Sitting on the shores of Lake Geneva and surrounded by two mountain chains, the Alps and the Jura– the gorgeous Geneva is Switzerland’s second most populous city. Switzerland is surrounded by 5 countries; Italy, Germany, France, Austria and Liechtenstein– and because Geneva is located on the South West corner of the country and bordered by France, its majority speaks French. This compact city, dubbed the “Peace Capital” due to its involvement in international peace organizations; is said to be one of the most expensive cities in the world.
One Day in Geneva
It is a pity that I only had one day in Geneva; it was a stopover point on the way to the snowy mountains of Zermatt (read about it here). Still, I had to take the opportunity to explore and experience the city as much as I could… it is such a beautiful place. If you’re rushed for time like I was, here’s exploring Geneva in one day:-
Quai du Mt Blanc
Our hotel was located on the northern side of the city near the main train station, so we started the day walking along the Quai du Mont Blanc, which provides beautiful views of the harbor and Europe’s largest alpine lake… Lake Geneva.
The day I visited was a sunny but cold winter’s day– the lake was calm and blue, blending into the equally blue sky and back-dropped by gorgeous snow-capped mountains. What a view to start the day.
Crossing the lake via the pedestrian bridge towards the southern side lead us to the Jardin Anglais, or Anglais Park. Created in 1855, it is a wonderful place to sit down with a nice warm cup of coffee and a cookie, admire the scenery, watch people strolling by and snap beautiful pictures of the lake.
The park also houses a notable symbol; Geneva’s most photographed clock, the Horloge Fleurie, or Flower Clock. It’s been there since 1955 and has the world’s longest second hand at 2.5m.
Jet d’Eau Fountain
During winter, the beautiful Jet d’Eau fountain on Lake Geneva pumps its 7 tonnes of water 140m into the air from 10am to 4pm. Built in 1886, the fountain was initially used to maintain the pressure of a hydraulic plant at La Coulouvrenière; but later became a tourist attraction and the city’s most prominent symbol.
We were at the harbor at 10am and witnessed the start of the fountain flying up sky high. Watching it from afar against the bright blue sky on such a clear day; it was absolutely stunning and impossible to miss. Since it was winter though, we decided not to get close to the fountain as the half kilometer surrounding it usually gets soaked with water. For the adventurous and those willing to get wet, there’s a path leading straight up to the fountain. I’m sure that’s a fun thing to do during the summer months.
Rue du Marché
We then walked away from the harbor towards the Rue du Marche. This shopping street runs parallel to the lakefront and is part of Geneva’s most popular shopping district. This is a great place to window shop and people watch; as it is filled with designer boutiques, high-end retail stores and world known watchmakers. It is important to note what their business times are; they are usually closed on Sundays, lunch time and at night.
I strolled the street on a late Monday morning; it was still relatively empty as the shops were just opening, and people just slowly crowding in.
Further away from the harbour and a flight of stairs up the hill from the shopping street lead us to the old town of Geneva. The Vieille Ville is lined with beautiful old buildings and is easily walkable due to its small size. It might be a little hard to find your bearings due to the many street names, so just get lost in the town and admire what it has to offer.
I had lunch and coffee at one of the sidewalk cafes in the old town… then walked around, marveling at the facade and architecture of the shuttered buildings, cobblestone walkways and narrow winding streets.
Cathedral of St Pierre
The Cathedral of St Pierre stands on top of the hill, towering over the old town and offering lovely views of Geneva. Built in the 12th century, the cathedral is known as one of the centers of Protestant Reformation, lead by John Calvin; and a wooden chair used by him still sits in the church.
Due to time constraints, I didn’t step inside the cathedral and had to be satisfied just looking at it from the outside.
Restaurant Chez Ma Cousine
While looking for a place to have an early dinner, we found this restaurant. It was packed inside with a queue outside, and after reading rave reviews online, we decided to try it out. There are three Chez Ma Cousine restaurants throughout Geneva, and the one we came across is located in Bourg-de-Four, the main square in old town, nestled amongst the shops atop a steep street.
The restaurant is small and cute; and due to the large crowd, everyone was seated in extremely cramp spaces with no where to move! It’s a no frills and nothing fancy sort of restaurant; service was quick and no-nonsense, and even the cutlery was of different shapes and patterns. There are only 2 or 3 items on the menu; their famous roast chicken, potatoes and salad. Food was good, price was affordable; at approximately CHF15 (US$17) per person, its value for money in expensive Geneva.
Geneva at Night
The city is stunning at night when it is brightly lit. I was there during the Christmas season, so there were blinking lights and beautifully decorated Christmas trees all around.
Take a walk in the old town and stroll along Lake Geneva, then cross the bridge to admire the scenery from both sides of the lake. Soak in the peaceful ambience, enjoy the calm of the lake and listen out for the occasional soft ripples on the water. It is a great way to end the day in Geneva.
Other Things to Do in Geneva
1. If you have more than a day in Geneva, make a visit to the Palais des Nations. It was built during the 1930’s as the headquarters of the League of Nations. It is now an important venue for international gatherings and meetings, with many world organisations centered around the palace. For a better understanding of the palace and its role; take a guided tour.
2. There are many museums to explore throughout the city such as the National History Museum, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, Art and History Museum and a watch museum– the Patek Philippe Museum… just to name a few.
3. On a beautiful day, why not take a lake cruise to admire the beautiful Lake Geneva and the city from a different perspective. Cruises leave from the Quai du Mt Blanc and the Jardin Anglais.