With intriguing museums, graceful parks, gorgeous scenery, and heavenly chocolate just waiting to be devoured, Geneva is one of Switzerland’s most sparkling hidden gems. The second-largest city in the country, Geneva is flanked by a dazzling lake and dramatic mountains, both of which give the city a new look and feel each season.
Travelers flock to alluring Geneva for many different reasons. From its internationally important institutions and high-end shopping streets to its peaceful lakeside dining options and beautifully landscaped gardens, you’ll never be stuck for what to do in Geneva.
Visit during spring or summer, and you’ll be able to make the most of the warm weather, with lazy days spent on Lake Geneva’s shores and late-night concerts in the city’s parks. Travel in winter for the chance to experience a real snow-kissed wonderland, with outdoor steam baths and chocolate-tasting tours that will warm you right up!
With such a huge choice of things to see and do, it can be tough to know where to begin. To make your vacation planning easier, we’ve created a list of the best things to do in Geneva. Add these attractions and activities to your Geneva bucket list, and you’re guaranteed to have an incredible time exploring one of Europe’s most compelling cities.
Don’t forget to check out our web story: The 15 Best Things to do in Geneva, Switzerland
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15 cool and unique things to do in Geneva
1. Take a Tour around CERN
One of the coolest things to do in Geneva is to take a walk around the largest particle physics lab in the world. Whether or not you’re a fan of physics, CERN, the headquarters for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is a truly fascinating place to visit!
The best way to see the lab is on a tour. Suitable for people of all ages and levels, these organized visits will help you understand the mind-boggling research and experiments that are being carried out in simpler terms. You can arrange a guided tour directly with CERN when you arrive.
CERN’s museum exhibitions are also definitely worth a visit. Microcosm lets you peek behind the scenes to see exactly what CERN is doing. It tells you about the Large Hadron Collider and what it’s being used for today. Universe of Particles invites you to discover the big physics questions CERN is currently attempting to answer and why.
The best part? Both museum exhibitions are free!
2. Gaze at the Jet d’Eau
Jet d’Eau (literally “water jet” in English) is one of the most famous Geneva attractions. Set on the Jetée des Eaux Vives, the water jet was originally built in 1886, when it was used as a safety valve for the city’s water facility. Back then, it was only 100 feet high and not nearly as impressive as it is today.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and the Jet d’Eau is now an eye-catching landmark. The current version was built in the 1950s and shoots water 460 feet into the sky. Each second, the jet projects more than 130 gallons of water into the air at a staggering speed of around 125 mph.
Jet d’Eau has become a symbol of Geneva, acting as a reminder of the city’s strength, ambition, and vitality. It makes a great background for a selfie. Just make sure you don’t get too close on a windy day, or you could get soaked!
3. Stroll around the Geneva Botanical Gardens
Nestled in between Lake Geneva and Palais des Nations is the Geneva Botanical Gardens, a tranquil part of the city where you can relax and take a break from sightseeing. Ideally positioned for visiting after a trip to the United Nations headquarters, these gardens are wonderfully laid out and contain more than 16,000 different species of plants from all over the world.
There are several individual greenhouses designed to recreate various international climates, as well as a Japanese garden, rockery, arboretum, and herbarium with more than six million different plants and fungi. You’ll also find a handful of collections that are fascinating to explore. Our favorites were the Garden of Smell and Touch and the Historic Rose Garden.
If you haven’t got much time, we recommend you head straight for the Winter Garden. Built in 1913, this garden is set inside one of the oldest buildings of its kind and is home to a huge variety of fruits and tropical plants.
4. Take a Cruise across Lake Geneva
Sailing across the lake is one of the absolute must-do things in Geneva! It’s a great way to get a view of the city and its highlights from a whole new angle. There are tons of different boat trips to choose from, depending on the experience you’re looking for.
A standard one-hour Lake Geneva cruise is perfect if you’re short on time. This affordable boat trip begins at Pierres du Niton, passes by iconic landmarks such as the Jet d’Eau and the United Nations, and rewards you with gorgeous views of Mont Blanc and the Swiss Alps.
For something a little longer, choose a tour that incorporates a boat trip into a full-day excursion. This tour takes you to the alluring town of Annecy, also known as the Venice of the Alps, before returning to Geneva for a city tour and lake cruise.
If none of those are quite what you’re looking for, you can rent a private boat and captain. Most hotels will be happy to arrange this for you. Alternately, you can organize it yourself online before you go.
5. Check out the International Balloon Festival
If you’re planning to visit Geneva in January, you’ve got to time your visit with the International Balloon Festival. Held at the end of January each year in Château-d’Oex, this fascinating festival gives you a remarkable Geneva sightseeing opportunity you don’t get at any other time of the year!
