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Located right at the heart of Europe, Geneva offers a real sense of being at the centre of history and the world. A bustling metropolis buzzing with culture – its recently renovated opera house is unmissable – and natural beauty in the form of lakes and mountains, it has that unmistakable resort feeling, with everything in one destination. Explore the city’s cultural assets, magnificent outdoors and global gastronomy in this five-day itinerary.
Clinging to the western tip of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), with Mont Blanc in one direction and the Jura in the other, Geneva’s location makes a knockout first impression. When you’ve finished gazing at the view from Pont Mont Blanc and Instagramming the famous Jet d’Eau, head into the medieval Old Town to explore its cobbled streets, quirky shops and galleries. Fortify yourself with coffee and croissants at La Clémence, a prime people-watching spot in Place du Bourg de Four, before climbing the 157 steps of the tower of St Peter’s Cathedral for a superb view over the city.
Lunch on locally-caught filets de perche at the traditional bistro Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville before strolling through lovely Bastions Park to pick up tram 12 for the suburb of Carouge. Built in the Italianate style on the orders of the King of Sardinia in the 18th century, Carouge has a relaxed, village-like feel and is known for its lively market (Wednesdays and Saturdays), independent boutiques, artists’ workshops and thriving nightlife. Dinner options are myriad – try Michelin-starred restaurant Le Flacon, or head to its more laid-back sister Qu’importe for wine and tapas, before dancing the night away at the live music venue Chat Noir.
No visit to Geneva is complete without ogling a few watches, and the Patek Philippe Museum is the best place to do it, displaying more than 2,000 timepieces from five centuries of watchmaking history, some of them brilliantly inventive, others more than a little bit crazy (clearly people in the 19th century had a penchant for singing birds on their clocks and watches). There are guided tours in English on Saturdays. Afterwards, have a bite to eat at nearby Café Remor, a café and ice-cream parlour with its own sense of history – the leather banquettes and candelabra light fittings hark back to its mid-20th-century origins.
Lac Léman is Geneva’s playground all year round – people even brave the chilly water in December for the annual Coupe de Noël swimming race. Take in the city from the water with the Compagnie Générale de Navigation, which runs a fleet of elegant ships around the lake. Choose a one hour tour, a gourmet cruise or, if time, sail further afield, perhaps down the lake to Montreux or Lausanne.
Back on shore, spend the evening in Rue Henri-Blanvalet, a nightlife hotspot in the Eaux-Vives district. Dine on ceviche and lomo saltado at Peruvian fusion restaurant Alma, or head to Atelier Cocktail Club for classy cocktails and bar food. Other options here include the cosy rum bar Little Barrel and global tapas restaurant Eat Me.
Bus A will take you to the pretty lakeside suburb of Cologny and the Bodmer Foundation. A must for literature lovers, the foundation was created to house the collection of bibliophile Martin Bodmer, and it has an astounding array of rare and precious manuscripts including Shakespeare’s first folios, a Gutenberg Bible and Egyptian papyri from ancient times.
After a leisurely lunch on the fabulous lakeside terrace of the Auberge du Lion d’Or, head down the road to relax in the Bain Bleu spa at Geneva’s newest leisure complex, Genève Plage. It offers a hammam and steam room, indoor and outdoor pools as well as spa treatments – so you may find it hard to tear yourself away.
But leave you must, because a night of culture awaits. A fixture of Geneva’s cultural scene since 1879, the Grand Théâtre de Genève reopened in 2019 after a three-year revamp. The impressive building is the largest artistic structure in French-speaking Switzerland and hosts open days, creative workshops, guided tours, late-night events and brunches as well as performances. Catch a ballet, opera or music recital, by either the resident company or a visiting production. Make sure you arrive early to have a drink or a bite in one of the opera house’s revamped bars. With its chandeliers and opulent ceiling frescos, the breathtaking foyer bar wouldn’t feel out of place in Versailles, while the contemporary, pared-back Café de la Plage offers seasonal dishes in a relaxed atmosphere.
Hiking is a Swiss national pastime, and you don’t have to go far to experience it. Known as Geneva’s local mountain, Mont Salève is a mere 25-minute bus ride from the city. First, head to indoor food market Halle de Rive to cobble together your perfect picnic from artisanal breads, dried meats, local cheeses and pastries, before catching bus 8 to the cable-car base station for the Salève. After a four-minute ascent, you’ll step out at 1,100m (3,600ft) to be met by a view of Lac Léman below, with the city clinging to its shores and a Lego-sized Jet d’Eau. But don’t stop there. A short hike will take you to the summit of the Salève, where you can tuck into your picnic while gazing at the imposing bulk of Mont Blanc, or, if you’re feeling brave, go paragliding.
Back in town, reward yourself for your efforts with dinner at Chez Philippe, the latest hit restaurant by famed local chef Philippe Chevrier, which styles itself as a New York-inspired grill house offering flame-grilled steaks, fish, seafood and burgers.
If you’re partial to a glass of wine (or 10) you could even slot a winetasting tour by bike into your itinerary. Geneva is the perfect place to delve deeper into the world of Swiss wine. After making your way by boat to reach the historic city of Hermance, which dates all the way back to the 13th century, you’ll get on an e-bike and head for the vineyards of Crest Castle in Jussy for a spot of winetasting. The rest of your time will be spent exploring the scenic southern countryside of Lake Geneva, with a stop-off in the Belvedere Cologny for even more spectacular views of the city.
Get your retail fix with a morning pottering about Rue du Rhône (for designer brands and high-end watches), Rue de la Confédération (for high-street shops), and the Old Town (for independent boutiques), or follow the locals to Plainpalais on Wednesdays and Saturdays to sniff out bargains in the flea market. For a truly Swiss personalised souvenir, book yourself a penknife-making workshop at the Victorinox boutique. Lunch could be a gourmet sandwich from Edward’s, or roast chicken and chips at the humble but mighty tasty (and very popular) Chez Ma Cousine.
You can’t leave Geneva without eating chocolate. Longstanding chocolatiers such as Favarger and Auer share the city with newer choc shops on the block such as Charlie Ganache. An indication of how seriously the Genevois take their chocolate can be found at La Bonbonnière, which offers a huge selection of different hot chocolates presented like a wine list. Rather than schlepping between shops on foot, treat yourself to a chocolate tour from TaxiBike.
After all that activity, round off your day (and your stay) with a relaxing evening at Les Bains des Paquis, a 19th-century bathing house that is something of a Geneva institution. Enjoy a Turkish bath or sauna before tucking into a tasty fondue dinner – one of the best in the city – in its intimate buvette.
For more information and to start planning your trip, visit geneve.com