Geneva

For other places with the same name, see Geneva (disambiguation).
Panorama of Geneva from Le Saleve

Geneva (French: Genève, German: Genf), Switzerland's second-most populous city and the largest French-speaking city in Switzerland, is one of the world's major centers of international diplomacy, having served as the site of the initial headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross. 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 and International Labour Organizations. Geneva itself has only 191,000 inhabitants but 780,000 people live in the metropolitan region.

Understand

In 1536, a young man named Jean Calvin, fleeing the persecution of Protestants in France, spent a night in Geneva. As it turned out, he was to do a lot more there than sleeping. After being expelled from Geneva for nearly three years, Calvin returned triumphantly in 1541 to help elevate the city to the rank of a Protestant Rome. The intellectual influence of the Reformation extended to all realms of Genevan life: politics, economy, and administration.

Geneva was an independent republic from at least the 16th century until it became a Swiss Canton on 31 Dec 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 its 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.

Geneva is officially a French-speaking city, and the vast majority of the population speak French. All advertisements, information, and signs are in French. With the large international presence, English takes a close second. Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, and Arabic speakers abound, and of course you will also occasionally hear German and Italian.

Get in

Geneva is the transportation hub for the French-speaking Switzerland and the western access point to the Swiss Alps.

By plane

Main entrance of Geneva International Airport

Geneva airport (also called Cointrin) is served by almost all European carriers and has also good connections from most major Northern African and Middle Eastern airports. From North America there are a couple of daily direct flights from New York, Washington D.C. and Montreal and in addition to that Air China has four weekly non-stop flights from Beijing.

Geneva is a hub for the low-cost carrier Easy Jet serving a number of destinations in Europe including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Edinburgh, London, Madrid, Manchester and Paris.

The airport itself has a UBS bank with ATMs and exchange machines in the arrival area. There is an American Express office just beyond passport control in the departure lounge. There are several cafés and duty free shopping as well, open 08:00-23:00.

To get into town from the airport, taxis cost approximately CHF30. The fastest way is by train which is the same price/tickets as with the buses. The number 10 bus leaves every 15 minutes from 06:00 to 23:00. Get off at the 22-Cantons stop for train station. Bus 5 also goes to the central railway station but along a different route passing close by the UN building and stopping at rue de Lausanne. Both buses then continue to the southern side of the city. All trains leaving Geneva airport train station stop at the main train/bus station. Train/bus tickets are around CHF3.50 (valid for one hour) and can be purchased at machines at the bus stop and in the train station. A free transport ticket to the city of Geneva can be obtained from the Geneva Transport (TPG) machine in the baggage claim area. This ticket is valid for 80 minutes anywhere in Geneva and suburbs, for trains, buses and yellow boats (with this ticket you can go as far as CERN or Anières or Veyrier). There is a change machine next to the UBS ATM. The best alternative is to take the free public transport ticket, hop on any train to Geneva (5 minutes) and either take a taxi from there or continue on the public transport system.

By train

Gare Cornavin, Central railway station

The Swiss Federal Railway (Called "CFF" in Geneva and the rest of French-speaking Switzerland) serves Geneva's Gare de Cornavin (also called Gare Cornavin or simply Cornavin) with trains to Zürich, St. Gallen, Basel and Bern every half-hour. Regional trains heading to Nyon and Lausanne leave every 15 minutes.

The Gares des Eaux-Vives is another public transport station and it is situated on the southeastern side of the lake. It has French bus services with the SNCF to and from Evian, Chamonix and Annecy. It's being renovated, as a new railroad is built to link Cornavin to this train station.

International trains leaving from Cornavin include the SNCF (French National Railway) high-speed TGV service — there is a direct service from Geneva to Paris with a journey time of three hours as well as a direct service to Nice with a journey time of six hours. Geneva is also the starting point for the night train service to Barcelona, a journey time of nine and a half hours. Many Italian cities are connected to Geneva, notably the "Cisalpino" service, connecting Geneva to Milan and Venice. There is also a night train service to Florence and Rome Termini Station.

For more information:

Unless otherwise announced, most trains arriving in the Gare de Cornavin will usually have the Geneva Airport as their final destination (if they come from elsewhere in Switzerland), which means you don't have to use the TPG (Geneva Public Transport Company) tram or bus to get there.

