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Geneva, Switzerland is known around the world as a place for international business, humanitarian aid, and its top cultural attractions. This is an important, exciting, and beautiful city that belongs every traveler’s European bucket list. During the day, Geneva is bustling with business professionals, but there are lots of unique and offbeat markets and clubs in this cosmopolitan city as well for evenings and weekends. These are some of the best things to do for first-time visitors to Geneva.
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Several iconic Swiss cities are located along lakes, and Geneva is one of them that’s worth visiting for lovely views and fun on the water. Located on the Swiss and French border, there are nice promenades, parks, and townhouses along the lake to look at and some fun cruises that take you out on the water for even better views. In the summertime, make sure to pack your swimsuit so you can jump in the lake and cool off.
Something unique that Geneva is known for is watch and clock-making, and there are landmarks in the city that celebrate this tradition. For example, the flower clock, called L’horloge fleurie, was created in 1955 and has been a top city attraction ever since. It is made of various types of flowers, so it looks different at certain times of year based on what’s blooming. You can find this lovely clock and its thousands of flowers on the western side of Geneva’s Jardin Anglais Park.
The Bains des Pâquis is an ideal place to spend a warm day in Geneva, soaking up the sun and swimming in the water. There are public baths along the western shore of Lake Geneva, and various musical and cultural events take place here too. This is a very popular beach area in the summer and also known for the delicious fondue at nearby La Buvette. Come here to dine with locals and enjoy some amazing cheese after a day at the beach.
The stunning mountain that overlooks Geneva is Mont Salève, which rises about 1,400 meters tall. One popular way to experience the mountain is to take a cable car ride to the top, a ride that takes just about five minutes long. Or to get some exercise, consider walking up the hiking trail to reach the top. The hike to the top should take you no more than an hour or two.
Jet d’Eau is a large fountain in the center of Geneva that is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The fountain was once used as part of the safety system for a hydraulic power plant. But today, it is an endearing reminder of the city’s history and simply beautiful to see as water shoots up 140 meters into the air. Boats go by here, but you might be splashed with water if it’s a windy day!
There are few better ways to experience the local culture in a new place than walking through a busy market and observing all the sights, smells, and sounds around you. Geneva’s farmers’ markets and flea markets take place at Plainpalais Square and feature everything from jewelry to antiques crafts, and foods from around the world. Wednesdays and Saturdays are the best days to come to the square and browse sprawling markets.
Geneva is perhaps best known around the world for being the headquarters for the United Nations. There are government meetings that take place here on a regular basis, but certain parts of the complex are opened up for public tours as well. Tours are available in 15 languages, last for one hour, and cost CHF 12 per adult and CHF 7 for youth ages six to 18. On the tour, you’ll get to see the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room, the Assembly Hall, the Council Chamber, and more.
Like many European cities, Geneva has a wonderful Old Town section that is historic and has lots to see. Geneva’s old town has many small streets and can feel a bit like a maze. Place du Bourg-de-Four has many boutique shops and cafes to check out, and St. Pierre’s Cathedral is here too. This is a fun and charming little area where you can window-shop for luxury watches, sample delicious chocolate, and relax in a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.
This is a landmark church in Geneva that has architecture that dates back to the 12th century. The cathedral was built between 1160 and 1252 and has been rebuilt several times since then. If you go to the top of the towers at St. Pierre Cathedral, you’ll be rewarded with views of the city and the Alps. There are north and south towers that you can climb up to, but the north one allows you to go outside for even better panoramic views of the city. There is no entrance fee to visit the cathedral, but there is a small fee to go up in the towers.
The Red Cross is an international aid organization with its headquarters in Geneva. There’s a museum here that you can visit with areas that educate visitors about how the organization defends human dignity, reduces natural risks and rebuilds family links. Tickets to the permanent exhibition are CHF 15 per individual and free for children under 12. The museum is open from 10am to 5pm or 6pm depending on the season.
Another unique landmark that every visitor to Geneva should see is the Broken Chair sculpture made in 1997 by Daniel Berset. The purpose of the sculpture is to remind us about landmine victims and opposition to cluster bombs. It only has three full chair legs instead of four to make a political statement at a height of 12 meters. You can find the sculpture across from the Palace of Nations in Geneva.