Only have one day in Geneva? You’re not alone. It’s a stopover city but that shouldn’t stop you from exploring its curious fountain in the lake and heartbreaking and heartwarming history. Here’s a Geneva itinerary for when you only have 24 hours in the city.
Have a little longer? Here’s how to spend two days in Geneva.
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How to Spend One Day in Geneva, Switzerland
Why should you visit?
Geneva, Switzerland. My first thoughts leaped to watches, chocolates and human rights – and my first half hour in the city certainly backed up that list. Before I’d even stepped out of Gare Cornavin, the central station, I’d seen no less than seven adverts for watchmakers, one for champagne truffles and a third for the Museum of the International Red Cross.
And that was just the map.
I had less than 24 hours in this cold and curious non-capital and I wondered how far I could get under its skin.
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A compact city
Compared to the big metropoles in Europe, Geneva is relatively small. One day is enough to see the city’s landmarks, taste the famous Swiss fondue, and discover some of the best bars and clubs in town. But there will still be plenty to do if you can spare one more day.
The secret to enjoying this city in one day is to start early in the morning and stick to your program while allowing yourself to get lost once or twice.
Don’t worry – there’s plenty of time to sip on a coffee or feel the mist coming from the Jet d’Eau if you follow our itinerary. We also have some practical information and tips to share with you, so read on to see what your Geneva day trip could look like.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Geneva?
The weather in Geneva is pleasant for most of the year. During the summer months, the temperatures settle around 23-26 degrees Celsius, making it a great time to explore the city centre on foot without experiencing the discomfort of extreme heat. The days are long, with plenty of sunshine and activity around the lake. However, many tourists visit Geneva at this time of the year, so everything is busier than usual.
If you want to explore Geneva at a more relaxed pace, it is still enjoyable during the warmer months of spring and autumn, when prices are also lower. There’s still a good chance of rain, though, so bring a jacket and umbrella.
Winter is another popular time, with skiers and snowboarders spending the night in Geneva before heading off to the ski resorts the next day.
Plus, the city hosts some pretty cool winter festivals like the famous Geneva Lux Festival, which lights up the entire centre, so the winter can also be a magical time for a visit.
How to Travel to Geneva
There are several ways to travel to Geneva, whether you are crossing Switzerland or arriving from another country:
- By plane: Geneva Airport is well-connected to many airports in Europe and other parts of the world, so you just need to book a flight and dive into the city as soon as you arrive.
- By train: if you are travelling across Switzerland, taking the train is your best choice. The Swiss trains are fast and comfortable, and you’ll enjoy the spectacular views of the countryside. Plus, the main train station is located in the city centre, so you’ll be in the middle of things as soon as you step off the train.
- By car: Geneva is an international hub, which means that it is readily accessible by road. Driving here from Europe is easy. However, the city is often busy, which makes it challenging to find a parking spot. If you are driving, do some research about the parking options in the city and maybe book a spot in advance for your peace of mind.
- By bus: if you’re on a budget, travelling to Geneva by bus can be a good option. Several companies offer low-cost bus services from major cities in Europe, with comfortable coaches and affordable fares.
How to Get Around Geneva
You will find the main attractions in Geneva concentrated around the city centre, so walking or biking is the best way to explore them. The city is bike friendly, with a well-thought out public bike-sharing system and great bike lanes that will swiftly take you from one point to another.
On the other hand, if you want to check out as many attractions as possible in one day, you’ll be more efficient if you use Geneva’s public transport network. Buses, trains, and trams – they are all affordable and fast, with tickets available for purchase at vending machines or directly from the driver. Buying a Geneva pass could make things easier, but you’ll probably not use it enough in one day to make it worth the money.
While you could drive across town, the parking is problematic and expensive, so it may be better to avoid this option. You could take a taxi instead if you have heavy luggage or are travelling late at night.
Your 1-Day Geneva Itinerary
If you are catching an early flight, take the train from Geneva Airport to Gare de Geneve, which is right in the middle of the city. You’ll be there in 7 minutes, ready to walk toward the first attraction on your itinerary.
Start Your Day with a Visit to the Iconic Jet d’Eau
As you are approaching the Pont du Mont Blanc bridge, you’ll immediately spot Jet d’Eau, the iconic Geneva water fountain shouting a powerful water jet up to more than 140 metres in the air.
