Geneva, Switzerland is probably best known as one of the world's major centers of international diplomacy, having served as the site of the initial headquarters of the League of Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross before that. Although the United Nations is now headquartered in New York, the organization still retains a large presence in Geneva at the Palais des Nations and many of its sister/child organizations such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF have their world headquarters here.
Geneva is officially a French-speaking city, although with the large international presence English takes a close second. Spanish, Russian, amd Arabic speakers abound, and of course you will also occasionally hear Swiss German, and Italian.
Geneva was an independent republic from at least the 16th century until it became a Swiss Canton on 31 December, 1813. This is a point of some pride to the Genevois, who still refer to their Canton as the République et Canton de Genève. A favorite festival is the yearly celebration of the Escalade, which commemorates a failed attempt in 1602 by the forces of the Dukes of Savoy to invade the city by climbing and otherwise breaching the city walls. Having turned aside this invasion attempt at the cost of only 16 lives, Geneva had secured it's liberty, since the House of Savoy was never again strong enough on this side of the Alps to attempt such an invasion.
Geneva is still a very proud city. Some find it downright stuffy although there is quite a bit more life to be found if you look under the surface, especially if you speak some French.
Due as much to its location as its international status, Geneva serves as a tranportation hub for most of French speaking Switzerland, and for access to the Swiss Alps from points west.
Geneva airport is served by almost all European carriers, and by two daily trans-atlantic flights, one from New York, JFK on Swiss and one from Newark on Continental, otherwise when flying from the U.S. you will have to change planes at your airline's hub airport.
Within the last few years Geneva itself has become a hub for the low-cost carrier Easy Jet serving a number of destinations in Europe and Great Britain.
The Swiss Federal Railway serves Geneva's Gare du Cornavin with trains to most destinations in Switzerland at least once per hour, as well as to Paris via the SNCF's TGV or "High Speed Train"", or Milan by the Swiss-Italian Cisalpino (CHEEZ-al-PEEN-o). The French SNCF also has a staion in Eaux Vives which can be reached from Cornavin via the number 16 tram. This staion serves points south such as Annemasse, and Camonix - Mt. Blanc.
The motorway network brings you right into Geneva : only 40 km from Annecy and 80 km from Chamonix with customs at Bardonnex - Saint-Julien; you need the compulsory motorway sticker (single annual 40 frs fee) to come through this customs office. Purchase of the motorway tax sticker at one of the customs is obligatory in order to drive on Swiss motorways.
Geneva is served by a number of regular international bus routes (Bus station : tel. +41(0)22 732 02 30). Additionally, the TPG (Geneva Public Transport) provide regular services from Saint-Julien, Archamps, Thoiry, Ferney-Voltaire, Moillesulaz (tel. +41(0)22 308 34 34).
Regular boat service is provided, mainly in turn of the last century steamboats from ports all around Lake Geneva by CGN - Compagnie générale de navigation. All boats arrive at the Paquis port after docking briefly at Park des Eaux Vives, and the Jardin Anglais.
Geneva, like most cities in Switzerland is a marvel of public transportation efficiency. Transports Public de Genève provides frequent bus service to within a block or two of most locations in the city and canton. There is also an expanding network of super frequent trams. Many lines have their hub at the Cornavin train station, a few others at Place Bel Aire on the old-town side of the river.
Geneva is also a great town to get around in by bicycle. Except for the old-town the city is fairly flat, and though there are some streets that are dangerous to ride there is almost always a safe, fast route to your destination. If you want to know the best routes you should get a copy of the beautifully designed VELO-LOVE plan de ville which is available at all bike shops in Geneva, or by writing to: [email protected] or calling (+41) 22 418 42 00.
It probably isn't a good idea to try to do much driving in Geneva at least on your first visit, since it is quite easy to get lost at automotive speeds, and with the numerous one-way streets. If you do find yourself in Geneva with a car you can find public parking in Place de Cornavin, at the south end of the Mnt. Blanc bridge, and under Plain de Plainpalais. It's much easier to get a space at one of these large underground lots than on the street, and they are all convenient to most of the attractions listed on this page.
