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Two Days in Geneva

Updated on April 26, 2017

Geneva, nestled up against Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) and surrounded by the Alps to the south, is known as the “smallest of big cities.” You won’t need more than two days to see everything (without the museums). Walk along the lakeside’s promenades, admire the Jet D’Eau, spraying into the air like cold champagne, stroll the cobbled streets of the Old Town, listen to the live music in offbeat clubs and pop into the artisanal workshops of the Italianate district, Carouge. Last but not least, be sure to visit CERN to find out in detail what the experiments in Large Hadron Collider are all about.

Day 1

First, get your Geneva Transport Card from your hotel/hostel. The card will allow you to use public transportation – trams, buses, trains and yellow taxi-boats called Mouettes – for free. Let’s start our sightseeing with the European headquarters of UN (5 on the map). Take tram 15 from the main railway station Gare Cornavin and get off at the last stop.

In the square, the Place des Nations, in front of you you will see a huge 12 metres high sculpture by the Swiss artist Daniel Berset, Broken Chair, which is a memorial to people who lost their body parts to land mines. The sculpture was erected in 1997 to convince all countries to sign the Ottowa treaty that would ban landmines. On the other side of the street there is The Palace of Nations (Palais des Nations), located in Ariana Park where you can also see the armillary sphere. Geneva is the city that is home to the highest number of international organizations in the world. If you are interested in seeing other impressive buildings, they are marked on the map.

Walk up the road (Avenue de la Paix) to see Ariana Museum (Swiss Museum for Ceramics and Glass) on your right and the first Red Cross building in the world (Musee International de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge) on your left. Walk back to the tram stop. Now you can either take tram 28 to the Botanic Garden (Jardin Botanique) or go back to the centre.

The Palace of Nations
The Palace of Nations
The Broken Chair
The Broken Chair

When you get off tram 15, have a look at Basilica of Notre-Dame. If you’d like something cheaper for lunch, I recommend Parfums de Beyrouth in Rue de Berne 18 where they serve delicious food (starting with falafel at 7 CHF). Then walk down Rue du Mont-Blanc and turn to Pont des Bergues to see the small Rousseau Island named for the Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The island holds his statue as well as a bird sanctuary. Return to Pont du Mont-Blanc adorned with flags of the Swiss Cantons to admire the views. Turn right and walk along Promenade du Lac. Look at the sundial on the promenade and then turn into Place du Lac to see Molard Tower in the square filled with restaurant tables. The tower was built for military purposes as part of the enclosure which surrounded the city and protected the port. Turn right into Rue du Marche and walk to Fusterie Church (Temple de la Fusterie) with the baroque facade on your right. The church, finished in 1715, was the first specifically Calvinist church in Geneva. Walk on along Rue de la Confederation to Ille Tower and Bridge. The bridge was destroyed by Julius Caesar in 58 BC after which it was rebuilt to help Geneva prosper again as a European centre of trade. The tower is the only remnant of the 13th century fortified castle.

The sundial
The sundial
Pont du Mont-Blanc
Pont du Mont-Blanc

Go up Rue de la Cite to stroll around the maze of small streets lined with historical buildings with masonry facades and charming squares of the Old Town (2). Be sure to have a look at Bourg-de-Four Square (Place du Bourg-de-Four), the oldest place in Geneva, where you can have a cup of coffee in one of the cafés; Hotel de Ville (the City Hall) where the first Geneva Convention was signed in the ground-floor Alabama Hall on August 22, 1864; Maison Tavel (Rue du Puits-Saint-Pierre 6), the oldest house in Geneva built in the 12th century (it is a museum of Geneva's city history now), and the Old Arsenal (canons decorated with mosaics portraying Caesar’s arrival in the city in 58 B.C.) located in front of Maison Tavel.

Climb the hill to see St Peter’s Cathedral (St Pierre Cathedral) where John Calvin preached Protestantism in the 16th century (you can see his wooden chair inside). It represents various architectural styles as it was rebuilt over the centuries. You can go up to the top of the two towers for the great panoramic view of Geneva (5 CHF). Preferably, go to the north tower where you can go outside (the south tower offers the same view but behind windows).

If you have a chance, walk along Passage De Monetier (Rue du Perron 19), narrowing to 50 cm (20 inches), which is now open only two days in December during the Escalade festival. It used to be a secret passage, used as a part of a system of hidden passages for civilians escape and unnoticed soldiers transfers.

Old Town
Old Town

When you have finished walking around the Old Town, go down to Place de Neuve surrounded by grand buildings of Musee Rath (an art museum) and the Opera House. Enter Parc des Bastions with giant chess boards, a botanical garden, the Palais Eynard and the University and Library of Geneva. The most important thing to see here is the Reformation Wall (4), a monument honouring the Protestant Reformation.

