Located at the extreme south-western corner of Switzerland, Geneva is surrounded by French territory. Its location, on the banks of Lake Léman between the Alps and the Jura mountains, provides a dramatic landscape and allows easy access to ski runs, vineyards, spas, and historic towns. Geneva is compact and easily explored on foot. It is also exceptionally green, with a great number of parks and walkways in and around the city center.
Mark Twain visited Geneva so often towards the end of the 19th Century that American literary magazines began to fear he had taken up residence. The writer was certainly intrigued by the
The geographic feature dominating the city is, of course, Lake Léman. This immense body of fresh water is the largest and bluest of all the lakes in Switzerland. Locals may be tolerant if you refer to it as "Lake Geneva," but if you are planning a day trip to Lausanne or Evian, remember that Geneva is not the only city bordering the lake! The arrival of warm weather in the city heralds the opening of lakeside terraces and beaches, the most well-known being the Bains de Pâquis – which is set up for swimmers and café habitués. Viewing the cityscape by boat is highly recommended as stunning views of the
It is difficult to isolate one point as being the city center. Historically, the
From Cornavin towards Bel-Air, the Rive Droite has a high concentration of shops, hotels and restaurants. Always teeming with locals and tourists, the
A meeting place since Roman times, the Bourg-de-Four is at the heart of the Old City. The square, in reality more like a multi-leveled spiral, is dominated by café terraces, one being
Among the notable sights in the area is the
Although it might be impossible to park a car in the old city, there is no problem finding a seat at the
The tramway-lined shopping area a block from the Rue du Rhône and just below the old city is pretty much Geneva's main shopping street. Confusingly, this thoroughfare changes names every few hundred meters, from the Rue de la Confédération, near Bel-Air, to the Rue de Rive, which marks a border with the Eaux-Vives. Large department stores such as
Combining exotic and erotic delights, the Pâquis Quarter is the closest Geneva has to a Bohemian neighborhood. Behind the glittering lakeside façades of the city's most resplendent right bank hotels, less alluring enterprises offer tawdry cabarets and sex products. The area was once used for grazing cows, but is now inhabited by an increasing number of boutiques selling original art, clothes and jewelry. Food-wise, the range of cafés and restaurants in the Pâquis cannot be surpassed in the city. Ethnic restaurant highlights include
Across the lake from the pulsating Pâquis, the Eaux-Vives is a bubbly area that lives up to the English translation of its name. Italian restaurants (Vesuvio comes recommended) are abundant here. Small boutiques are dotted along the Rue des Eaux-Vives and side streets leading to the lake. An independent cinema,
Located a few kilometers from the center of the city, Carouge has a distinctly different atmosphere from the rest of Geneva. Perhaps because, technically, the town is outside the city's jurisdiction, although part of the same Canton. Now home to fashionable artisans, boutiques and restaurants, Carouge is remarkably well-preserved. Once owned by the King of Sardinia, this area's low-rise, graceful buildings flaunt their Mediterranean influences. A restaurant highlight includes the Café des Négociants.
Known by some as the "Beverly Hills" of Geneva, Cologny is worth visiting for spectacular views over the lake. Many large estates are situated here, the most famous of which is the Villa Diodati on the chemin de Ruth. Byron stayed here during the summer of 1816, writing and touring the lake region with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley. The idea for the novel Frankenstein came to Mary Shelley in a dream at the villa, after an evening of violent storms on the lake.
Geneva is, and always was, an international city. Marauding barbarians, Roman conquerors, exiled religious leaders, immigrant workers and refugees have left their traces on the area. Some visitors, such as the Duke of Savoy, came with swords and were repelled, (and the annual Escalade event in the old city commemorates this). Politicians with the horrors of the First World War fresh in their minds arrived to establish the League of Nations (now the United Nations). Krystof Kieslowski, the late Polish film director, came with cameras to shoot The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colors: Red.
Visitors have a tendency to pass through the city without discovering the richness of its past. Those willing to dig deeper will find 2000 years of fascinating history.
Evidence of human settlement in the Geneva area dates back to about 3000 BCE; however, it was not until 500 BCE that the Allobroges - a tribe of Celtic origin, established a permanent village in what is now the Old City.