- Jet d'Eau, the Rade (visible from most of the Lac Léman waterfront). 10AM-11PM, May-Oct. One of the crowning symbols of Geneva is the monumental Jet d'Eau, a fountain of water pumped 140 meters into the air. The spectacular plume was once an occasional pressure release for hydro-power generation on the Rhône River, but people liked it so much that in 1891 the city created a permanent pumped fountain. It's beautifully lit at night. Best viewed from a distance -- the surrounding half a kilometer is soaked with water. Free.
- Palais des Nations., 14, avenue de la Paix (Number 8 bus, stop at Appia), +41-22-917 48 96 / 917 45 39 (Fax +41 22 917 0032, Email: [email protected]). Open every day from April to October, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m, in July and August every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, and the rest of the year from Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. (except over the Christmas period). Originally built to house the League of Nations, the Palais is worth visiting just to take in the magnificent Assembly Hall, in addition to the large collection of public art, the library, and the landscaped grounds. CHF 8.50 each for adults. (groups of 20 adults or more : 20% discount; private tour: 1-14 adults : CHF 127,50; CHF 6.50 each for students, senior citizens and disabled persons; CHF 4.00 for schoolchildren; free for children under six years old.) http://www.unog.ch/unog01/Files/011_visit/f11_main.html
- Museum of the International Committee of the Red Cross., 17, Avenue de la Paix (8, F, V, or Z bus to Appia 1.80 Chf from the central station), + 41 22 748 95 25. (Fax: +41 22 748 95 28). Every day except Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on 24, 25 and 31 December and on 1 January. Access for disabled visitors. The Museum of the I.C.R.C. is one of the best in Europe, providing detailed photographic and other physical evidence of the I.C.R.C.'s service to humanity during countless wars and natural disasters. The displays are striking and affecting, but somehow manage to avoid taking sides. 10 Chf for Adults (Children, I.C.R.C. members, the elderly and others qualify for a 5 Chf admission fee). http://www.micr.org/
- Cathédrale St-Pierre., Place St. Pierre (At the highest point in the Old Town), June:Sept Mon:Sat 9am:7pm, Sun 11am:7pm; Oct:May Mon:Sat 10am:noon & 2:5pm, Sun 11am:12.30pm & 1.30:5pm. Built in a number of Architectural styles over the course of 72 years, this cathedral once served as the guiding center of protestanism. The site has been occupied at least since the 4th century, and you can see for yourself by touring the archeological site underneath. 5 Chf (Entry to the church itself is free, of course donations are welcome).
- Musée ARIANA, Avenue de la Paix 10 (About midway between Place des Nations and the entrances to the Palais and the I.C.R.C), +41 22 418 54 50. From 11am to 5pm daily except Tuesdays. Occupying a big chunk of what would otherwise be the UN campus, the Ariana Museum offers a huge collection (16,000 pieces) of ceramics from around Europe and the far East. 8 Chf. http://karaart.com/ariana/index.html
- Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 10 (Number 1 bus to Ecole des Medécins), +41 22 320 61 22. Tuesday to Friday, noon to 6:00pm, Weekends 11:00am to 6:00pm. Late modern, post-modern, and contemporary works by internationally known artists, as well as a special collection of Swiss conceptual work. 8 Chf. http://www.mamco.ch/
- Musée d'Histoire naturelle, Route de Malagnou 1. (Bus 1-8 (arrêts Tranchées & Muséum) 20-27 (arrêt Muséum), trams 12-16 (arrêt Villereuse)), +41 22 418 63 00. Tuesday to Sunday, 9:30AM to 5:00PM. Geneva has a nice museum which is worth a visit, especially if you have youth and children. And it's free for all. http://www.ville-ge.ch/musinfo/mhng/
- Mont Salève Téléphérique Veryier France (Number 8 Bus to Veryier Duane), Just over the French Border, this high alpine ridge has a stunning view of Mt. Blanc and the Lake Geneva area and miles of walking trails. A cute little cornershop in Veryier Village (France) sells about 100 varieties of French cheeses and is open on Sundays. Don't forget your passport.
