1. The Jet d’Eau of Geneva
Geneva’s Jet d’Eau fountain (litteraly “water jet”) is the symbol of the city since the creation of its decorative version in 1891. You may not know it, but its first intent wasn’t to be aesthetic.
It was in fact a solution to a technical problem! The first version, 30m high, acted as a safety valve for a water facility located in the city.
The current version, dating from the 1950s, is 140m high. Every second, more than 500 litres of water are expelled at a speed of 200 km/h. In every moment, 7 tons of water form this magnificent water jet!
Located on the Jetée des Eaux Vives (Eaux Vives jetty), the water jet is nowadays a must-see tourist attraction in Geneva.
2. Geneva Old Town
Geneva Old Town, the largest historic centre in Switzerland, is where you will find some of the most emblematic places to see during your visit to Geneva. It’s very easy to visit on foot!
Here are the old town highlights:
- Geneva Saint Peter’s Cathedral and the Chapel of the Maccabees
- Calvin College (“Collège Calvin” in French), which dates from the 16th century and is the oldest in the city
- The Bastion Park
- The Reformation Wall
- Place du Bourg-de-Four, a square with fountains and numerous cafes and restaurants. The facade of the Museum of Art and History is superb. From there, the famous secret passage “Degrés de poules” leads to the cathedral.
- Treille Promenade
- The Tavel House (Maison Tavel), the oldest private house in Geneva, now converted into a museum
- The Molard Tower: Well, it’s not exactly in the old town, but just at the exit, on Molard Square. It was built in 1591, has a clock and is decorated with arms linked to the history of The Reformation and Geneva.
During your visit to Geneva Old Town, you should also pay attention to the streets names: rue du Purgatoire (Purgatory) and rue d’Enfer (Hell) are next to rue de la Croix d’Or (Golden cross) and rue de Toutes Âmes (Every Souls)!
Some of these tourist attractions definitely deserve a dedicated paragraph, so I will give you more information about them a bit further in this guide.
If you want to learn everything about Geneva, you can opt for a guided vist.
During a 2-hour sightseeing tour, you will discover Geneva’s top attractions such as the Jet D’eau fountain, St. Pierre’s Cathedral, the Flower Clock as well as the international section of the city, including the United Nations Office.
3. Geneva Saint Peter’s Cathedral
At the heart of the old town, you can find the is the St. Peter’s Cathedral of Geneva (“Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Genève”). Built for the Catholic rite, it then became a Protestant place of worship in 1535.
If you have never seen a Protestant church, you may be surprised once inside: according to Calvinist spiritual codes, the interior is extremely simple: all the ornaments and signs of opulence have been removed.
Things to see during your visit:
- Climb the 157 steps leading up to the towers, which will give you a nice view of Geneva
- The chapel of the Maccabees, whose decoration contrasts with the austerity of the cathedral. That’s what I liked best during the visit!
- Visit the archaeological site in the basement, where you can see the foundations of the old cathedral.
In addition to this, the visit to Geneva St. Peter’s Cathedral is an opportunity to learn more about the history of Protestantism. The International Museum of the Reformation is located right next door, in the Mallet House (“Maison Mallet”).
Another important place in the history of Protestantism, the Auditoire de Calvin (Calvin’s Auditorium) is also close to the Cathedral.
4. Treille Promenade
The Treille Promenade (“Promenade de la Treille”) is located on the outskirts of the old town, not far from the town hall. In addition to being the oldest in Geneva, it is especially known for its 2 curiosities:
You can find the longest wooden bench in the world on this promenade: 120m!
This is also where “Geneva official chestnut tree” (le “marronnier officiel” in french) is located. Each year, Its first leaf announce the arrival of spring in Geneva .
5. Bastions Park – Parc des Bastions
Located at the foot of the old town, under the Treille Promenade, the Parc des Bastions is particularly appreciated by students, because of its proximity to the university.
There are 2 main attractions to see in this park:
- The 100m-long Reformation Wall was erected in honour of the men who worked for the Reformation and the creation of Protestantism. In the middle of the wall, you can admire the 5m tall statues of 4 great preachers: Jean Calvin, Guillaume Farel, Théodore de Bèze and John Knox
- The Giant chess games: The Bastions Park has a playground with 6 giant chess games. This is the opportunity to play (or watch) a game in an original setting during your visit to Geneva!
Every year, the music festival (fête de la musique) takes place in this park.
6. The Jardin Anglais and the Flower Clock
Thanks to its proximity to Lake Geneva and its many shaded areas, the Jardin Anglais (“English Garden” literally) is a popular public garden for tourists and locals. Whether you want to rest for a few minutes or take a short stroll by the lake, it is a must-see when you visit Geneva.
In this garden, you can also find the famous Flower Clock (“Horloge Fleurie”). It’s Geveva’s classic selfie spot, being, with the Jet d’Eau, one of the most photographed places in Geneva! It commemorates in an original way the watchmaking tradition of the city.
In the Jardin Anglais, you will also find the National Monument (“Monument National”), which commemorates Geneva’s attachment to Switzerland in 1814. At the north-western end of the park, you can cross the Mont-Blanc bridge, which crosses Lake Geneva.