For nine days, the Geneva sky is filled with around 100 magical hot air balloons from all around the world. Pilots from across the globe travel to the Swiss city for the chance to show off their one-of-a-kind hot air balloons that come in every shape, size, color, and design imaginable.
There’s plenty for you to get involved with during the festival, too. From dedicated children’s days with special activities, mini balloon demonstrations, whimsical balloon flights, and dance performances to competitions to win free flights, air shows, firework displays, and paragliding acts, the International Balloon Festival is filled with fun activities everyone can take part in!
6. Indulge in Delicious Raclette
Raclette is like fondue – only better! Named after the slightly nutty Swiss cow’s cheese, which is used to make the dish, raclette involves taking a large wheel of cheese, slicing it in half, and heating the cut side until it melts. When melted, the cheese is then scraped off and used to smother potatoes.
The emblematic Swiss dish was created by mountain shepherds who kept their cheese by the fire when roasting potatoes. When the potatoes were done, the shepherds noticed their cheese had started to melt and used it to top their potatoes instead of letting it go to waste. The result was one of the most decadent and delicious dishes ever created!
Auberge de Saviese is one of the best places to try raclette in Geneva, where it’s served with boiled potatoes, pickles, and onions. Zufthausrestaurant is another great place to give the cheesy specialty a try. You can order a raclette tasting platter which includes traditional raclette, garlic raclette, and smoked raclette.
7. Relax at Parc de La Grange
When all the Geneva activities have tired you out, head to Parc de La Grange for a well-deserved break. Located on the banks of Lake Geneva, just a short walk away from Jet d’Eau, this park is one of the most beautiful in the city, whatever time of year you visit.
The largest garden in Geneva, Parc de La Grange is home to a sprawling rose garden with more than 10,000 roses from 200 species, two theaters where plays are performed throughout the year, and the ancient ruins of a Roman villa.
Summer is our favorite season to visit because it’s the best time to use the specially-designed BBQ area and grill yourself up a feast. If you haven’t got any cooking equipment, you can still have a wonderful picnic in the park.
There’s a fun children’s playground open all year with the added bonus of a paddling pool available in summer. During the warmer months, there’s even a chance you’ll see sheep wandering through the park!
8. Get Lost in Geneva Old Town
One of the best things to do in Geneva is simply to wander around Old Town and see what you find. The biggest historic center in all of Switzerland, Geneva Old Town is full of steep cobblestone streets, hidden terraces with breathtaking views, and bubbling fountains, which look too beautiful to be real!
You could easily spend an entire day here just wandering the streets and taking photos. But if you prefer your days out to be a little more scheduled, here’s a list of some things to add to your itinerary: Maison Tavel (the oldest private house in Geneva which is currently a museum), Place du Bourg-de-Four (a quaint square full of cafes, restaurants, and fountains), and Collège Calvin (the oldest college in Geneva which dates back to the 16th century).
If you like quirky and unusual attractions, make a note of the street names as you’re exploring Geneva Old Town. Some of the most obscure and interesting ones we found included Rue du Purgatoire (Purgatory) and Rue d’Enfer (Hell)!
9. Try an Addictive Tomato Fondue
You might have tried a cheese fondue, but we bet you’ve never tried a tomato fondue! One of the most unique things to do in Geneva, digging into a traditional Swiss fondue made of fresh tomatoes (or tomato paste), garlic, butter, white wine, shallots, and a little bit of melted cheese, is a foodie experience you’ll never forget.
Unlike regular cheese fondue, which is served with bread and meat, Geneva’s tomato fondue is often served with potatoes. But if you’ve got any leftover bread from any other meal on the table, it’s worth dipping in, too. It’s delicious!
Au Vieux Carouge is a wonderful place to try tomato fondue. If you run out of potatoes, don’t be afraid to ask for more. They’ll bring you as many as you like.
Restaurant Les Armures inside Hotel Les Armures is another excellent place to indulge in the dish. You’ll find it on the menu alongside many other fantastic cheese-based Swiss dishes.
10. Cool Down or Warm Up at Bains des Pâquis
Whatever time of year you visit the city, one of the most fun things to do in Geneva is to spend some time at Bains des Pâquis. The public baths on the western shore of Lake Geneva are much more than a place to exercise. They’re a spot to spend time as a family, to hang out with friends, and to feel the vibrancy of Geneva.
During summer, the Bains des Pâquis is a wonderful place to take a refreshing dip, sunbathe on the pier, and grab a light lunch at an open-air terrace restaurant. Throughout the warmest months, the public baths also host poetry recitals and classical music concerts first thing in the morning.
