Geneva: where to go and what to do in the Capital of Peace!
Are you planning a trip to Switzerland and yet you do not know if you should put Geneva on your itinerary? Then this post is for you!
It is true that given so many beautiful places to see in Switzerland, the city of Geneva ends up being left behind. But after reading this article I’m sure you’ll rethink your plans and, who knows, pay a visit to this small but charming city.
Old Town of Geneva (Vieille-Ville)
It is almost impossible to visit Geneva and not spend some time walking and exploring the historic city center. The Vieille-Ville in Geneva has buildings and monuments that depict some of the history of the city and also of the Protestant movement in Europe.
It was in one of the alleyways of the Historic Center of Geneva that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in 1712. The philosopher defended the theory that “man is good by nature, but subject to the corrupting influence of society.”
Below we list those places that we think are special in the historic center and which you should not miss.
Saint Peter Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre)
The St. Peter’s Cathedral is located in the heart of the Historic Center and holds archaeological treasures from Prehistory to the Middle Ages. The Church is a landmark of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. After several changes, its architecture currently presents a mix of Romanesque, Gothic and neoclassical styles.
If you are encouraged to climb the 157 steps that lead to the top of the Cathedral Tower you will have the opportunity to glimpse one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the city and also the opportunity to see the church tower very closely.
The access to the Tower is inside the Cathedral. The ticket costs at around 4 francs (adult) and 2 francs (child).
Chapel of Macchabées (Chapelle des Macchabées)
Many people, including me, visit St. Peter’s Cathedral and simply do not realize that in a very discreet corner this precious chapel is hidden. It is very beautiful and is located in the bottom of the Cathedral, the right corner after entering.
Considered the first manifestation of the Flamboyant Gothic style in the city, the chapel was built between 1400 and 1405 by order of Cardinal Jean de Brogny. He wanted to be buried there. At the end of the 19th century, the Chapelle des Macchabées was restored and took on a neo-Gothic style.
Archaeological Site of Saint Peter’s Cathedral
If you enjoy history and archeology, take a stroll through the Archaeological Museum of the Cathedral. The space has been totally renovated and is extremely rich. There you will find remnants of churches that existed on the site before the Cathedral. Some are dated to the fourth century.
Calvin’s Oratory (Temple de L’Auditoire)
This small temple has a Gothic style (13th century) and is located right next to St. Peter’s Cathedral. During the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland, it was in this space that Calvin taught his doctrines to the missionaries. The place was also a kind of shelter where refugees from all over Europe could conduct worship in their own language.
Church of La Madeleine (Temple de La Madeleine)
The Temple of La Madeleine is not exactly in the Historic Center but as it is very close, I decided to talk about it here. Like Calvin’s Oratory, this temple played an important role during the Protestant Reformation. The building also follows the Gothic style and draws attention to the beauty of the stained glass windows. Built in the 15th century, the building was almost destroyed by a fire in the 17th century and today is used for worship services in the German-speaking Swiss community.
Do you know that place where you can stop at any moment of the day and it will always be a good experience? The Bourg-De-Four Square is more or less like this. With a fountain always filled with flowers in the center and several cafes and restaurants around, this is the ideal corner of Geneva to simply sit back, relax, sip a good wine and people watch.
Esplanade of Saint Anthony (Esplanade Saint-Antoine)
The Esplanade is a green area between the Courthouse and the Museum of Art and History of Geneva. The place hosts several events throughout the year. Outside of this, it’s a place like any other. However, if you visit the city during the fall, be sure to stop by. The trees are aligned “a la française” and especially during this time of year, they provide a beautiful spectacle.
The Esplanade marked the limits of the city in the eighteenth century. In the place an observatory existed from 1772 to 1861.
Old Arsenal (Antien Arsenal)
Very close to the Cathedral, in one of the corners of the historic center, you will come across five guns and three beautiful frescoes (paintings) on the wall. The place had been used as a barn in the 17th century and then turned into a military warehouse. The cannons symbolize the time when Geneva had to defend itself against Savois invaders. They were used until the 19th century. The frescoes, by Alexandre Cingria, represent important moments of the history of the city.
The world’s largest bench
In Geneva you will also find the longest bench in the world! That’s right, on the Promenade de la Treille there is a huge bench, painted green and, amazingly, it’s in Guinness book of records.
Reformation Wall (Mur des Réformateurs)
Located in the Parc des Bastions, the monument was built in 1909, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the birth of Calvin (one of the forerunners/symbols of the Protestant Reformation).
At five meters high, the monument consists of a stone wall engraved in bas-relief, in front of which are statues of statesmen, pioneers and protectors of the Reformation. The central group represents the four great preachers: Guillaume Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox, all four wearing the “mantle of Genève” and holding a small Bible in their hands.
