You’ll quickly learn that Geneva is a rather small city, and it’s super easy to get around. Basically, the city revolves around Gare Cornavin – nearly every bus stops there, allowing you to get to all of Geneva’s neighborhoods and surrounding communities very quickly. Here’s a brief description of some of the most popular neighborhoods in the city.
- Pâquis – the main center of Geneva, home of some of the best restaurants as well as Geneva’s red light district.
- Eaux-Vives – aside from Pâquis, it’s one of the livelier areas of the city. This neighborhood has some of the best bars and restaurants in Geneva.
- Jonction – a really cool spot where the Arve and Rhône rivers meet.
- Old Town – Geneva’s historic area with medieval charm, featuring the old city wall, the cathedral, and the longest bench in the world in La Treille Park.
- Plainpalais – location of most of the University of Geneva, it’s the center of Geneva Saturday nights, with lots of great bars and restaurants.
- Carouge – a bit farther away from downtown, Carouge has a unique charm. And unlike Geneva’s quiet Sundays, Carouge is bustling with an outdoor market and popular restaurants serving up buffet-style brunch.
Here are a few must-see things in Geneva and also just a few which will help you get familiar with the city a bit.
- Pointe de la Jonction – really cool spot where the Arve and Rhône rivers come together. The two have very differently colored water, and it creates a really cool effect when they meet.
- St. Pierre Cathedral – almost 1,000 years old, this former Roman Catholic cathedral became the home church of John Calvin during the Protestant Reformation. Climb the 157 steps for an incredible view of the city. After you leave there, walk through the Old Town and head down to the Reformation Wall in Parc des Bastions.
- Broken Chair – located in front of the UN campus in Geneva, this 39-foot high chair was installed as a symbol of land mine opposition.
- L’horloge fleurie (the flower clock) – one of the more popular places in Geneva for tourists to take a selfie, the face of this clock is made of thousands of flowers and plants.
- Jet d’Eau – pumping out 500 liters per second, this fountain has been doing its thing for over 125 years, though it is turned off occasionally.
- Parc La Grange – home to a large rose garden and the Ella Fitzgerald Scene, this large park is a popular hangout all summer long.
- Parc de La Perle du Lac – gigantic park on rive droite, you’ll find excellent views of the Mont Blanc when the sky is clear and free nighttime outdoor movies during the summer.
- Cologny Spot La Capite – one of the best places to find an amazing view of the city and mountains. Take a blanket and a bottle of wine with you, and just take it all in.
- Plaine de Plainpalais – large open area often used for hosting tented events like Cirque du Soleil and an actual circus, it’s also home to a flea market every Wednesday and Saturday.
If you’re planning to see a variety of sites within a few days, consider paying for the Geneva Pass, which gets you free access to more than 30 attractions as well as free transportation within Geneva. A 24-hour pass is 26 CHF, and it’s significantly discounted for 48 hours and 72 hours.
Outdoor alcohol consumption
Unlike many other places, it’s perfectly fine to drink alcohol in public places throughout Switzerland. Taking a bottle of wine or some beers with you to a park is not only okay, it’s absolutely the norm.
What you won’t see frequently is someone just casually drinking a beer on a Geneva bus or while walking down the street. That said, it’s probably something you will see, but it’s just not that common. I once sat next to a woman on a bus drinking a beer with one hand and rolling a joint with another, so it’s not exactly unheard of.
You’ll regularly smell marijuana as you walk around Geneva, and you’ll see cannabis products – including teas, coffees, and chocolates – and stores throughout the city. It does have a very low THC level, so it won’t get you high, but these products are legal here.
- International Geneva Motor Show – the largest international car show in Europe, held every year in March. Started in 1905, you’ll find all of the newest innovations here.
- Caves Ouvertes – held every May throughout the Geneva canton, the area wineries open their doors on one Saturday for tastings. You’ll pay CHF 10 for a wine glass, and then you can travel throughout the beautiful region all day for unlimited samplings of the varied local wines. Many people flock to Satigny, an easy 10-minute train ride from Cornavin, which presents a walkable tour of dozens of wineries.
- Fête de la Tomate – yes, it’s a festival for the tomato, held each July. Come out to shop for local products, attend free cooking classes, and choose from an assortment of food trucks.
