Beautiful lakes, more than 50 parks, and alluring vistas of snow-capped Alps on the horizon. Geneva is undoubtedly the grandest Swiss city, and one of the safest in the world. Geneva carries a long and eventful history, reflected in its numerous museums and dimly-lit galleries. Its compact size and lakeside promenades make it easy to explore on foot. So, lace up your favorite walking shoes and explore 10 of our favorite spots on this self-guided walking tour of Geneva, Switzerland:
Start your walk at Quai Gustave-Ador beside the Jardin Anglais. This small park is best known for its working Horloge Fleurie (Flower Clock), comprising of more than 6,500 flowers. The clock honors two of Geneva’s specialties: watchmaking and botany. And, from the top, you can enjoy an excellent view of the Jet d’Eau, a massive fountain that shoots water 140 meters into the air.
From place du Lac, head south across the city’s main shopping district. First, you’ll cross the glitzy rue du Rhône with its uninterrupted parade of haute couture boutiques, jewelers, and watchmakers. Then, wander through the more affordable rue du Marché shopping precinct (and maybe pick up a few things while you’re there).
Head up rue de la Fontaine to the photogenic Place du Bourg-de-Four, one of Geneva’s most historic squares. This was where the Roman forum once stood and where Rousseau spent his childhood. The square remains the geographical and spiritual heart of the city, with galleries, antique shops, cafés, bars, and bistros.
Turn right along rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, then right again along place de la Taconnerie to the Cathédrale de Saint-Pierre, a breathtaking mix of Romanesque and Gothic features, built between 1150 and 1232. During the Reformation, locals voted to make it Protestant, stripping all the decoration from the once-ornate interior. A climb up the tower offers sweeping views of the entire city.
From the cathedral, follow rue Otto-Barblan to rue de Puits St. Pierre. Here stands the city’s oldest private house, Maison Tavel, which contains the Museum of Ancient Geneva, with its fascinating model of 19th-century Geneva on the third floor. Up the hill, a 17th-century former arsenal has mosaic tableaus depicting scenes from Geneva’s history.
Just outside the city walls lies the elegant place de Neuve. Together with a statue of General Dufour, the square is surrounded by beautiful old buildings. These include the majestic Grand Théâtre, the city’s opera house. Note the beautiful marble statues on the central facade representing drama, dance, music, and comedy. Flanking the Grand Théâtre is the world-class Conservatoire de Musique, with its large concert hall and dazzling Byzantine-style facade, and the Musée Rath.
Across the square, the Parc des Bastions is a popular place to relax. Play on the giant chessboard or enjoy coffee and cake in the atmospheric Café du Parc des Bastions, which is housed in a former bandstand and winter garden. The park was the city’s first botanical garden and it contains more than 50 varieties of rare trees, as well as statues and fountains.
You are now on the edge of the Vieille Ville. On one flank of Parc des Bastions, the impressive 298-foot-long Monument International de la Reformation (International Monument of the Reformation) lines the city ramparts. Beyond the park, the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (Museum of Art History) counts among Geneva’s most prominent museums. It contains everything from ancient Greek statues and medieval stained glass to canvasses by Rembrandt and Monet. Geneva’s long and eventful history is reflected in the museums and monuments of the Vieille Ville. No visit is complete without exploring the narrow streets and fountain-filled squares of this picturesque district, with its tempting specialist boutiques and its array of cozy cafés, bars, and restaurants.
A short bus ride away, the lakeshore gives way to parkland, making it a popular area for morning and evening walks. Geneva is often described as the “city of parks” with more than 50 occupying around a quarter of the city’s total area. Many of them have magnificent lake and mountain vistas. Parc Mon-Repos is among the city’s most popular, extending for over a mile along the lake. It has swimming pools, sunbathing areas, and shady groves for picnics.
Finish off the tour at the Conservatoire et Jardin Botanique (Botanical Conservatory and Garden), one of Geneva’s most visited sites, and the ideal spot for a leisurely end-of-the-day stroll. Its collection of 16,000 plant species from all over the world is divided into various sections. In the gardens, you’ll find an arboretum, a “scent-and-touch garden,” and the Botanicum, a family space featuring playful, sensory interactions with the plant world.