It's worth taking at least a day to explore the green places of Geneva, of which there are quite a few, not the least because some of the more interesting parts of town are between those green places. There are a number of suggested promenades for which there are maps available at the tourist office on the Ile de la Machine.
- Parc des Bastions. Entrance at Place Neuve, or just down rue St. Léger from Place Bourg de Four. This lovely tree lined park which is home to the liberal arts campus of the University of Geneva features giant chessboards and even larger statues of Geneva's Calvinist founding fathers, and it's directly between the old town and Plain de Plainpalais, so it makes a good transitional area for exploring.
- Parc des Eaux Vives. Entrance at the far end of Rue des Eaux Vives and the number 2 bus line. There´s also a boat dock, with service from the Pâquis. This park offers promenades and views over the lake of the U.N. campus and the Palais des Nations. Geneva beach is at the end furthest from the city, on the lakefront.
- Bois des Bâtie Just over the river Arve from Jonction. Most of this woodsy bluff has been left in a more-or-less natural state, though there are walking trails around the edges. The trails connect eventually with a sidewalk which crosses a railroad bridge to the St. Jean neighborhood. There is also a small zoo at the western edge of the woods.
There are several English language universities in Geneva, mostly focusing on international business and relations.
French language lessons are available as well, both through formal courses and informal arangements, but both cases can be more expensive than other French-speaking countries.
Most non-Swiss professionals working in Geneva are employed by one of the United Nations agencies or international banks. UN employees do not need a visa to live and work in Switzerland, but the jobs can be hard to find unless you are already in Geneva.
For more information on working for the UN:
UN-Employment: How to find a job with the UN.
It is also possible to find work as an au pair, a housekeeper, or at one of the many bars. You really do need to be in town to set this sort of thing up. If you want to do household work you will probably want to advertise on the bulletin boards which can be found at the entrances of most grocery stores, and at the English and American churches, and at the American Women's Club. For a bar tending job you do what you would do to get a similar job anywhere else, go talk to the manager (you should know enough French to serve drinks, obviously).
- Chocolate can be bought at any number of specality stores, but the stuff at the grocery is just as good for a fraction of the price (1-3 CHF a bar).
- Anything with a cow on it
- Clothing and accessories are usually expensive and uninteresting, unless you're really after that floor-length purple fur coat with the rinestone trim.
Geneva has a huge number of restaurants for a city its size, and the international community means there's more variety than you'll find in most Swiss cities. On the downside, Geneva is possibly the most expensive city an expensive country.
In addition to the listings below you might try Resto-ranG or RestauGuide. For info for Vegitarians check out RegVeg Geneva.
There are many budget spots are located around the train station and in the nearby Paquis district, or near rue Ecole des Médecins off of Plain de Plainpalais.
- Expresso Club, rue des Pâquis 25 (just off of Place de Navigation), (+41) 22 738 84 88. Weekdays for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner until 2:00am. A tiny bar and three tables means this little local spot is usual packed with a very international crowd of people who know where to get the best pizza, salads, and pasta dishes in town, with many vegetarian selections. Espresso club keeps the ovens going late for late working customers and it's a nice spot for a cafe and newspaper afternoon as well. 14 - 20 Chf for most menu items.
- Café Art's, rue des Pâquis 17 (+41) 22 738 07 97 Weekdays from 5:00pm until 2:00am, weekends from 11:00am until 2:00am. Limited menu of salads and pasta dishes, but all around or under 15 CHF and service is non-stop all day. 8 - 20 Chf.
