A Week in Geneva, Switzerland

Each fall, I go to Europe for an international education conference, which is held in a new city every year.  Typically, I’ll try to travel to the conference destination a few days early so that I can enjoy a little bit of vacation time before getting down to business.  This year, the conference was held in Geneva, Switzerland, and I absolutely loved it. What a beautiful city!

Geneva is built around a massive lake, Lac Léman (aka Lake Geneva), which is gorgeous. It is crystal clear near the shores and otherwise has a beautiful blue and green color to it. We were also lucky to have sunshine and blue skies throughout our entire vacation, which always make everything look so much prettier!  We visited in September and temperatures were in the 80s all week, but locals told us it was a bit warmer than usual for this time of year. It definitely felt hot–not just warm–but it made having a cold beer at one of the lakefront bars all the more delightful!

Lake Geneva and the Jet d'Eau, as soon from atop the St. Pierre Cathedral
Lake Geneva and the Jet d’Eau, as seen from atop the St. Pierre Cathedral

I was surprised to see how casual and laid-back everyone was despite all the high-end shopping and fancy cars we saw all over the city.  And sadly, you WILL definitely spend all your money here because absolutely nothing is cheap. But…the city is lovely, easy to get around, and has plenty of fun and interesting activities to keep you busy, so it’s definitely worth a visit.

Check out the highlights from our recent trip below so you can start planning your own trip to this lovely city.  And stay tuned for future posts where I’ll share more detail about some of the fantastic places we visited!

Where to Stay

The public transportation system in Geneva is excellent, so it probably doesn’t really matter all that much where you stay,  Plus, all hotels give you a free transportation pass to use on all the buses, trams, and water taxis, so it’s extra easy (and free!) to get around. If you’re looking to save some money, you’ll likely find better deals farther away from the center and since the transportation card is free, you may find the longer commute is worth the cost savings.  However, if you prefer to have everything in walking distance, look into Pâquis or Old Town in order to access everything more easily.

For the vacation portion of our trip, we stayed near the lake in Pâquis and then moved out near the airport and convention center for the remainder of the week.  While there isn’t much to do out near the airport/expo, you can easily get to the city center by bus in about 20 minutes.

Our first hotel was called Hotel Edelweiss, and it was so adorable!  The lobby and rooms all had the look of a chalet, and the location was great.  It was close to Gare Cornavin, one of the train stations in Geneva, and just a few minutes walk from the lake, water taxis, and other local cruise boats.  There were also tons of bars and restaurants and cafes nearby, and it’s walkable to Old Town.

Later, we moved to the Ibis Budget Palexpo, which is basically attached to the Palexpo convention center and a 10-15 minute walk from the airport.  If you happen to be in town for a layover or have a super early fight, you can’t beat the proximity to the airport, and as it IS attached the convention center, it’s incredibly convenient if you’ll be attending a conference as well.  It’s only about a year old, so everything is in good shape, though it is a “budget” hotel, so don’t expect more than a bed, bathroom, and a teeny-tiny desk because that’s literally all that’s here! No closet, no chairs–not even a nightstand to put your phone or water bottle on at night. (There is an Ibis Styles hotel on the other side of the building from the Ibis Budget if you want a slightly upgraded option.)

No matter where you stay, definitely take advantage of the fantastic public transportation to get where you need to go.  Appropriate to the city’s watch-making culture, the transport runs like “clockwork”, so don’t worry too much about where to stay in the city.

What to Do

Fortunately, my husband was able to tag along with me this year, and we did A LOT. Usually, when I travel on my own, I tend to try to get back inside before dark, as I don’t really enjoy wandering unfamiliar cities at night by myself, so having Mike along for the trip meant we got to do much more in our short time in the city.  Though, to be honest, we didn’t do TOO much after-dark wandering because our days were so busy and we were far too tired to be out and about too late! In any event, here’s a little info about how we spent our week in Geneva. I hope you’ll find this helpful if you plan a trip here in the future!

Day 1

We arrived at our hotel around 1:00 and were unable to check in until 3:00, so we had some lunch and played a few games of pool at the nearby Clubhouse because, of course, we always find the local table when we travel. After, we spent an hour or so wandering along the lake in Pâquis. We walked past the Four Seasons, which was right on the lake and admired the fancy cars parked out front, including a Bentley, Ferrari, and Lamborghini!  We are sailors, so we were also in awe at the number of sailboats we saw, as well as the 100+-year-old steamboats that do tours in the lake and to neighboring cities. Before returning to the hotel, we also spotted the Bains de Pâquis where tons of people were sunbathing and enjoying a swim in the lake.

After we got checked in and cleaned up, we rested up a bit after our long day of travel and then went to the restaurant downstairs for dinner later that night.  Hotel Edelweiss’s restaurant is quite famous in Geneva both for its traditional Swiss food, as well as its live music and entertainment. We had delicious raclette for an appetizer and beef fondue for dinner, and they have the BEST bread (which they also had available during their daily breakfast). They definitely cater to groups and tourists, but it was recommended by locals and was a lot of fun with the musicians who played the accordion, the saw, a bowl, and the alpine horn.  You can even take a turn playing the horn yourself if you want!

Day 2

On our first full day, we took a day trip to Gruyère for a chocolate and cheese tasting tour.  Like everything in Geneva, this tour was ridiculously expensive, but it was also amazing, especially if you enjoy chocolate and cheese (honestly, is there anything better in life???)  I’ll share more details in my next post because it was a 10-hour trip filled with a lot of activities.

The Village of Gruyeres
The Village of Gruyères

Upon returning to Geneva that evening, we had dinner and drinks at The Clubhouse and disgraced the local competition on the pool table. 🙂 The bar also caters to Brits and Americans and had NFL football on a couple TVs, so we were also able to catch up on some of the games back home before turning in for the night.

