Here are the top things to do in Geneva, the second-largest city in Switzerland, when you only have a day.
Geneva is known worldwide as a center for diplomacy. It’s the seat of many NGOs, including the United Nations and the Red Cross. But there’s more, and Geneva boasts many tourist attractions. There are multiple reasons to visit Geneva: a charming old town, beautiful scenery, and plenty of activities.
Where is Geneva?
Geneva is located at one end of Lake Geneva, at the border with France. It’s home to the second largest airport in Switzerland and is conveniently located to explore the Alps. If you’re hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc, it’s the closest airport.
Tours to Explore Geneva When You’re Short on Time
If you only have a day or half a day to explore Geneva then I highly recommend these tours. You’ll discover so much more than you would if you explored on your own.
- Geneva is a small city, but if you only have one day, you may want to take a guided sightseeing tour. In three hours you’ll explore Geneva main attractions, including a boat tour.
- Who doesn’t love chocolate? Take an unusual walking tour to discover the secrets of chocolate.
Things to Do in Geneva on Your Own
While hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc you may have an extra day at the beginning or end of your trip. Spending a half day or day exploring Geneva is a great choice. And if you plan a trip to Switzerland, you should visit Geneva.
You could easily spend a few days in Geneva. However, if you’re pressed for time I’d recommend spending a day in Geneva then heading to the Alps for the mountainous landscapes that Switzerland is famous for.
You may also want to consider the Geneva Pass. You get free public transportation and either free or discounted admission to 40 attractions.
Here are the best things to do in Geneva in one day:
Stroll in Geneva Old Town
Perched on a natural hill, Geneva Old Town is a little jewel. One fun way to explore it on your own is with the Discovery Game in which you’ll solve clues while learning more about this fascinating city.
The heart of the Vieille Ville is Place Borg-de-Four, with its fountain, cafes with fresco seatings, and the elegant buildings with facades from the 18th century. All around, a maze of tiny streets and beautiful squares, cozy restaurants and charming antique shops, invite you for a stroll. In Rue du Puits-Saint-Pierre have a look at Maison Tavel, the oldest house in Geneva. It dates back from the Middle Age and now hosts the Museum of History of Geneva.
Visit St. Peter’s Cathedral and climb the tower
Perched atop a staircase on the highest point of the old city, St. Peter’s Cathedral dominates Geneva. The building, austere and massive, has been remodeled several times and is a mix of Gothic and Neoclassical styles.
St. Peter’s Cathedral played an essential role in the 16th century. The Cathedral is the sacred site where John Calvin spread the Protestant Reformation. After visiting the interior, climb up the northern and southern towers to get a panoramic view of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
Admire the Jet d’Eau, one of Geneva’s main tourist attractions
The Jet d’Eau is one of the symbols of Geneva. You can see it from all over the city. The water jet is 140m tall and rises at a speed of 200km per hour, so get ready to get sprayed while watching it from the pier.
Geneva’s Jet d’Eau is more than a beautiful fountain, though. It was created in 1886 as a safety valve to alleviate the pressure coming from a hydroelectric plant that had been built nearby. However, the Genevois moved the fountain to the present location at the end of the 19th century and recognized its aesthetic value.
If you’re lucky, you might see the Jet d’Eau illuminated at night in bright colours. It happens a few times per year to mark a special humanitarian event.
Discover magnificent timepieces at the Patek Philippe Museum
Clocks are one of the symbols of Switzerland, and the fame of Swiss watches started in Geneva. When in the late 1500s John Calvin preached the Protestant Reformation, he stripped the Cathedral from most of its ornaments and forbade people to display jewels. As a result, goldsmiths started making sober and useful objects, like pocket watches and, later, wristwatches.
There’s no better way to admire some of the most exceptional timepieces and their complex mechanism than the Patek Philippe Museum. The museum has two exhibitions. The Antiques Collection, documents 500 years of watch history, from the 1500s to the 1900s. While the Patek Philippe Collection showcases the pieces created by the company since its inception, in 1839. Especially when the weather is bad, the Patek Philippe Museum is one of the best things to do in Geneva.
Relax at Parc des Bastions and visit the Reformation Wall
Located at the bottom of the Old City and near the University, the Parc des Bastions is a favourite spot to chill out, have a picnic, or to play one of the six giant chess games.
