When you think Geneva, you generally think of skiing, right? It’s a well-known fact that this Swiss city is a knockout choice for a getaway to the pistes, but it also has all sorts of historic landmarks, museums and natural sights to discover.
Super-modern and innovative features put Geneva on the map as an up-and-coming choice for a contemporary break. But it’s right at the epicentre of all kinds of important political and cultural decisions, too.
Go on – have a read through our guide about what to do in Geneva, and we bet you’ll soon be tempted to go. Here’s our list of essential Geneva attractions:
- Lake Geneva
- Vieille Ville
- Botanical Gardens
- St Pierre Cathedral
- International Red Cross Museum
- Palais de Nations
- Parc des Bastions
- Jet d'Eau
- Bains des Pâquis
- Place du Bourg-de-Four
1. Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva trails down the northern side of the Alps between Switzerland and France and it’s one of the top natural must-visits when you come to the city. It’s oh-so scenic and enveloped by mountains topped with lush forests in summer and dense snow in winter.
Swimming in the lake is the done thing, but if you’re worried about getting chilly, why not head out on a catamaran? The area’s known for its yacht racing, so you might even catch an event in action.
2. Vieille Ville
The Vieille Ville is what the locals know as Old Town Geneva. Rustic and remarkable in one, it’s a maze of classically French-style buildings. Dainty coffee houses, traditional eateries and little Swiss shops all hold their own here, so you’ll get to see plenty as you leisurely potter around the cobbles.
Check out ornate façades, cathedrals and galleries as you pass through this warren of time-treasured architecture. There are so many individual sites to behold around the old town, which we’ll go into more detail about below.
3. Botanical Gardens
Of all the things to see in Geneva, the botanical gardens are quite something. The conservatory, herbarium and full expanse of flourishing gardens are home to more than 12,000 species of plant between them! There’s about 28 hectares of walking involved when you add it all up, too.
Back in 1817, the gardens were founded as a nod to a naturalist trend that was growing in popularity. Nowadays, it’s a spot that attracts visitors looking for a gentle stroll in dreamy surroundings, as well as budding horticultural enthusiasts. You’ll get to see all kinds of trees, shrubs and blossoming flowers as you wander!
4. St Pierre Cathedral
Geneva’s main church, St Pierre Cathedral, takes a commanding spot on a hill just past the Old Town, overseeing the city. It’s a local example of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, with stunning stained-glass windows for good measure, too.
If you’re looking for a way to burn off some calories after you’ve feasted on fab French and Swiss fare, why not take the 157 steps to the top of the cathedral’s towers? The stunning views will be worth it!
5. International Red Cross Museum
Immerse yourself in humanitarian history at the International Red Cross Museum. It spans three modern exhibitions, including the permanent collection known as The Humanitarian Adventure. Here you can walk through its trio of core elements: Defending Human Dignity, Restoring Family Links and Reducing Natural Risks.
This is a fantastic opportunity to learn about all the great work carried out by the Red Cross. You can sit down to various moving video presentations while you’re there as well.
6. Palais de Nations
Welcome to the United Nations office at Geneva. Around 120,000 visitors walk its halls each year to learn more about this important international organisation.
Why not go on a guided tour? You’ll spend an hour seeing what’s inside, then there’ll be time to check out the 46-hectare park that surrounds the buildings. It’s impressive to say the least! You might even spot peacocks while you meander outside.
7. Parc des Bastions
Tree-lined promenades, important monuments, giant chess sets – what more could you want in a park? This is one of Geneva’s gorgeous green spaces that breaks up the urban architecture. There’s no better place for a gentle stroll and blast of fresh air. Visit in the winter months and you can have a go on the ice skating rink!
8. Jet d'Eau
This extraordinary jet of water is a focal point in the city, so it should come as no surprise that it ranks highly among the best things to do in Geneva.
Otherwise known as the Geneva Water Fountain, the jet’s spray can reach up to 140m and millions of teeny-tiny air bubbles make up the mist! It’s pretty epic. Over the years, it’s become emblematic of the city, so don’t miss a chance to see it in action and get a few snaps.
9. Bains des Pâquis
Jump right in to this Geneva attraction! These public bath houses are really popular and have been since they were first built in 1872. Bains des Pâquis is attached to a pier in Lake Geneva and surrounded by a patch of beach, so pack your swimmers and make a splash when you pay it a visit.
When things are super-chilly in the winter, you can enjoy a warming experience instead – the baths are turned into snug saunas to literally heat things up a bit.
10. Place du Bourg-de-Four
Geneva’s oldest square is a picturesque affair of pastel-hued buildings, quaint coffee shops and benches where you can sit and watch the world go by. It’s a cosy, quiet meeting place for locals and remains relatively unchanged in many of its parts. If you’re hoping for brunch or lunch in the Old Town, there’s a spot with your name on it here!
Posted: 7th Jan 2019. Updated: 21st Mar 2023.