While not anything special in architectural terms, Gare Cornavin is, nevertheless, exceptionally well designed, and a key part of Geneva's public transport network. City tram and bus routes converge at a terminal located directly outside the front doors of the station, making transition from train to public transit extremely easy. If you're staying in a hotel, hostel or campground, don't buy more than a single ticket. Geneva provides free transit passes to any tourist staying in one of these types of accommodation. Ask the reception if you did not receive it at check-in. The station also features a basement-level shopping concourse, along with an underground passage which connects to the south side of the busy main street, permitting new arrivals to avoid crossing busy roads. The passage also connects to an open-air pedestrianized shopping street, leading down to the lake.

By car

The motorway network brings you right into Geneva, only 40km from Annecy and 80km from Chamonix with customs at Bardonnex - Saint-Julien. You need the compulsory motorway sticker (single annual CHF40 fee) to come through this customs office. Purchase of the motorway tax sticker (aka Vignette) at one of the customs is obligatory in order to drive on Swiss motorways.

To avoid the purchase of a vignette, you can enter Geneva through other crossing points at Thônex-Vallard or Moillesulaz, for example. If, however, you decide later to drive on the motorway, you will need to purchase a vignette — you can generally purchase the vignette at Petrol Stations, Post Offices or at Tourist Offices.

By bus

Geneva is served by a number of regular international bus routes (Bus station: tel. +41 22 732-0230). Additionally, the TPG (Geneva Public Transport) provide regular services from the neighbouring French towns of Saint-Julien, Archamps, Thoiry, Ferney-Voltaire, Moillesulaz (tel. +41 22 308-3434).

By boat

Regular boat services are provided, mainly in paddle steamers built between 1904 and 1927, from ports all around Lake Geneva by Compagnie Générale de Navigation. All boats arrive at the Paquis port after docking briefly at Parc des Eaux Vives and the Jardin Anglais.

Private boat tours and transfers from Geneva to any port on the lake by Léman Transfers. Groups of up to six passengers can be privately chauffeured around the lake.

Get around

Rue du Perron, Old Town

Districts

On foot

The old-town can be easily visited on foot starting anywhere around the tour boat dock on Lake Geneva, or if you come from the Cornavin station, walk down to the Bel-Air island and continue straight on uphill to the old town. Crossing the bridge (Pont du Mont Blanc), you'll get to the English Garden with the famous flower clock and a sculpted bronze water fountain. Then you can cross the street (Quai de General Guisan) and go up the hill (on Place du Port and Rue de la Fontaine) and up the long stairs passage and end up behind Saint Peter's Cathedral. After visiting the cathedral, which is Geneva's well-known landmark, you can exit the courtyard and be right in front of Geneva City Hall. From there you can easily walk down to the Bastions Park where you can find the famous Reformation Wall memorial. This park is very quiet and romantic, especially at the beginning of the fall season when the leaves start falling. See this walking route in pictures.

Geneva is fairly walkable but the fact that the name of some streets change frequently as you walk can make navigation difficult. For instance the street from Bel-Air square to Rive roundabout has five different names on a section of less than a kilometre.

By bike

Geneva is 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: velo@ville-ge.ch or calling +41 22 418-4200.

A social organization called Genèveroule lends bicycles free of charge (for four hours and then a fee of 2 CHF per extra hour), from 30 April through 30 October. A passport or identity card must be shown and a refundable deposit of 20CHF is required. Six stations are located along the lake, behind the railway station, in Eaux-Vives (Terrassière) the Plaine de Plainpalais and at Carouge. While this service is quite convenient, be sure to bring ID and contact information, including hotel phone number, to speed up the paperwork.

Otherwise, if you're looking for a road bike or a trekking bike, then there is a shop very near the train station called "Bike Switzerland".

By public transportation

Ticket vending machine
Genevan tram and trolleybus in the Servette district

Geneva, like most cities in Switzerland, is a marvel of public transportation efficiency. Transports Publics Genevois (TPG) provides frequent bus, tram, 'mouette' (boat), and suburban train service to within a block or two of most locations in the city and canton.