The first written reference to Geneva appears in Julius Caesar's comments about the Gallic wars (De Bello Gallico), which detail the Roman army's victory over an advancing Helvetii tribe in 58 BCE. Romans had occupied the town (known as "Genua"), having driven the Celts out in about 120 BCE. The town continued to flourish over the following centuries and, at the height of the Roman Empire, a bishopric was created, commanding a large diocese around 400 CE.
The following six centuries can be best described as a period of "chaotic fermentation" with several migrating tribes controlling the city in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Throughout this time, the area gradually gained stature as an independent territory, resistant to the imperialistic intentions of threatening kingdoms.
By the Middle Ages, Geneva had developed into an internationally recognized trade center. Wealth generated from the fairs held in the city naturally attracted attention from nearby aristocracy, seeking a piece of the action. From the 13th to the 17th Century, the princes of Savoy attempted and failed to control the city's autonomy. At crucial moments, however, Geneva found allies in the Swiss cantons of Bern and Fribourg.
Geneva was declared a republic in 1535 and, shortly afterward, Jean Calvin arrived to guide the city's religious and intellectual forces. Persecuted Protestants from Italy and France found sanctuary in the city. Following Louis XIV's revocation of Protestantism in 1685, Geneva witnessed another huge wave of refuge seekers. The massive influx created a boom for the city and the famously important watchmaking and banking industries were established.
The Reformation was also responsible for creating Geneva's motto: "Post Tenebras Lux" (after darkness, the light). In the context of Calvinism, the biblical references are all too clear.
Social problems and unease with the regime governing the city throughout the latter part of the 18th Century brought revolution in 1792. Political tolerance was proclaimed, though this was short lived as Geneva was annexed by Napoleonic France in 1798 and made the administrative center of the Department of Léman.
Following the defeat of Napoleon in 1813, Geneva regained its freedom. Aware that it was vulnerable to foreign attack, Restoration leaders applied for the city to join the Swiss Confederation. This was granted in 1815. In the same year, participants at the Congress of Vienna officially recognized Switzerland's permanent neutrality.
In 1846, James Fazy led a revolution to overthrow the Restoration leaders and, subsequently, established the constitution now honored in the canton of Geneva.
The first of the international organizations now so prominent in Geneva was set up in 1864 (the International Committee of the Red Cross). Other organizations in the city include the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN).
With more than 1000 restaurants, Geneva and the surrounding area are hardly lacking in places to dine. While Swiss, French and Italian restaurants are seemingly everywhere, the city's ethnic groups have contributed towards the growing diversity in cuisine originating from other cultures.
The recent explosion in sushi bars in Geneva is just one example of increasing demand for the exotic and a broader choice of dining establishments. Despite the multitude of options symptomatic of this trend, it becomes increasingly more challenging to identify quality restaurants. The good news is that there are many culinary treasures to discover, from award-winning Michelin restaurants to sleek contemporary bistros and rowdy local cafes.
Geneva abounds with fine French restaurants. Highly rated is Le Béarn, an elegant French restaurant with many items on its menu that include truffles. There is also an extensive wine list. The boisterous Relais de L'Entrecôte has a large crowd of regulars, and is set up like a traditional bistro inside, with warm accents and dark wood tables. Opened in 1955, L'Age d'Or holds the title of being the city's oldest pizzeria, and one of the most popular as well. The owners are sure to make each pizza with the finest ingredients.
L'Antidote is popular among young people for its quirky menu and no-nonsense interior. Brasserie Lipp serves traditional fare and stays open into the early hours and has a terrace for guests to enjoy, while the classic hamburgers at Road Runner attract Americans living abroad and those visiting Geneva.
The Old City has limited dining options, but there are many small cafes and restaurants to discover here. Les Armures is a step up on the glamor scale (and consequently the price scale) but focuses mainly on Swiss regional cuisine. Another nice option is Chez ma Cousine, which serves Provincial French cuisine in a country house style setting. The atmosphere here is distinctly down home, with yellow and green color patterns and sturdy wooden tables in the dining room.
