In recent years, enchanting photos of Switzerland have been flooding the Internet, inspiring people all over the world with breathtaking images of green meadows, sharp snow-capped alpine peaks, mountain cottages, mesmerizing train rides, and charming towns seemingly trapped in time. However, Switzerland has been a favorite destination long before the ascent of the Internet and self-absorbed Instagram selfies with inspirational quotes. And Geneva has always been one of the country’s most effortlessly, unassumingly beautiful cities. The most populous city in Romandy, the francophone part of Switzerland, Geneva is surpassed only by Zürich in terms of size, while it can certainly compete with the best in Europe when it comes to charm and sheer number of historic landmarks and tourist attractions. If you plan on visiting Switzerland, start with Geneva and find out why it was named “the Best European City for Weekend Tours” by the World Travel Awards, placing it among the very best destinations anywhere in the world.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
What to do in Geneva for a day? A lot! See how you can make the most of even the shortest trip to this great city.
1. What’s the best time to visit Geneva
2. A few facts about Geneva
3. One Day in Geneva Itinerary
3.1. Don’t Be Afraid to Squeeze in More Attractions Than Usual
3.2. Visit Lake Geneva To Start the Day
3.3. Take Some Photos at the Geneva Water Fountain or Jet d’Eau
3.4. Take a Short 10-Minute Walk to See the Flower Clock
3.5. Explore the Old Town
3.6. Set Aside an Hour or Two for Lunch
3.7. Move on to Bourg-de-Four Square After Lunch
3.8. Visit the Natural History Museum
3.9. Take a Walk to Promenade des Bastions
4.0. Explore the Promenade des Bastions & Reformation Wall
4.1. Take the Tram to Parc de I’Ariana
4.2. Conclude Your One Day in Geneva with a Nice Dinner
4.3. Return Downtown for a Couple of Drinks
5. Where to stay in Geneva?
6. Day trips from Geneva
7. Extra tips for visiting Geneva
Although there are plenty of things to do in Geneva in every season, some periods certainly make it easier to enjoy the sights and experience more of what the city and the surrounding area have to offer. For example, the period from June to August, while very busy, is absolutely unbeatable if you want to go for a cruise on Lake Geneva or experience the city’s most important festivals, Lake Parade in July and Fêtes de Genève in August. After summer, the temperatures drop pretty fast. Still, autumn temperatures are quite manageable and usually hover between 10 and 12 degrees Celsius.
If you want to dodge the crowds, then this is the best time to visit Geneva. Winter and early spring also have their perks. While you can expect below-zero temperatures made worse by chilly winds blowing from Lake Geneva, it is the best time for skiing near the Jungfraujoch region. This season experiences three short periods of price spikes and higher hotel rates, primarily around Christmas and Easter. Late spring (May-June) is in some ways similar to fall, with agreeable temperatures and better prices compared to the peak tourism season.
Many European cities are known for their rich history and ancient origins, and Geneva is no exception, with the city’s earliest beginnings dating back more than four millennia. As a tourist destination, Geneva is mostly known for its gorgeous architecture, numerous monuments and museums, and manicured gardens and botanic retreats. Nature has always played an important symbolic role in Geneva. For example, for centuries now, the coming of spring has been officially announced as soon as the first leaf blooms on the city’s official chestnut tree. While there are several exceptions, this usually happens in March. Another example is Geneva’s English Garden, home to the largest Flower Clock in the world. The “Clock’s” 6,500 flowers all bloom at different times, which makes for a pretty unique way to measure the passage of time.
Everybody knows about the Geneva Convention and the fact that the city is home to the headquarters of the European branch of the International Red Cross and the United Nations, as well as the World Health Organization. However, there are numerous trivial and lesser-known facts about the city, for example, the fact that the headquarters of the Raëlian Movement is located in Geneva. Members of the movement believe in the existence of life on other planets and promote its spiritual significance.
Furthermore, the famous Reformation Wall, honoring the Protestant Revolution, is also located in Geneva – at The University of Geneva. The Tavel House is one of the oldest structures in Geneva, which has welcomed travelers from all over the world for more than nine hundred years. Still, those travelers never got to experience the benefits of the Geneva Transport Card, which is today given to everyone paying for accommodation in the city – no matter where you are staying, including campsites, inns, and hotels. The Card lets visitors use public transport free of charge, not to mention pretty generous discounts at most tourist attractions.
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Geneva.
