A Generous Guide to Geneva
Free Rides for Everyone
Although Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in the world, the journey from the airport to the city centre costs nothing! We were absolutely confused and spent quite some time staring at people by the ticket machine… But it really works! Approach the machine, take a ticket and hop on! Plus, each guest of the city who has booked a stay at a hotel or a hostel (unfortunately, Airbnb is not part of the offer) gets a card granting them the right to use Geneva’s public transport without paying a dime, so leave your wallet in the bag for now.
Stroll through Old Town
As much as you’d like to see the main symbol of Geneva the sooner, the better, hold your horses and start looking around the minute you exit the airport. We suggest taking bus No. 5 or No. 10 that weaves through the historical city centre: you’ll kill two birds with one stone – get to the hotel and enjoy a short city tour, courtesy of Geneva. Once you’ve unpacked, it’s time to hit the streets! Take a stroll through the old town, pop by the famous St. Peter’s Cathedral (which features a marvellous city panorama if you climb to the top), take a peek at the Old Arsenal and the Town Hall, get a coffee to-go at a cafe and just stay in the moment on one of the longest benches in Europe that faces the historical Bastions Park.
The Bastions Park accommodates one of the most prominent symbols of Geneva – the Wall of Reformation (Mur de la Reformation), which commemorates the protestant reformation. The view is truly inspiring, and despite the monument’s historical significance, locals have picnics and hold yoga classes right by it. If you walk ahead for a bit and find chess intriguing, you’ll appreciate the life-size chess boards available for anyone to use. During daytime, kids play with the figures, but in the evening the local chess stars and veterans shine on this stage. We did not take part in any game, but were rooting for one player who looked like a potential winner.
Snap a Pic of Geneva’s Pride
Jet d’Eau is one of the strongest associations for most with this city. Who would have thought that this water-giant-turned-city-symbol was actually a safety valve for the pipes supplying pressurised water to factories in the 18th century? While the Eiffel Tower in Paris became the main attraction of France, Geneva did not have a landmark of such grandeur. City authorities solved it pretty quickly as they saw untapped potential in this water plume. Nowadays, this impressive fountain shoots water up to 140 m high, which is comparable to the height of a 46-storey house. So if you’re lost in the city, let the jet stream be your guide – it is visible from almost every alley of the old town.
We recommend going for a stroll or riding a bike by the Jet d’Eau and hosting a brunch for the local swans swarming at the river bank – their numbers match up to pigeons in Venice. These birds will appreciate your generosity and pose for an Instagram shot for sure.
By the way, drinking water is another expense you can forget about in Geneva. When you’re out an about, just make sure to have an empty bottle on hand to fill up with clean water that’s available everywhere.
Climb the Closest Peak
If you’re staying at an Airbnb apartment that lacks a balcony with a city view, rush to one ASAP! Wherever in the city centre you find yourself, mountains dominate the background. One of those peaks is a real treat for hiking enthusiasts and adrenalin junkies – Mont Salève, also known as the “Balcony of Geneva”. Technically, it’s in France, but you won’t even notice having crossed the border. Although there’s a checkpoint, border control only concerns those travelling by car.
We stocked up on snacks for our first-ever picnic in the mountains and hit the road. From the central station, take bus No. 8 to the last stop (Veyrier, douane); once you’re there, road signs and a stream of people with cameras or huge backpacks will lead the way. There are two ways of getting to the top. Whichever you choose, the views along the way will be etched in your memory forever. The first option is hiking the steep ascent to the summit, which takes about three hours (ladies, leave your stilettos at home for this). Option No. 2 is taking the funicular – just remember you’re in France now so the Swiss franc will be no good here – euros only, please. We managed to skip this bit of information, and had no use for the piles of francs in our pockets.
The view up there is almost impossible to put in words… Geneva looks so tiny, so green and cosy from above. On the other side, Mont Blanc stands proud: not the fancy ballpoint pen shop, but the highest peak of the Alps. Enjoy the view by having a picnic or a glass of wine at the local restaurant. As cheesy as it may sound, it simply must be seen and experienced! The last funicular leaves at 7 PM, so missing it will mean taking a long walk downhill.
