Swiss City Guides: Geneva

Jet D'Eau by Jean Kugler.Geneva

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You would think the clever people at the UN, the World Health Organisation, the Red Cross, the World Trade Organisation, CERN, the UNHCR and the ILO can't all be wrong, and they're not: Geneva is a great place to be – especially if you can afford it.

Geneva oozes well-heeled style and charm. On a clear day you can see Mont Blanc. Wander the streets of the Vieille Ville (Old Town), get caught in the spray of the Jet D'Eau, check out the flower clock (if you must!) in the nearby Jardin Anglais, take a dip in Lake Geneva and then settle down at a trendy lakeside cafe. You won't fail to be captivated this most international of Swiss - indeed European - cities. And its beauty goes further than skin deep: in 2006 it was again named the city with the second best living standards in the world (after Switzerland's largest city, Zurich).

Geneva sits at the far south western tip of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to the French) that curves like a banana about 50km (30 miles) out east. The city is split by the Rhone river, which starts out westwards from the lake. The Old Town and the famous Jet D'Eau (the Jet of Water) are on the bank of the lake south of the Rhone. The railway station and the United Nations building are on the other side.

United Nations Building by Jean Kugler.The first recorded use of the name Geneva was by Julius Caesar. The Romans had taken over this area from its previous occupants, the Celts. Successive invasions saw control of the city pass through the hands of Burgundians, Franks, Merovingians, Carolingians until the 1500s. Around this time the city began to grow in importance and its fairs became internationally renowned.

From the mid-1500s, Protestant reformer Jean Calvin was active in the city, and it earned the nickname 'The Protestant Rome', attracting floods of refugees fleeing persecution in other parts of Europe. In 1602 an invasion by the Duke of Savoy was repulsed, and nowadays celebrations of this event (l'Escalade) are the city's most important festival.

In 1792 Genevans overthrew their ancien régime aristocratic leaders and declared a republic, which was swiftly annexed by France. With Napoleon's defeat and the carving up of his Empire in 1813, Geneva opted to join the Swiss Confederation, and was accepted in 1815. The Red Cross came to life here in 1864, and then the League of Nations after World War I.

Geneva Sights

Palais Des Nations - The UN Building was constructed as the headquarters of the League of Nations, and the United Nations moved in here after World War II. You have to bring a passport if you want to get in. Tours last about an hour. Lines 13 & 15 go to the stop ‘Nations' from the Railway Station or from either side of Pont D'Ile. Open 10am-noon and 2pm-4pm, closed weekends Nov-Mar. Open all day (10am-4pm) Jul-Aug. Adults/under-18s/concessions 8.50/4/6.50 SFr.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum is nearby the UN Headquarters at 17 Avenue de la Paix. (See Geneva Museums)

Jet D'Eau - The world's tallest fountain sprays out an incredible 500 litres of water per second, at a speed of 200km/h, creating a fountain 140m tall. If you can't find it, you're probably not in Geneva. The fountain is lit up after dark.

Nearby the Jet D'Eau is the Jardin Anglais - home to the flower clock. From here you can take a ferry to Rive Gauche on the other side of the lake and enjoy the delightful promenade and, on a good day, the sight of the city of Geneva with the Alps, and their crowning glory, Mont Blanc, towering behind it.

Old Town (Vieille Ville)

If you start from the Pont du Mont Blanc on the South bank and head away from the River and the Lake, up the slope, you'll find yourself in the Old Town of cobbled streets and tall, shuttered buildings.

Sights within and around the Old Town include:

St Peter's Cathedral.Cathédrale de St Pierre (St Peter's Cathedral) is a mish-mash of different architectural styles. The earliest remaining section dates from 1160, with various additions tacked on over the ages. This church was where Jean Calvin preached during his time in the city, and has a wooden chair which once belonged to him.

Going up the 157 steps of the tower costs 4 SFr and affords panoramic views of the city (June-Sept: Mon-Sat 9.30am-6.30pm, Sun 12am-6.30pm; Oct-May: Mon-Sat 10am-5.30pm, Sun 12am-5.30pm). Just outside the church is the entry to the Site Archéologique, or Archeological Site.

Excavations have been going on under the church for 30 years, and have unearthed evidence of the site being used for Christian activities since around 300AD (Tues-Sun 10am-5pm. Adults/concessions 8/4 SFr, under-6s free).

Musée Internationale de la Réforme (the International Museum of the Reformation) traces the course of that historical event and the life of Jean Calvin, and has a gift shop selling, amongst other things, Reformation baseball caps! (Tues-Sun 10am-5pm. Adults/Concessions 10/7/5 SFr). A combined ticket which includes the cathedral and towers, the archeological site, and the museum costs 16 SFr.