Tickets cost CHF2 for a short hop (three stops or less, or a one-way crossing of the lake). CHF3.00 for one hour with unlimited changes on tram, bus, boat, and rail within greater Geneva, CHF8 for a day pass valid 09:00-23:59, and CHF10.00 for an extended day pass valid from the time it is purchased until 05:00 the next morning. Holders of the SBB Demi-Tarif/Halbtax card get 20-30% off these prices. If you're staying for more than a few days, consider buying a week ticket for CHF38. It's sold at official TPG offices, located at Cornavin station, Rive roundabout and the suburb of Grand-Lancy (the last one is pretty off the beaten path for most visitors).

Since January 2008, if you stay in a hotel, hostel, or on a camping site, you will get free public transport. Typically, you will receive a Unireso Geneva Transport Card at check-in. It will be authorised for use for the length of your stay and like a ticket one gets in the airport upon arrival it is valid for Geneva and suburbs including the Unireso network. You are supposed to carry your passport or identity card with you at the same time, to ensure validity. The ticket is valid on trains as far as the airport. One pass is valid for a maximum of 15 days, and it is valid also on the day you check out from your place of stay, which is handy if you have a late flight and want do some sightseeing or shopping.

By bus

Tickets, which cover both trams and buses, must be bought from ticket machines (located at every stop) before boarding the transport. Some bus stops do not have a ticket machine, in that case you can indicate to the driver that you need to buy a ticket at the next stop.

You can get pretty much everywhere by bus. Some routes are rather confusing, so it's good to get a map of the network which can be picked up at the official ticket vending points, or viewed/printed out from their web page. When you are on the bus, however, bus stops are both announced and visible on a screen (on most buses).

Observe that you will need to purchase a separate ticket if you are travelling outside the canton of Geneva - ie. to or from France or the canton of Vaud. "Ordinary" tickets and day passes are only valid inside Geneva (known as Zone 10). Bus stops in France that are served by the Genevan transport authority do not have ticket vending machines, instead you have to buy the tickets from vending machines on board the bus when traveling from France.

By tram

Tram in Geneva

Geneva currently has a network of four tram lines; 12, 14, 15 and 18. Three of them pass through the major transportation hub at the Cornavin train station, and all of them have a station close to Place Bel-Air on the old-town side of the river. If you did not receive a TPG / Unireso card from your hotel, you will need to buy a ticket from one of the ticket machines located at every stop before boarding the transport. Tickets cover both trams and buses.

By boat

The "mouette" service is included in the TPG / Unireso card that tourists receive free of charge from their hotels. This is a nice way to get from the Pâquis station near the Quai du Mont-Blanc in the northwest to the other side of the lake, e.g. to the Eaux-Vives stop near the Jardin Anglais. Boats run every 10 minutes. See the home page of the boat operator for more information.

By car

If you want to explore the mountainous countryside or go skiing in one of the ski resorts in the Alps, getting a car is a better option. Numerous local and international car rental service providers operate from the airport. They provide customized traveling services to the needs of tourists visiting Geneva.

By train

Suburban trains to outskirts run every half hour during the day and every hour after 20:00. The last train to the eastern terminus, (Coppet), leaves at 00:03. Though these "Regios" mostly serve commuters, at least two of their station stops, Versoix and Coppet, have several good restaurants and historic main streets. There is also another suburban rail line: the RER Genève, which goes from Cornavin to La Plaine, sometimes continuing to France (2 stops from La Plaine). As with buses and trams, tickets must be bought before boarding the train. If you are only travelling with the canton of Geneva, a bus/tram ticket is valid on the train and vice versa; travelling further afield will cost more unless you buy a so-called regional ticket, which also includes parts of Vaud and France.

See

The Jet d'Eau in Lake Geneva
St Pierre Cathedral
Palais des Nations
L'Île tower
Jardin botanique

Museums and Galleries

The Globe of Science and Innovation at CERN

Do

The old town of Geneva in the winter
The cable car to Salève

Events

March

May

June

August

December

Parks

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.

A fountain in Jardin Anglais, the English garden

Learn

Language

French language lessons are available, both through formal courses and informal arrangements, but in both cases they can be more expensive than other French-speaking countries.

