Jet d'Eau at Lake Geneva, Switzerland
Things to Do Geneva

Things to do in Geneva, Switzerland

May 13, 2020 Last Updated on March 29, 2023

Renowned for its sophistication and style, Geneva has plenty to offer even the most discerning of travellers. Located at the southern point of Lac Léman (better known as Lake Geneva), the Swiss city has a picture-perfect backdrop. 

It’s fair to say Geneva sightseeing will leave you breathless, as the city is framed by the Alps, Mont Blanc, and the Jura mountains. 

If you can tear yourself away from the scenery (not easy, as this place is breathtakingly beautiful), you will find plenty of Geneva attractions to keep you busy. 

The city is rich in fascinating history, has shopping opportunities galore, and who could resist the sumptuous chocolates Geneva is revered for? 

Tempted? We’re not surprised! Don’t worry, if you’re not sure what to see in Geneva as we’ve hand-picked a few of the best ways to spend your time.

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Geneva Old Town

View of Geneva from lake
Cathedral St-Pierre dominates the Geneva skyline.

Hotel de Ville

2 rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, Geneva 1204

There are quite a few free things to do in Geneva, including entrance to the Hotel de Ville. This is a building of real historical importance. In 1864, the Hotel de Ville played host to the signing of the very first Geneva Convention. The first assembly of the League of Nations was also held on-site.  

Nowadays, the building acts as the city’s town hall, providing an elegant place for representatives of the Republic and Canton of Geneva to meet. 

Along with its noble links to politics and power, the Hotel de Ville also has an architectural allure: the 16th-century building is neoclassical in design and has a vast courtyard, too.

Maison Tavel

Rue due Puits-St-Pierre 6, 1204 Geneva

Located in the Old Town, close to St Peter’s Cathedral, Maison Tavel is the oldest house in the city and easily makes our list of great places to visit in Geneva. 

You can’t miss Mason Tavel – it has an impressive line of cannons out the front to welcome you! 

Built in the 12th century by the Maison family, the building now serves as a museum, showcasing the history of the city in all its glory. 

Visitors to the museum can enjoy perusing the exhibits and objects, many dating back to medieval times. Head to the top floor and see the star of the show – a 3D map of Geneva that dates back to 1850.

Cathedral St-Pierre

Cathedral St-Pierre Geneva
Cathedral St-Pierre is more than 850 years old.

Address: Place du Bourg-de-Four 24, 1204 Geneva

Cathedral St-Pierre is situated in the heart of Geneva’s Old Town, overlooking the city. 

The cathedral is more than 850 years old and has an eclectic style, due to the fact that it has been reconstructed many times over the years (the last known rebuild occurred in the 18th century). 

Visitors are invited to visit both the South and North Towers, where they can take in the awe-inspiring views of the city, and there’s an interesting archaeological site to explore too. 

If you want to partake in some serious sightseeing in Geneva, this place is a must. 

Place du Bourg-de-Four

Situated close to St Peter’s Cathedral, the Place du Bourg-de-Four once hosted two castles but nowadays, both the Castle of Count Geneva and the Castle of Coudrée are long gone. 

Today the area is a commercial hub, and its bustling cafes attract visitors from far and wide. Pull up a chair alongside the Genevois, who stop by regularly for a coffee and to soak up the lively atmosphere.

Chocolate Flavours Walking Tour

Geneva is home to many chocolatiers and you can taste their offerings on a chocolate flavours walking tour.

Like to taste the best chocolate in Geneva? I don’t blame you!  

You’ll find numerous chocolate shops in Geneva but a great way to discover what’s on offer is to join a chocolate walking tour.  

As part of a guided tour, you can visit different artisan chocolatiers and sample their delicacies, whilst also learning about the history of chocolate-making in Switzerland.

Tours operate daily at 10am.   Click here to check prices and book your place.

Lake Geneva

Cruise boat on Lake Geneva
A cruise on Lake Geneva is a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend an hour or more.

One of the top attractions in Geneva, if not the top attraction, Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) lies on the north side of the Alps and is shared between Switzerland and France.

There’s a whole host of things to do in Lake Geneva; it’s one of the largest lakes in Western Europe and has plenty of attractions, as you’ll read below.

You can visit Chillon Castle, watch the dancing waters of Jet d’Eau, or take a stroll along the shoreline. With so many things to do on Lake Geneva, you have plenty of choices.

Jet d’Eau Fountain Geneva

Address: Central Lake Geneva (near the corner of Quai Gustave Ador ~20).

One of the lake’s most iconic sites, the Jet d’Eau (water jet) shoots water 140 metres into the air and is the tallest fountain on the planet. 

