake), bikers, walkers, and people rowing on the lake in Montreux.
I like that Geneva has 4 seasons and that the winters don’t seem too harsh and the summers are warm. I also love that people still eat out, under big blankets and heaters, even in winter! I want to come back in the summer so I can jump in the lake. I was so tempted but I ran out of time! I bet bars and restaurants are even busier in the summer with live music and all the outdoor patios.
The city is very quiet in the morning before noon. Slowly after lunch there seems to be more people out and about and it quietens down again after 8-9 pm. We were there from February 6th until the 11th and apparently the city was more quiet than usual because it was ski week (kids are out of school and on the slopes). This could also explain why Chamonix was so busy!
The service industry people in Geneva were very nice and helpful. I noticed most of them spoke French, English and very often a third language. I often asked waiters for recommendations and they were so happy to help. Don’t be scared to be a tourist and ask for the tips and local favorites! The Swiss were also very nice and always sat me at a nice table which was the complete opposite of my solo experience in Rome where they always sat me in the back of the restaurant.
The food is incredibly tasty! Everything tastes fresh and is flavorful: from a basic ham and cheese sandwich to chocolate to the cheese fondue. I walked around the city so much and I wanted to stop into every restaurant. Be warned: eating out is pricy but it’s definitely worth it!
I would move here in a heartbeat! From the looks of it and the discussions I had with people, Geneva is not a cheap city to live in so I’d need a very good salary. You can see the wealth in the way people dress to go to work, but also to go for a run or on the weekends. It’s very stylish and crisp: maybe a little too much for me in my leggings and hoodies.
The smoking everywhere was very frustrating and disappointing. I couldn’t sit on a patio for more than 2 minutes without having someone blow smoke in my face. I don’t get it! It doesn’t make sense for such a civilized country! Quit the smoking!
Here’s what it comes down to: I got major FOMO in Geneva. I did so much in 3 days but still wanted to do so much more. This is an incredible city and I wish I was there with a loved one or friend to share it with them!
- Why does everyone only drink bottled water? In the restaurants you are frowned upon if you asked for tap water.
- Why is the heating on full blast everywhere in winter? It wasn’t even that cold outside but every time I went into a shop or restaurant it was like a sauna!
- It was hard to find a place to just sit down with a book and read with a coffee. Most places were like restaurants and you had to order food and a drink.