Originally built in 1886 as a safety valve for a hydraulic power plant, the Jet d’Eau quickly became a symbol of Geneva and a popular tourist attraction. It wasn’t initially located in the city centre, but it was moved there to celebrate the Swiss Confederation’s 600th anniversary.
Today, it is the first spot tourists stop to photograph. Admire it from the bridge or take a boat to the middle of the lake to feel the spray of water on your skin. You can also walk on the narrow paths leading to the middle of the lake for this experience but be prepared to get a little wet!
Explore the historic Old Town and Place du Bourg-de-Four
After discovering Jet d’Eau, head to the Old Town of Geneva, a place with a long history that has managed to maintain its medieval architecture and atmosphere, even after centuries of growth and development.
Take a walk around the Place du Bourg-de-Four, the oldest square in the city, dating back to Roman times, when it used to be a cattle market.
The square experienced a makeover starting in the 9th century when it became an important meeting point for the Genevese.
Even today, locals meet their friends in this beautiful square surrounded by old buildings with wooden shutters. There are lots of cafes and restaurants where you can order breakfast if you haven’t had the chance to eat and have a coffee. If you know a little French, you can eavesdrop on the conversations and hear the latest news about politics and sports.
Climb the Towers of St. Pierre Cathedral
Just a few steps from the Place du Bourg-de-Four, you’ll discover the true attraction of Geneva’s Old Town. The magnificent St. Pierre Cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece that was built in the 12th century. Unfortunately, a big part of it was destroyed in the 16th century, during the Restoration, and was rebuilt afterwards.
The interior is fabulous, with unique stained-glass windows that filter the light and a vaulted ceiling supported by carved stone pillars. You can explore the towers to see a great view over Geneva or take a guided tour to learn about the architecture and history of this place.
Everything becomes more solemn when you hear that it hosted Reformation leader John Calvin and served as a meeting place for the city’s government. You’ll even see the chair Calvin used to sit on more than 500 years ago.
Visit the Reformation Wall in Parc des Bastions
During the Protestant Reformation, Geneva was one of the most important centres in Switzerland, providing a safe place for the persecuted Huguenots.
In the 19th century, the city’s officials decided to commemorate the leaders of the Reformation, along with Geneva’s role in the event, by building a stunning monument.
Set within Parc des Bastion stands the Reformation Wall, featuring the large statues of John Calvin, William Farel, John Knox, and Theodore Beza, perfectly illustrating the combination of conflict and enlightenment that was the Protestant Reformation.
The monument simply sparkles in the sunlight, emanating light and peace, so be prepared to be transported into a whole other world – if only for a second.
The park, also known as the Promenade des Bastions, is itself worth visiting, with a nice variety of trees and a huge chess board in the middle, where you can take some great photos.
Take a Break for Lunch and Try Geneva’s Famous Cheese Fondue
For an authentic Swiss lunch experience, reserve enough time to try the famous cheese fondue. It is usually made with a combination of different cheeses, such as Gruyère, Emmental, and Vacherin, which are melted in a pot with white wine and garlic to create a creamy, gooey, and absolutely delicious cheese mixture.
One of the best places to try this local delicacy is the iconic Café du Soleil, located in the heart of Geneva’s old town. This traditional restaurant has been serving Swiss cuisine since 1705 and is the perfect place to experience the true essence of Swiss culture. Another fantastic option is the Buvette des Bains, a charming restaurant located on the shores of Lake Geneva, offering a serene and picturesque setting to indulge in your cheesy cravings.
If you’re feeling adventurous, indulge in the Fondue Neuchâteloise, made with Gruyère, Emmental, and the local saffron-infused cheese, Vacherin Fribourgeois.
Or, if you’re looking for something a little heartier, you can also try the Fondue Bourguignonne, which consists of hot oil served with various types of meat that you can cook yourself right at your table.
Tour the United Nations Office in Geneva
A cool thing to do in Geneva in the afternoon is to visit the Palais des Nations. It houses the United Nations Office, one of the most important international organisations in the world, promoting human rights, fighting poverty, and tackling global challenges such as climate change and conflict resolution.
Take a tour of the palace to discover the permanent exhibitions and learn more about international diplomacy. You’ll have the chance to see the Council Chamber, where the Human Rights Council meets, and the Assembly Hall, an iconic place often featured on the news when the UN Office is mentioned.
