Published February 6, 2018 2/6/2018

11 Best Things to See and Do in Geneva, Switzerland

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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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Lake Geneva Lake Geneva and view of Geneva city, Switzerland
Lake Geneva and view of Geneva city, Switzerland

Lake Geneva

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.

Geneva Flower Clock Flower clock in Geneva near the waterfront of Lake Geneva Switzerland
Flower clock in Geneva near the waterfront of Lake Geneva Switzerland

Geneva Flower Clock

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.

Bains des Pâquis Water view at Bains des Pâquis
Water view at Bains des Pâquis

Bains des Pâquis

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.

Mont Salève Cable Car Ride Mont Salève Cable Car Ride
Mont Salève Cable Car Ride

Mont Salève Cable Car Ride

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 Geneva cityscape with its famous Jet d'Eau fountain on Geneva lake on a sunny summer day
Geneva cityscape with its famous Jet d'Eau fountain on Geneva lake on a sunny summer day

Jet d'Eau

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!

Plainpalais Square Markets Plaine de Plainpalais is a huge open space of a rhombus shape located in city district in central-south of Geneva
Plaine de Plainpalais is a huge open space of a rhombus shape located in city district in central-south of Geneva

Plainpalais Square Markets

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.

UNOG - Palais des Nations Tour View of the entrance to United Nations (Palace of Nations) and world flags in Geneva
View of the entrance to United Nations (Palace of Nations) and world flags in Geneva

UNOG - Palais des Nations Tour

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.

Old Town Geneva People in street open air restaurant at carousel and Madeleine Church in the old town in Geneva
People in street open air restaurant at carousel and Madeleine Church in the old town in Geneva

Old Town Geneva

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.

St. Pierre Cathedral The St. Pierre Cathedral is a cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland
The St. Pierre Cathedral is a cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland

St. Pierre Cathedral

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.

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum ICRC office building and headquarters
ICRC office building and headquarters

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

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.

Broken Chair Sculpture The Place of Nations(Place Des Nations) fountains and gigantic
The Place of Nations(Place Des Nations) fountains and gigantic "Broken Chair" symbol of the fight against landmines

Broken Chair Sculpture

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.

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