8 things to do if you’re visiting Geneva for the first time…

Geneva is a cosmopolitan city whose small size contradicts its wealth and importance on the world stage. It is the center of the French-speaking part of Switzerland and a dynamic center of business and commerce. It is also home to more than 250 international organizations, including the United Nations, and also the birthplace of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The city has a beautiful lakeside setting on Lake Geneva, at the point where the Rhone River flows away towards France and a picturesque Old Town in the center. The symbol of the city is the impressive Jet d’ Eau – the tallest fountain in the world that throws water 140 meters in the air [picture at the end]. Geneva is not a typical tourist destination but it is a city that could win you over with its charm and grace.

Rue du Rhone

1. Walk and shop around the city centre : Walking and shopping in the center of Geneva is nothing but an absolute pleasure. With limited traffic, excellent public transport, great buildings and shops for all tastes, this is the place to spend an unforgettable morning. The main shopping area is Rues Basses, which includes many streets, such as Rue du Rhone and Rue de la Confederation. In Place du Mulard, you will find some of the most expensive and glamorous shops in the city for modern fashion, beautiful designer clothes and high quality jewelry. Also here are located the flagship stores of many Swiss famous brands such as Victorinox, Davidoff and Caran D ‘Arche.

Ancien Arsenal & a bistro in the Old Town

2. Explore the Old Town in the evening : Set on elevated ground on the south bank of the Rhone River, the old town stretches around the Cathedral and Place du Burg-de-Four. This atmospheric area whose main street is Grand’ Rue has scenic cobbled streets lined with historic limestone buildings, such as Hotel de Ville (the “birthplace’ of United Nations), Ancien Arsenal (the city’s old armory), Maison Tavel (the oldest house in Geneva) and Maison Rousseau (the birthplace of the famous writer and philosopher). But the Old City is even more stunning if you walk around its narrow streets early in the evening. The shops are closed but the buildings are wonderfully lit and the restaurants, bistros and cafes are atmospheric and unique.

CarougePhoto by Boris Dunand on Unsplash

3. See the city’s Italian side in Carouge : Carouge, which was a separate city (built by the King of Sardinia and Duke of Savoy in the 18th century) has a characteristic old French-Italian architecture. It is located south of the city center, behind the river Arve. Carouge is called “Little Italy” by the locals and is one of those areas that stands out immediately. In fact, Carouge’s unique architecture is an expression of its Sardinian heritage, with beautiful historic streets, well-kept houses, cozy cafes, bistros, antique shops and art studios. At the same time, the area around Rue Vautier is a very popular nightlife spot for young people. After a stroll around the streets of Carouge, you should make a stop at Valmandin (46 rue Ancienne, Carouge) for a perfectly roasted cup of coffee.

Broken Chair

4. Express yourself at Place de Nations : Place des Nations is a square in the heart of Geneva’s international district, in front of the Palais des Nations – the United Nations headquarters. The square is proposed as a space of freedom of expression whether political, religious, personal, or otherwise. It is a place where people often demonstrate their beliefs. The square itself is a work of art with granite slabs in colors that symbolize the diversity of nations and small jets of water of different heights. In the center of the square is the Broken Chair, the symbol of the campaign against landmines and cluster bombs. Just opposite is the entrance to the Parc des Nations, where you could see the flags of all the UN members waving. Many tourists come here to take selfies and it is probably the most photographed spot in the city.

Wandering the Immeasurable” sculpture at CERN

5. Learn about the future and the past of our planet at CERN : The European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, is a European research organization that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. Its main function is to provide the particle accelerators and other infrastructure required for high-energy physics research and is also the birthplace of the World Wide Web (www). Facilities at CERN open to the public include the Globe of Science and Innovation, which opened in late 2005 and is used for special exhibitions, and the Microcosm Museum on particle physics and CERN history. A visit to CERN offers you a glimpse into the mysteries of our universe, in an effort to understand the origins of our world and probably of our future.

In the streets of Nyon

6. Take a day trip to Nyon : Nyon is situated on Lake Geneva, halfway between Geneva and Lausanne, and it is famous for being the headquarters of the UEFA. Nyon has Roman origins and its name comes from the Latin word “Noviodunum”.Τhe houses and alleys of the town are picturesque and well preserved, while at the top of the hill the medieval castle dominates the horizon. It is a magnificent historical fortress with a beautiful view of Lake Geneva and the Alps. Τhe city is surrounded by the biggest wine-making area of the Lake Geneva Region. From the shores of the lake to the foot of the mountain, many different grape varieties grow here in ideal conditions. At Chez Mon Oncle (Rue de Rive 21-25, Nyon) you can enjoy a great lunch or dinner with local cuisine and wine before returning to Geneva.

Laderach store at Rue du Marche

7. Taste the best Swiss chocolate at Laderach : Switzerland is famous for its chocolate and is particularly renowned for its milk chocolate. In 1875, a Swiss confectioner, Daniel Peter, developed the first solid milk chocolate using condensed milk, which had been invented by Henri Nestle, who was his neighbour (at Vevey on the other side of the Lake). Geneva offers some great options to try perfect chocolate, such as the Du Rhone Chocolatier (Rue du Rhone 118, Geneve), but our favourite spot is the store of Laderach Chocolatier (Rue du Marche 5, Geneve) in the city center. If you love chocolate, you will stop here for the experience of all time. The quality and variety of these handmade chocolates are unmatched. The combinations of the ingredients are truly unique. No wonder it is considered by many to be the “best Swiss chocolate in the world”.

Chez Ma CousinePhoto from the official site chezmacousine.ch

8. Eat Provencal chicken at Chez Ma Cousine : Geneva has great restaurants, where you can try high quality local and international cuisine. However, our favorite place in town (and quite cheap by Swiss standards) is Chez Ma Cousine, and especially its convenient and cosy location in Place du Burg-de-Four in the center of the Old Town. The specialty here is grilled chicken Provencal style with potatoes and green salad. The chicken is perfectly roasted and the flavors of Provencal herbs flood your mouth. The recipe is a testament to the French tradition of the city and offers you an opportunity for truly homemade food. Chez Ma Cousine has three other places in the city serving its perfect recipe.

Geneva offers you a really cosmopolitan experience and a visit there is a memorable and unique experience.

Check also our previous successful “8 things to do…” guides to Lisbon, Barcelona and Copenhagen