Place Neuve east of the Cathedral is a cultural focal point. It features a statue of General Dufour, the founder of the Red Cross (and supposedly the first person to draw a map of Switzerland). The city's three theaters (see below) are all to be found here, as well as the Rath Museum, which holds temporary fine art exhibitions (Tue-Sun 9am-5pm, adults/concessions 9/5 SFr, under-18s free).

Parc des Bastions - Bastions Park is just off Place Neuve. Formerly a botanical garden, it is home to Geneva's best-known monument: Monument de la Reformation, or Reformation Wall. At its center are four enormous statues of great Calvinists (Calvin, Farel, Knox and Bèze) surrounded by other Protestant figures like Oliver Cromwell.

Place du Bourg de Four, just behind the Cathedral, was the heart of the Old Town, and a center of commerce for centuries. Now it's a place to meet your friends and chill.

Geneva Museums

Geneva Old Town - Jean Kugler.Geneva boasts over 50 musuems. Besides those listed above, here is a selection of some others.

Maison Tavel, Geneva's oldest house, contains a museum of urban Genevan life and a scale model of pre-1850 Geneva (10am-5pm Tue-Sun, entrance free except for temporary exhibits). It is a stone's throw from the Cathedral: head north-west, then turn left down Rue de Puits St-Pierre.

Éspace Rousseau is a museum dedicated to the life of the philosopher born in Geneva in 1712. (Tues-Sun 11am-5.30pm, 5 SFr). From Maison Tavel, head a little further down Rue de Puits-St Pierre, then turn right up Grand-Rue.

Musée international de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge (the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum) is about the hundred years and more of good deeds done by the Red Cross, but inevitably also ends up being about all the atrocities committed by man against man over the years, too. It is right next to the UN building.
Open 10am-5pm every day except Tuesday. Take Bus no.8 from Cornavin railway station heading for 'OMS' or 'Appia'. Get off at Appia bus stop (12 min.). Adults/concessions 10/5 SFr, under-12s free.

International Automobile Museum. Illustrates the history of the car with an exhibit of over 300 vehicles through the generations. Also explains the impact of the automotive industry on the economic and social environment. At 40 Voie-des-Traz. Open Wed-Fri 1.30pm-6.30pm, Sat-Sun 10am-6pm. Closed Mon & Tue. 12 SFr, under-6s free.

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Geneva's most cutting edge major art exhibition space. Housed in an old factory, exhibiting works from the 1960s to the present. At 10 Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers. Open Tue-Fri noon-6pm, Sat-Sun 11am-6pm. Closed Mon. Adults/concessions 8/6 SFr, under-18s free.

Museum of Geneva Military History. "An overview of Geneva's military history from 1813 to this day." At 18 Chemin de l'Impératrice, 1292 Pregny-Chambésy. Open Tue-Sat 2pm-5pm, Sun 10am-noon and 2pm-5pm. Closed on Monday. Free entry.

Geneva Photography Center. Founded in 1984 to assert photography's place among the fine arts. In the Centre d'Art du Grütli at 16 Rue du Général-Dufour. Open Tue-Fri 2pm-6pm, Sat 2pm-5pm. Closed Sund-Mon. Free entry.

Olympic Museum, Lausanne. Actually 65km out of Geneva in Lausanne on the north west shore of Lake Geneva. A high-tech overview of the Olympic Movement and highlights of the various Olympic events. Situated in beautiful surroundings. Includes the Olympic Park. At 1 Quai d'Ouchy, CH-1001 Lausanne. Open every day 9am-6pm, Apr-Oct; Nov-Mar, closed Monday.

Geneva Theaters

Geneva's two main theaters are on Place Neuve: the Grand Théâtre de Genève and the Victoria Hall.

Grand Théâtre de Genève is the main theater, with all the drama, ballet and opera you would expect. For what's on, check out in French, or ask at the Tourist Office.

Victoria Hall is devoted to classical music and home to the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (

Down by the river is Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, a former hydraulic power station, now converted into a concert hall.


CERN is the French language acronyn for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the world's largest particle physics center, situated about 10km north-west of Geneva station. According to its website: 'CERN is a laboratory where scientists unite to study the building blocks of matter and the forces that hold them together.'

CERN has a permanent exhibition called Microcosm, open Monday to Saturday, 9am-5.30pm, to demonstrate to the curious what it does.

For the even more curious, the CERN Visits Service organizes free guided tours of the CERN facilities themselves from Monday to Saturday, 9am and 2pm. However, a reservation must be made 3-4 months in advance.