Three mid-price range contemporary restaurants must be mentioned in the same breath (they are owned by the same group). L'Opera Bouffe produces light, modern cooking in aesthetic surroundings. There are numerous enjoyable Italian restaurants in town (as well as an equal number of avoidable ones). Other sure-fire winners include Da Paolo. The small bistro Côté Parc is ideally located on a peaceful street, and has the benefit of a visible kitchen from the dining room. Guests are able to see their food being created. Cinecitta serves the best traditional Italian fare such as pasta and pizza. Their outdoor terrace has film director chairs for those looking to dine in style.
Geneva's Bohemian district is full of eclectic dining options from all over the world. La Diligence is a well-known and high-quality Mexican restaurant that also has Swiss options on the menu. The Malaysian food on offer at Jeck's Place is truly delicious, and the staff is pleasant and accommodating. Lebanese cuisine can be found at Amir Beyrouth, which is divided into a more formal dining room and a side area for snacking. Mañana was the first Mexican restaurant opened in Geneva, and offers all the mainstays of a delicious, traditional meal. Thai food is represented at Sam Lor, where visitors come to sample all the different ways duck can be prepared.
Parc des Bastions
Located in Geneva's City Center, the Parc des Bastions is a great place start a day of walking around the city. After appreciating its beautiful botanic gardens, stop for a game of chess on one of the park's huge chess boards. Also worth checking out in this area is the Horloge Fleurie. This giant clock is a tribute to one of Switzerland's most lucrative industries. Make your way over to the Brunswick Monument located on the lake's right bank. If you've had enough of the outdoors, make your way over to the Musée d'Histoire des Sciences. This museum will fascinate the entire family. If you've worked up a hearty appetite by this point, grab a table at les Armures for traditional Swiss cuisine.
Promenade de la Treille
For beautiful views of the city and to get your heart rate going, start your day by walking the Promenade de la Treille. When you're ready to head indoors, bring the whole family to the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire. This is Geneva's largest museum and it houses the works of many famous artist. Stop for lunch at Mr Pickwick. This is the perfect place to catch a soccer match or to enjoy some tasty seafood. After refueling, pick up where you left off and head to the Maison Tavel, the oldest standing private house in Geneva. Another option for the afternoon is the Fondation Baur, Musée des Arts d’Extrême-Orient, especially appealing to fans of Asian art.
Château de Nyon
Carouge is another one of Geneva's neighborhoods that is rich in history, culture and gastronomy. The Église Russe or Russian Orthodox Church is an impressive structure boasting an extensive collection of 16th-to 20th-century icons. If this sounds interesting, then you definitely don't want to miss the Château de Nyon. Throughout its history the chateau has been used for many different functions. It was remodeled in 2006 and is one of Geneva's top tourist destinations. After sightseeing, be sure to stop by Paganel before businesses start to close. This chocolate shop not only sells chocolates but also mouth-watering baked goods. If you haven't spoiled your appetite, head to Au Vieux Carouge for a traditional Swiss meal.
Patek Philippe Museum
If you find yourself in the Plainpalais quarter, don't miss the Patek Philippe Museum. This museum traces the history of watchmaking in Geneva, one of the city's most prominent industries. Another museum in this neighborhood is the Musée d'Ethnographie which examines world civilizations through objects and artifacts from five different continents. If you're looking to add some spice to your day, stop by Café Cuba for a bite, or if you're just looking to refuel with coffee or ice cream, Café Glacier Rémor should hit the spot.
Geneva Tourism Office (+41 22 909 7000 / http://www.geneve-tourisme.ch) All tours leave on the Pont-de-la-Machine outside this branch of the tourist office.
Tramway Tour (May-October (+41 22 781 0404 / http://www.wwsa.ch/stt). Departures every 30 minutes. Guided tour through the Old City on a small train.
Trains Eaux Vives (+41 22 310 5300)(March-October). Departures every 45 minutes. Guided train tour around piers, Jardin Anglais, Le Grange etc.
Compagnie Générale de Navigation (CGN) (+41 22 312 5222)
Mouettes Genevoises (+41 22 732 4747)
Swissboat Excursions (+41 22 732 2944)