Day 3

The next day, we thought we’d have a less busy and more low-key day, but boy were we wrong!  We took the bus to the French border in the morning and walked into France to ride up the mountain, Mont-Salève, via cable car to enjoy breathtaking views of Geneva and the surrounding areas.  After returning to Switzerland, we visited the St. Pierre Cathedral, climbing both of the towers and then wandering its archeological site below ground.  We also visited the Victorinox Store, where you can find any type of Swiss Army Knife you can possibly imagine!

The Mont-Salève cable car and the view from atop the mountain.

Starving at this point, we enjoyed a lovely meal in a busy plaza in Old Town at a restaurant called Molino. This helped fortify us for our journey to find the Pointe de la Jonction, where the Rhône and Arve Rivers meet in Geneva, and the following walk home (FitBit tells me we did about 19,000 steps this day, so DEFINITELY not a low key and relaxing day…)  Before calling it a night, we stopped in at the Grand Duke Pub near our hotel and enjoyed a couple drinks.

Day 4

Another busy day!  We needed to switch hotels in the morning so that I could get checked in and set up for the conference.  From our new hotel, we headed out for CERN to learn about the Large Hadron Collider before heading back into Old Town to explore a bit more.  We walked through the Jardin Anglais and walked out to the Jet d’Eau, the giant water fountain in the lake, which is visible throughout much of Geneva.  We enjoyed a drink at the Gelateria Artigianale, right on the lake before taking the bus to the Patek Philippe Watch Museum.  After getting kicked out of the museum at closing time, we wandered up and down the hills of Old Town, seeing the world’s longest bench and Geneva’s oldest private residence before enjoying a yummy dinner at the Funky Monkey Room in Old Town.

Day 5 & 6

The next two days I was in full conference mode all day long so we weren’t able to do any sight-seeing, but we did enjoy a couple great dinners after I was done working, one at Vapiano in Pâquis and the next at Le Pommier out near the Palexpo.  Great Italian food at both places!  We took the bus into town for Vapiano, but Le Pommier was in walking distance from the expo hall, which was really convenient after a long day at the conference.

Day 7

On our last day in Geneva, I had a half day still at the conference, but later that afternoon, we went rented a little electric boat, Derby, from the boat rental company Les Corsaires (which was surprisingly reasonably-priced considering how expensive everything else is in Geneva and how expensive boat rentals often are.) We were able to drive around the lake for about an hour, and after, we decided to wrap up our trip with one more meal of fondue. We went to Yelp’s #1 ranked restaurant for fondue in Geneva, Auberge de Savièse, which, as it turned out, was right around the corner from our first hotel, Hotel Edelweiss!

Boating Lake Geneva
Boating around beautiful Lake Geneva

Where to Eat and Drink

Everyone’s tastes vary, and I definitely think the best way to decide what to eat when traveling is to ask locals for recommendations or just wander around until you see something that looks good (or until you’re so hungry you can’t wander anymore and you just pick the next thing you see!)  That said, the dinner at Hotel Edelweiss was a lot of fun and, despite being a little touristy, has a good reputation with locals as well.  It’s definitely on the pricier side, though, so if you want to try good fondue and save a few francs, check out Auberge de Savièse as a great alternative.  

There are tons of little bars and cafes along the lake, and you probably can’t go wrong with any of them.  Drinks were incredibly expensive some places but then we had giant beers along the lake that were only about 6 USD, which is even cheap by what we’re used to with NYC standards, so you can certainly find a variety of prices if you’re willing to walk around and scope out some menus.

As for actual food items, raclette and fondue are excellent here and you should definitely plan to incorporate these into a meal at some point (if you’re lactose intolerant, bring your Lactaid so you don’t have to miss out on some serious yumminess).  We’re big fans of the Melting Pot in the U.S., but the fondue in Switzerland is on another level entirely. And of course, you absolutely must have Swiss chocolate because it really is fantastic, especially if you’re a big fan of milk chocolate, which is their specialty here.

We enjoyed The Clubhouse for their good food, pool table, and American sports on TV, which was welcome after a long day touring (you order food and pay at the bar and pick it up when your buzzer rings which means you can also leave promptly after eating.  Definitely a plus if you’ve been out all day and are tired and don’t want a leisurely dining experience.) We also really liked Le Pommier out near our conference hotel.  There isn’t much out there in walking distance, but our hotel recommended it and it was excellent.  They have great pizza, pasta, and tiramisu, and the service was really fast, which is always a plus for a constantly-hungry person like myself! It also seemed to mostly cater to locals, and since it was so packed when we were there, I think it’s safe to say that the community approves of their food as well.

Before coming to Geneva, the only thing that people we knew told us was that Geneva was expensive and they didn’t mention anything else, but there is way more to the city than that! Despite the expense, we loved Geneva and it’s probably even one of my favorite places that I’ve been to in Europe, so I hope you’ll consider visiting one day!  It’s very close to France, so it would certainly be easy enough to combine with visits to other cities and there is more than enough to do in the city to fill up a weekend visit.

Mostly, though, we loved how friendly and easy-going and helpful everyone was.  The city doesn’t have a touristy vibe–you won’t find a lot of t-shirt stands and souvenir shops, but they’re clearly used to having a lot of tourists in town.  Everyone spoke English and was eager to give us recommendations, so we felt like we could relax and just have a fantastic time. And we sure did!

Have you been to Geneva or any of the places we visited above?  I’d love to hear your thoughts about the city!

And stay tuned for my next post to learn how you can eat your body weight in chocolate and cheese like we did in Gruyère.

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