In winter, the baths are transformed into a magical spa-like place with a sauna, steam bath, and massages. If you’re brave enough, you can take a quick swim in the icy lake before warming yourself up in the sauna. Locals will tell you it’s great for your circulation!
11. Visit St. Peter’s Cathedral of Geneva
In the very center of Old Town, you’ll find one of the most underrated things to see in Geneva – St. Peter’s Cathedral of Geneva. Known locally as Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Genève, this cathedral is likely to be very different from others you’ve seen.
Being a Protestant church since 1535, St. Peter’s Cathedral is remarkably simple, with no ostentatious ornaments or luxurious additions at all. The main reason to visit the cathedral is for the chance to climb the steps to the top of the towers.
From here, you’ll have an astounding view of Geneva and the Swiss Alps. Choose the south viewing platform for an open-air experience if the weather’s nice or the north viewing platform for an indoor experience in case of bad weather.
St. Peter’s Cathedral was built on top of much older buildings, one of the most important being a basilica that dates back to the 4th century. If you head downstairs to the archaeological site, you can see remnants of the ancient buildings and even explore some of the vestiges.
12. Treat Yourself to Swiss Chocolate at Festichoc
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, one of the top things to do in Geneva is to treat yourself at Festichoc – an amazing chocolate festival held in the small town of Versoix on Lake Geneva each March. During the drool-worthy festival, around 40 local chocolatiers group together to highlight their chocolate offerings.
For many, the best part about Festichoc is the free samples offered by the talented chocolatiers. You can try as many as you like and ask all the questions you have without any obligation to buy. But if you do want to make a purchase, you’ll be spoiled for choice with all the incredible goodies on offer!
Inside a large marquee tent known as Salon des Artisans, the chocolatiers set up stalls selling all kinds of incredible chocolate treats. From gourmet bars speckled with dried raspberries and gold leaf to incredible chocolate statues available to buy as gifts, you’ll be amazed at all the delicious things you can do with chocolate.
13. Unleash your Cultural Side at the Art and History Museum
One of the most important museums in Switzerland, Geneva’s Museum of Art and History encourages you to step back in time with an astounding collection that includes more than 7,000 pieces of art and archeological discoveries.
The impressive museum first opened its doors in 1910 and focuses on Genevan and Swiss art, with masterpieces from local caricaturist Rodolphe Töpffe and portraitist Jean-Étienne Liotard. Another highlight is the Miraculous Draft of Fishes by Konrad Witz, which dates back to the 15th century. This piece was previously set above the altar at St. Pierre Cathedral and is widely regarded as being the first religious painting of a landscape in European art.
The applied arts section of the museum is laden with Byzantine art, musical instruments, icons, and silverware. However, our favorite item can be found in the archaeological section, where there’s an Egyptian mummy on display said to be more than 3,000 years old!
14. Be Amazed at the Patek Philippe Museum
Switzerland is known for its remarkable watchmaking skills, and the best place to learn more about this delicate art is at the Patek Philippe Museum. One of the best things to do in Geneva, spending a day here will open your eyes to the history of the creation of timepieces from the 15th century up until today.
The museum is named after Antoine Norbert de Patek, a Polish watchmaking pioneer who settled in Switzerland, and Adrien Philippe, a French horologist who teamed up with Patek to create intricate timepieces.
The first floor is dedicated to the history of Geneva’s clocks – how they first began and how they changed over time. The second floor moves onto the history of the Patek Philippe factory, with a wonderful collection of all the pieces the duo used to make.
On the top floor of the museum, you’ll discover a library with books that detail clock mechanics, as well as genuine correspondence from Patek and Philippe and the tools they used to create their pieces.
15. Relive History with L’Escalade
If you’re visiting Geneva in December, you’ve got to make room in your schedule for L’Escalade. A huge annual event that commemorates the city’s defense in the face of a 1602 attack by the Duke of Savoy, the festival invites you to learn a little about Geneva’s history while having fun at the same time.
According to the story of L’Escalade, the Duke’s troops tried to scale the walls of Geneva and sneak in during the early hours one December morning. The troops were spotted by cook Catherine Cheynel who dumped a giant vat of hot soup on them and alerted Geneva’s guards, preventing the city from being taken over.
The legend is celebrated with extravagant parades throughout the streets, with local people dressed in period costumes. At this time of year, you’ll also see “marmites” on sale in various shops. These chocolate pots are filled with marzipan vegetables in honor of Catherine Cheynel’s soup pot!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Geneva. What’s your favorite thing to do in Geneva?
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