Cern tunnel

Higher Education

There are several English language universities in Geneva, mostly focusing on international business and relations.

Research

The world-famous European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN is in Meyrin, just outside of Geneva. The tram line 18 runs to the CERN campus from Cornavin station in downtown. It is hosting the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which, at 27km in circumference, holds the title of "world's largest machine". It will hopefully answer many fundamental questions in particle physics and open a host of new ones. CERN has a famous summer student program that accepts 150 European students, 20 American students, and a handful from other countries. CERN also features an exhibition open to the public and tours can be arranged in advance. . The World-Wide Web started at CERN.

Work

Many foreign professionals working in Geneva are employed by one of the United Nations agencies or international banks. Non-Swiss UN employees get a special visa to live and work in Switzerland, but the jobs can be hard to find unless you are already in Geneva. If you are a EU citizen, you can accept a job offer by any other employer since the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU allow you to work here as anywhere else on the continent - whether you are a blue or white collar worker. Unemployment is on a rather stable level but the uncertainties during the financial crisis led to higher competition for jobs.

For temporary or student jobs such as work as an au pair, a housekeeper, or at one of the many bars, you do not necessarily need to be very proficient in French. You ideally should 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, at the English and American churches, and at the American Women's Club, and join the respective groups online, such as on Facebook. 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).

Buy

The shopping street Rive

Switzerland is famed as a land of banks and financial institutions, so getting local cash from ATMs at banks, train station and within shopping malls should pose no problem. Also, Euros are accepted at many larger stores and places that cater to international visitors.

  • Cuckoo clocks (in fact originally from southern Germany and formerly produced in Hong Kong (now in mainland China... but who cares!).
  • Swiss Army Knives, with Wenger and Victorinox being the two most well-known brands (Best price at Migros/Coop).
  • Almost any sort of object with a cow or a Swiss flag printed on it.

Eat

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 in an expensive country. Additionally, it can be quite difficult to find food on Sunday night, so it might be worth planning ahead or just visiting the more touristy region near the train station. If you have the possibility to cook your own food, self catering is a good idea to save money. If you are staying for a longer period, it's a good idea to make shopping trips to supermarkets in France where many foods cost less than half of what they do in Geneva.

Budget

There are many budget spots located around the train station and in the nearby Paquis district, or near rue de l'Ecole de Médecine off Plaine de Plainpalais.

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Please keep your noise down when partying in the Carouge district

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 ranged around it as well.

Dance


Sleep

Many of the hotels in the "Splurge" category can be found along the northern bank of the lake

There are a lot 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 135CHF 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.

It's hardest to find lodging during large international conferences, and trade shows. The latter, of which the prime example is the Salon d'Auto are usually held at Palexpo. It's worthwhile to do a bit of research to see if your arrival is likely to coincide with one of these events.

For lower hotel prices, try the outlying French cities of Annemasse or Gaillard which are conveniently accessible via public transit from Gare Cornavin.

Budget

Mid-range

There are hundreds of mid-range hotels in Geneva that have big differences in quality. Here are a couple of representative examples.

Splurge

It's almost as hard to pick from the huge selection of luxury hotels in Geneva as it is with the mid-range. There are a couple that stand out for their historical importance or excellent locations, e.g. the Hotel Beau-Rivage where Sisi, Empress of Austria, lived her last day.

Stay safe

Geneva is by and large a very safe place. Violent crime was almost unheard of, although it's important to keep an eye on your belongings in public, as petty theft is a fairly common occurrence. 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.

Since 2013 an increase in violent crime was reported, especially during the nighttime and near party areas. Alcohol & aggressive behaviour led to fights between the multicultural mix in the city. Also burglary is increasing due to organised crime groups, keep your hotel/apartment doors always well locked and close windows etc. when you leave your place.

There is a huge amount of vandalism in the city. On every street you can see bicycles with stolen seats, wheels, everything not locked. Many bicycles are vandalised and destroyed.

A rigged street game "hiding the ball" was formerly commonplace near the bridges south of the railway station. As of 2015, police have (according to local reports) systematically rounded up the con-men behind these shell games; hopefully you won't run into them any longer.

