Here's how to spend two days in Geneva, with this hand-crafted itinerary from a local. Let's hand over to guest writer, Anna Timbrook. Get ready to move beyond chocolate, knives and watches into a world of nature, history and philanthropy. Let's go.
How to Spend Two Days in Geneva: An Itinerary
Switzerland is a place of great beauty with enormous lakes, mountains and Alpine villages. While cities like Zurich, Bern, and Geneva have fabulous old quarters with medieval architecture and museums, there's something about Geneva that's just different.
Perhaps it's the cosmopolitan flavour or the French influence.
Or maybe the way the Rhone and Arve flow through the heart of town. And then there's stunning Lake Geneva that mirrors the Alps.
If you're planning a quick getaway, let our 2-Days in Geneva Itinerary be your guide. It's designed to experience as much of the luxury, culture, history, and outdoor spaces as possible in a short time. We hit the must-dos on day one in case you're short on time. On day two, we venture out to discover some hidden gems and delve further into the local culture and outdoor fun.
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Day 1: Geneva Itinerary
Arise early on your first day and put on a good pair of walking shoes. You're going to walk along the Rhone, lakeside promenade, and explore the Old Town.
River and Lakeside Promenade and Museum of Natural History
Begin your day with a walk along the Rhone River. Stroll the left bank for stunning views of Lake Geneva. The left bank features lush lawns, flower gardens, and lots of trees. Walk along the right bank for views of the distant mountains and admire the luxurious mansions. Cross Mont Blanc Bridge to get to the lakeside promenade. You'll be greeted by the iconic Jet d'Eau, an enormous water jet that shoots a plume of water into the air at a height of 140 metres. You'll see it in the distance from almost anywhere along the lake.
There are several sights in the area to explore. The promenade is bordered by the lake and the Jardin Anglais (English Garden). You can save time by renting a bike.
Begin with the Flower Clock, a large clock face fashioned of seasonal flowers that has existed since 1955. There is also a monument, pavilion, and a huge fountain in the park. After the park, you'll enter a section of the promenade with waterfront shops and restaurants. Grab a creamy cappuccino or a bite to eat.
Get a closeup view of the Jet d'Eau to fully appreciate its power. Walk east for several minutes on the lakefront road until you see the stone jetty that leads to a path out to the water jet. The fountain was originally created in 1886 to control and release pressure from a hydraulic plant. Watch out for getting splashed, especially in windy weather.
Before leaving the lake area, take some time to relax at Parc de La Grange, a few blocks to the east. The park covers over 200,000 square metres and features lakeside views, tall old trees, and a huge rose garden. After your respite, head west for a 6-minute bike ride (or 16-minute walk) to the Museum of Natural History, a must-see, especially if traveling with children. The museum has four separate floors of exhibits featuring taxidermied animals from around the world.
You've experienced Lake Geneva, the city's main attraction. The next must-do for today is strolling the cobblestone streets of the Old Town. It spreads across several kilometers to the west of the museum and has most of the top attractions to see in Geneva. You'll pass lots of shops, cafes, and bars with historic sites scattered along the way.
St. Pierre's Cathedral
The majestic St. Pierre's Cathedral is one of the Old Town's main points of interest. Dating back to the 12th century, you'll be in awe of its grandeur and architecture, a mix of Roman, Gothic, and neoclassical elements. Climb the 67 stone stairs to get to the passage behind the cathedral. Inside you'll see fourth-century mosaics, 12th-century columns, frescos from the 15th century, and a chair used by John Calvin that is extremely well-preserved. For an extra fee, climb the cathedral tower's winding staircase for views of the lake and distant mountains. Discover the staircase behind the cathedral, a secret passage down to the Place Bourg-de-Four and the Rue du Rhone shopping district.
In 1541, John Calvin, a young man who had previously fled the persecution of Protestants in France and expulsion from Geneva returned to the city after three years. He was instrumental in the Reformation and helped the city rise to the rank of Protestant Rome. This influence extended to include administration, policy, and politics. After existing as an independent republic from the 16 century, Geneva became a Swiss Canton in 1813.
A short walk from the cathedral, the Place Bourg-de-Four is a cobblestone square in the heart of Old Town. It's a delightful commercial center, and the oldest square in Geneva, dating back to the Middle Ages. Take a break with a drink or a coffee, people watch and visit the high-end shops and galleries.
Shopping on Rue du Rhone
Find more shopping for luxury brands along the nearby Rue du Rhone. Check the latest fashions at St. Laurent Geneva and the Richard Mille Boutique. Browse the fine jewelry at the Mouawad Boutique. You'll also find Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Tiffany & Company, Swiss luxury watches at Bulgary's, and much more. You could literally "shop 'til you drop", but save some energy for dinner and a night on the town.
It's all business during the day for Geneva locals, but when the sun goes down, they go out to play at places like the Brasserie des Halles de L'ile. Located on the island of the Rhone River, it's a combination bar and restaurant so you can have dinner and drinks too. Later, there's a DJ with lively music and dancing.
Day 2: Geneva Itinerary
With our Day 2 Geneva itinerary, you'll visit another great green space and hit a few more museums. If the weather is warm and you love the water, you can switch out a museum or two and experience swimming in Lake Geneva instead.
Parc des Bastions (Bastions park) is a huge relaxing green space with a tree-lined promenade running through the center. It's also where you'll find another important historic site, the Reformation Wall, honouring the people and events of the Reformation with statues and sculptures. Hang out and people watch, marvel at the giant chess and checker sets, and perhaps chat with a few locals. In the winter, the park has ice skating.
Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Created in 1817, the Geneva Conservatory and Botanical Gardens feature over 12,000 species of flora on 28 hectares. The herbarium is one of the world's largest with six million samples. This is one of Geneva's loveliest spots and a must-do in the spring and early summer.
Palace of Nations
The Palace des Nations (Palace of Nations) is a short walk from the Botanical Gardens. Located in Ariana Park, it serves as part of the United Nations. To tour the Palace, you must make reservations in advance. The tour is divided into two parts. One explains U.N. activities, and you get to see the rooms where important meetings and negotiations are held. The second part focuses on the architecture of the building and the art on display. It's a solemn, impressive place and worth the visit. If you forgot or weren't able to book a tour, you'll still enjoy the beautiful green space surrounding it.
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
The Red Cross Museum is more of an adventure than a traditional museum and is one of Geneva's most popular sites to visit. The exhibitions help to understand three major world challenges: restoring family links, defending human dignity, and reducing natural disasters. You'll learn about the Red Cross's humanitarian work through emotional presentations. Each zone features a phase aimed at raising awareness, information, and historical background. An On the Spot area features a large interactive globe with the latest information from the field.
- Read one of the oldest pieces on the blog: what it's like to go inside the Red Cross Museum in Geneva.
Patek Phillipe Museum
As you probably know, Switzerland is famous for its watchmaking and has been for centuries. The Patek Phillip Museum chronicles the history of horology and luxury watches from the 16th century to the present. It's housed in a splendid old building consisting of four floors. The museum features a cinema with a short film about the history of the Patek Philippe company and its founders, fascinating clock collections, and the history of timekeeping beginning in the 15th century.
Bains des Paquis
If you enjoy swimming and the weather is warm for your visit, the Bains des Paquis is a refreshing change from chlorinated pools and a chance to frolic on Lake Geneva. Relax and cool off at the outdoor bath built on an artificial peninsula with a lighthouse at the end. The beach is great for sunbathing, and you'll have magnificent views of the lake with the Jet d'Eau plume in the distance. There's a convenient restaurant on the premises and the saunas are open in winter.
Two Days in Geneva: Itinerary Fact File
Where to Eat in Geneva
Geneva serves up a treat with lots of different types of food. Follow Anna's recommendations here:
- The Restaurant Le Lacustre specializes in traditional Italian cuisine and fine wines. Wrap-around windows offer views of the Rhone.
- The Bayview by Michel Roth is a Michelin-starred restaurant near the lake featuring locally sourced food and delicacies such as seared ormers (sea snails) from Plougastel.
- Rasoi by Vineet is inside the elegant Mandarin Oriental Hotel on the banks of the Rhone. The restaurant is popular for its unique twist on Indian cuisine.
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Where to Stay in Geneva
As a diplomatic hub, accommodation is plentiful and on the luxurious side. Anna recommends these spots to get your beauty sleep:
- Enjoy lake views, classy rooms, and an excellent onsite restaurant and bar with a lounge at the Hotel d'Angleterre.
- The Ritz-Carlton Hotel de la Paix is a luxury hotel on the prestigious Quai du Mont Blanc. Lake Geneva is steps away, and Mont Blanc is visible in the distance.
- The Four Seasons Hotel de Bergues features spacious rooms overlooking Lake Geneva and loads of luxury amenities like Chopard toiletries and tasty complementary treats.
Geneva Travel Tips
The Swiss franc (CHF) is Switzerland's official currency. One CHF is equal to 1.06 USD and .94 EURO at the time of publication. Most places do not accept US dollars, and if you pay in Euros, you will be given Swiss francs for change.
It's best to use the Swiss franc for shopping and dining. Visa, Master Card, and American Express credit cards are accepted. When using a credit card, ask that the transaction be processed as Swiss francs to get a better exchange rate. Many banks and credit card companies charge a 3% transaction fee. Tipping for services isn't necessary since wages for these workers are typically much higher than in places like the United States. However, you'll see that many locals leave a couple of francs as a courtesy.
French is the official language of Geneva. Signs, advertisements, and other information are in French. It's a good idea to learn some basic phrases and courtesies in French. However, since the city has a huge international presence, English is the second language. You'll also hear German, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Portuguese speakers.
Getting in and Around Geneva
Almost all European carriers offer flights to Geneva Airport, which serves as access to French-speaking Switzerland the Swiss Alps. A few transatlantic flights arrive each day from Canada, Washington D.C., Newark, N.J., and New York City. In recent years, Geneva Airport has been a hub for Easy Jet, serving major European cities. Air China provides direct services from Beijing.
Your best bet to get to the city is by train, especially if you have the Swiss Pass. Grab a free public transport ticket at the baggage claim area and go left to the Geneva Airport train station. Trains leave about every 15 minutes, and you'll arrive at the Geneva Central Train Station in six minutes. To get around the city and canton, you'll want to take advantage of Switzerland's superior public transport system. Buses, trams, boats, and suburban trains stop within a block or two of anywhere you go, and the lake area and Old Town are very walk-friendly.
- ABOUT OUR GUEST WRITER
Anna was born to travel the world having studied languages all her life. Although she has traveled the world, she now calls Switzerland home and spends her time writing about her experiences on Expert World Travel. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
- ANNA TIMBROOK
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