The park also hosts one of Geneva’s main landmarks: the Reformation Wall. Created in 1909 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth, the wall is 100 m long. At its center, are giant statues of four key figures of the Calvinist Reformation: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and John Knox. On the wall behind the statues, you can read the motto of the Protestant Reformation and Geneva: Post Tenebras Lux (After Darkness, Light).
Chill out on the lakeshore (and maybe swim)
Walk along Quai du Mont Blanc, a charming promenade on the lakeshore, until you reach the Bains des Pâquis. After a few days of hard hiking, this is the perfect place for relaxation. The artificial jetty is a trendy spot for locals, who flock here in summer to sunbathe and enjoy a swim. You can do like the locals, or have a drink and a bite at the Buvette, taking in the views of the lake and the mountains.
Rainy day? Get some relaxation at the Bain des Pâquis Saunas, Hammam, and a Turkish bath.
Visit the first Red Cross Building and the Museum
Some of the world’s most important NGO’s and international organizations are headquartered Geneva, and for a reason. That is the city of the Geneva Convention. The treaty was signed in 1864, thanks to the idea and hard work of Swiss businessman.
The Convention aimed at protecting the rights to care for wounded in war without distinction of race, origin, religion, political idea, and it led to the creation of the Red Cross.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum features a permanent collection, called “The Humanitarian Adventure,” and temporary exhibitions, that change periodically.
Loiter at Plainpalais Flea Market
Switzerland is notoriously an expensive country, but shopping does not necessarily have to be a pricey watch. If you happen to visit Geneva on a Wednesday, Saturday or the first Sunday of each month, go and visit the Plainpalais Flea and Farmers Market. There, you can buy organic food and find pretty much everything second-hand or new at competitive prices.
Take a boat tour on Lake Geneva
I like to look at places from a different perspective, and every time I visit a city on a lake, the sea or a river, I never miss taking a tour by boat.
You can take a relaxing 1-hour boat ride around Geneva, or enjoy a more extended cruise having lunch on board. Some boats are crossing to the French coast, where you can visit the charming medieval town of Yvoire. And you can also have an evening boat tour.
Wander in the Jardin Anglais and admire the Flower Clock
Overlooking Lake Geneva, the Jardin Anglais (“English Garden”) has many shaded areas. It’s one of the preferred places for both tourists and locals. Whether you want to rest for a few minutes or take a short walk on the lakeshore, it’s one of the places to visit in Geneva during your trip.
While wandering in the garden, you’ll see the famous Flowered Clock (“Horloge Fleurie”). Indeed, this is one of the symbols of Geneva. It’s also one of the most photographed spots, along with the Jet d’Eau.
The Flower Clock is crafted from 6500 colourful flowers that change several times during the season. Get ready for a flock of tourists taking selfies by one of the most iconic places in Switzerland.
Day Tours from Geneva
If you’re staying in Geneva for more than one day then consider checking out the following tours:
- head to Chamonix Mont-Blanc for one of the best day tours from Geneva and incredible views of the second highest peak in Europe. You’ll have an unforgettable experience.
- do a 1/2 day trip to Annecy. Known as the Venice of the Alps, this town is one of the most stunning in France.
- visit Riviera Col du Pillon & Glacier 3000. Discover the village of Les Diablerets and take a cable car up to Glacier 3000 for an unforgettable day in the Swiss Alps.
- If you’re looking for the best flights, accommodation, and travel insurance, make sure to check out my Travel Deals post.
Where to Stay in Geneva
Hotel d’Allèves is very close to the lake and the train station and is a good value for money. You can walk from there to most of Geneva tourist attractions.
If you wish to have space, have a look at the stylish and modern Fraser Suites. These serviced apartments are also a great option for families.
The luxury Hotel d’Angleterre boasts beautiful views of the lake and is perfectly located for Geneva sightseeing.
Related: Gelmer Funicular: The Highest in Europe.
Weather in Geneva
January and February are the coldest months with temperatures dropping to just below freezing. July and August are the warmest months with temperatures reaching 26 C. Evenings can be cool though so bring a sweater to cover up.
It rains an average of 7 to 10 days a month with May and June being the rainiest months.