View of Lake Geneva.Geneva has a beautiful beach in the Bain de Paquis. It is on the left bank of the Rhone on a pier straight across from the right bank pier featuring the Jet d'Eau. It costs 1CHF to enter in summer, but for the rest of the year it free. A free and easy atmosphere reigns at the Bain de Paquis, and it is the ideal spot not only for taking it easy, but taking in the rest of the diverse crowd. It has swimming holes, diving boards, and a reputable cafe.


The closest thing somewhat stiff-collared Geneva has to an alternative quarter is the little township of Carouge. Touted by the tourist office as the 'Greenwich Village of Geneva', while it has a long way to go to match that level of street hip, it nevertheless offers an enjoyable atmosphere of quiet streets dotted with artists' and artisans' studios and stores, quaint cafes, and nightspots that are a far cry from the brash trashiness that characterizes what mainstream club scene Geneva has. Also, if you're a shopaholic, go no further than Carouge. This is boutique central.

Carouge is just across the Arve River and can be got to via a 15-minute tram ride (tram no.13) from Cornavin train station. Of the three recommended places to alight: Armes, Place du Marché or Ancienne, the Place du Marché, Carouge's traditional marketplace square, is probably the best spot to explore the area from. A good street to start on is the artisans' street: Rue St-Joseph. It is lined with stores of all types featuring a wide range of skilfully crafted creative endeavor. Carouge is famous for its gated gardens and courtyards, most of which are freely accessible.

Geneva Festivals


Geneva.Fête de la musique held 22-24 June in 2007. This is Geneva's main music bash of the year. Musicians of all genres come from all over the world to perform: classical, rock, jazz, techno, street's all here.


Strangely enough, Geneva has the largest celebrations of US Independence Day outside the US.

August & Sept

Swiss National Day celebrations on August 1 are followed by the Fêtes de Genève in early August with free shows, concerts, cycling events, fireworks and more
La Bâtie de Genève features avant-garde music and theater in late August/September


L'Escalade commemorates the failed attempt by the Duke of Savoy to take Geneva in 1602 with costume parades by torchlight.

Tourist Office

Geneve Tourisme & Bureau des Congres
rue du Mont-Blanc 18
Case postale 1602
1211 Geneva 1
Tel. +41 (0)22 909 70 00
Fax +41 (0)22 909 70 11

Getting To Geneva


Geneva is served by Geneva International Airport (tel: 022 717 71 11), 5kms north west of downtown, which has connections to other European and worldwide destinations. There are frequent trains from the airport to Gare de Cornavin or take bus #10.


The main station, Gare de Cornavin (tel: 0990 300 300), links Geneva with major Swiss cities and other international destinations including Paris by TGV. For local services to Evian, Chamonix and Annecy in France use the tiny Gare de Eaux-Vives (trams #12 and #16 from the center of Geneva).


Geneva is surrounded by France and the only Swiss autoroute in to Geneva is the N1 from Lausanne. International buses arrive at Gare Routière (tel: 022 732 02 30) on Place Dorcière. There are departures to many European destinations including to Portugal (Viana do Castelo, Porto, Setubal), Germany (Munich), Austria (Salzburg, Vienna) Italy, Croatia, Romania and other countries.


There are boats (including paddle steamers!) operated by CGN - Compagnie Générale de Navigation sur le lac Léman (tel: 0848 811 848) to Geneva from Lausanne, Evian and Nyon. Small mouettes (cruisers) shuttle across the lake from Pâquis to Molard, Eaux-Vives and Genève-plage and Genève-plage to Perle du Lac.

Getting Around Geneva

Is not too much effort getting around the center on foot though Geneva has a very well integrated bus and tram service. City trams are numbered whereas trams to the suburbs or into France have letters. If you have a Swiss Pass you travel free.

Maps of the tram & bus system are obtainable from the Tourist Office or TPG offices (Tranports Publics Genevois) at the train station or at the Rive interchange. There are a variety of discount travel cards available.

On Friday and Saturday nights the TPG runs an infrequent night bus service - Noctambus.

Car Hire

Car hire is available at the airports and in the major cities.


Featured Hotel

Bristol Hotel - the 4 Star Bristol is close to the Old Town and lake shore.

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Servette FC was founded in 1890. The club are multiple winners of the Swiss Cup and have won a total of 17 Swiss titles. The club was demoted to the second-tier of Swiss football in 2005 after the club was declared bankrupt after financial mismanagement by the owners and at present (2007) are still there. Servette FC play their home games at the 30,000 capacity Stade de Geneve, a new stadium completed in 2003, moving from their previous, dilapidated 9,000 capacity Charmilles Stadium.

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