Before kicking things off, it may be appropriate to get one minor technicality out of the way. Due to the fact that Geneva is very compact and well-connected, getting from one attraction to the next shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes in most cases. This makes Geneva one of the more rewarding places for sightseeing, with little time wasted in between. That is why the number of sites you can visit on your one day in Geneva exceeds what is usually possible in other cities, particularly outside of Europe.
When it comes to things to see in Geneva, the city’s eponymous lake takes the cake. The sprawling, crescent-shaped Lake Geneva is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful areas in all of Switzerland. Known for gorgeous beaches and numerous spas and luxury shops, the lake can be accessed from any of the beautiful coastal towns, while astounding mountain views can be enjoyed on boat tours across the lake, which can take as much as three hours from the lake’s northernmost to its southernmost shore.
The area surrounding the lake is very popular for walking, jogging, and enjoying the sunrise. In the morning, make your way to the lake and take some time to feed the ducks and enjoy the magical atmosphere. In case there are boat tours available, treat yourself to a short boat tour for some amazing photos of the coastline from a distance. There are usually several yellow boats cruising between the banks of Lake Geneva. The boats are part of Geneva’s public transport network, meaning you can board them for free if you have the pass.
The Geneva Water Fountain or Jet d’Eau, located at the site where Lake Geneva meets the Rhône river, is among the most recognizable Geneva attractions. When the city hosted the 2008 UEFA Championships, Jet d’Eau was on the city’s official logo. The fountain’s water jet is so powerful that it can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, and remarkably, even from the air at an altitude of 10 km. The original fountain was erected in 1886, although the location of the new Jet d’Eau was moved slightly upstream.
The first Jet d’Eau served an important purpose as a safety valve for the city’s hydraulic power network. The fountain would spout water more than 30 meters straight into the air. It wasn’t long before the city fathers recognized the fountain’s aesthetic potential, moving it to its present location in 1891. The fountain of today was installed in 1951. It is capable of pumping half a cubic meter of water (from the lake) every second more than 140 meters into the air. The view from the pier is as impressive as the fountain itself. If you happen to come there in the evening, you can enjoy the amazing spectacle of light as the fountain’s massive water jet gets lit up.
After the fountain, it takes about 10 minutes to get to Geneva’s English Garden, i.e. Park Jardin Anglais, where the famous Flower Clock is located. Just walk along the waterfront due southwest, you can’t miss it. The iconic Flower Clock was designed in 1955. The flower bed is designed to imitate both the shapes and the numbers of a clock face. Under the ground, there is a hidden clock mechanism that keeps the clock hands turning, allowing them to show time. The mechanical seconds hand is 2.5 meters long, making it the longest seconds hand in the world. Although it is certainly very impressive, the Flower Clock is not the only one of its kind in the world.
After the first flower clock was erected in Edinburgh, several other similar clocks have appeared in different parts of the world, including Ukraine and Mexico. The Flower Clock in Geneva was created in 1955. It serves as an excellent reminder of Switzerland’s long tradition and mastery of watchmaking. The headquarters of exclusive clock manufacturers Patek Philippe and Rolex are located directly opposite of the Flower Clock, so you might as well pay them a visit as well.
Vieille Ville or Geneva’s Old Town is the most picturesque and iconic part of the city, located less than 10 minutes on foot from the English Garden. If you’re wondering what to do in Geneva, you can’t go wrong with the Old Town tour! The ancient district is filled with narrow, interconnected alleyways, quaint little squares, warm, welcoming cafés, and numerous historical landmarks. Let the city’s timeless charm and detailed, gorgeous facades whisk you away to a different time era. St. Pierre Cathedral is one of the most notable landmarks in the Old Town. It is famous as the home church of John Calvin, the controversial and influential Reformation leader.
However, the cathedral’s long history predates both the Reformation and Calvin, having been established in the 12th century by the Prince-Bishop of Geneva. Several seminal archeological discoveries beneath the church indicate that it was built on top of a much older structure from the 4th century. The church as we see it today took a century to complete, and several newer elements have been added since, including the neo-classical façade in 1750 and the square towers in 1800.
Considering how close these several attractions are, it shouldn’t be much later than 1 PM after you’re done exploring the St. Pierre Cathedral. In other words, the perfect time for a well-deserved lunch break. There are several great options not far from the cathedral, but two stand out in particular. La Bottega, located on Rue de la Corraterie, is perfect for contemporary Italian cuisine in a cozy setting. Francesco Gasbaro, the restaurant’s chef, leads an excellent team that makes sure that every little detail is taken care of. The 5-course chef menu is the ideal choice if you are looking for an unforgettable dining experience. The dishes are seasonal, with high-quality locally-sourced ingredients. The staff will help you choose the wine which complements each dish perfectly.