From Place de Neuve it’s a 12 minute walk to Geneva Etnography Museum (Musee d’ethnographie de Geneve, Boulevard Carl-Vogt 65-67), the Patek Philippe Museum (Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 7, museum of the famous watchmaker) and Mamco – Modern and Contemporary Art Museum (Mamco – muse d’art modern et contemporain, Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 10).

From Plainpalais stop (Rue de Carouge) take tram 18 to Carouge-Marche. Carouge is officially a separate city in the canton of Geneva, located on the river Arve. It was built by the King of Sardinia in the late 1700s. Walk along the winding streets, looking at the neo-classical houses and the inner courtyard gardens, many of which house restaurants, cafes, workshops, ateliers, fashion boutiques and antique stores.

Reformation Wall
Reformation Wall
Chess in Parc des Bastions
Chess in Parc des Bastions

Day 2

After breakfast take tram 18 to CERN and get off at the last stop. There are two exhibitions to see (free):

1) Microcosm (in CERN's reception, on the other side of the road to the golden globe) about the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider. You can go out to the Microcosm Science Garden where you can see a collection of real pieces of equipment used by CERN scientists (e.g. a particle detector and a bubble chamber);

2) Universe of Particles in the Globe of Science and Innovation, explaining the mysteries of the universe through the particles. The showcases take the shape of particles lit with blue light in the dark room. Every half an hour there’s a short film (in French and in English, each language every hour).

You need maximum two hours for both exhibitions. You cannot see the Large Hadron Collider – there used to be tours but they are not available any more. There’s a souvenir shop next to the reception, no café.

The Globe of Science and Innovation
The Globe of Science and Innovation
The Universe of Particles
The Universe of Particles

Go back to the centre of the city. Now you can have a very pleasant walk along the promenades. Stroll along Quai du Mont-Blanc. You will see the Sissi statue on your way and a restaurant where you can have lunch. Walk on to the Jetée des Pâquis which has a small beach and a 19th century 16 m (52 ft) lighthouse floodlit at night. At the peninsula you can use the Bains des Pâquis that offer two saunas, hammam and Turkish baths. Enjoy the colours of the lake which has dazzling shades of green and aqua, the result of the waters from the glaciers in the French Alps mixed with the waters of the Rhone River.

Walk back through Mont-Blanc bridge and turn left. In the small English Garden (Jardin Anglais), there is the famous Flower Clock (L'horloge fleurie) (3) with the diameter of 5 metres, created in 1955 as a symbol of the city's watchmaking. Walk along Promenade du Lac in the direction of the symbol of the city, the water jet (Jet D’Eau) which is turned on by hand every morning (9 o’clock from Monday to Thursday and 10 o’clock on Friday to Sunday from 16th September to 3rd November while the rest of the year it’s on between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; it is sometimes turned off if the wind is too strong). Jet D’Eau was built as a safety valve to control and release the excess pressure of a hydraulic plant at the Usine de la Coulouvrenière. In 1891 it was moved to its present location. The engines of the fountain pump 500 liters of water per second to the height of 140 meters.

Quai du Mont-Blanc
Quai du Mont-Blanc

What else can you do if you have some spare time left?

1) Take the Mont-Salève Cable Car to enjoy the views of Geneva from 1100 metres https://www.telepherique-du-saleve.com/

2) Go to Montreux (about 1 hour from Geneva) and the famous Chillon Castle. City guide: http://www.myswitzerland.com/en/montreux.html.

Geneva tourist map. If the resolution is too low, you can download this map from http://ontheworldmap.com/switzerland/city/geneva/geneva-tourist-attractions-map.jpg
Geneva tourist map. If the resolution is too low, you can download this map from http://ontheworldmap.com/switzerland/city/geneva/geneva-tourist-attractions-map.jpg

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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 months ago from UK

      I have great memories of times spent in Geneva many years ago. This is a very well-illustrated article which inspires me to return.

    • Spanish Food profile image

      Lena Durante 

      19 months ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      I'm one of those "No but would love to" responses in the poll above. This is an amazing, detailed itinerary and I will definitely take advantage of it if I ever get to Geneva! Your pictures are amazing and definitely make me want to go!

    • Sonya Summers profile imageAUTHOR

      Sonya Summers 

      19 months ago from London, UK

      Thanks a lot! I'm just starting on hubpages so any comments are highly appreciated.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      19 months ago from Massachusetts

      Great job Sonya. Have not been to Geneva yet but it's definitely on our list. Perhaps in the next couple of years we'll make it there. Enjoyed the tour and the wonderful photos.

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