The headquarters for the UN and the Red Cross, a soaring water fountain, a flower clock and the namesake lake, all in Geneva
Geneva is a cosmopolitan city that reveals the ritzier side of Switzerland. Sprawling around the western banks of Lake Geneva where the Rhône emerges to spill into France, the city is just a short drive from the French border and shares that country’s primary language — and some of its high-end style.
Amid the stately buildings that house the United Nations and Red Cross, you’ll find haute couture, luxury chocolates and some of the world’s finest timepieces.
Geneva’s garden-edged waterfront features the Flower Clock, or L'horloge fleurie, a large clock made from flowers along the side of a hill. The lake view is dominated by the Jet d’Eau, a fountain consisting of a single spray of water shooting 140 m (459 ft) in the air.
Further up the hill, the old town forms the city’s crown, with its medieval cobblestone streets, the forbidding Saint Peter’s Cathedral and the Reformation Wall.
Things to see and do in Geneva
Undoubtedly Geneva’s most singular feature, this 140 m (459 ft) high fountain erupts from the inlet where Lake Geneva meets the Rhône. If you’re surefooted, you can traverse a tricky spit of rock out over the water to get closer to it, and feel the intense spray whenever there’s the slightest breeze.
The first of its kind, the jet was created in 1886 as a release valve for a hydraulic power network. Once its aesthetic value was recognised in 1891, it was moved to its present location and strengthened to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the Swiss confederation. The present fountain was completed in 1951.
The UN and the Red Cross
Geneva is a major site of international relations, and we can arrange a city tour that immerses you in the city’s statecraft. You'll visit the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the United Nations, with its neoclassical columns and long boulevard of flags. You’ll also see the site of the Red Cross’s founding, and a museum dedicated to its ongoing work.
The large park that houses these buildings also contains various well-known works of art. One of the most notable is the Broken Chair sculpture, a gigantic wooden chair with one torn-off leg, originally created in support of a treaty to ban landmines and cluster bombs.
Switzerland is known for its watches, and some of the finest timepieces have been made in Geneva since the 16th century. Many of the great watchmakers are here, including Patek Philippe, Rolex, Piaget, Baume & Mercier, Frederique Constant, Alpina and Vacheron Constantin. The so-called Watch Valley, where the world’s most renowned watchmakers first developed and continue to complicate their creations, begins in Geneva and stretches to Basel.
You can shop the rows of Swiss timekeeping shops in the shopping district along the Rhône. We can also arrange a private tour of one of the manufacturers, should you wish to learn more.
Geneva’s old town is perched atop a hill, a strategic location from the days before Geneva was officially a part of Switzerland. Its cobbled streets date from the Middle Ages, when Geneva was owned by the House of Savoy.
The stern sandstone Saint Peter’s Cathedral forms the old town’s heart, and traces the city’s transformation from French Roman Catholic to Swiss Reformation. The 12th-century Gothic spires were much later joined by neoclassical façade, once the cathedral had become John Calvin’s adopted home church. You can climb the tower for panoramic city views.
At the old town’s edge, visit the Reformation Wall, commemorating the leaders of the Protestant Reformation.
Best time to visit Geneva
Geneva shines brightest between July and October, when summer temperatures encourage people to be out in the fountain-lined streets. The city often gets snow between December and February, while November and May both tend to be rainy.
Festivals, events and seasonal reasons to visit Geneva
- March: The Geneva Motor Show runs for ten days. The city gets busy with enthusiasts visiting what’s said to be the world’s largest motor show.
- Late November through late December: Christmas markets fill the squares with wooden chalets selling handmade trinkets, food and festive treats.
Map of Geneva
Places & hotels on the map
Places near Geneva
- Lake Geneva 25 miles away
- Montreux 41 miles away
- Zermatt 79 miles away
- Bern 81 miles away
- Bernese Oberland 87 miles away
- Interlaken 89 miles away
- Wengen 90 miles away
- Grindelwald 96 miles away
- The Swiss Alps 119 miles away
- Lucerne 119 miles away
- Lugano 136 miles away
- Zürich 140 miles away
- St. Moritz 178 miles away