Even before you set foot in Switzerland’s second-largest city, you’ll know that Geneva has a lot going on. For one, the City of Geneva is the headquarters of the World Trade Organisation, International Committee of the Red Cross, and World Health Organisation, and it has the second-largest branch of the World Bank and the United Nations. On the other hand, its slick and cosmopolitan aesthetic means there are designer outlets with bodyguards decked with black sunglasses and many luxury hotels and award-winning restaurants – most of which are too pricey! But beyond its glamourous front lies a city teeming with history, beautiful architecture and a world-renowned lake, which adds a countryside vibe to a buzzing city that’s now popular amongst luxury travellers. I’ve compiled a list of six unmissable things to do in Geneva that’ll tick every one of your boxes on your affordable luxury travel tick sheet. You can visit these places without breaking the bank!
Where is Geneva?
What currency does It use?
The City of Geneva is situated in the French-speaking section of Switzerland, and it sits on the shores of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) at the point where the lake meets the Rhône River. The official currency of Switzerland is the Swiss franc, which you can get from your local supermarket like Tesco.
How to get to Geneva
Geneva is easily accessed by plane, car or train. If you’re travelling by train, the main station is the Geneva Cornavin station which connects with Bern – Switzerland’s capital – and many other European cities, including Paris. The train from Bern to Geneva takes roughly three hours.
If you’re coming to Geneva from England (we flew from Bristol), it takes around one hour and forty minutes, and you’ll land at Geneva airport. This is only eight minutes from the city centre by train, which is easily accessible from Geneva airport.
How long should I spend in Geneva?
As surprising as it sounds, Geneva is quite a compact city. Although there is a lot to see here, you only need one day in Geneva to see the highlights.
Top 6 Affordable and Free Things to do in Geneva
1. Brunswick Monument
One of the most visually interesting things to do in Geneva is to visit Brunswick Monument. It’s completely free to visit and overlooks the expansive Lake Geneva, which is a plus in my books as the views are outstanding! The neo-gothic style monument is a mausoleum replica of the 14th-century Scaligeri family tomb in Verona, dating to 1879 and designed by Swiss architect Jean Franel. Charles d’Este Guelph was Duke of Brunswick, who made his fortune in Paris before moving to Geneva. He has a rather impressive background as a linguist, musician and horseman, and when he died, he left his entire estate (worth 24 million Swiss Francs, which is around $160 million in 2022) to the City of Geneva on one condition. This condition was that the city would stage a grand funeral and build this monument in his name. The Brunswick Monument features statues of the Duke, his father and his grandfather.
2. L’Ancien Arsenal (Old Arsenal)
The Old Arsenal is perhaps one of the lesser-known things to do in Geneva, and it’s perfect for history lovers! L’Ancien Arsenal is a tiny museum tucked behind St Peter’s Cathedral, but it’s not the type of museum you’ll be expecting. Instead, there is a display of canons under grand 17th-century arches that used to be a granary and was later used as a military storehouse in 1877. Behind these canons – which are a reminder of when Geneva had to protect itself from hostile neighbours – are three vibrant mosaics depicting Geneva’s key history, which were created by Alexandre Cingria.
3. Walk around the Old Town
One of the first things you should do in Geneva is to walk around the old town, which has many things to see if you’ve got the time. The old town of Geneva has many cobbled streets and quaint alleyways that you could spend hours getting lost in, and most photographers will delight in the old town’s many architectural gems, dating from the 12th through to the 18th century. Some places not to miss are the Promenade des Bastions public gardens and Place du Bourg-de-Four. The Old Arsenal also sits within the old town.
4. Marronnier de la Treille
Situated in the heart of the Old Town, at the end of the Grand’Rue is the free-to-visit, Marronnier de la Treille (the chestnut of Treille), which has the world’s longest wooden bench. The bench is 120 metres long and is made up of 212 seat boards, overlooking the city and Parc des Bastions! Of course, it’s surrounded by chestnut trees, which offer a welcome rest from the scorching sun!
5. St Peter’s Cathedral & Archaeological Site of St Peter’s Cathedral
This is another great option for history and photography buffs. For one, the 12th- and 16th-century St Peter’s Cathedral is central to the Old Town of Geneva, and during the Reformation in 1535, the cathedral became a prominent place of Protestant worship. If you’ve got the stamina, it’s well worth climbing the cathedral’s 157 steps for panoramic views of the city and Lake Geneva. In the opposite direction, below the cathedral’s foundations, is the Archaeological Site of St Peter’s Cathedral (£7.20 per adult) which displays the remains of churches pre-dating the current cathedral. The oldest part dates to the 4th century and holds evidence of pre-Christian wells, buildings, tombs of the Celtic Allobroge tribe and wheat processing areas!
6. Take a Geneva Boat Trip
Lake Geneva is undoubtedly the star of the show, and the 50-minute boat trip (from £16 per person) along its rippling water is the best way to explore the city when you’re short on time. It takes you on a circular loop around the lake, enjoying views of the Alps (Mont-Blanc), Jet D’Eau, eager sailors and cute Swiss villages. There’s a free app which has an audio guide, helping you to learn more about the local landmarks as you pass them. The elegantly manicured lawns and grand facades of the shoreline’s mansions are my favourite features to spot on the lake.
Final Thoughts on my Favourite Things to do in Geneva
Whether you’re in Geneva waiting for a flight or train to take you to your next destination, or you’re here for its incredible heritage, one thing is certain, you’ll be mesmerised by what Geneva has to offer!
Would you visit Geneva? If so, which place would you like to visit?
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