If you’re in town during summer, in the evening, you may have the chance to attend a free concert in the old music kiosk.
7. Parc de La Grange and Parc des Eaux-vives
These two parks are located on the banks of Lake Geneva, on the Quai Gustave-Ador (left bank), less than 10 minutes walk from the Jet d’Eau.
For me, these are the 2 most beautiful public gardens in Geneva. Another big advantage: even in the middle of summer, they are never crowded!
The Parc de la Grange, the largest in the city, has some very nice attractions:
- Its rose garden, the largest in Geneva, is open access.
- The Théâtre de l’ Orangerie and Théâtre de Verdure
- The ruins of an ancient Roman villa
- In summer, you can even find sheeps in the park!
Another good point: it’s possible to picnic and even have barbecues on the specially designed barbecue area. There is also a children’s playground and a paddling pool. Perfect for a family stay in Geneva!
The Parc des Eaux Vives, where the excellent restaurant hotel des Eaux-Vives is located, is also worth a visit. It’s very well laid out, has a large lawn and many large conifers for you to rest in the shades.
The flower beds are very well maintained and there is even a place with a waterfall! Special mention for the small wooden bridges, they are super aesthetic. Geneva is a rich city, and it shows.In summer, you can enjoy free concerts at the Théâtre de Verdure in Parc de La Grange, also known as the Ella Fitzgerald stage.
For theatre lovers, the Théâtre de l’Orangerie located in the same park offers (paid) performances.
8. Bains des Pâquis
The Bains des Pâquis (Pâquis Bath) is a very important place in Geneva city life. In addition of being the ideal swimming spot in the heart of the city, it’s also very pleasant for its friendly and joyful atmosphere. Everyone, at every age, is coming here! Very far from the bling-bling Geneva we are used to see!
Admission costs 2 francs and it’s also possible to eat there. It’s simple, tastes good, and the prices are also very reasonable for Geneva.
The site offers other services, such as nautical activities, massages etc… There is enough things to do to spend a whole day there in the summer.
And in winter, it’s Sauna, steam bath and Turkish bath!
Taking the breakfast at the Bains des Pâquis, on Lake Geneva’s shores, can also be an original idea for your stay in Geneva
9. Visit the United Nations Office
The Palace of Nations (“Palais des Nations”), a superb building from the beginning of the 20th century, is the United Nations headquarters in Geneva.
Considered one of the world’s most important diplomatic centres, it is also home to many international political, economic and scientific institutions.
If I tell you about it in this list of the best things to do in Geneva, it’s because many guided tours are organized there. You will have the choice between the following visits:
- Palais des Nations visit: Ideal if you would like to learn more about UN activities
- The history of the Palais des Nations: art and architecture oriented, this guided tour allows you to discover the history of this emblematic building.
- UN History: In addition to visiting the Palais des Nations, you will also visit the League of Nations Museum, which exhibits the history of the UN through archival documents.
- Guided tour of the Ariana Park: Find out more about the history and management of the 45-hectares park surrounding the Palais des Nations. Visit possible from April to September.
10. Broken Chair sculpture
The Broken Chair sculpture, a giant 12-metre-high wooden chair with a torn foot, stands next to the United Nations headquarters in Nations Square.
Sponsored by Handicap International, it was placed in front of the Geneva Palais des Nation in 1997 and symbolizes the fight against the use of anti-personnel mines.
11. Geneva botanical garden
The Botanical Garden of Geneva is located between the Palais des Nations and Lake Geneva. Little known to tourists, it is an oasis of greenery that is worth a look after the visit to the United Nations headquarters.
It is very well laid out, has several greenhouses reproducing various climates (tropical, temperate etc…), a small Japanese garden and much more! And you know what? Admission is free.
12. Geneva Museums
In addition to the ones I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, here are a few other museums that I found interesting in Geneva. They’re all free when you have the Geneva Pass, which I’ll tell you more about a bit later in the article.
- CERN Particle Universe: An excellent exhibition about the origin of the universe and particle physics, and no need to be a physics engineer to appreciate! It is outside Geneva city centre, but easily accessible by bus number 18. Plus, it’s free for everyone.
- CERN Microcosm: While you’re at CERN, have a look at the second permanent exhibition! Also free.
- La Cité du Temps (The City of Time): A small museum, an exhibition space and a restaurant, including a collection of Swatch watches that showcases the design evolution over 30 years. Situated in the middle of the Rhone, it’s accessed via the Machine Bridge.
- Patek Philippe Museum: As you know, Geneva is one of the most important places in luxury watchmaking and this museum is a fine tribute to the know-how of Swiss watchmakers.
- Art and History Museum: Located in the heart of the old town, close to Place Bourg-de-Four, it is the largest museum in Geneva. The permanent exhibition is free for everyone.
- Ariana Museum: It’s the museum of ceramics and glass, it may not seem so exciting at first sight, but the interior architecture alone deserves a look. It’s close to the Palais des Nations.
- Russian Church of Geneva: This Orthodox church is not strictly speaking a museum, but it is well worth to be included in this list, if only for its remarkable and unorthodox architecture.