Things to do in Geneva

The ultimate must-see Geneva sights

Geneva is little more than town-sized, but it’s in the most picturesque of locations, centred around the point where the River Rhône flows out of Lake Geneva.

  1. Visit Cathédrale St-Pierre
  2. Be amazed at Geneva’s iconic water feature
  3. Wander around pretty Carouge
  4. Dine in Les Pâquis, a vibrant part of the city
  5. Learn all about the Red Cross
  6. Delve into the history of the UN
  7. Brush up on your physics knowledge at CERN

Attractive quarters and interesting museums, Geneva makes an ideal break with a tranquil backdrop to go with it.

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Visit Cathédrale St-Pierre

For the best thing to do in Geneva, look no further. Geneva’s Cathédrale St-Pierre is a mishmash of architectural elements. From twelfth century Gothic to a Neoclassical portico, it could be seen as more reminiscent of a museum than a church. As you enter, though, confusion is stripped away and you’re left with the clean lines of dour, severely austere stonework.

Best for: Interesting architecture

While you're there: Be sure to spend time in the delightful Chapelle des Macchabées. It was rededicated as a place of worship in 1878 and is filled with beautiful decorations.

2. Be amazed at Geneva’s iconic water feature

One of the most fun things to do in Geneva is to visit the legendary fountain by the lake, the Jet d’Eau. It has its origins in an attempt to solve a mundane problem with the city’s water-pumping system. In 1886, new hydraulic turbines on the Rhône were found to build up excessive water pressure every evening. While a reservoir system was being developed to get around the problem, an engineer created a temporary outlet which spurted a 30m fountain to release the pressure. By the time the reservoir was in operation and the fountain had thus become unnecessary, a few wily Genevois had caught on to its power as a tourist attraction. By then it was purely decorative. It was moved from the river to an exposed lakeside location. It was also furnished with more and more powerful pumps. Today, the height of the jet is an incredible 140m.

Best for: Watching one of the most unique fountains

While you're there: Note that a whopping 500 litres of water are forced out of the nozzle every second at about 200kph!

3. Wander around pretty Carouge

Carouge, 2km south of the centre, is quite a different experience from Geneva proper. In 1754, the township - then, as now, beyond the city limits - was granted to Victor Amideus, King of Sardinia (ruling from Turin). He envisioned Carouge as a trading competitor to Geneva. He turned it into a refuge for Catholics, Protestants unable to stomach Geneva’s puritanical ways and, uniquely in Europe for the time, even Jews. Today Carouge is still something of a refuge from the city. Its quiet, attractive streets are packed with artists’ workshops.

Best for: Arty travellers

While you're there: The area is home to old-style cafés - perfect for a pitstop.

4. Dine in Les Pâquis, a vibrant part of the city

What to do in Geneva for food? Head to Les Pâquis. Spreading east of Rue du Mont-Blanc is the cosmopolitan district of Les Pâquis. Centred on the long Rue de Berne, it’s crammed with restaurants and cafés devoted to every conceivable cuisine from Senegalese to Filipino. The further north you go, the quieter it gets. Conversely, you could head out to the lakeside Quai du Mont-Blanc for a tree-shaded stroll north, past the Bains des Pâquis artificial beach. You could also skip past the marina and ranks of luxury hotels on Quai Wilson, to the beautiful Parc Mon-Repos. Tempted to look for Geneva holidays? We suggest staying at NH Geneva City Hotel for a central and vibrant location.

Best for: Foodies

While you're there: Les Saveurs du Liban is a fantastic spot for some tasty Lebanese food.

5. Learn all about the Red Cross

One of the best things to do in Geneva is go to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum. The museum is housed within the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It chronicles the history of modern conflict, and the role the Red Cross has played in providing aid to combatants and civilians caught up in war and natural disasters. The site is home to a wide range of interactive displays which reveal how the Red Cross has helped. Inside, above the ticket desk, is a powerful quotation in French from Dostoevsky: “Everyone is responsible to everyone else for everything.”

Best for: An insightful look into the Red Cross

While you're there: Remember to pick up your free audio guide which will take you around the museum.

6. Delve into the history of the UN

Tours of the United Nations building are packed with star quality for those who want to hobnob with history. This is the world’s single largest conference centre for top-level international politicking. When the news has reports of “negotiations taking place in Geneva”, they mean here. What you actually see will vary according to which parts of the building are in use at the time of your visit. On every itinerary is the great Assembly Hall. It’s accessible today in more or less the same condition as when it was inaugurated in 1937. The gold-and-sepia murals are the work of Catalan artist José Maria Sert, and depict the progress of humankind. It’s all very heroic.

Best for: Learning about the biggest conference on the planet

While you're there: Notice the interesting styles in the main wing. It’s full of Fascist architecture, complete with cold marble floors and the hard lines of Neoclassicist Art Deco.

7. Brush up on your physics knowledge at CERN

CERN - the Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire (European Organization for Nuclear Research) - was established in 1954 as an international physics research centre. It employs some 2500 scientists from around the world. Its main area of activity is the operation of the 27km-long Large Hadron Collider. This is a series of looped tunnels running under the Swiss and French countryside in which proton particles are made to zip along at velocities just shy of the speed of light. Scientists investigate what happens when a tiny number of those particles collide, through analysis of vast amounts of data fed through computer networks. It was this focus on international data crunching that led, back in 1989, to CERN being the birthplace of the World Wide Web. Today a steady stream of scientifically curious visitors head for the site to gain an insight into its work. There are two exhibitions to look around.

Best for: Learning more about science

While you’re there: We recommend arranging a tour in advance to really get the most out of your visit.

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