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The Travel Blog

Geneva Je ne sais Quoi

Image Title: On Europe's highest suspension bridge (10,000ft), at Glacier 3000. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
On Europe's highest suspension bridge (10,000ft), at Glacier 3000. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: The United Nations, Geneva Office. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
The United Nations, Geneva Office. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Swiss Flag from Mont Blanc Bridge. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Swiss Flag from Mont Blanc Bridge. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: The Reformation Wall, monument to the Protestant Reformation. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
The Reformation Wall, monument to the Protestant Reformation. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Cocktails at the Leopard Bar & Lounge. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Cocktails at the Leopard Bar & Lounge. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: It's not Switzerland without Fondue. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
It's not Switzerland without Fondue. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Geneva has a Je ne sais Quoi - that certain indescribable quality.  It's an international city and a French city; it's outrageously expensive but has free walking tours and free inner city public transportation; it has fine dining Michelin Star restaurants . . . and it has Fondue restaurants. All of these nuances make Geneva a city to put on your list for a long weekend in central Europe. Getting there is straightforward by airplane or train and staying there is as simple as a few clicks with your choice of hundreds of hotels, hostels and B&Bs. We stayed at the Hotel Bristol near the lake and found it to be a delightful place in a convenient location and a reasonable - by Geneva standards - price.

Things to Do in Geneva

This is just a brief list of some of the things we packed into our trip to Geneva. You should take note that a number of activities are closed on Sundays and other activities are closed on Mondays. You still have plenty to do, but make sure to check schedules so you don't miss out. There are dozens more great things to do that will leave you wanting to return with an even longer list than when you started. 

 

 - Free Walking Tours: Free Walk Geneva provides two free tours.  Every day at 11:00am you can have a tour of Geneva's historical old town and the Protestant Reformation. At 2:00pm you can have a tour of the International District and the various United Nations campuses, but note the free tour does not include an actual tour of the United Nations, Geneva Office. On the historical tour, they will tell you the story of L'Escalade which is celebrated every year in mid-December to commemorate the 1602 successful defense of the city with a pot of boiling soup - we're not kidding.

United Nations, Geneva Office Tour: The UN gives daily tours in the various UN Languages (English, French, Russian, Arabic, Mandarin, and Spanish), but check with their website to see exact times for any particular day.  

Jet d'Eau: The Jet is a water feature on Lake Geneva which was originally a relief valve for the excess water pressure during the evening when the factories were not using the hydraulic pressure to run their machines.  The Jet now shoots an astonishing 140m/460ft in the air and is lit nightly with different colors.

CERN: The Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or European Council for Nuclear Research, allows public access and provides guided tours daily with reservations. CERN is the worlds largest particle physics laboratory and is a must see if you have an interest in science and engineering or partical physics.

Spa Day and Massage: We elected to get massages and spend a morning being pampered at our hotel.  There are many luxury hotels and spas around Geneva to book a massage if the stresses of your trip are just too much to handle.

- Day trip to Chamonix and Mont Blanc: We were not able to actually go to Chamonix and Mont Blanc because in early November (when we were in Geneva) they closed the gondola and cog-train that shuttle you from Chamonix to Mont Blanc for annual maintenance before Christmas.  So this famous ski and climbing center of Europe is definitely on our list when we come through this part of the world again.

- Day Trip to Glacier 3,000 Swiss Alpes: This is a full day trip from Geneva and competes with Chamonix and Mont Blanc for tourism.  Glacier 3000 is a year round ski resort.  They have a number of activities including the highest suspension bridge in Europe and an alpine slide in the summer.  All of these activities come with a serious panoramic view of the Swiss and French Alpes including Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, and the Eiger.  

Patek Phillipe Watch Museum: Patek Phillipe is a luxury swiss watch maker in Geneva with a long history of supplying watches to royal families around the world.  Their museum is well done and worth seeing if you are a watch or horology lover, but seemed a little redundant to us.

- Buy a Swiss Watch: It would just be rude not to at least look at a luxury swiss watch while in Geneva.  What you will learn on the free walking tour is the watchmakers in Switzerland actually fled from France during the reformation and settled in Geneva.

- Buy a Swiss Army Knife: VIctorinox has a flagship store in downtown Geneva with a display of swiss army knives to make any Boy Scout salivate with anticipation.  You can even build your own knife with exactly the combination of blades and tools you want.

- International Red Cross Museum: We blew it on this one.  The Red Cross and Crecent Museum is open on Sundays and not open on Mondays.  So our brilliant plan to see both the Red Cross and the UN on Monday before we left didn't work so well. The reviews look good and this museum is also on our list for, "Next Time."

- Take a Ferry across Lac Leman (Lake Geneva): The local lake ferries are included on your free inner city transporation pass that the downtown hotels will give you when you check in.  The ferries are a nice way to see the city and the surrounding mountains from the lake.

- Open a Swiss Bank Account: OK, this might not be that easy and we didn't try. The story is Switzerland remains neutral and will not be attacked because wealthy people from all over the world have their money there so nobody wants to see Switzerland in turmoil.

If this list seems light, just check out this comprehensive list of the 100 Best Things to do in Switzerland by our friend and fellow blogger, Jen Reviews.

Where to Eat in Geneva

There are literally - you can count them yourself on TripAdvisor - over a hundred restaurants within the small city limits.  Here are five we personally tried and would recommend:

Bayview: The Restaurant Bayview delivers all you should expect from a Michelin Star restaurant.  The food, the presentation and theater, the sommelier, and the waitstaff were all on point to deliver a first class dining experience. 

Leopard Bar & Lounge: This cool bar in the hotel d'Angleterre along the lakefront is going on our list of great bars around the world.  It exudes "Cool" and knows how to make proper cocktails.  This is also the first place we have been where they grated fresh truffles tableside on our linguini, kind of like grating cheese, but they keep track and your bill will show how many grams of truffles you took.

Le Carnivore: Don't bring your Vegan friends to eat here unless you want to watch them squirm.  We had the bone marrow starter.  They are kind of like a beef version of oysters and once again prove just about anything cooked in butter will be delicious.

Bon-Vin:  Bon-Vin is one of the famous Fondue restaurants in Geneva.  Fondue is kind of a "When in Rome . . . " experience everyone should try when in Geneva.  Be aware it's a little bit expensive for a pot of cheese and 1/2 baguette of bread.  The prices we saw ranged from mid-20's swiss francs to low-40's swiss francs per person and that's before you add a starter or a bottle of wine.  

Edward's Sandwiches:  One afternoon we were between the normal European dining times and were looking for a lite snack/lunch before our planned nice dinner so we stopped into Edward's Sandwiches.  What a great experience.  The owner, Edouard, has several restaurants around Geneva and he happened to be at the one we stopped in and was working behind the counter.  He told us he grew up in France but had spent some time as a teenager living in New York and fell in love with serious sandwiches. 30 years later, he is a restaurateur in Geneva.  If you see one of his sandwich shops, stop in because you won't be disappointed.

 

As you can see, it is easy to fill a long weekend in Geneva and you're not likely to leave hungry.  We certainly enjoyed our visit to this international city and hope to go back to explore even more.

 

Phil & Diane