Top 5 Things to Do in Geneva, Switzerland

While we certainly enjoyed our day trip to Gruyère when we were in Geneva recently, Geneva and the local area have a lot of fun and interesting things to do as well! Below are my top 5 favorite things we did while in Geneva. If you get a chance to visit this beautiful city, I hope you’ll find the following information useful in planning your trip!

#1 – Mont-Salève

Okay, so technically, this is not in Geneva. In fact, it’s not even in Switzerland at all! So what IS Mont-Salève? Well, it’s a beautiful mountain near the border which has a cable car that takes you right up to the top to 3,600 feet!

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

Mont-Salève is about a 25-minute bus ride from Geneva’s city center. Your bus will terminate at the French border, and from there, you will walk into France and follow signs for about 10 minutes until you reach a cable car. Interestingly, crossing the border from Switzerland to France was a non-issue. No one was there to check passports or even question what we were doing, which seemed a little crazy to us, but we certainly weren’t complaining! (Though they do say that you’re required to carry your passport, so don’t forget to bring it along.)

Once you’re up on top of the mountain, you can enjoy gorgeous views of Geneva, the lake, Switzerland, and France as well. If you’re really lucky, you’ll also get to see one of these crazy guys jumping off the top of said mountain!

There were several people paragliding on the day we visited Mont-Salève, and we enjoyed sitting in the park and watching them for quite some time. At no point, though, did we even consider jumping off the mountain ourselves. Hard pass on that one!

We did, however, enjoy a little bit of hiking, though we found the trail markers to be somewhat confusing. Apparently, you can actually hike all the way up the mountain if you’re so inclined, but the ride in the cable car is spectacular and will certainly get you up there much faster. (While hiking, we came across several houses, and I can only imagine what it must be like to drive up there in the winter time!) There is a restaurant, which was closed while we were there, but there was also a little snack bar offering sandwiches, wine, and beer, so we sat and enjoyed a drink while taking in the fantastic view.

Mont-Salève is so easy to get to, so I highly recommend that you make a point of going up the mountain if you’re in Geneva. You won’t regret it once you’re up there. And…you’ll get to say you went to another country!

#2 – St. Pierre Cathedral and Archeological Site

The same day we visited Mont-Salève, we also went to the St. Pierre Cathedral and the archeological site located below it (you can buy tickets for both at the same time by walking to the information desk inside the cathedral, to the left of the altar). The cathedral was built in the 12th century and is quite beautiful itself, but the novelty of the visit for us was getting to climb up the towers! All 157 steps…

Now, if you’re at all claustrophobic, this is NOT the activity for you. You’ll take a narrow spiral staircase all the way up to the top of the cathedral’s ceiling and from there, you can climb even narrower staircases up inside the two towers. The staircases are actually so narrow that only one person can pass at a time and therefore they have traffic lights to let you know when it’s your turn to go!

Standing at the top of one of St. Pierre's towers
Standing at the top of one of St. Pierre’s towers. The rounded section is where you’ll find the staircase!

The view from the towers is stunning, perhaps even more so than from Mont-Salève simply because from the lower elevation you have no haze or fog to look through and you can see everything up close. You will get a workout during the climb, and our legs were definitely sore the next day, but I promise the views are worth the pain.

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

After your winding descent from the towers, you can go outside the cathedral and then enter its basement to see the ruins that lie beneath. See, the current cathedral is not the first to stand on this site. There were two others that preceded it, the first dating back to about 380 AD. During an excavation project in the 1970s, all of these ruins were discovered, and you can wander through them today. Definitely give yourself at least 90 minutes or so because there is a lot to see!

Mosaic Tiles Found Below St. Pierre's Cathedral
Mosaic tiles from the 5th century found below St. Pierre’s Cathedral

You’ll get a handheld audio guide which will help explain what you’re seeing (though we felt like some things have been moved around without the audio having been updated), and be sure to follow the numbered tags so that you don’t miss anything. For most of the tour, you’ll be looking at the ruins from above, but towards the end, you’ll walk down below and through them. This part is easy to miss, though, if you don’t follow the numbers all throughout the site, so be sure to keep on track because we thought this was the best part!

Multiple Layers of Ruins Below St. Pierre Cathedral
Multiple layers of ruins that were found below St. Pierre Cathedral

#3 – Old Town

The cathedral is located in the section of Geneva referred to as “Old Town”. Aptly named because everything is….old. 😉 In addition to the cathedral and its ruins, you’ll also find the old city walls, winding cobblestone pathways, and the oldest private residence in Geneva, Maison Tavel. It’s also home to a lovely promenade which features what is claimed to be the “world’s longest bench”.

The World's Longest Bench
The world’s longest bench!

Old Town is the perfect place to go and just wander, mostly because everything is beautiful, but also because it has that convoluted old city feel to it where the roads criss-cross and overlap and make you walk in circles. It’s also incredibly hilly, some sections being surprisingly steep, so it’s just interesting to see where all the hills take you and find out what’s around the next corner.