For French cuisine, Brasserie Lipp Genève, located in Confédération Centre, stands out as one of the stronger contenders. The restaurant’s fortes include classic French dishes, foie gras, oysters, and shellfish of every kind. The restaurant is luxuriously decorated and has a very upscale, yet welcoming vibe.
Place du Bourg-de-Four or Bourg-de-Four Square, located just south of Cathédrale Saint-Pierre Genève, is the oldest square in Geneva. The whole area of the square is exceptionally vibrant, with numerous high-end shops, gorgeous fountains, and lovable cafés. In fact, the oldest café in Geneva, called La Clémence, is located on Bourg-de-Four Square. In the middle of the square, you will see a small fountain, dating back to the 18th century. The square’s modest size belies its historic significance. Place du Bourg-de-Four has been one of Geneva’s most important meeting places for centuries. In antiquity, it was a cattle market and Roman forum. Its significance grew as the years went by and it developed into a medieval town square. The square was very important during the 16th century, when many Protestants settled in Geneva to escape persecution in other European countries.
Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, located in Parc Malagnou, is the largest natural history museum in Switzerland. You can also get there on foot – it is about 700 meters east of Bourg-de-Four Square. The surrounding park is absolutely beautiful, with several hothouses and an atelier. The museum itself houses exhibitions on geology, human history, biology, science, and local flora and fauna. All of the specimens on display are well-preserved and maintained.
Highlights include taxidermized mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles, as well as a large mineral collection on the top floor. It is a great place for children, who will love the fossils, especially the dinosaur bones, not to mention the stone which was brought back to Earth from the Moon by NASA’s own astronauts and later gifted to the museum. Best of all, entry to the museum is completely free of charge.
Promenade des Bastions is a large open green space and a famous landmark in front of the old University of Geneva building, formerly a multi-disciplinary theological school established by John Calvin. It takes about 15 minutes to get there from the Natural History Museum. If you take the Rue Ferdinand-Hodler and turn onto Boulevard Emile-Jaques-Dalcroze, you will pass in front of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, the city’s Museum of Art and History.
It is the largest museum in Geneva, with prehistoric items, cannons, suits of armor, old tools and machines, and even Egyptian mummies. The art section houses both classical and modern paintings. If you have the time, you can check out this museum, as well. Entrance is free on first Sundays of the month. Franz Liszt and Marie D’Agoult’s House of Love is in the immediate vicinity, on Place Franz-Liszt 1204.
Promenade des Bastions is a lush park with 6 giant chess boards, a botanical garden, a children’s playground, and lounge chairs where you can relax for a little while after sightseeing. The park is bordered by the university building, the renowned Café Restaurant du Parc des Bastions, the Palais Eynard (city government office), and the Reformation Wall. The wall is a large monument honoring the Protestant Reformation and its key figures. The founders of the Reformation are represented as huge statues and bas-reliefs protruding from the wall. You may recognize John Calvin, Théodore de Bèze, John Knox, and William Farel, occupying the central position in the wall, a metaphor for the instrumental role they played during the tumultuous times.
Parc de I’Ariana, the last stop in this guide, is the only major attraction not located in Geneva Old Town. Getting there from Promenade des Bastions on foot would take 40 minutes, which makes taking the tram a much more attractive option. You can take the tram from Plainpalais to Collège Sismondi (8 stops). Parc de I’Ariana is a beautiful park with the magnificent Palais des Nations at its center.
The Palais des Nations is a sprawling United Nations office complex, notable for its gorgeous white marble façade and numerous statues (e.g. Statue de Gandhi), museums, and restaurants that surround it. The biggest attraction, however, is the Broken Chair, a huge wooden sculpture which is a symbol of peace and protest against land mines and cluster bombs. The legendary Swiss artist Daniel Berset designed the statue, and it was constructed by carpenter Louis Genève, who used up 5.5 tons of wood to get it finished. The chair was commissioned in 1996 and erected in August of 1997.
