Geneva: The different facets of “Capital of peace”
Imagine a place where, in just a few minutes walking, you can be enchanted by green parks, crystalline waters of a lake, the showcase of the world most famous brands, the centennial architecture of the mansions and buildings, the historical center art galleries, the tranquility of the country or the magnificence of the mountains and also enjoy the best chocolate in the world! This is Geneva or La Ville de Genève, a “small” European village that becomes big when it comes to international relations or finance.
Besides the European headquarters of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva is home to 65 foreign institutions, of which 40 are headquartered in this Swiss canton.
Opinions about the second biggest city in Switzerland vary a lot. There are those who consider it Cosmopolitan, calm and charming; others think life is very busy, stressful (I can’t understand when or how). There are those who think the city is boring and others who think the main attribute of this place is it location, with quick and easy access to major European cities, great skiing and hiking.
The only thought in common between locals and tourists is this: Geneva is a very expensive city.
Although small, Geneva offers lots options of culture, leisure, gastronomy and even night life.
Geneva: general information
Switzerland is divided into 23 cantons – sort of like of states with political and economic independence – subordinated to the Swiss Federal State, the capital of which is Bern. Each of these cantons is divided into municipalities (communes). Three cantons are subdivided in two parts (Appenzell, Basel and Unterwald) which is why some consider the country to have 26 cantons.
If you look at the map below (blue, on the left), you will find Genève Canton in the lower left corner. This canton contains 45 municipalities, including the city of Geneva, which is its capital (colored map to the right).
Location of the “Peace Capital”
The word Geneva originates from the Latin Genève, meaning “Mouth of the Waters“, a name more than appropriate due to the geographical location of the city which sits at the mouth of the Rhone and Arve Rivers.
Surrounded by the Jura (west and north) and Salève (south and southeast) mountains, Geneva is located on the western tip of Lake Léman (or Lake Geneva as it is known).
Geneva proper has just 189 thousand inhabitants, which corresponds to half of the population of the city of Piracicaba in São Paulo. However, the physical separation of neighboring municipalities (Pregny, Gd-Saconnex, Vernier, Lancy, Carouge, Veyrier, Cologny and Chêne-Bougerius) is so imperceptibal that border lines are blurred leaving the impression that it is larger than it really is.
Languages and climate
Language is a separate issue in this little corner of Switzerland, here you can hear everything, all the time, either on the bus, in the supermarket, in the cafeteria or at the bar. While the official language is French, the majority of people also speak another language such as English, Spanish or Portuguese.
In regards to the weather, I confess that I expected it to be worse. But, in general, the climate in Geneva is considered pleasant, with average temperatures of 10 degrees Celsius in winter and 23 degrees in summer. For many residents, the month of November is the worst time of year because the sun does not appear very often, the days are cloudy and the temperature is colder , but still not enough to go skiing.
Geneva and its various denominations
Before starting to write this text, I did a search on the internet, I read several articles, travel blogs, books and the vast majority of them refer to Geneva as the “City of Peace” many even use this phrase as a highlight. The city received this name because it is considered, along with New York, one of the most important centers of diplomacy and international cooperation, housing the European headquarters of the United Nations (UN), the Red Cross and UNESCO, besides more than 190 international organizations created with the aim of promoting world peace.
But searching a little more, I discovered that, beyond this, the Ville of Genève won several other nicknames, which are worth mentioning:
- The smallest of the big cities, due to its multicultural character and quality of life;;
- Art and Culture City, the city finances more than 30 art centers, 11 museums and the public library network of Geneva;
- International City, headquarters of many international organizations and permanent missions of over 160 countries;
- City of Parks, Geneva is one of the greenest cities in Europe, 20% of the country is covered by greenery.
Geneva: where to go and what to do?
Although relatively small, Geneva has many attractions, especially parks and outdoor activities. To know what you can do in the city, take a look at these two articles we have prepared for you.
- Geneva, where to go and what to do in the Capital of Peace and
- Geneva, where to go and what to do in the Capital of Peace (cont.)
When to visit Geneva?
Switzerland is beautiful at any time of the year. Each season has the gift of giving a special look to the towns and villages. If your goal is to see snow and ski, winter is obviously the best option. But during the fall Geneva looks very beautiful. In the parks, the yellow, orange and red tones give a special touch to the city.
Now, if you want to enjoy the lake and the river, I suggest a trip in July or August. For me, summer is the season where you can enjoy more of the attractions of the city. Swimming in the Rhône River is simply sensational! Although the water temperature is a little colder than we Brazilians are accustomed with, it is not unbearable. After the initial impact of getting into the water, you will no longer want to get out.
This season is also good for taking boat trips and visiting some nearby towns. In addition, it is the time when the lakeside bars are open and in the late afternoon you can walk, have a drink and enjoy a beautiful sunset. It is also during the summer time that several outdoor shows take place in the city’s parks. It’s a great opportunity to have fun and make new friends.
Traditions and culture in Geneva
If you are the type of person that likes to combine your travels with local events, there are three interesting festivities that take place in Geneva each year.
Music Festival (Fête de La Musique)
During a weekend, Geneva breathes music. The party, which takes place at the end of June, starts on Friday night and runs until the end of Sunday. In addition to the various stages that are set up in the parks and in the historic center of the city, there are several concerts that take place in the city’s churches and theaters. For more information click here.
Geneva Lake Festival
The Geneva Lake Festival is a large popular festival that takes place in August. Several tents are set up in the Jardin Anglais where you can indulge in local cuisine or drink with friends. There is also an amusement park set up for the kids. But the highlight is the fireworks show, the biggest I’ve ever seen. It’s synchronize to the rhythm of the music, lasts almost an hour and as you can see is very beautiful!
Festivities of the Escalade (Fête de l’Escalade)
The Escalade is a celebration that takes place on the weekend next to December 12th. It also starts on Friday night and runs until Sunday. In this celebration, the population celebrates the victory of the city on the army of the Duke of Savoy. It is a medieval celebration and the population dresses as such and repeats traditions of the time.
Where to stay in Geneva
Ideally you should stay near the lake in the center of the city. But, as everyone knows, Switzerland is usually very expensive. So, this will depend a lot on your wallet and how much you are willing to pay. That’s why I made a list with hotels in Geneva and also in the neighboring cities of France but with quick and easy access to the Peace Capital.
Hotels in Geneva
3 star hotel (simple but with a very good location):
- Hotel Tor
- Hotel Moderne
- Hôtel Résidence CityZen
- Art Hôtel Windsor
- Hotel Bernina Geneva
- Hotel Suisse
- Hôtel Astoria
- Hotel Cristal Design
4 star hotel:
5 star hotel:
- Hotel de La Paix Geneva
- Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues
- Hotel D’Angleterre
- Hôtel Métropole Genève
- La Resèrve Genève Hotel & Spa
Hotels in Annemasse, Gaillard and Archamps (France)
An option for those who don’t want to spend a lot with hotels is to stay in a city near Geneva, but in France.
- Hotel Ibis
- Ibis Styles Annemasse Genève
- Hotel Atalante Annemasse
- Inter-Hôtel Porte de Genève
- Mercure Annemasse
- Ibis Budget Archamps Porte de Genève
- Best Western Porte Sud de Genève