Geneva is often seen by travellers as a financial centre or gateway to the Swiss Alps, but this culturally rich city is worth a trip in itself. Surrounded by mountains and filled with museums and historical attractions, this city of 200,000 offers plenty of attractions for a discovery tour on your next visit. Here, we list the must-see spots in the second most populous city in Switzerland.
Known as Vieille Ville in French, Geneva’s Old Town is located on the higher part of the city and a national heritage site. Lined with small streets and quaint, charming squares, Old Town is perfect for a lazy afternoon of discovery. Wander through its numerous cafes, antique shops, restaurants, galleries, and museums. Don’t miss the famous St. Peter's/Pierre Cathedral, Place du Bourg-de-Fou, Maison Tavel museum, and the Old Arsenal.
Over 850 years old, St. Pierre is the city’s main church and located in the heart of Old Town. Here you can catch a stunning panoramic view of Lake Geneva. The church, built over several centuries, is an example of a range of architectural styles spanning from Gothic to Ancient.
On your visit you can catch one of the numerous concerts St. Pierre hosts throughout the year. The church is free to enter.
Take time to scale the two tall towers for an unparalleled 360-degree view of the city and Lake Geneva. Other attractions include John Calvin’s triangular stool, which the famous theologian sat and worked on during his visits. Don’t miss the Chapel of the Maccabee and its Gothic paintings, along with the small museum with the Roman Crypt, monk's cells, and the Allobrogian Tomb.
The 100-metre Reformation Wall was built into Geneva’s old city wall around 100 years ago, to mark the 400 th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. It’s a significant monument to Geneva’s historical role in Europe’s religious history, and it offers glimpses of other key religious figures such as John Knox and Oliver Cromwell.
More history awaits your discovery at the International Museum of the Reformation, where you can catch sight of rare, ancient copies of the Bible. The museum is housed in the Mallet House, site of the cloister of St. Pierre.
The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire is the city’s largest art museum, where you’ll find modernist masterpieces, ancient suits of armour, musical instruments, and Mesopotamian artefacts, among the statue of Pharaoh Ramses II and Coptic wall hangings. With more than 500,000 exhibits, the four-level museum offers you an entry point into more than 15,000 years of human history. Whether you enjoy the fine arts, archaeology, or a few hours lost to historical wonders, you’ll find something to discover in this large art museum. Entry is free.
You won’t regret setting aside a couple of hours to visit the European headquarters of the UN, and the largest UN locale after New York. Visited by over 100,000 people each year, the Palais des Nations is home to the Assembly Hall, the Council Chamber, and the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Room. Take a guided tour to find out more about the work done at the Palais and for an overview of the artworks that have been donated.
Make time also for the Red Cross Museum, which is just up the road.
The Jet d’Eau is probably the first image that comes to mind when you think about Geneva. Originally built to release pressure for the city’s water supply, today the fountain is an iconic sight and top landmark in Geneva. Releasing 500 litres a second to achieve a height of 140 metres, the fountain is visible throughout the city and from the air. Beware of a change in wind direction when visiting the sight, as you might find yourself drenched before you know it.
The city’s botanical gardens, Jardin Botanique, is over 100 years old and home to greenhouses, gardens, and a conservatory. With more than 12,000 species of flora, the gardens cover around 28 hectares and features an alpine garden with species from the country’s elevated geographical areas. Its herbarium is one of the biggest in the world and houses six million samples. There’s also a small area home to fallow deer and other animals.
Rich in history and culture, Geneva makes an evocative and culturally rich destination whether you’re stopping by for a day or for longer. Travellers should make time for Old Town and other key attractions like St. Pierre and Palais des Nations.
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