- Boky, rue des Alpes 21 (also Rue Neuve du Molard 19), (+41) 78 628 16 99 6pm until midnight every day. Small Chinese restaurant around the corner from the train station. Not a culinary triumph, but 20 CHF will get you pretty far with your standard noodles, soups, and stir-frys. 14-20 Chf. http://www.boky.ch/
- Piment Vert, 4 place Grenus (the small plaza behind the Manor department store). (+41) 22 731 93 03 Indian and Sri-Lankian fast food in a charmingly appointed space. There's also a terrace during warm weather. 14-20 Chf
- Cafe de Paris, rue du Mont-Blanc 26. Vegetarians beware, this Genevois favorite serves one dish only - steak, chips, and salad. But I've been told they do it very well. http://www.cafe-de-paris.ch/
- Le Comptoir, Rue de Richemond 9. Easy-Listener-chic asian/fusion restaurant and bar sporting white leather sofas and the occasional local DJ. Not a cheap choice, but the food is unusually interesting and the crowd friendly.
- Café Universal, 26 bd du Pont-d'Arve. Friendly spot with a fantastic selection of starter plates and good main dishes with quite a few vegetarian options. Quirky decor and (mostly) helpful staff. http://www.resto-rang.ch/info.cfm?restono=459
- Café du Soleil, Place du Petit-Saconnex, +41 (0) 22 733 34 17. This ancient Petite Saconnex roadhouse claims to be possibly the oldest restaurant in Geneva and to have probably the best fondue in Switzerland. http://www.cafedusoleil.ch/
- Cafe Centre, Place Moulard. If your credit card is feeling neglected, this is a great place to give it a work out. Seafood is the specialty, though the meat and veggie dishes manage to keep up. Cafe Centre is known for its heaping three-tiered platters of assorted shellfish - everything from oysters and mussels to sea snails and periwinkles. Outdoor seating in the summer is a real pleasure, and the inside is cozy all winter.
- Cafe des Negociants, 29 rue de la Filature, Carouge. Wonderful hip restaurant with wonderful hip food and a wonderful hip wine cellar where you can wander around and choose from all the wonderful hip wine on the racks. You can guess what the desserts are like. Everyone wants a piece of this place, so plan to reserve up to a week or so in advance.
- Edelweiss Manotel, Place de la Navigation 2. This is a must if you want to taste the Swiss culture. You will get the cheese fondue, of course, but also some other local delicacies. But you get there for the show: you can hear and see folklore music and yodleur singers, as well as many other instruments. http://www.manotel.com/restos/edel_en.shtml
- Les Brasseurs, 20 Place de Cornavin (directly across from the train station), (+41) 22 731 02 06. Tuesday to Saturday until 2:00am, Sunday and Monday until midnight. One of the few brew pubs in Geneva, Les Brass serves three flavors of home brew in the usual half pints, pints, and liter glasses or you can go for one of the giant plastic tubes filled with three to five liters. A small menu of pub food and a full restaurant in the back makes it a good spot to waste an evening.. Beer: 3.40 Chf. - $7.40 Chf. http://www.les-brasseurs.ch/
- Pickwicks, 80, rue de Lausanne (Take the number 13 Tram from Cornavin toward Nations), (+41) 22/731 6797 ([[email protected]]). Wednesday to Saturday until 2:00am Sunday to Tuesday until midnight. One of the half-dozen or so British pubs. Usually full of football watching ex-pats eating fish and chips while sipping Guinness. Saturday night has low-key dancing to sometimes cheesy disco and pop music. A laid-back, friendly spot. http://www.mr-pickwick.com/
- Alhambar, 10, rue de la Rôtisserie (Enter in back off of Parc Pélisserie). (+41) 22 312 1313 ([email protected]). Monday noon until 2:00pm, Tuesday through Friday noon until 2:00pm and 6:00pm until 2:00am, Saturday 5:00pm until 2:00am, Sunday 11:00am until midnight. A swanky cocktail bar above the Alhambra Theater. Pretty people in a pretty room, usually with a DJ. A small tapas menu early in the evening and a nice brunch on weekends until 2pm. http://www.alhambar.com
- La Clémence, Place Bourg-de-Four. Open from 11:00am until midnight, every day This cozy little bar on the central square of Geneva's old town more than quintuples in size from April until October when it is able to use a huge swath of the place as it's terrace. During warm weather it's packed, but is such a lovely and central stopping point that it's worth the wait for a table - check out the gallery on their website. In the winter they have the best vin chaud in town. http://www.laclemence.ch/index.en.html
Plain de Plainpalais
Around a dozen of the best bars in town are located around this diamond shaped parade and circus ground in the area southwest of the old town. This shouldn't be surprising since the many buildings of the Université de Genève are arrainged around it as well.
