A Local’s Guide to the Top Things to Do in Geneva
Located at the western side of Lake Geneva and almost on the French border, Geneva has an international flavor: it is home to the headquarters of many multinational companies and associations.
The Red Cross was founded in Geneva in 1865, and from 1920 to 1946, the city was the headquarters of the United Nations. It is surrounded by France and connected to the rest of Switzerland by the lake and a narrow strip of land along the northwest shore.
The Old Town sits on a hill above the Rhône River, which flows out of the lake, and the cathedral dominates its picturesque streets and stairways. On three sides, a ring of buildings and wide streets tracing the line of Geneva’s ancient fortifications surround the Old Town.
Geneva’s commercial center lies below the Old Town to the north, in the Saint-Gervais district. The lakefront, where many of Geneva’s tourist attractions are located, is lined with elegant promenades, parks, and gardens.
To find the very best places to visit, check out our list of the top attractions and things to do in Geneva below 👇
#1 Explore Old Town Geneva
Explore the charming cobblestone streets of Geneva’s Old Town. The Old Town can be found directly opposite the city’s highest point, St. Pierre’s Cathedral, and is home to entrancing architecture, culture, and history.
Geneva’s Old Town is one of Europe’s oldest city centers, dating back over two thousand years ago. Here, you will find stunning buildings, relaxing parks, and cozy Swiss cafés. There are tons of fun things to do and see in the Old Town, so be sure to take one of the guided walking tours to explore all its nooks and hidden treasures.
#2 Stop by St. Pierre Cathedral
From the top of Saint Pierre Cathedral’s twin towers, you will find the most amazing panoramic views of the city and Lake Geneva. The Cathedral dates back all the way to 1150 and serves as the central point of Geneva. It still plays a significant role today, as the Geneva government continues to use it for swearing-in ceremonies.
The incredible views from the top are well worth the ascend and therefore a visit to the Cathedral is one of the top things to do in Geneva! The Cathedral is open year-around with free entry. You will have to pay a small fee to climb the towers, but it is included in the Geneva Pass.
#3 Take a Cruise on Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva is the second largest lake in Central Europe, offering clear waters and breathtaking scenery. The best way to explore the lake is to get out on the water yourself, and there are plenty of options to choose from: take a historic paddle steamer, a regular shuttle boat, or one of the many sightseeing, fondue, or dinner cruises on offer. The tours range from an hour to a full day.
Grab your swimsuits and gather your loved ones for an incredible experience featuring the Alps’ unmatched beauty in the background. If you would like to get active, rent a stand-up paddle board or pedal boat, or try windsurfing and wakeboarding! You will find plenty of lake activities included in the Geneva Pass.
#4 Take in the Jet d’Eau
Easily the most recognizable landmark of Geneva is the Jet d’Eau. A giant water fountain located near Lake Geneva, it launches 500 liters of water into the air, reaching heights of 140 meters. The Jet was built in 1886 as a safety valve for a nearby hydraulic power plant, but later became an everlasting landmark as locals fell in love with it.
The best view of the fountain is from the waterfront! But be careful if the wind’s blowing – you might get wet.
#5 Look around CERN
All science fans, big and small, should drop by the CERN West – the European Organization for Nuclear Research. It is one of the best-known research organizations on the globe, where scientific experiments are conducted in the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. This is also the place where the first web server in the world was launched. Surely one of the best things to do in Geneva!
The CERN offers guided tours, as well as two free museum exhibitions about the facility and its work. The CERN is easily reached by public transport from Geneva: just take tram 18 from Geneva Coravin train station to the CERN stop and you will be there in 20 minutes.
#6 Tour the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
Even if you are not a museum person, Geneva’s International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum should absolutely make your bucket list. This outstanding museum is one of the most unique in the world, archiving the Red Cross’s work, history, and people over various exhibitions.
#7 Drop by the Bains des Pâquis
If you are visiting Geneva in the summer, be sure to swing by the Bains des Pâquis, the public pools along Lake Geneva’s western shore.
Here is a fun fact: the Bains des Pâquis offer fantastic views of the Jet d’Eau (which also made our list).
While Geneva boasts plenty of fancy spas, none are quite as charming as the 1930s Bains des Pâquis. The pool is the city’s most popular swimming spot, where you can sunbathe, visit the sauna, or relax with a snack in a café. It is also a great place to socialize, serving as a hotspot for cultural events in the summer, like live music and poetry readings. The Bains des Pâquis are open 365 days a year.
#8 Learn the History of Watchmaking – Patek Philippe Museum
After chocolate and cheese fondue, one thing that comes to mind when thinking about Switzerland is, of course, watches. Geneva’s well-known as the home of extravagant watchmaking! While visiting the city, be sure to stop by the Patek Philippe Museum.
Patek Philippe is a watchmaking company founded in 1839 and recognized as one of the best in the world. Leaders and celebrities, the world over sport these luxury watches, and the company holds the record for the most expensive watch ever sold.
In the museum, you will learn all about the history of watches and watchmakers. Examine watches from the 16th century and even get the chance to observe a watchmaker at work!
#9 Take the Cable Car up Mont-Salève
Book lovers may already know Mont-Salève from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein thriller, where the monster flees up this famous mountain. Located less than 10 km from Geneva, is definitely one of the top things to do in Geneva! Just take bus number 8 to reach Mont Salève in 15 minutes.
If you’re an experienced hiker, you can actually hike all the way to the top! If not, don’t worry: you can also take the cable car up the mountain in just 5 minutes. At the 1100-meter peak, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Geneva, the lake, and nearby Mont-Blanc! In the summer months, you can hike, paraglide, mountain bike, or simply enjoy the view from a café. In the winter, definitely try snowboarding, skiing or sledding down the slopes.
#10 Enjoy Geneva’s Parks
If you’re looking for an escape from the city bustle, stop by one its lovely parks. The top 3 must-see parks are the Jardin Anglais (or “English Garden”), Geneva’s Botanical Gardens, and the Parc La Grange.
Wander around the Jardin Anglais, a historic park dating back to 1855, found on the shores of Lake Geneva. It’s home to gorgeous trees, floral arrangements, statues, and pavilions, as well as the famous L’horloge Fleurie (“Flower Clock”) in honor of the city’s watchmakers. A fully working floral clock, its colors change with the seasons of bloom.
Don’t forget to stop by the Parc La Grange, Geneva’s largest park, located north of the Old Town and celebrated for its roses and two theaters.