Directly in front of the United Nations Office at Geneva, with pleasing outdoor seating, you will find Restaurant Vieux Bois Genève – Restaurant d’application de l’Ecole Hôtelière de Genève. Sure, it is quite the tongue twister, but the food is delicious and well-presented. The restaurant belongs to the nearby Hotel Management School of Geneva. While you can expect to be served by students, they are held to a higher standard than service staff anywhere else in the city. The restaurant is very popular for business lunches and apparently more than good enough for United Nations diplomats. The menu changes every 6 weeks, but frequently gets top grades from gourmets visiting the restaurant. More than anything, the place is beautiful both on the outside and on the inside, and it feels almost like a warm, homey dollhouse.
If you want to experience Geneva’s nightlife, make your way back downtown, where most of the city’s best nightclubs and live music venues are located. One of them is La Bretelle Bar Associatif, a friendly, charming bar with tasteful vintage furniture and a tempered retro feel. With a steady influx of new local beers and wines, it is one of the best places in Geneva for trying something new. The bar’s small stage hosts original concerts on weekends, in addition to good local DJs on most nights. While it is not sleek or fancy, the bar’s warm, down-to-earth atmosphere makes it one of Geneva’s favorites, for locals and visitors alike.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel de la Paix, Geneva
11 Quai du Mont-Blanc, Saint-Gervais / des Grottes
At the same time historic and completely new, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel de la Paix was completely renovated in 2017, with respect to the hotel’s long tradition and significance. The hotel’s tasteful, comfortable, and spacious rooms, marble bathrooms, and unrestricted views of Lake Geneva or the Montblanc Square are among its biggest assets. Little details such as the premier fabrics, Illy coffee machines, and Asprey toiletries define modern luxury, unimposing, yet self-evident wherever you look.
Rue de Lausanne 41-43, Paquis
The images of Marilyn Monroe adorning the walls of Royal Manotel’s charming bar/lobby set the tone for this property. The exquisite period furniture, the gorgeous staircase, the opulent red carpets; all of it looks just right, without feeling excessive or flamboyant. Like a trip back in time with only the best elements hand-picked, the hotel merges the elegance of old Geneva with all the modern amenities that can be expected in a hotel of its rank – including air-conditioning, free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, a sauna and a steam bath, and modern, well-equipped wellness and fitness facilities.
10 Place Cornavin, Saint-Gervais / des Grottes
While Hotel Suisse’s location can be counted among its biggest advantages, it is not the only thing about this hotel that is worth mentioning. As one satisfied reviewer noted, this may be a 3-star hotel, but it is undoubtedly at the upper end of the rating scale. The clean, modern, and spacious rooms offer great views of the city and the mountains in the distance, and several suites come with a charming external balcony. The excellent, rich buffet breakfast comes with plenty of choices, and the breakfast room provides sweeping views of Geneva Old Town.
City Hostel Geneva
Rue Ferrier 2, Paquis
Fresh, modern, clean, and comfortable, City Hostel Geneva is a very homey, welcoming environment somewhat reminiscent of a cozy student dormitory. The bathrooms are impeccable, and the staff go above and beyond to make sure that everybody feels like home and everything runs smoothly – you even get a free towel. It is also worth mentioning that City Hostel Geneva provides its guests with free Wi-Fi, a spacious lounge with personal computers, and a well-equipped shared kitchen. The hostel is a great choice for an overnight stay, especially due to its amazing location just 700 meters from Lake Geneva and only an 8-minute walk from the city’s train station.
If a whole day in one of the most beautiful cities in Central Europe can’t quite satisfy you, fear not: Switzerland has much, much more to offer. Pick your poison: chocolate, wine, cheese, skiing; the sky’s the limit. You can book a private tour of the Swiss countryside, with a visit to some of the country’s premier chocolate and cheese factories. Annecy, known as ‘Venice of the Alps’, is a very popular destination for day trips from Geneva, enchanting visitors with its gorgeous medieval monuments and unique half-timbered houses. If you want to try something new, consider a scenic cruise aboard an old steamboat to Lavaux and Montreux and experience Lake Geneva the way it is supposed to be experienced. Of course, these are just some of the numerous options available.
Lest you forget, keep in mind that the Geneva Transport Card is handed out to every guest staying in the city’s hotels, hostels and campsites. The card guarantees free bus, train, tram, and yellow boat rides within city limits.
Convert your money to Suisse francs, as many businesses don’t accept US dollars or Euros. Even if they do, you may be charged with an extra fee when paying for goods and services in a foreign currency.
Reportedly, foreign visitors are occasionally scammed by swindlers posing as police officers. When approached by a police officer, make sure to ask for identification before handing over your personal items, especially your wallet.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).