Old Town Geneva
Wandering through Old Town Geneva

We all have GPS on our phones these days, so just go have a wander and see what you see. I promise you everything will be beautiful! And if you get tired, there are plenty of bars and restaurants where you can take a break for refreshments.

#4 – CERN

So, I feel like anyone who lives in modern-day society has probably at least heard of CERN. But do you have any idea what really goes on there? I didn’t! And having visited, I feel like I both have a better understanding and yet am simultaneously even more confused. 🙂

We really wanted to do one of the public tours at CERN, but they sell out FAST. You can book a couple weeks in advance, and if you miss that, you can try again 3 days in advance when they release some additional tickets. A tour would probably give you the best sense of what you’re looking at while you’re there, so if you plan to visit, definitely try to book well in advance.

The Globe of Science and Innovation at CERN
The Globe of Science and Innovation at CERN

If you don’t get a spot on a tour, it’s still well worth a visit. There are two exhibits that you can visit on your own, and the best part is that they’re both free! The first exhibit we visited was in the iconic globe-shaped structure, The Globe of Science and Innovation. This exhibit gives a bit of background on particles and physics and why CERN does what it does. They also have some old papers and items used in previous research conducted at CERN, including a proposal by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web (which includes a note on top that says “Vague but exciting.”)

World Wide Web Proposal
The World Wide Web proposal…note the “Vague but exciting” comment on the top of the paper!

In the main visitor’s center, there is a second exhibit which focuses more on its particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, which is what CERN is probably best known for. I never took physics in school, and even after reading all the placards and watching all the videos, I still find it all a bit confusing. But what intrigued me most is the actual size of the thing! It’s a massive 27 km circular structure that is 100 meters below the ground. What I did learn, is that everything in the collider moves VERY quickly and produces a whole lot of heat and explosions. And also, I hope they all know what they’re doing down there because it seems like they could set off a whole lot of craziness if something goes astray!

Replica of Inside of Large Hadron Collider
This is a replica of what the inside of the large hadron collider looks like. They used mirrors on the floor and wall to make it look fully circular!

But still…you should go check it and challenge your brain. And if you understand particles and physics, you’ll definitely be in heaven.

#5 – Enjoy the Lake and Rivers

And finally, if you’re going to be in Geneva, you’re likely going to spend a bit of time looking at the lake and rivers, and if you want, you can also swim and boat! If you’re visiting beautiful Geneva in the summertime, check out the Bains des Pâquis, where you can swim and sunbathe (you can swim in the winter, too, if you like!)

We enjoyed having drinks at various lake-side bars and restaurants during our time in Geneva as well. There are several options in the Jardin Anglais, and you’ll also find many restaurants along the rivers as well. On a beautiful day, there is nothing better than having a cool drink while you watch the sun sparkle on the water.

There are plenty of options for boating, too, if you prefer to be even closer to the water. We considered going on one of the steamboats, but the timing didn’t work out for us. They offer lunch and dinner cruises, and we also looked at a cruise that goes about 2 hours away to the medieval French town of Yvoire. In the end, we opted to rent our own boat for an hour from Les Corsaires. We had an adorable little electric boat, but they have a wide variety of sizes and styles including paddle boats and sailboats.

Rental Boat, Derby
Our adorable little rental boat, Derby, being driven away by the marina crew after our ride on the lake.

And finally, if you’re up for a bit more of a walk, head up to the Viaduct de la Jonction (which is both an active train track and pedestrian bridge) and look down at the beautiful effect made in the water where the Rhône and Arve Rivers meet at the Pointe de la Jonction. One river is darker than the other, and at the place they meet, you can see both colors side by side. Though it looks completely natural in photos, we discovered that there is actually a wall that divides the two rivers. We noticed that the Rhône was slipping a bit over the top of its side of the wall and spilling into the Arve’s side. Eventually, it all mixes together and simply becomes the Rhône.

Pointe de la Jonction
The Pointe de la Jonction. The Rhône is the darker river on the left and the Arve is on the right.

There are so many options for enjoying Geneva that it’s hard to pick a Top 5! The public transportation is fantastic and we were able to get around easily, but it was also just delightful to walk around sometimes and see what we could see. There are also some excellent day trips you can take from Geneva, such as the trip we took to Gruyère, and there are plenty more options if you want to see more of Switzerland.

We enjoyed the warm weather and sunshine while we were there in September, but if you’re more of a winter-weather person, I suspect the city is equally beautiful while covered with snow, and the Alps aren’t far away if you want to do some skiing.

Whatever the time of year and no matter the duration, I hope you’ll have a chance to visit and explore this wonderful city.  And if you think I’ve missed something on this list, let me know in the comments below!

In my next post, we’ll journey back to the U.S. and get into some fall fun in the Hudson River Valley!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. That juncture pic is spectacular!

    Like

    1. Thanks! It’s quite a sight to see in person, too!

      Like

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