Discover the History of Geneva’s Broken Chair
Next, cross the street from the United Nations Headquarters to gasp at one of Geneva’s most impressive monuments.
Standing 12 meters tall, the Broken Chair is an enormous wooden chair with one of its legs broken and lying on the ground. The chair was built by the Swiss artist Daniel Berset and the carpenter Louis Genève in 1997 as a protest against landmines and to support the victims of the atrocities caused by these weapons.
The history of the Broken Chair is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Its message is clear: no human being should ever be a victim of war or violence. The chair represents the broken lives and dreams of millions of innocent people who have been affected by war and conflicts around the world.
Explore the Patek Philippe Museum for a Different Experience
If you feel like going a bit off the beaten path in the Swiss City of Geneva, visit the Patek Philippe Museum. This watch museum exudes passion, excellence, and the timeless beauty of finely crafted timepieces that Switzerland is famous for.
You will discover a collection of over 2,500 watches, some older than 500 years, splendidly displayed in crystal clear glass showcases that make you wonder who owned these watches and how they felt in their chest pocket or on their wrists.
Each exhibit is a marvel of human ingenuity, showcasing the evolution of watchmaking through the ages. The museum also offers interactive displays, workshops, and guided tours, so if you are passionate about horology, make sure to reserve more time for this place.
Enjoy a Stroll along Lake Geneva at Sunset
Before you know it, you’ll find yourself near the end of your day in Geneva, but there’s still plenty to do, especially if you spend the night in the city.
One of the best places to watch the evening descend over Geneva is by its huge lake with blue waters and a spectacular view of the Swiss Alps. The sun reflects with majesty as it sinks under the horizon, casting a magical light over the trees and benches on the promenade.
If you get here earlier, you’ll see people paddleboarding or kayakingor taking boat tours to see Geneva from one of Switzerland’s largest lakes.
Sample Geneva’s International Cuisine for Dinner
Geneva is an international city, so it is a great place to experiment.
If you feel like going Swiss again, we recommend the Restaurant du Vieux-Port. This place has classical Swiss architecture, is cosy, and serves the best Fondant Au Chocolat in the city.
For something more international, head to Little India for some mouth-watering Indian cuisine. The menu offers a variety of now-classic dishes, including chicken tikka masala and butter chicken, as well as some lesser-known gems like biryani and paneer tikka.
Finally, for a taste of the Mediterranean, you can’t go wrong with Restaurant Les Trois Verres. This Italian restaurant is known for its simple yet exquisite menu based on locally sourced ingredients.
Experience Geneva’s Lively Nightlife Scene
Night has fallen and you are still in the city? Geneva comes alive at night, and it’s not hard to find a club or bar that suits your taste. From the quirky to the classic, this diplomat’s city can keep you entertained til the early hours.
One of the best clubs in Geneva is Le Chat Noir. The music is a mix of funk, soul, and disco, and the place attracts a mixed crowd of locals and tourists alike.
On the other hand, if you prefer a more relaxed experience, then Mr Pickwick Pub is a perfect choice. This pub has a cosy vibe, offers a great selection of local and international beers, and there’s always a lively buzz in the air.
Other Things to Do in Geneva
More than one day in Geneva? First, check out our two day Geneva itinerary. Then, consider the following:
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire is one of the largest museums in Switzerland, and it’s right in the middle of the city. Its permanent collection includes many paintings by renowned artists like Van Gogh, Rubens, and Rembrandt, and there’s also a great section dedicated to Egyptian artefacts.
One of the most famous paintings on display is “The Miraculous Draught of Fishes” by Konrad Witz, a masterpiece of Swiss art dating back to the Middle Ages.
Take a couple of hours to wander through the halls and check out the temporary exhibitions as well, as they can be quite impressive.
Hotel de Ville
Another famous landmark in Geneva is the 16th-century Hotel de Ville. Initially built as a courthouse and meeting place for the city council, this historical building has witnessed many significant events in Geneva’s past, including the signing of the act that founded the International Red Cross.
Inside, the grand entrance hall features a magnificent mural showcasing the city’s history, while the council chamber has stunning ornate wood carvings and painted ceiling panels. The grand staircase, adorned with a beautiful wrought-iron balustrade, is also extremely instagrammable.