Connect

Phone

Local cellphone service is mainly provided by Swisscom, Salt, and Sunrise. Yallo, Migros and Coop have their own mobile offers. 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. These days you do have to register your name and an address to get a SIM card to avoid fraud.

Payphones are still fairly common here, but very few of them accept coins, so be prepared to buy a prepaid card or to use a credit card (no surcharge).

Internet Cafés

Internet cafés have just begun to really take off in Geneva, and there are now several that stay open fairly late.

Wireless Hotspots

The city of Geneva provides a very good coverage of Free WiFi network in almost all public parks. Just look for the "ville-de-geneve" network. Other locations include:


For more hotspots, this site might help: Freespots

Cope

Please note that contrary to popular belief, the Swiss are beyond punctual when it comes to closing hours. So if a museum is supposed to close at 17:00, expect that at 16:47 you will be asked to leave and if you point out that closing hours are still 13 minutes away you might get expelled. If you arrive after 16:31, you'll more than likely be denied entrance. The same applies to shops and pretty much every public activity with a schedule. In the same vein, especially relevant to jet lagged travelers, it is important to note that lunch hour at most restaurants ends at 14:00 (and last orders at 13:45 for the more strict ones) with dinner service starting again at 18:00.

Go next

Statue of the philosopher Voltaire in Ferney-Voltaire

Nearby

Geneva is almost completely surrounded by France; the nearest major town is Annemasse (southeast of Geneva) and presents little interest. East of Geneva, Switzerland extends into the neighbouring canton of Vaud, which offers many attractions; the world heritage Lavaux region is forty minutes away by train, and has spectacular views of the vineyards, Lake Geneva and the French Alps. On the same riviera, both cities of Montreux (with its 12th century Chillon Caste) and Lausanne (with its Olympic Museum) have beautiful lake-side promenades and are very lively in the summer.

In winter, many mountain resorts in the Swiss, French and Italian Alps are readily accessible from Geneva by car or public transport.

Small towns in neighbouring France that can also be visited as a half-day trip are Saint-Julien en Genevois south of Geneva and Ferney-Voltaire (with the small castle once owned by the philosopher Voltaire) just north of the airport.

You can also take city bus E along the eastern shore of Lake Geneva to the village of Hermance, which has a beach, a tower that can be visited and old houses typical for the region.

Further away

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 or from SNCF's Gare des Eaux Vives. 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:

By hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is relatively safe and more common in Switzerland than France, for example, but almost as difficult if you're not a woman. The A1 motorway surrounds the city, with connections to the rest of Switzerland and neighbouring France.

To hitchhike to the direction of Lausanne (North) take bus number 29 towards Gare Zimeysa and step out at stop Blandonnet. Walk back 200m Route de Meyrin towards the center, across the bridge over the highway and you´ll find an on-ramp to highway towards Lausanne. (Another, even better possibility is to take tram 14 or 16 in direction of Meyrin and step out at the Avanchet. Then walk forward 200 m.) Walk down 100m along the on-ramp and hitchhike before the speed gets high. The position is very good, speed of the cars low, visibility good and there´s plenty of space for cars to stop. You should accept a ride at least to Nyon, where you can continue hitchhiking on the on-ramp. (Hitchhiking on the on-ramp is illegal. Your best bet is usually to try and get a ride at one of the gas station/restaurants on the autoroute itself.)

To hitchhike to the direction of Chamonix and Turin (South-East) take bus 27 towards Thônex-Vallard-Douane and go to the end of the line. Walk through customs to France and stand at the end of the customs just before the cars speed up for the highway. Be sure to have your passport with you when crossing the border. The position is very good, the customs officers are nice, speed is low, there´s space for cars to stop, all the traffic is passing through.

To hitchhike to the direction of Lyon and Paris (South-West, West, North-West) take the bus 29 to stop Blandonnet. Walk about 600m to the next on-ramp in direction of South, the one leading to the highway in the direction of South from Route de Vernier. The position is not very good because the cars speed up and visibility is not really good but there´s place for cars to stop. Take a ride at least 10km South to the Swiss-French border, where there´s a decent spot to continue. Walk through the customs and hitchhike - preferably with a sign - before the cars speed up. There´s not much space for cars to stop but they can, speed is low and all the traffic is passing through the customs.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, January 09, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.