On the second weekend of October here in the North of Italy the weather was ugly: so why don’t schedule a weekend trip where the sun shine?
We looked around on Google Maps searching for a city close enough to be reached in a few hours but sufficiently far to hope for a different weather, and Geneva was both!
We left the grey and the cold of Aosta, and just outside the Monte Bianco Tunnel we were greeted by his Majesty the sun (not that warm, but hey, it WAS shining!)
WHAT TO SEE
Geneva is a great city with great views where everything is in a walking distance, so my advice is to explore the city on foot, in that way you and your eyes will get the most from your visit.
Ready to start?
Both banks of the lake have their promenade, with elegant buildings, picturesque plazas and bistros and stunning views of the city reflected by the placid water.
What you can’t miss, no matter on which side you are, is the “Jet d’Eau”, a 140m water fountain in the middle of the lake that, if you are brave enough (at least in the fall-winter period!), you can admire also from underneath the stream of water.
The “Jardin Anglais” and the “Horloge Fleurie”
The English Garden is a small park on the left side of the lake, it houses a fountain, a lovely hut and a bigger gazebo, but most of all it is famous thanks to the “Horloge Fleurie”, the Flower Clock, one of the city main attractions.
The Old Town
The Old Town is a mix of large promenades with expensive boutiques, cozy plazas and narrow alleyways filled with typical shops and bars.
On Saturdays the street around the city center come to life with a colorful open air market, where you can find any kind of groceries, from seasonal fruits to ethnic finger food.
In the same area there is also an exclusive indoor market with expensive delicatessen from all Europe and beyond, definitely expensive but so peculiar that it’s worth a visit.
Just in the opposite direction from the market you can relax yourself in the “Parc des Bastions”, with old trees, benches, an elegant restaurant and a half dozen of giant chessboards always crowded with people.
In the middle of the park, in front of the University of Geneva, there is the “Monument International de la Réformation” (the Reformation Wall), in honor of the Protestant Reformation and John Calvin, that founded also the nearby University.
St. Pierre Cathedral
To reach the Cathedral, start from Place du Bourg-de-Four, a lovely plaza that is also the heart of the Old City and a perfect spot for an alfresco aperitivo.
From there you can follow the “normal” road to get to the Church, or you can climb the 67 steps of the “Passage des Degrees des Poules”, a narrow staircase that lead directly to the side of the Cathedral.
The Cathedral has a high-vaulted ceiling with no decoration but with great colorful windows that give the church an awesome light for perfect pictures.
Climb on the two towers for amazing views on the city: the top of the South Tower has an open terrace, but if it is a rainy day, you can still enjoy great views from the windows of the room on the top of the North Tower.
The staircases that reach the top of the towers are really narrow with room for only one person at a time, so keep that in mind if you are a claustrophobic-type!
Before leave the church, don’t forget to visit the “Chapelle des Macchabées”, a small but rich decorated room that resemble the “Sainte Chapelle” in Paris; the entrance is just on the side of the left exit door of the Cathedral (it’s really easy to miss!).
Musée Philippe Patek
This museum is also know as the “Clock Museum” and it houses an independent collection of watches, founded by the Pateks, a family of Swiss master watchmakers.
The exhibit shows a great collection of (guess what!) clocks, and it covers the amazing works in watches design and production of the family from 1839 to present days. The exhibit also include many interesting videos that allow us mere mortal to understand the functioning of the more complex pieces. Worth the visit!
Les Pâquis is one of the eight districts of Geneva, situated on the right side of the lake.
It has not many elegant buildings or exclusive boutiques, but the neighborhood has a vibrant vibe thanks mainly to its multiethnic people, that have opened a lot of restaurants, bars and shops, perfectly mixed with their Swiss counterpart: thai, chinese, indian, peruvian are a taste of the nationality represented.
Plus, the prices are cheaper here and, if you are looking for some nightlife, you are in the right place.
Palace of Nations
In the north of the city there’s a wide green area that houses many highlights of Geneva, and one of them is the “Palais des Nations“, home of the United Nations.
Unfortunately, between September and March, the Palace is closed during the weekends so we didn’t have the chance to visit it and its surrounding park.