Built in 1886, the water jet was primarily installed for functional purposes, to aid a hydraulic plant. However, people soon became enamoured with the dancing waters, and the fountain became synonymous with the city. 

With its new status as an attraction firmly fixed, the fountain was relocated to the heart of the lake. Visitors can now watch the water shooting sky high whilst strolling along the nearby pathway – but watch out for the jets, and don’t be surprised if you get an impromptu shower! 

Jardin Anglais and the Flower Clock

Flower Clock, Geneva
Geneva’s Flower Clock is a symbol of the city’s watchmaking heritage.

Address: Quai du Général-Guisan 34, 1204 Genève

If you’re looking for things to do in Geneva with kids, you could pay a visit to the Jardin Anglais. Dating back to 1854, this English-style park was added to the wooden harbour area to improve its appearance. 

The park provides a perfect escape from the hubbub of the city and allows kids a chance to run around and let off steam. You can enjoy the monumental fountains and take a leisurely stroll along one of the many paths. 

The Jardin Anglais is also home to Geneva’s famous flower clock (l’horloge fleurie), which dates back to 1955 and serves as a reminder of Geneva’s watchmaking heritage. 

Lake Geneva Cruises

Visitors to Lake Geneva shouldn’t miss the opportunity to board a boat and take a cruise. There are a number of different boat trips available offering you the chance to get closer to the Jet d’Eau and admire the lakeside cities and towns from the calm waters of the lake.

Popular cruises include:

Geneva’s International District

Geneva is home to more than 200 international organisations and you’ll find the headquarters for many of these in the International District around the Place des Nations.

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

Address: Avenue de la Paix 17, 1202 Genève

Adopted under the original Geneva Convention of 1864, the Red Cross is well-known the world over for its humanitarian efforts.  The organisation started after Geneva local Henri Dunant returned from a battle in northern Italy in 1859 in which 40,000 soldiers were killed or injured.

Dunant was deeply affected by the suffering he saw and, on his return to Geneva, set about establishing an organisation (the Red Cross) that would help those wounded in battle. 

The museum tells the story of the Red Cross, highlighting the valuable work carried out relating to human rights, disaster response, and victims tracing, amongst its other work. 

The museum also provides a fascinating insight into the life and work of its co-founder, the Swiss humanitarian, businessman, and visionary, Henri Dunant. 

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum is open daily year-round (except Mondays and four days at Christmas/New Year).

Palais des Nations/Parc des Nations

United Nations building in Geneva
Flags of UN member states line the entrance to the United Nations headquarters. Photo © Peter Whitten

Address: 14, Avenue de la Paix, Geneva 1211 Switzerland

Built between 1929 and 1936, the Palais des Nations serves as the European Headquarters of the UN. The second-largest United Nations centre (New York lays claim to the largest), it’s estimated that around 25,000 ambassadors visit the office every year. 

The building is situated in the centre of the Parc de l’Ariana and overlooks the majestic Lake Geneva. On a clear day, you can see the Alps and Mont Blanc from the building; no wonder it attracts so many diplomats! 

Visitors can experience the Palais des Nations for themselves. The main entrance is lined with the flags of each member state of the UN, and parts of the building are open to the public where you can admire the artwork and frescoes adorning the walls and ceilings. 

You can also join an informative guided tour to find out more about this important building and the work that goes on here. 

Broken Chair

The Broken Chair in front of the the United Nations Building, Geneva
The Broken Chair encourages us to end the use of land mines. Photo © Peter Whitten

Address: 1202 Genève, Place des Nations 

Opposite the flag-lined entrance to the Palais des Nations on the square known as the Place des Nations, sits a chair. 

But this is no ordinary chair! For a start, it only has three legs, which may lead you to question why a broken piece of furniture is deemed worthy of a place among Geneva’s top attractions. 

However, this particular chair happens to be an iconic work of art, produced in 1997 by sculptor Daniel Berset, and has significant meaning.

The chair is sculpted from wood, is 12 metres high, and was crafted for the NGO Handicap International.

Visitors are urged to pause at the chair and think of those who have been maimed or killed by landmines, with the hope that it will prompt people to call for the prohibition of the mines. 

Reformation Wall

Reformation Wall, Geneva
The Reformation Wall honours those who advocated for the Protestant Reformation.

Address: Murs des reformateurs, Promenade des Bastions 1, 1204 Genève

Situated close to the pretty Place de Neuve (one of the main squares in Geneva) and next to University of Geneva, the Reformation Wall is part of the old city walls that stand above Parc des Bastions. 

