LG Guide to Geneva, SwitzerlandCity Travel, Switzerland — By Mary on April 5, 2012 at 9:26 am
Located within the shadows of the Jura Mountains and at the junction of the Arve and Rhône Rivers lies Switzerland’s second-most populous city, Geneva. Housing the headquarters for the International Red Cross and several United Nations agencies, it’s one of the most ethnically diverse cities in Europe. You’re just as likely to hear English, Portuguese or Arabic spoken while waiting for a bus or train at Gare de Cornavin, as you are to hear the local dialect of French.
Geneva serves as the gateway to skiing in the Alps, and is only a few hours away by train from Paris and Milan. As one of the most “international” cities in the world, it’s also among the most expensive. But with careful planning, one can indulge in all the city has to offer on a shoestring budget.
Things to Do
Seated at the highest point in Old Town, the Cathédrale St-Pierre was built in the 13th Century. Originally a Catholic Church, it played a significant role in the Protestant Reformation and now is a part of the Swiss Reformed Church. Admission to the cathedral is free and there are occasional free live organ concerts too. An audio tour of the archaeological site below the cathedral tells the history of this site as a religious space since 100 B.C. The site is open throughout the year and admission is 8 CHF.
Just across the border in France is Mont Salève, where Dr. Frankenstein’s creature hid out in Mary Shelley’s famous 19th century novel. Hike to the top of the 1,379 meter (4,524 feet) mountain or take the cable car for 10,80 € (7,50 € for people under 25 and students). From Geneva, take the No. 8 bus toward Veyrier-Douane and don’t forget to bring your passport.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum is considered to be one of the best museums in Europe. Photographs, videos and interactive exhibits depict the history of the Red Cross movement, and its current work in responding to wars and natural disasters. (Note the museum is closed until 2013 for renovations.)
Other museums in Geneva worth a visit include the International Museum of the Reformation, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Maison Tavel and the Patek Philippe Museum. Admission to most museums is free the first Sunday of each month.
Soak up some sun at Parc des Bastions, just south of Old Town. Play a game on the giant chessboard, check out the famous statue of “The Reformers” who changed the history of religion, or connect to free WiFi, which is accessible throughout the park.
If you’re under 25 and planning to travel by train throughout Switzerland, it’s well worth it to invest in a Track 7 Fare Card available at any train station. For 294 CHF, you can get a combined Track 7 and Half-Fare card, entitling you to free travel between the hours of 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. and half-price travel the rest of the time. Ground transportation within Switzerland can be expensive, and if you’re planning to take more than 2 train trips you’ll save big.
Two hours east of Geneva is the medieval town of Gruyères, home of the cheese of the same name. Visit a 13th century castle and sample cheeses at La Maison du Gruyère. Science fiction buffs should visit the HG Giger Museum (creator of the villainous characters in the Alien and Species franchises) and have a drink with aliens in the adjoining bar. For dessert, head to the Maison Cailler, a chocolate factory run by Nestlé, where unlimited chocolate samples abound.
Famous for its two week-long Jazz Festival each summer (where you’re just as likely to hear rock and p
op music), Montreux is only an hour by train from Geneva. Montreux’s Château de Chillon, among the most-photographed castles in the world, is complete with creepy dungeon and moat.
A picturesque medieval town located in the French Alps, Annecy is an hour by bus from Geneva. Wander along canals in this “Venice of France,” shop in the boutiques, sample unique flavors of gelato in one of the numerous ice cream parlors, or sunbathe on the shores of Lac Annecy. Each June the town hosts an international animated film festival.
Kebab shops are plenty on the streets surrounding Gare de Cornavin and in Plainpalais, and one can get a filling sandwich for under 10 CHF. Bakeries are also numerous throughout the city, and a typical croissant or pain au chocolat will cost you 2 or 3 CHF. In the summer, opt for gelato, especially around the Paquis and Old Town neighborhoods. In the fall and winter months, you can buy marrons chauds, toasted hazelnuts, from a number of stands across town.
With its upside-down golden arches, Mike Wong’s features fast-food Asian specialties. Typical meals average around 15 CHF, but you can order pork fried rice from the “Economy” menu for only 4,50 CHF. There are two locations in Geneva – one on Boulevard James de Fazy near Gare de Cornavin and a second location on Rue du Conseil-Géneral opposite Parc des Bastions.
The Buvettes des Bains specializes in fondue from September to March and salads and plat du jour (blue plate special) the rest of the year.
Every Saturday morning throughout the year the Ferney-Voltaire Farmer’s Market is held in nearby France. Purchase fresh cheeses, pastas, meats and melt-in-your-mouth full cream yogurt. Take the F bus from Gare de Cornavin.
While nightlife in Geneva pales in comparison to most other European cities (think 2 AM curfew at most bars), there are a few places that are full of character.
The Alhambar at 10 rue de la Rôtisserie in Old Town is a swank cocktail lounge, often with a DJ. Their Sunday brunch with music is also great.
Once the bars close in Geneva, head across the Arve River to the town of Carouge. Stop in at Le Chat Noir on Rue Vautier for a drink and some live music.
For dancing in Geneva, check out La SIP in Plainpalais or Le Zoo at L’Usine on Place des Volontaires. Both are open until 5 AM on the weekends.
Among the many high-end hotels in town, a few budget accommodations may be found.
The Geneva Youth Hostel meets the Swiss high standards for cleanliness, but is notoriously loud. Accommodation is from 32 CHF per night including breakfast.
If you’re planning to be in Geneva for more than a few weeks, Foyer L’Accueil provides decent accommodation for about 500 CHF per month, including a daily breakfast. However, this Catholic-run residence for young women follows a strict “no boys above the ground floor” policy.
The quaint Hôtel de Genève, a three minute walk from Gare de Cornavin, is a two-star hotel with rooms from 100 CHF per night including breakfast.
A former intern with an international organization in Geneva, Becky A. Johnson is now a freelance writer and global health consultant based in Las Vegas.
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