During weekdays (and on Saturdays from April to August) it is possible to take part in a guided tour, that allows visitors to see many of the most important rooms of the palace.
What we did have the chance to see, was the Broken Chair, a 12m wood installation in front of the main entrance of the building, a reminder for official visitors and tourists of the land mines plague.
The Ariana is a free museum that houses a large collection of fine ceramics and glass artworks, located on the way from the Palace of Nations to the Red Cross Museum.
I suggest to stop by also if you are not so interested in ceramics manufacture, because the palace itself is a piece of art.
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
The “Musée international de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge” is a museum that explore the history and the role of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent with its permanent exhibition “The Humanitarian Adventure”, which is divided in three different spaces for three distinct themes (designed by three distinct architects).
The atmosphere and the setting up of the museum are touching, the exhibits are highly interactive and their messages go straight to the heart of the visitors: emotions are the main pieces.
Actually is on display a moving temporary exhibition about anorexia that will last until the beginning of January.
If you are short of time, this museum is definitely something you shouldn’t miss.
You still don’t know me that well, but I really love gardens!
On my travels I always try to visit some green space: it could be an arboretum, a peculiar park or some blooming garden, but if it is easily reachable, be sure I’ll be there!
I can spend hours wandering and taking pictures, and that’s exactly what happened in Geneva: we spent there half a day!
The Botanical Garden is a huge park divided in different areas, with an arboretum, an erbarium, three greenhouses, a pond with pink flamingos, ducks and geese, a restaurant with a terrace and an old carousel (just to name the highlights!).
To make your visit easier and more formative, at the entrance you can download an app that works as an audio-guide.
Like the Red Cross Museum, the Botanical Garden is one of my do-not-miss spot.
Those are the places we visited in our two days, but if you have more time or in my list there is something that is not your sort of thing, you can also consider to visit the Natural History Museum, the Ethnography Museum, the Museum of Oriental Arts (Fondation Baur), an exhibition of Swatch watches at the Cité du Temps or one of the many other museums of the city.
FOODS & GOODS
Geneva is a city full of restaurants, bars, bistros and local products shops, giving a wide choice for every taste and every wallet.
The fondue is a must, followed by chocolate and cheese.
Here’s a suggestion about where to try some chocolate pastries and some local cheese.
Mouth-watering pastries, solid and liquid chocolate of any kind.
Be sure to arrive at least a couple of hours before the closing time to be sure to have a wide choice of sweets and be able to taste their hot chocolate.
A small but cozy grocery with a huge amount of local products and polite and helpful staff, ready to explain the origin and the properties of the delicatessen they are selling.
We bought some local bread and four different qualities of cheese (all divine!) for our pic-nic in the Botanical Garden the day after, but here you can find nearly everything: soap, honey, fruit-juices, yogurt, sauces, sweets and so on. Amazing.
WHERE TO SLEEP
Due to budget reasons, we chose the Geneva City Hostel, a clean and practical accommodation in the Pâquis neighborhood.
We booked directly on their internet site, because it’s where I got the best price; they also have a private parking lot that is very cheap confronted with the other city options (12CHF per day).
I didn’t have a high expectation, but fortunately I was wrong!
The room was very clean, warm, with comfortable mattress and a sink. We found clean toilets and showers at any hours.
As a couple we don’t usually sleep in a hostel with single beds, but for make an exception this Hostel was a really good choice.
Plus, at the check-in the staff gave us for free a couple of two-days-ticket for public transportation.
Moreover, the neighborhood we chose has proved itself as the best in the city for eating and for the nightlife, in a walking distance from the Gare de Cornavin, the main rail station of the city and from the town center.
Additional tip: if you, like us, will choose to reach Geneva by car, consider the availability of a parking while booking the room, because many hotels don’t have a private spot or they do have it, but they are selling it at a really high price!
Another two tips for save some money:
– if you are driving from Italy to Geneva, make sure to exchange your Euro in Franc before the border, at Annemasse, in France. We found a bar that had a really cheap exchange rate compared the ones in Geneva.
– try BlaBlaCar. For the journey back to Italy, we gave a ride to an Italian guy. We had a good chat and we had some money back.
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