- Nuit des Musees – 24 of Geneva’s museums open their doors for a special after-hours event one Saturday in May. A 10-franc ticket gets you unlimited access that night, free public transportation, and access to an after party that lasts until 6am.
- Musiques en été – come over to Park la Grange’s Ella Fitzgerald Stage in July and August for an assortment of free, live concerts. Bring wine, cheese, and dried meats, and make a great Swiss picnic out of it! (A few of the events in the program are held at the Salle de l’Alhambra, and those are not free.)
- Cinetransat – easily one of the coolest things to do in the summer, Parc de La Perle du Lac plays host to outdoor movie showings throughout July and August. Check the schedule, and show up early to setup your blanket and picnic. (Click on the movie to find out what language it’s showing in. “Langue: Anglais, sous-titres français” means it’s shown in English with French subtitles.)
- Swiss National Day – each August 1, make your way to Parc La Grange to learn more about Swiss culture and music, eat some great Swiss food, witness the traditional bonfire and candlelight procession, and see a decent firework show.
- The Grand Fireworks – one Saturday in August, Geneva plays host to a firework show like you’ve never seen before at a cost of over half a million francs. Find a place to watch anywhere along Lake Geneva, and it’ll be a night you’ll never forget.
- Library in English Book Sales – The Library in English, located in Pâquis, conducts a book sale two times per year. You’ll find a great assortment of fiction and non-fiction books, and you must pay in cash.
- L’Escalade – Each December, this celebration marks the defense of Geneva in 1602 in which a Geneva woman poured hot soup on the attackers as they climbed the city wall. You’ll see elaborate chocolate cauldrons in stores everywhere this time of year, and a procession of Geneva’s oldest families is held.
- Gruyère – head over to the city of Gruyère and enjoy a tour of La Maison du Gruyère for CHF 7 (adult ticket) to learn all you ever wanted to know about this famous Swiss cheese bearing the city’s name. There’s also a restaurant onsite, serving – you guessed it – many items featuring their cheese.
- Maison Caillier – After you’ve had your fill of cheese in Gruyère, head over to learn about Caillier chocolate at their factory. It’s a super-fast trip by car, but about 40 minutes by bus. Factory tour tickets are CHF 15, and include unlimited chocolate eating in the very last room of the tour. (Tip: you’ll get chocolate throughout the tour, but be sure to save your appetite for the end!)
- The Salève – if you don’t want to hike it, take the Telepherique du Salève up Mont Salève (you can get a discount for having a TPG annual pass, and be sure to book a return if you’re coming back down on it). Once at the top, make your way over to L’Observatoire for a famously delicious burger (reservations recommended).
Being LGBTQ in Geneva
In general, my experiences of being a gay man in Geneva have been rather positive. Telling a Swiss person that I have a husband has never been an issue, except for the one older gentleman who was trying to help me with my atrocious French and simply thought I misspoke. When I reaffirmed that I did intend to say “mon mari”, he laughed and apologized, and we moved on with our conversation.
There is one thing that happened that you should be aware of. During my first time leaving Switzerland with my husband, he and I both walked up together to the border control official, just as the husband and wife did before us. (I’ve been scolded in the UK for not walking up with my husband, so I just assumed that’s what I needed to do.) The official asked my husband, “Is he your baby?,” wondering sarcastically if I was next to him because I was his child. Thus, perhaps it’s best not to walk up to the immigration official together.
Otherwise, the Swiss seem to be very nonchalant about the whole issue.
Learn more about LGBTQ news, events, groups, and more on the French-language Swiss LGBT magazine website, 360°.
Geneva winters are pretty calm and roughly the same each day. It rarely stays below freezing vary long and is quite bearable. It will snow in the city a few times, but if it sticks, it will usually melt within a few hours or days.
Summers are usually pretty mild, though there are some really warm days throughout July and August, making those air conditioners and fans a must-have.
Unlike in other places, weather prediction in Geneva is an absolute joke. A few days out, you’ll see five days in a row of thunderstorms – those days will often turn out to be beautiful. The weather app will say the high today will be 30 degrees, but by 3pm, it’ll update to say the high is actually just going to be 27 degrees. You truly never know what will happen today, much less days in advance. Just prepare for everything.