- Rémor, Place de Cirque 1, phone number ((+41)22 328 12 70). Really the best Parisien style grande café in Geneva. Artwork by University Students and sometimes the Proprietor hang on the wall. They also offer two salads of the day, and a range of ice-cream treates. 3.50/5.00 CHF draft/bottle beers.
- l'Ethno, Rue Bovy-Lysberg 1, phone number ((+41)22 310 25 21). This comfy nightspot across the street from the northern tip of the plain is popular with Students as well as with the folks who work at the private banks in the surrounding neighborhood. 4/6 CHF draft/bottle beers.
- Moloko Bar, Place des Volontiers (Upstairs from the main entrance of l'Usine), There are punks in Geneva! Well, a few anyway, and they all hang out at the bar upstairs at the l'Usine. When you're sick of rubbing elbows with bankers, politicians, and their lackeys, head over to the smoky interior of L'Usine for a cheap beer and interesting people-watching. L'Usine also has two large dance/concert halls, one downstairs with an entrance by the river and one upstairs. The two halls are booked by three separate organizations, KAB which books punk rock and rasta, PTR which handles slightly bigger name acts, and ZOO which books the best dancehall and electronica music available in Geneva. http://www.usine.ch/
- Le Ferblanterie, 8, rue de l'Ecole-de-Médecine. The Ferblanterie, or Tinsmith would be one of the coolest bars in just about any town, and it happens to be on a street loaded with cool bars. This is very much a student haunt, and a grungy one in all the right ways. Some of the cds in the rack above the cd player are by Paulo Conté, Tom Waits, Fugazi, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Charles Mingus, if that tells you anything. 3/6 CHF draft/bottle beers. A glass of wine is about the same.
- L'Etabli, 5, rue de l'Ecole-de-Médecine. L'Etabli is a great place to go when the Ferblanterie is packed, or perhaps it's the other way around. This super-friendly little café/bar/wine bar is a great place to meet grad students to help with your French, or to help with their English, or just to argue politics or whatever. 3/6 CHF draft/bottle beers. A glass of wine is about the same.
- La SIP, rue des Vieux-Grenadiers. The SIP is undoubtedly the largest and most happening place in Geneva. Bar on the first floor and disco on the second floor. open until 5 am. http://www.lasip.ch/
There are lots of Hotels in Geneva, but very few of them are actually in anything like the budget range. Hundreds, many right around the central Cornavin train station offer a pretty standard rate of 135 Chf per night for a single. If you arrive late and are willing to spend that it makes sense to look at the automated hotel board in the train station to find the nearest vacancy.
For lower hotel prices, try the outlying French cities of Annemasse or Gaillard which are conveniently accessible via public transit from Gare Cornavin.
- Hostels International, Rue Rothschild 30 (Tram 13 to Môle), +41 22 732 62 60 (fax: +41 22 781 46 45). A clean well maintained place up to the ususal standards of the HI organization. Well placed for access to the bars and restaurants of the Paquis, and only a few hundred meters from the central station. 25 Chf and up. http://www.hihostels.com
- Cité Universitaire, Avenue Miremont 46 (bus number 3 to Champel), +41 22 839 22 22(fax: +41 22 839 22 23). A huge dorm space with 500 beds, which means that if all else fails you can probably sleep here and it's cheap. It is a bit far out of the old town though, about 2km south on the bluff of Champel, which overlooks the Arve river across from Carouge. If you do stay there check out the tower of Champel in the morning. 16-30 Chf.
- Hôtel de la Cloche, 6, rue de la Cloche (In the Pâquis, take bus number one to Place de Navigation), +41 22 732.94.81 Fax: +41 22 738.16.12. This charming, clean, and relatively inexpensive family run bed and breakfast shares its tiny street with the cab stand of the Hilton. It is usually full so do book ahead! 85Chf-140Chf. http://www.tbh-ge.ch/cloche/
There are hundreds of quality mid-range hotels in Geneva. Here are a couple of representative examples.
