Geneva has clinched the World Travel Awards for Europe's Leading City Break Destination three times and it's really not hard to see why. While travellers usually need to choose between a vibrant city break and a destination with beautiful natural landscapes, a trip to Geneva means you can combine the two. It has a whole host of places to explore, the shopping is second to none, and it's also the perfect base for those who love to combine their city break with adventure sports.
If you're considering Geneva for a short break, here's a guide on how to spend a fantastic 48 hours in the city.
What to See and Do
The Old Town
A city's old town is often the first port of call for most visitors, and as the largest historic city in Switzerland, the same can be said for Geneva, whose old town is considered to be a perfect example of medieval architecture and town planning. Its focal point is St. Peter's Cathedral, a symbol of the Reformation; if you climb the 157 steps up to the top of the tower, you'll be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views across the city, Lake Geneva and beyond. Afterwards, you can stroll around the quaint, narrow streets which are full of charm. Don't be afraid to wander off down hidden alleys; there are lots of these passageways linking the streets of the old city, and part of the fun is choosing one and seeing where you end up.
As part of your old town exploration, if you head to the small square of La Promenade de la Treille on the south side, you'll be able to see the world's longest wooden bench. Made up of 180 wooden boards, this bench dates back to 1767 and is a great place to rest after strolling around the old town and enjoy the great view of Mont Saleve.
One of the most iconic sights in the city, Jet d'Eau – a huge water fountain – was never actually intended to be a tourist attraction. Initially installed in 1886, it was used as a safety valve for a hydraulic power plant. Five years later, its aesthetic qualities were recognised by the city and it was moved to where Lake Geneva meets the Rhone. The current Jet d'Eau was installed in 1951 and has since become one of the city's most popular attractions. This magnificent landmark is unusual in that it can be seen not only from all around the city, but also from the air, even when flying at altitude. It's particularly wonderful to see at night when the fountain is lit up.
Take a Watch Tour
Watchmaking has been a huge part of the fabric of Geneva since the first watchmaker's association was formed at the beginning of the 17th century. The artisan watchmaking industry developed from a Calvinist reform, which stated that Genevans had to dress as simply as possible. However, the locals refused to abandon all adornments and moved their attention to wristwatches, which led to jewellers retraining as watchmakers. The first Swiss wristwatch was made by Patek Philippe as a commission for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary. A fun fact: Women wore wristwatches long before men decided to add them as part of their outfits.
To immerse yourself in this part of the city's history, you should go for the Geneva Watch Tour. You'll discover the city's many prestigious brands and boutiques as well as a number of important watchmaking symbols. These include Jet d'Eau, the Patek Philippe Museum (Geneva's largest watchmaking museum), the Reformation Wall, and Flower Clock in the Jardin Anglais. Grab a Geneva Watch Tour map from your hotel, watchmakers' boutiques or the Geneva Tourism & Conventions office.
The English Garden holds a very special place in the hearts of the citizens of Geneva and it's common to see it frequented by locals during lunch. While the garden itself is pleasant for a stroll, there are a number of sights here which can't be missed. The most famous of these is the Flower Clock, made up of 6,500 flowers, which change according to the season. Other highlights here are the National Monument, which commemorates Geneva's integration into the Swiss Federation, and a giant bronze fountain by Alexis Andre. The park also plays host to the Geneva Festival, the annual summer festival with live concerts, food and drink from around the world, and a fantastic fireworks display.
Located at the heart of the Parc des Bastions, this structure pays homage to the great players of the Reformation, including Jean Calvin, Guillaume Farel, Theodore de Beze, and John Knox, all of them taking the form of giant statues and bas-reliefs. Geneva was an important city for the followers of the Reformation, so it is fitting that the period is commemorated in such a way. Constructed between 1909 and 1917, the Reformation Wall depicts the main events and figures who were integral to the spread of the Calvinist Reformation, both in Geneva and the world, during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Palais des Nations
Geneva is one of the UN hubs and it's possible to visit the European headquarters of this worldwide organisation when on a city break here, the Palais des Nations. Built between 1929 and 1936, it is located within the Parc de l'Ariana, overlooking Lake Geneva with a clear view of the French Alps. As well as being a centre of intergovernmental work, the Palais des Nations houses a plethora of renowned works of art. Open daily, visitors can take a guided tour of the building.
Also known as the 'Balcony of Geneva', the impressive Mont Saleve lies just 20km from Geneva and makes for a perfect day excursion if you love nature and adventure sports. The views from the top are simply stunning as you take in the Alps and the Mont Blanc massif. If you're after a quicker ascent, take the cable car up the mountain, which will carry you up 1,100m in less than five minutes. If you enjoy getting active, Mont Saleve is a playground for adventure seekers with paragliding, hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and climbing all on offer, depending on the season.
There aren't many cities in the world where you can see the confluence of two rivers, but you can do just that at La Jonction. The Arve and the Rhone are two very different rivers; they differ in speed, colour, origin, and behaviour, but they meet in Geneva to become one mighty flow of water which heads off on its journey into south-eastern France. This is a once-in-a-lifetime sight, so make sure not to miss it.
Bains des Paquis
Popular with locals and tourists alike, the Paquis public baths offer bathing with amazing views of Jet d'Eau, the lake, harbour, and St. Peter's Cathedral. While a public bath might seem to be a summer activity, the Paquis baths can be enjoyed any time of the year. The warmer months are the perfect time for bathing, whereas in winter you can take a sauna and try a delicious fondue.
Browse the luxury boutiques along the Rue du Rhone
Geneva is world-famous for its fabulous shopping opportunities and it doesn't get much better than the luxury boutiques along the Rue du Rhone. This elegant shopping street is filled with designer names, from Armani and Louis Vuitton to Chanel and Gucci, as well as being the best place in the city for timeless jewellery and timepieces.
Where to Stay
There's no shortage of places to stay in Geneva, but if you're looking for the crème de la crème, consider Hotel d'Angleterre. After all, its famous clientele such as Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, and Mikhail Gorbachev can't be wrong. Perfectly situated on the edge of Lake Leman with magnificent views of Jet d'Eau and Mont Blanc, this stunning boutique hotel elegantly combines English charm with the finest Swiss hospitality. Each of their rooms is individually designed to an exceptionally high standard in a contemporary style, and feature all the latest mod cons to make your stay as luxurious and comfortable as possible. Staying here, you're just a few steps away from shopping district, Rue du Rhone, as well as the quaint old town.
If you prefer somewhere that allows you to have easy access to both the city and a whole host of water sports, La Reserve is a great choice. Set within a beautiful landscaped park just 5km from the centre of Geneva, La Reserve promises five-star quality along with wonderful seclusion. In addition to the exquisitely designed rooms and suites, the hotel features a spa, five restaurants, and its own boat, so guests can take advantage of being by the water.
Where to Dine
If you fancy getting out into the Genevan countryside, you can combine your trip with a visit to the delightful restaurant Domaine de Chateauvieux. Holder of two Michelin stars, Domaine de Chateauvieux is housed in a traditional house in a tranquil country setting, offering guests the quintessential Swiss culinary experience. Run by Philippe Chevrier, the menus here feature simple yet refined dishes, focusing on local, seasonal produce.
For those who feel that wine is an integral part of a meal, a visit to Beau-Rivage is a must. This legendary wine cellar contains some of the world's most prestigious and rarest wines. In addition to sampling some of these fine vintages, you can opt for the exclusive gourmet experience, a completely unique experience where you can enjoy a wonderful meal down in the atmospheric cellar complemented by a bottle of your choosing.