Today, the Hotel de Ville is still used for official ceremonies and events as the City Council’s home. Nonetheless, tourists can still explore this magnificent building and discover its many treasures.
While it is located outside Geneva, it is worth taking the bus to CERN if you are passionate about science. This is the headquarters of the European Organization for Nuclear Research and home to the famous particle generator that helped scientists discover the Higgs boson.
A tour lasts about two hours, and you’ll get really close to the top-notch technology there while learning about CERN’s latest projects and discoveries. Yes, you’ll leave CERN more enlightened about the universe.
Jardin Anglais, also known as the English Garden, is a breathtakingly beautiful park in the heart of Geneva. It is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, and for good reason. This charming park is a great place to relax while taking in the picturesque views of Lake Geneva and the famous Jet d’Eau fountain.
Inside the botanical garden, you’ll find the famous floral clock of Geneva. It is a masterpiece of floral art and engineering, featuring over 6,500 plants that are carefully arranged to form a working clock. The clock’s design changes with the seasons, making it a must-see attraction throughout the year.
In addition to the floral clock, Jardin Anglais boasts many flower beds, a beautiful rose garden, and a charming pond filled with water lilies.
The Natural History Museum
This museum is a particularly interesting attraction for a family holiday, but make sure to reserve enough time, as you will be exploring no less than 8,000 square metres of exhibition space. The exhibits are arranged chronologically, going from the prehistoric age with fossils of dinosaurs and mammoths to today’s amazing biodiversity.
Red Crescent Museum Geneva
If you want to learn more about the Swiss branch of the Red Cross, stop by the Red Crescent Museum. The collection is impressive, with lots of memorabilia showcasing the work of this organisation as an instrument of helping people who face disasters and social problems all around the world.
Tour the museum on your own or with a guide.
Bains des Pâquis
In the summer, the hottest place in town is Bains des Pâquis, an artificial peninsula on Lake Geneva offering a great opportunity to relax, sunbathe, or enjoy a SPA session. You could spend a whole day here, swimming or trying the Turkish baths and the hammam. And if you get hungry, there are plenty of restaurants on the peninsula serving both Swiss and international food.
For those with a sense of adventure, Bains des Pâquis is also the perfect place for some thrilling water wall climbing and jumping. There’s a zip line that plunges directly into the water, for example, if you’re looking for an adrenaline boost. And have no fear! The lifeguards are always on the lookout.
International Museum of The Reformation
Located in a gorgeous building next to St Pierre Cathedral, the International Museum of The Reformation has an ample collection of documents and artefacts that tell the history of the Reformation. The most fascinating exhibit is the original copy of John Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, followed by a huge set of rare manuscripts you will be able to admire up close.
Reserve about an hour for this experience so you have enough time to see everything, including the neoclassical architecture of the building.
Parc De La Grange
More of a hidden gem of Geneva, the Parc De La Grange is perfect for spending an afternoon in the middle of nature. This green oasis was put together in the 19th century when it functioned as the garden of a wealthy merchant, and it became a public park in the 20th century. The former owner’s charming villa is still standing in the middle of the park. and you can visit it.
Explore Geneva’s biggest rose garden, a lovely orangery, and the two theatres located inside the park that host many concerts throughout the year.
Tip: There’s also a petting zoo in the park that will bring a lot of joy if you are travelling with your kids.
Day Trips from Geneva
Geneva can also work as a starting point for exploring the lovely cities and villages nearby.
There’s actually a lot of gorgeousness around the city, with ski resorts, beaches, and historic sites at under an hour or two from the city just waiting to be explored. Here are a few places you should definitely add to your Switzerland itinerary:
- Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France – if you are visiting in the winter, this picturesque town at the base of Mont Blanc is renowned for its ski resorts, but summers in Mont Blanc can be just as exciting. Take the train or drive, and you’ll be there in about 1 hour and a half, sipping on a hot chocolate in France.
- Annecy, France – known as the “Venice of the Alps,” Annecy is a charming town with canals and a beautiful lake. It’s about an hour’s drive from Geneva and is a great place to spend a relaxing day strolling through the old town and enjoying the scenery.
- Lausanne, Switzerland – if you don’t want to leave Geneva, the city of Lausanne, located on the shores of Lake Geneva, is splendid in the summer. Take the train for a truly scenic journey, and you’ll arrive at your destination in only 45 minutes. Lausanne has a rich history, lots of shops and cafes, and a stunning cathedral right in the city centre.