The Lake and it’s attractions
The Lake is undoubtedly the natural attraction of the city and not surprisingly, beautiful! During the summer, the lake Léman is the scene of the biggest parties of the city, picnics and also the meeting point of friends. In winter, the lake turns into a completely different scene.
A long walk through the gardens and parks scattered on the banks of lake Léman and a ride aboard the famous yellow boat should also be essential items in your itinerary in Geneva.
Lake Léman (Lac Léman)
Lake Léman – or Lake Geneva (as it is also known) – is the largest fresh water lake in Western Europe, stretching 73km in length by 14km in width. It is shared with neighboring France, which controls 40% of its area. The beauty of the lake and Swiss discretion have already attracted many celebrities who ended up acquiring properties along its banks like Charly Chaplin, Freddy Mercury and David Bowie. The part of the lake belonging to Geneva is known as Petit Lac (small lake).
During the summer, the lake is a sure destination for locals and tourists who enjoy sailing, swimming, or just relaxing reading a good book.
Water Jet / Fountain (Jet D’eau)
If you do a search on the internet, surely one of the first images you will find will be the Water Fountain in the middle of the Lake Léman. I confess that to this day it is the image that I love the most as I walk through the city. The fountain is one of the symbols of Geneva and its main tourist attraction.
The water that flows from the Jet D’Eau reaches a height of up to 140m (and a speed of 200 km / h). At night, sophisticated lighting makes the snowy appearance (due to the presence of millions of tiny air bubbles) contrast with the darkness of the night, giving a magical atmosphere to the fountain. On some occasions, the jet receives special illumination and the water may reflect different colors. On sunny days it is possible to appreciate beautiful rainbows that form around the fountain.
English Garden (Jardin Anglais)
The English Garden is one of the many parks in the city of Geneva and is located on the edge of the Lake. It is where the tourist finds the Horloge Fleurie (Flower Clock) and also one of the most privileged views of the Jet D’Eau. It is in this park that happens the biggest festivities of the city, as, for example, the Fêtes de Genève, in the months of July and August.
Flower Clock (Horloge Fleurie)
Among so many famous watches in the windows of the city, certainly the most celebrated – and photographed by the tourists – is the Horloge Fleurie. Created in 1955, the watch made of flowers is known worldwide and perfectly combines two distinct arts: botany and watchmaking. With 16 meters of circumference and 5 meters in diameter, the monument is composed of more than 6 thousand flowers, whose colors and flowers change according to the season.
Mont-Blanc Bridge (Pont du Mont-Blanc)
On foot, by car or by bus, it is practically impossible to visit Geneva without crossing the Pont du Mont-Blanc at least once. The bridge marks the border between Lake Léman and the Rhône River, which retakes its natural course to the Mediterranean Sea.
After crossing the bridge, go to the walkway under it. If you are lucky you will find several swans that are always very close, waiting for the tourists.
Rousseau Island (Île Rousseau)
Right next to the Pont du Mont-Blanc you will see Île Rousseau (or Rousseau Island). As the name says it is a small island in the middle of the Rhone. In ancient times, the island was used as a shipyard for the boats that brought stones for the construction of the city. The current name is a tribute to the philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Another option for those who visit Geneva is to take a boat trip on the Lake Léman and visit some of the neighboring towns, both in Switzerland and in France. One suggestion for those who have time is to take the boat in the morning and have lunch in Yvoire (France). On the return you can pass through Nyon or Montreaux (Switzerland).
The boats depart from four different points in Geneva: Eaux-Vives, Jardin Anglais, Mt-Blanc and Pâquis. More information can be found here.
To swim and play sports on the Lake and the Rhone River
Ahhh, summertime without a doubt is the best time to enjoy the Lake and the rivers of Geneva. If your trip is in this season, do not forget to bring a swimsuit. Is the water cold? Let’s just say a bit on the initial impact, then you will no longer want to get out of the water.
The Rhone River is another must-do during the summer in Geneva. The best place to swim is near the Pont de Sous-Terre and Junction.
Haven’t you convinced yourself that it’s worth taking a break in this beautiful city? So I’ll give you some more reasons to visit Geneva. In the second part of this article, I will show you the museums, monuments and some more outdoor excursions that the Capital of Peace offers. Be sure to read!
Ah, but first, one more curiosity. On the shores of Lake Léman, very close to the Pont du Mont-Blanc, a very important episode of the history of Austria happened. It was there that the Austrian Empress S.M. Elisabeth, better known as “Sissi from Austria and Hungary” was murdered on 10 September 1898.