I’ve traveled a fair amount in Switzerland, but in the German and Italian sections, so when I went to Geneva recently for work, I looked forward to spending time in the international city of French Switzerland.
The city is small enough to explore easily – even with limited time after long work days. It’s a pleasant, quiet city on the edge of Lake Geneva and surrounded by the dramatic, rugged peaks of the Alps.
As one would expect, Geneva is a wonderfully organized city. Coming from Rome, this sometimes took on comic proportions – like the look of shock that registered on my face each and every time a car stopped to let me cross the street if I was lingering anywhere near the zebra stripes, or the fact that public transportation runs on time.
Here are some highlights of what to enjoy during your stay in this charming Swiss city:
Lake Geneva – Geneva was built up on the banks of Lake Geneva and the lake cuts the city in two. The lake has wonderful walkways and bicycle trails running alongside it, and it’s ideal for a stroll or as a place to stop and rest. In the spring and summer, there are more frequent boat trips, stopping off at places of interest along the lake.
I was surprised on my first day in Geneva – a sunny, but extremely frigid March day – that the lake was filled with intrepid lap swimmers. I’m a pretty avid swimmer myself, but I must admit I was not tempted even one bit… although I’d be happy to come back in late spring or early summer to dive into the inviting waters.
Jet d’eau – This water spout has become a symbol of Geneva, and for me (with my hotel nearby), this famous landmark made a handy point of reference for finding my way around the city. Apparently, it is one of the largest fountains in the world, spewing water from Lake Geneva 140 meters (459 feet) into the air.
The first Jet d’eau was set up in 1886, as a safety feature, and became an extremely popular attraction It was later moved to its current location and is perhaps Geneva’s most famous landmark.
The good news is they’re very used to the tourists bustling to take their photos and they patiently stand still as the crowds jostle to take their photos.
Eating fondue – Okay, this seems hard to avoid when you are visiting Geneva. I must admit I like this Swiss specialty in small doses (meaning I’ve had my fill for the next couple of years). This is the famous melted cheese and wine that you dip bread into. I did enjoy this one evening, before walking off the block of cheese in my stomach. During my stay, I became much more addicted to Swiss chocolate and pain au chocolat…
Palais des Nations- Geneva has been an international city since the time it served as the Headquarters of the League of Nations. In 1946, when the League of Nations dissolved and the United Nations was formed, Geneva became UN headquarters, second only to New York.
Geneva is also home to specialized UN agencies such as the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, among others. The headquarters of the Red Cross Organization has also called Geneva home since its founding in 1863. Tours are available at both the UN and Red Cross.
Next week, I’ll talk about what there is to see in Geneva’s old, medieval town.
Traveler tip: I’ve already mentioned that wonderfully efficient public transport. This applies to the transport to and from the Geneva airport as well, as an alternative to expensive taxis. The trains run frequently from the Geneva airport to the main train station, which is well connected to trams and buses.
If you are staying in a hotel, you will receive a free pass for public transport for the duration of your hotel stay – which can also be used for the airport trains or buses. And for arrival to the city center from the Geneva airport, just pick up your free ticket before you leave the baggage area.