- Hotel Savoy, Place Cornavin 8 (Across from the Cornavin train station), +41 22 906 47 00 (fax: +41 22 906 47 90). A nice clean recently remodled place with prices as close to reasonable as one can find in Geneva. 135Chf-195Chf/165Chf-230Chf Singles/Doubles. http://www.hotels-suisse.ch/savoy/savoy-en.htm
- Le Montbrillant, 2 rue de Montbrillant (at the north entrance of the main train station), +41 22 733 77 84 (fax:+41 22 733 25 11). This lovely hotel is slightly pricier than the average mid-range, but the location can't be beat. If you can get a room on the top floor under the sloping roof. There are two restaurants downstairs: go for the Café de la Gare rather than the Restaurant Mt. Brilliant. 145Chf - 260Chf / 210Chf - 300Chf Singles/Doubles. http://www.hotels-suisse.ch/le-montbrillant/le-montbrillant-a.htm
It's almost as hard to pick from the huge selection of luxury hotels in Geneva as it is with the mid-range.. that said there are a couple that stand out for their historical imporantance or excellent locations.
- Des Bergues, Quai des Bergues 33 (On the river near the old pedestrian Bridge), +41 22 908 70 00 (fax: +41 22 908 70 90). The oldest of Geneva's super-luxury hotels, this palace like space faces the old town from a superb right-bank position just above the pedestrian Pont des Bergues. A favorite among European royalty. 450Chf+ (They do run specials. The price can drop as low as 330Chf in slow periods, such as over Christmas). http://www.hoteldesbergues.com
- Les Armures, 1 Rue du Puits St-Pierre (In the center of the old town, up the curved steps from Rue de Rotiserie), +41 22 310 91 72 (fax: +41 22 310 98 46). Lovely 17th Century building in the old town has hosted recent democratic presidents of the U.S. 360Chf+ (Specials sometimes as low as 290Chf for a single.). http://www.hotel-les-armures.ch
Local cellphone service is mainly provided by Swisscom, Orange, and DIAX. Don't be surprised if you find your phone using a cell in neighboring France however. If you buy one in Switzerland you will have to either just accept the occasional roaming fee, or be prepared to set the phone manually.
If you are staying for a while you should consider getting a sim card/and or a phone since it's much cheaper and easier than dealing with payphones. The best deal is with DIAX sim cards. These days you do have to register your name and an address to get a sim card, as Swiss anonymous phone cards have been found on apprehended terror suspects who have never even been to Switzerland!
Payphones are still fairly common here, but very few of them accept coins, so be prepared to use a credit card.
Swisscom has borrowed on neat idea from the French which you might find very useful: the minitel. Every phonebooth is equipped with one of these electronic directory devices. You just need to know the name (in French) of the type of business you are looking for to get a list, with the closest examples highlighted.
Internet cafés have just begun to really take off in Geneva, and there are now several that stay open fairly late.
- Internet Café Cornavin, inside the Cornavin train station near the west entrance. Until 10PM every day. This convenient and friendly place offers printing, and laptop stations. If you do plan to use your laptop you need to be able to demonstrate that you have anti-virus software. 6Chf per hour. (specials for regulars and students).
Geneva is by and large a very safe place. Violent crime is almost unheard of, although it's important to keep an eye on your belongings in public, as petty theft is a fairly common occurence. Do report any such activity to the police, you will probably find them much more interested and helpful than police in many other western cities, especially if you speak a little French.
Most of what you need to know about traveling from Geneva is covered above in the section on Getting In. Swiss destinations are almost all served by the CFF from the central train station (Gare Cornavin) while ski resorts in the French alps and the Jura can be reached by bus from the central bus station off of Rue de Mont Blanc. The price of the bus ticket often covers ski lift tickets as well, be sure to ask.
Here are just a few places which make a good day trip from Geneva: