Geneva is full of amazing restaurants, bars, and entertainment options. Below are some tips and suggestions to help you get started exploring the unique offerings of the city.
Reflecting Geneva’s status as a true international city is the excessively international restaurant selection available here. There are so many good ones out there, but here are some of my favorites:
- Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer – if you’re looking for an American-style burger, this is your place. In fact, the chain started in Manhattan before opening a second location in Geneva, though they now have many other locations. Their burgers are excellent, but they’re best known for their insanely decorative milkshakes.
- Le Gobelet d’Argent – my favorite little neighborhood bar and restaurant, serving up some amazing hamburgers and fries.
- Luigia – two locations to choose from in Geneva and offering up some amazing Italian food. Get there early – they don’t offer reservations, and it fills up quickly. Tip: study the menu before going; it’s gigantic.
- Café du Soleil – Best known for their fondue, but also a great place to try malakoffs.
- Eat Me Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge – super cool restaurant concept, offering tapas from around the world, divided by continent in the menu.
- Taquería Los Cuñados – best Mexican food in Geneva
- Bistrot du Bœuf Rouge – The steaks are outrageously delicious.
- Chez ma Cousine – several locations to choose from, it’s known affectionately by many here as “the chicken place.” The half chicken with fries, salad, and sauce cousine is my go-to.
- Jame’s Pub – serving up some great Thai food and all-night karaoke. If you want to sing, get there early. They don’t limit signups to one per person, so it’s entirely possible that the first singer is going to do 10 songs in a row.
- La Buvette des Bains – located on the Bains des Pâquis peninsula, the restaurant serves some of the best fondue in Geneva, though not during the summer. They also have great, affordable daily specials. Cash only.
Note: Many restaurants close during the month of August for a long summer vacation.
There’s this odd thing that happens when you walk in a restaurant in Geneva without a reservation. The entire place could be empty, and when you say you don’t have one, they look around as if there’s nothing they can do for you. Eventually they come back, and say something like, “Okay, you can have this table, but you have to leave within three hours.” I’m slightly exaggerating, but not really.
Many restaurants allow you to make reservations on their websites or via text messaging, though there are still a number of them that only accept reservations by phone. While you can usually make a reservation in English, that isn’t always the case. There’s also an app for making reservations, La Fourchette (French), but you can download the English version called “The Fork”. They have a point system similar to OpenTable, but don’t expect to be able to use the points for restaurants you’d normally visit.
Do know that until you ask for the bill, your server will not bring it to you. Service in Geneva restaurants isn’t quite what you come to expect in the U.S., but it’s just different – they’re trying to let you have your space and enjoy your meal. You’ll need to flag your server down to ask for the bill (“l’addition”). They’ll return with the bill, and you’ll need to let them know you’re paying with a credit card, which most restaurants take. Then they’ll return with the credit card machine. They’ll generally pass it to you at some point so you can confirm the amount, and you might need to enter your PIN. If your dinner companions need to pay separately, they’ll usually accommodate – just tell them how much to charge on each card.
There’s generally no need to tip in Geneva – people are actually paid a living wage here, and they don’t rely on tipping like in other places. In fact, if you’re paying by card, you’ll very rarely have an opportunity to add a tip to your card. But if you had truly excellent service, consider leaving a few francs to say thanks. If you’re paying with cash, you generally round up to the nearest franc or two and let them keep the change.
I recommend signing up for the daily e-mails from BuyClub. It’s the Geneva version (in English) of Groupon (well, the original Groupon), and often has really good deals on restaurants here. Regular offers are either a discounted prix fixe meal or something like you pay CHF 59, and you get CHF 100 in credit.
Effectively, the French language doesn’t really allow for anything between rare and medium well, so be prepared for that when you order the temperature for your steak or hamburger. The Swiss and French are really big on their raw meats, generally, like beef tartare, so it’s no surprise that they have two temperatures that are less done than rare! Here’s the language you need:
- Bleu – they cook the meat one minute on each side at a very hot temperature, searing it on both sides, but leaving the middle uncooked and cold.
- Saignant – cooked slightly longer than bleu, but still very rare.
- A point – likely to get you something similar to a rare or medium rare in the U.S., but don’t be surprised if part of it is very uncooked. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it, though. Oh, and if you’re speaking English with your server, and you ask for “medium”, this is what you’re going to get.
- Bien cuit – means “well cooked”, it’s basically going to be medium well.
- Tres bien cuit – means “very well cooked”, so it’ll be well done or beyond.
When ordering by the glass, most restaurants are going to serve you 100ml, which is a significantly smaller pour than the 150ml or so you’re used to in the States. That said, a glass of wine is often cheaper than a soda, so why not?!?
Lastly, if you’re like me, I always get nervous being the person to taste the first pour from a new bottle of wine. While in the U.S. you can just say there’s no need, that’s not an option here as the server will launch into a lecture about how you should always taste it. Just do it.
There’s a lot to know about how the Swiss do fondue, but here are two quick tips to know in advance: (1) your server is likely to discourage you from drinking anything besides a Chasselas white wine while eating fondue because of how other liquids interact with the cheese in your stomach, and (2) depending on the weather, you may have to sit inside to eat fondue because of the flame.
Oh, and once you’re down to the bottom of the fondue pot, your server will likely to scrape the crusty cheese off of the bottom and serve it to you on a plate. Save room for it – it’s likely to be the very best part of the whole experience.
Depending on where you go, you’ll receive different things to dip in the fondue. You’ll always be given bread for it, but you’ll receive little potatoes at other places. And sometimes it’ll come with pearl onions and pickles – not for dipping, but just for a little contrast.
Lastly – and I speak from experience here, don’t overdo it on the cheese. You may just regret it later.
American Fast Food
If you’re a junk food eater like me, Geneva is going to be a bit of a disappointment. While there are some fast food restaurants you’ll be familiar with, the pricing is not going to be. You can generally expect to spend at least CHF 15 when eating fast food in Geneva, though there are cheaper options.
- McDonald’s – be sure to download the McDonald’s app, as it gives you access to lots of coupons that you can use in-store by scanning a QR code when placing your order. Without them, though, the “Big Bang Menu” items are the best way to go. Oh, and with the app, you get a free coffee on the first Monday of each month.
- Burger King – They also have a great app, which gives you access to coupons. They also mail out even better coupons every few months, so look for those in your mailbox. With their coupons, you just enter a 3-4 digit code, and you can keep reusing them until they expire.
- KFC – there’s no app, and it’s pretty pricey. When you go in, be sure to look for any deals on the signs out front. That’s usually your cheapest option.
- Five Guys – by far the most expensive fast food in Geneva (regular hamburger is CHF 15.90), but it’s exactly as you remember it in the U.S.
- Subway – like in the U.S., they offer daily specials on specific sandwiches/combos.
- Domino’s Pizza – If you create an account with them or like them on Facebook, they’ll send regular coupons like 30-50% off your next order. They have a great special on Tuesday. Also, they do a quarterly deal that amounts to one of the best food deals in Geneva like CHF 5 for a 1-topping pizza.
One note about a translation issue here, in French, the word for “menu” is typically “carte,” which usually translates to “card”. You’ll see the French word “menu” all of the time, but it’s generally referring to a meal deal. So for example, a combination of a burger, fries, and a drink at a fast food restaurant is going to be called a menu.
McDonald’s and Burger King both offer touch screen ordering. McDonald’s now offers food delivery to your table via a number you pick up. Burger King and KFC are going to call out your order number (in French), but it will also flash on the screen.
Swiss Fast Food
There’s a lot of great local fast food that you should definitely check out if you’re the kind to enjoy it like myself. Here are some of the best:
- DAJE! In pizza we crust – serving amazing pizza by the slice
- Mikado – takeaway sushi
- Taco Rico – best burritos in Geneva
- Bao Canteen – Taiwanese bao and bubble waffles
- Supreme Tacos (or basically any taco place in the city) – these aren’t Mexican-inspired tacos, but it’s basically a ton of meat, cheese, fries, and sauce crammed inside of a large tortilla. They’re amazing.
- Le Printemps Take Away Thaï (in Eaux-Vives) – several Thai dishes to choose from daily. They quickly package it up and heat it if you like.
- Chic Chicken – just good old fried chicken
There are multiple services offering restaurant delivery in Geneva, each charging about CHF 5 for delivery. The most common are Smood, Uber Eats (please use my invitation code (eats-5m1ur) and we’ll both get a CHF 15 credit!), and Eat.ch. Uber Eats often runs discounts, especially on weekends, including 2 for 1 combinations and free delivery.
Geneva has a pretty nice selection of bars, offering a variety of local and international beers, Swiss wines, and excellent (though pricey) cocktails. Here are a few of my favorites to get you started:
- L’Atelier Cocktail Club (Eaux-Vives) – really interesting space and excellent cocktails
- Au Coin Mousse (near Cornavin) – serving a large range of local beers on tap, which rotate out regularly. Look at the board, and order by the corresponding number.
- Le Verre à Monique (Plainpalais) – awesome cocktail menu. You might want to try to make a reservation beforehand.
- Black Sheep Rive (Eaux-Vives) – perhaps the largest gin bar in the city, they’re serving up some really great cocktails.
- La Comtesse, Champagne & Cocktail Bar (Eaux-Vives) – discover the champagne of the La Comtesse estate by sipping their varieties alone or in a cocktail.
- Mulligans Irish Pub (near Cornavin) – with these Irish bartenders serving up Guinness and Irish food, you’ll forget you’re even in Geneva.
Some bars offer table reservations without the need to purchase food, so if you’re going with a group, be sure to check and see if it’s an option.
If you buy a drink at a bar to take outside, or if you’re at an outdoor festival, the bar is likely to charge you a deposit for the plastic cup they give you, usually 1-2 francs. If they take credit cards, you’ll be able to charge the deposit to your card, and they’ll give you the deposit back in cash (well, coins). Just go back, and ask for “la consigne” when you’re done.
Several theatres in Geneva offer movies in English, though they’ll almost always be subtitled in both French and German, which can be a bit much. The best theatre in the city is the Pathe! at Balexert, though it’s a bit expensive at CHF 19.60. Do know that you can get a weekday discount down to CHF 16 if you have an annual TPG card – both for yourself as well as a friend. They also have a Ladies’ Night special. Like most U.S. theatres, you pay a base price and add on to it for 3D (CHF 3), IMAX (CHF 5), etc.
Also, unlike in U.S. theatres, if you’re watching 3D, you’ll need to pay CHF 3 for the glasses, but you do get to keep them. If you need them, be sure to ask for them as they don’t usually volunteer the information. You can get them at the snack counter.
In July and August, a temporary, open-air theatre is built in Eaux-Vives near the waterfront. Movies start just after sundown each night, which means they start at a different time each night and can go really late.
Watching American TV
Not that I would ever consider doing this because it violates the terms of service for all of these websites, but if you have a need to watch your American video streaming services, you won’t be able to do so in Switzerland without using a VPN. If you want to go this route, I’d suggest using PureVPN, which focuses on this very purpose. They have easy-to-install browser extensions, which apply settings for the particular website you’re wanting to watch.
As far as Netflix, you will be able to access a version of Netflix, though you won’t see the same shows and movies as in the U.S. When a new show comes out in the U.S., even if it’s a Netflix Original, it’ll likely be delayed before showing up in Switzerland.
You will be able to purchase and watch American TV shows and movies from iTunes.
First of all, do know that Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman in French) gets a significant amount of water from the melting snowcapped mountains. Thus, it’s cold, and though it does heat up a bit, it’s generally not fit for casual swimming until late June. It’s still super cold, but it can be nice after a warm day.
That said, the Genevois even organize winter swims from Pâquis to Eaux-Vives, so technically it’s swimmable year-round if you’re daring. There’s even La Coupe de Noël, an annual 120 meter race, held in December each year.
If you’re a United Nations employee, consultant, or intern, or you’re part of the broader international community (employees of international NGOs or missions), your badge gets you and your guests access to the private UN Port beach located near Jardin Botanique. It costs CHF 5 per person, including the employee, and interns get in free. Some people love it, but I really wasn’t all that impressed. If you get there early, you can claim lounge chairs in the sun or shade. The chairs recline, but because they’re placed on a hill, it’s not really that noticeable. There are nice facilities and activities, as well as a restaurant.
Oh, and by “beach”, they mean grass. Don’t expect any sand.
During the summer, it’s a super popular area for people to hang out after work and on weekends grilling and drinking, all along the riverfront. People also jump off of a nearby bridge, and they float down to wherever they are picnicking.
It’s all in the name – it’s an actual beach – with sand, and it’s super tiny. As of June 2019, it’s actually connected to the new Plage des Eaux-Vives, and you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. And it’s free.
Plage des Eaux-Vives
Having just opened in June 2019, this new beach is certain to change Geneva summers for decades to come. It significantly multiplies the amount of beach space in the city, and it’s completely free. There’s a sand area that connects to Baby Plage, though most of the “beach” is rock or concrete. It does come with a bunch of rules: no dogs, no bicycles, no music, and no grilling, though all of the rules are regularly violated.
I still haven’t been, but Genève Plage is supposed to be really nice. It’s CHF 7 for an adult entry. You can get a pack of 10 entries to save some money, and they offer an adult seasonal pass for CHF 100. Once you’re inside, you get access to multiple swimming pools, a beach, a volleyball court, ping pong tables, and more.
Bains des Pâquis
During the summer, it will cost you CHF 2 in order to access the manmade peninsula, but it will get you a full day’s access to their popular sunbathing and swimming areas on the lake. Be sure to arrive early on weekends to reserve a spot. Their restaurant serves great and affordable food and drinks all day long. An adult season pass is available for CHF 50.
The Graduate Institute regularly hosts lectures in English on a number of international-focused topics, featuring prominent speakers based in Geneva or visiting for U.N. engagements. There’s also a lengthy question and answer period at the end. You can sign up for event e-mail notifications.