The home of the Red Cross and one of the UN's global headquarters, Geneva is a great place to sample Swiss culture, from dipping toasted bread into a bubbling pot of melted fondue to touring the city's many chocolatiers or shopping for luxury watches at world-famous brands like Patek Philippe.
It has a beautiful old city, which was one of the birthplaces of the Protestant Reformation. You can visit the home of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, walk hand in hand through the Jardin Anglais, or take boat trips on Lake Geneva. And, when the snows come, ski resorts like Chamonix are a short drive away.
Whether you are a history fan, a foodie, or an outdoor lover, Geneva is simply a wonderful vacation destination.
Geneva is one of the world's great watch-producing centers, and is home to luxury brands like Patek Philippe, Breguet, and Rolex. But the city is almost as famous for its jewelers, with elite boutiques like Bucherer and Chopard offering dazzling gemstones and gorgeous goldwork.
Geneva is situated on a lake of the same name, and the two are really inseparable. The Jet d'Eau (a massive fountain rising from the lake) is an icon of the city, while you can take lake tours and soak up stunning views of the Alps.
Geneva has one of Europe's best preserved old city centers, having escaped damage in both World Wars, and the "Vieille Ville" is full of winding cobbled streets, historic landmarks like St. Peter's Cathedral, or the 12th-century Maison Tavel.
Tuck into a freshly melted cauldron of fondue at Café du Soleil or potato rosti at Café du Bourg-de-Four before exploring the creations of chocolatiers like Auer.
Geneva is a great base for vacations that mix urban attractions with alpine skiing. You can visit galleries like the Centre d'Art Contemporain on one day and be in nearby resorts like Les Gets or Chamonix the day after.
The lake shore bursts alive into a beautiful water jet stream: this is Geneva in one picture, with the English Gardens offering a lush backdrop. On the other bank of "Lac Léman", Bains de Paquis are the social hub of the city, with endless sunbathing and fondue-eating opportunities. Nearby, Belle-Epoque paddle steamers are ready to take you eastwards on the lake, for day trips to Yvoire, Montreux or Chillon Castle.
Place du Bourg-de-Four are at the core of Geneva's well-preserved Old Town. It is a lively starting point for the exploration of gems like St. Peter's Cathedral and the medieval Tavel House, which offer deep insights into the city's history. Such attractions are complemented by countless antique shops and restaurants. Bastions Park and its great Reformation Wall monument provides a lovely resting point.
Across the border into France is Geneva's own personal hill, Mont Salève. Also known as "Geneva's Balcony", this small mountain can be reached with a hike or by cable car, offering incredible views over the lake. For those seeking more intense hiking and skiing experiences, Mont Blanc and the Alps await a meager away from Geneva.
This grand building is the heart of international Geneva and home, of course, to the European headquarters of the United Nations. The entire complex is a masterpiece of neoclassical 20th-century architecture, and nearly as vast as the world famous Versailles. It sits in a lovely park, with views of the Alps in the distance. Tours of the Palace offer many sights, from modern art to political staging grounds.
For a change of pace from the high-end streets of Geneva, Carouge delivers a cosy, classical alternative just across the Arve river. The small town boasts a cultural mix of Swiss, French and Italian goodness. These streets are filled with cafés, boutique shops, antique galleries and alleys, delightful in and of themselves.
Geneva is a year-round destination. The lake is at its most appealing in summer, although if you want to book cruises or boats for your party, you'll be competing with hordes of vacationers. Try May or June for excellent sightseeing conditions and thinner crowds. If you'd like to ski, February and March can bring decent snow conditions and lower prices. Mid to late summer is another good time to go thanks to the Lake Geneva Jaycees Venetian Festival in early August, which offers food, fireworks, and great nightlife.
Geneva Airport (GVA) has flight connections to a wide range of North American destinations. Even better, when tourists touch down, they qualify for a free public transportation ticket (from the machines at baggage reclaim), so don't miss out. Both buses and trains leave regularly for the city center, which is about 2.5 miles away. Taxis are also an option, and cost around CHF30.
Geneva's Gare Cornavin has direct connections to major French, Italian, and German cities, and by extension destinations all over Europe. Buses and trams stop right outside the station, which is centrally located, so finding your hotel won't be hard.
Those coming from Milan can take the A4 Autostrada, then switch to the E25, which becomes the A40 when it crosses the Swiss border. If you are coming from Paris take the A6 to Macon, then the A40 to Geneva. From Bern, just take Swiss route 1 straight into Geneva. Be aware that anyone coming from the French side needs to purchase an annual "vignette" for CHF40 before they can enter.
Geneva has excellent bus connections to cities in Switzerland and neighboring countries, with Flixbus and Eurolines running services from Paris, Ouibus linking the city with Milan, and the regional TPG bus service connecting Geneva with cities on the French side of the border.
If you are looking for an upscale luxury hotel in the Vieille Ville, the Hôtel Les Armures will have everything you need, but other central options worth considering include the much cheaper Hôtel Central and the ultra-modern Hôtel de la Cigogne. Places near the lakefront include the Hôtel Métropole Genève, which is opposite the Jardin Anglais, and the efficient Eastwest Hôtel, north of the Rhone.
Vielle Ville - Geneva's old town is full of historical attractions and charming cobbled streets. There are great shopping opportunities near the Place du Bourg-de-Four, atmospheric bars like La Clémence, and St. Peter's Cathedral, where John Calvin helped to kick-start the Reformation.
Plainpalais - named after a rhombus-shaped park in the area, Plainpalais is a buzzing district just south of the old city. It's the place to come to hunt for bargains when the famous flea market is running (Saturdays and Wednesdays), and some of Geneva's best bars and clubs can be found on Rue de l'École-de-Médecine.
Eaux-Vives - making up most of eastern Geneva, Eaux-Vives has good access to the lakefront where you'll find plenty of restaurants with stunning views. It's the most relaxing place to stay in Geneva, with green spaces like the Jardin Anglais, which has a unique flower clock that changes naturally with the seasons.
One of the great things about staying in Geneva is that the city has created a scheme that provides free public transportation to all hotel and hostel guests. Ask at your hotel for your free TPG card, which is valid on buses and trams. Alternatively, single fares are CHF2 and day passes on all forms of transport cost CHF8. And, in the summer, Genèveroule provide bikes free of charge if you present your passport, a very handy and healthy way to see the city.
Taxis in Geneva are notoriously expensive, so it's probably better to use public transportation or rent a car. If you do need a taxi, expect to pay at least CHF6 per mile. Uber is also present in the city, and charge CHF3 for the meter drop, then around CHF2.80 per mile.
Seeing the alpine valleys and the lakes around Geneva is much easier when you have a car, and local rental outlets include Sixt, Hertz, and Thrifty. Rates can be as cheap as CHF22 per day, so it's generally far cheaper than getting around by taxi.
Geneva is a legendary luxury shopping destination. For watches, check out Patek Philippe on the Rue du Rhone or Swatch on the Rue du Mont-Blanc. The old town is the place to head for chocolatiers like Auer or Christian Constant, while the Plainpalais Flea Market is a great place to pick up bargain antiques or vintage clothing. Generally, the best shopping streets are the Rue du Rhone and the Rue du Marche, which run in parallel across the city center.
Shopping for groceries in Geneva is fairly painless thanks to supermarkets like Migros and Lidl. It's often a good idea to shop for picnic items in places like Lidl, as the cost of living is fairly high. Expect to pay CHF6 for a gallon of milk and CHF5.50 for 12 eggs.
Geneva is a gourmet food lover's paradise. If you are after an authentic Swiss fondue with a wide selection of local cheeses, Café du Soleil is the best place to book (and the English-speaking table staff really help too). If you are after an atmospheric meal, the Café Papon is over 200 years old and situated in a cellar in the Old Town, while Chez ma Cousine offers uncomplicated but delicious chicken-based meals. However, every part of town has its own favorite haunts, so be sure to explore. Dining out tends to be moderately expensive, with mains costing CHF15-20.