Watch out for Watches
To those of you who have never been to the birthplace of the watch, Geneva, a four-storey museum might seem a bit excessive, given the fact that the city abounds with watch shops. The locals would strongly disagree… In the heart of the city, posters with the historical image of the watch and the name of Patek Philippe are simply everywhere, promoting the central watch museum in the city, so missing this spot will be no easy feat.
To be honest, we entered this kingdom quite unconvinced that something could blow our minds. Oh, how naïve we were… Each floor is devoted to a specific era, and you really immerse yourself in time, where every detail matters. The second floor and upwards hold the full Patek Philippe watch collection, and one of the gems is the very first wristwatch, dating back to 1868. The list of Patek Philippe clients includes such historical figures as Tolstoy, Queen Victoria, Tchaikovsky, Wagner and Kipling. Nowadays, each customer is interviewed before the transaction to make sure the watch is being purchased for personal use, not for reselling. Therefore, if you’ve managed to get hold of a real Patek Philippe watch, consider yourself to be in the world’s special people club.
NB: It is strictly forbidden to use any photo or video equipment on museum grounds, so you’ll have to lock the visit in your memory.
Contemporary Art at MAMCO
If history lulls you to sleep, try a contemporary art museum to invigorate your mind. The paintings of Geneva’s contemporary painters are exhibited in an old physics laboratory so the MAMCO Museum could be called a huge artistic experiment.
Oh, and if you’re curious about the end of the world, you’ll find the answer here! One of the objects is a timer that shows the time left until the Sun explodes. At the moment it looks like there’s no need to panic, for it shows five minutes short of five billion years. Here’s a paradox – the timer runs on solar energy. There’s a bunch of other galleries and cafes nearby, which is quite handy as you’ll be in the mood for more emotions and philosophical musings after the MAMCO visit.
A Midday Swim
It’s a hackneyed phrase, but it really is a sin to go to Geneva without trying the traditional cheese fondue. The Swiss fondue is about as important as the English afternoon tea, a ritual honoured and observed for hundreds of years. We were unable to resist our grumbling tummies, traditions, a great location and an unforgettable view, available to each La Buvette des Bains guest. It’s the spot locals use to meet up for first dates and weekend get-togethers. This place will adjust to your plans any time of the day: breakfast, lunch or dinner. We arrived at six and in addition to the huge vegetarian fondue pot that turned out to be reasonably priced in comparison with other eateries in the centre, had great company – sparrows and swans. If you’re in Geneva, this place is simply a must. A weird fact: even though there are tons of cafes and restaurants, having a cup of coffee after 3 or 4 pm might turn out to be a challenge as the work day ends for all Genevians at this hour.
Incidentally, this restaurant is situated in Les Bains des Pâquis – a favourite place among locals that becomes a public beach when the weather is right. We were not so lucky, but if it is too hot for walking all day when you’re here, throw a bikini in the bag and come here to cool off by swimming a couple of laps or getting a tan with a wine glass in hand.
Into the Green
After a delicious lunch to recharge our batteries, we decided to stride along the Quai W. Wilson Boulevard and drink in the green Geneva scenery. There are more than twenty parks! Jardin Botanique, the botanical garden, boasts the most luscious greenery. This is a spot that clerks flock to during lunch breaks, and tourists like us, too. A pleasant surprise – there’s no entrance fee.
A huge park, greenhouses packed with exotic plants… Each plant is labelled, so it is a truly educational visit. It was hard to believe we were in central Geneva; it turns out there is no need to leave the city limits to become one with nature, they have thought of everything.
By the way, some of the most important political decisions are made nearby – in the United Nations building. Everyone who’s ready to pay up can visit this momentous place, but if you’re short on time, get a photo of the famous flag alley where 193 flags of the “peace loving” member states, sorted alphabetically, fly in the air.
Visit the Neighbours
A trip to Geneva does not end with Geneva! It’ll just add fuel to your desire to travel, and several French and Italian regions, like Lyon, Évian or Turin, are easy to reach from the central station. If you’re a fan of Évian water, Évian-les-Bains is just a couple of hours away. You can not only get bottled Alpine flavours there but follow the process of how the water gets from the spring to the bottle on a guided tour or have a heavenly relaxing experience at one of the local spas.
Prepared specially for airBalticBlog by airBaltic Social Media Team.