Visiting this iconic wall – which stretches for 100 metres – is considered to be one of the top things to do in Geneva, and we can understand why. 

The wall features painstakingly carved statues depicting the four main advocates of the Protestant Reformation – John Calvin, William Farel, Théodore de Bèze and John Knox. 

Sculpted by Paul Landowksi, who is known for his work on Rio de Janiero’s ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue, the Reformation Wall is another fine example of the artist’s work.

Day Trips from Geneva

There are enough things to do to fill a couple of days sightseeing in Geneva, but if you would like to venture further afield, there are also plenty of interesting places to visit near Geneva.  

The lakeside town of Montreux is well worth a visit, cheese-lovers will want to visit the village of Gruyeres, whilst a day trip to the ski resort of Chamonix is one of the best things to do in Geneva in winter.

Discover more great day trips to take from Geneva in this article.

Where is Geneva

Map of Switzerland

Geneva is located on the border of Switzerland and France and is the capital of the Canton of Geneva.

The second-largest city in Switzerland, Geneva has a population of around 200,000 and is part of French-speaking Switzerland. 

How to get to Geneva

Geneva is serviced by an international airport (you’ll find details on getting from the airport to the city centre in this article) and there are excellent road and rail connections between Geneva and most other major cities in Europe. 

Below is a quick guide to travel times and distances between Geneva and other major Swiss and French cities.

By train:

Tip: Geneva’s main train station is called Cornavin.

Bern to Geneva trains operate at least once per hour with a journey time of around 1 hour 45 minutes. 

The train journey from Basel to Geneva requires a change at Bern and will take around 3 hours in total.  There are half-hourly services from Basel to Bern and hourly services from Bern to Geneva.

Hourly rail services connect Zurich to Geneva. The journey time is around 2 hours and 45 minutes.

TGV (fast train) services operate from Paris to Geneva every four hours.  The journey takes 3 hours and 10 minutes.

By car:

Allow around 1 hour 40 minutes to cover the 160 kilometre distance from Bern to Geneva via the A1.

It is 253 kilometres from Basel to Geneva with a driving time of around 2 hours and 30 minutes.

With a distance of 280 kilometres from Zurich to Geneva, the drive should take you just under three hours.

If you plan to drive from Paris to Geneva you should allow around 5 hours (without stops) for the 540-kilometre journey. 

Where to Stay in Geneva

You now know what to do in Geneva – but you still need to consider the practicalities, such as where to stay. 

Below are our three top choices of the best hotels in Geneva which you can choose from based on your budget. All are well located for sightseeing in Geneva. You’ll find more choices for best hotels in Geneva here.

(If you’re looking for airport hotels in Geneva, click here).

5 star hotels in Geneva

Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva

When it comes to luxury places to stay in Geneva there are plenty of choices and the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva is one of the best.

Located directly on the shore of Lake Geneva and just a 10 minute walk from the main station, the hotel offers every amenity you could want for a wonderful stay.

Hotel facilities include a spa with infinity pool, fitness room, fine dining restaurant, bar, free WiFi and a range of rooms all furnished with classic French furnishings.

The Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva truly is one of the best places to stay in Geneva. 

Click here to check current prices.

4 star hotels in Geneva

Hotel Bristol

Housed in an attractive building which faces the quiet Mont Blanc Square, Hotel Bristol is just a few steps from the lake and the main train station. 

The 4-star superior hotel features spacious rooms with air conditioning, flat-screen TV and a Nespresso coffee machine.

There’s a highly rated restaurant on-site as well as a bar, a spa area (free for guests), free WiFi and parking is available.

Click here to check current prices.

3 star hotels in Geneva

Hotel Astoria 

Directly across the street from the main train station, Astoria Hotel Geneva is convenient for guests arriving by train and, despite its location on a busy street, the rooms are very quiet.

All rooms are air conditioned and include a flat-screen satellite TV, a minibar, and a bathroom.  Free WiFi is available to all guests and meals are available in the Britannia Pub, an English-style pub.

Click here to check current prices.

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Weather in Geneva

Geneva’s average temperatures range from 4℃ (40℉) in January to 26℃ (79℉) in July.  There are around eight days per year when it snows in Geneva.

To help you decide the best time of year to visit Geneva, refer to this article for more information.

Ready to Visit Geneva?

I hope you enjoyed this guide to the best things to do in Geneva – I think it proves that one day in Geneva simply won’t be enough! Why not visit for longer and make the most of your time? 

I suggest you grab a Geneva tourist map and head off to explore all this wonderful city has to offer.

To read our full guide to Geneva, > click here.


Things to do in Geneva, Switzerland