- Gruyères, Switzerland – now, this is a beautiful city no foodie should miss. The place where the delicious Gruyère cheese is made is also famous for its Swiss chocolate and a lovely castle. Combined with a stunning landscape and some serious art and history museums, this town is a gem worth driving an hour and a half to see.
- Yvoire, France – take the ferry from Geneva to uncover the enchanting city of Yvoire. Cobbled streets, great French food, and flowers everywhere – this is how the old town looks in the summer.
- The Swiss Alps – for a more adventurous day trip, consider heading into the Swiss Alps for hiking or skiing. There are many towns and ski resorts within a few hours’ drive of Geneva, including Verbier, Zermatt, and Interlaken.
- Lyon, France – this historic city is known for its culinary scene and beautiful architecture. It’s about two hours drive from Geneva, or you can take a train.
Where to Stay in Geneva
To get the best out of Geneva, spend the night in the city. You’ll get the chance to dine Swiss style and see the city come alive after dark.
If you’re looking for a trendy and stylish area to explore during your visit, then you absolutely must check out Eaux-Vives. This neighbourhood is home to some of the city’s most luxurious and sophisticated hotels, including the breathtaking Beau-Rivage Geneva and the iconic Hotel d’Angleterre, both of which boast stunning views of the lake and the famous Jet d’Eau.
For a more bohemian and artsy vibe, book a room in the charming neighbourhood of Carouge. This area is packed with quaint boutiques, artisanal shops, and art galleries, making it a dream destination for any art lover. Plus, the prices are a bit more accessible.
For a great stay, Hotel Rotary has been recommended. It’s clean, comfortable, and close to the main attraction in the city.
If you prefer a quieter and more residential feel, then you’ll want to check out the hidden gem that is Champel. This neighbourhood is characterised by its beautiful parks and gardens, as well as its picturesque streets lined with elegant houses. A great place to spend the night here is Hotel Bristol Geneva, offering large rooms and cleanliness for a great price.
More accommodation options in Geneva
- 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.
Where to Eat in Geneva
Geneva serves up a treat with lots of different types of food.
- 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.
My first impressions of Geneva: a travel story
Amid the wet and icy wind, a smooth and strangely neutral tram carried me along to Avenue de la Paix, the site of the Red Cross Museum. My inner medic wanted to know more about the world’s first humanitarian aid agency – and the museum responded with unflinching footage of corpses, hunger and messages of hope.
I felt disconnected afterwards, gliding past displays of Swiss Army Knives, PR-perfect banks and Chinese supermarkets. The pavements thronged without being crowded, conveyor belts of duffel coats with cosmopolitan faces bracing themselves against the sleet.
And then something else stood out. The Broken Chair Monument outside the United Nations building. Towering several storeys high, one leg is gone, ripped away and splintered. Originally a temporary piece of art, it has remained as a symbol of international opposition to the use of landmines. And as a reminder to the politicians and financiers who come to Geneva.
At the shore of Lake Geneva, called Lac Leman by locals, the fading sight of sunset lifted my thoughts. Lake Geneva is Western Europe’s largest lake. As if that weren’t enough, a giant fountain, the Jet d’Eau, now struts its stuff on the surface, shooting up to a height of 130 metres.
It fizzled out as we arrived and Geneva’s second “must-see” sight – the Horlogie Fleurie or Flower Clock – also seemed a shadow of its guidebook self. It’s simply trimmed grass around a clock, reminiscent of pensioners’ bowling greens across England.
My time was running out, so we left the clock and headed into Geneva’s Old Town. Again, everything was neat, clean and angulated. Polished canons, shiny mosaics, flawless lamplit streets. Even the street cafes had metallic chairs.
I had one place left before I had to call it a night.
Place du Molard, a square whose floor is studded with international greetings. While staring at these ice-cubes of salutations, a place caught my eye. The Brasserie du Molard.
Not only did the inside deliver a toasty-warmness, but the menu did as well. Flammekueche – a dough base with lashings of cream, onions and smoky bacon – started to restore a sense of wellbeing. That and the blonde, blanche and amber beer.
Sitting there, surrounded by bare brick walls, throaty laughter and chatter in a dozen different languages, I’d hardly got to the heart of the city. But at least I’d found that there was one.