My family and I decided to go on a trip to Switzerland and see two of the most popular cities on Lake Leman – Montreux and Geneva. We first flew from Sofia to Geneva, and then took a train to get to the city of Montreux. Our time was quite limited, so I had to come up with an itinerary on how to spend one day in Geneva – and include as many things to see there as possible.
HOW TO GET AROUND GENEVA:
When arriving at the airport in Geneva, the first thing you need to do is to get your free public transport ticket. The machine is located right after the luggage collection zone, next to the train ticket machine. All you need to do is press the button and you get an 80-minute free ticket for all Geneva. The train ride takes about 10-15 minutes to the central railway station in the city, which leaves you with pretty much an hour left to get to your accommodation free of charge!
*Pro tip: If you are planning to stay a bit longer than one day in Geneva, maybe at least one night, this is for you. I know I always suggest you book an AirBnb when staying somewhere, but this is the first time I am going to advise you against it. According to local regulations, when you stay at a hotel, a youth hostel or a campsite, you receive a Free Geneva Transport Card, which allows you to use the entire transport network within the city for the whole length of your stay – buses, trams, trains, and even taxi-boats.
However, if you aren’t spending the night here, you can always purchase the Geneva Transport Card at any ticket machine, at any bus/tram stop. A day pass for unlimited use would cost you 10 CHF.
HOW TO SPEND ONE DAY IN GENEVA, SWITZERLAND:
Seeing most of Geneva in one day is definitely possible, especially if you have a good plan on your hands.
Here is a full list of the most important attraction with a bit of historical information to each one. I sincerely hope this makes planning your trip to Geneva a lot easier and helps you figure out what are the places you want to visit here.
So let’s dive into it.
Take a Free Walking Tour
During our short stay in Geneva, a free walking tour in the morning seemed like the perfect way to get to know the city quickly and learn as much as possible about it. And it really was a great experience.
The ‘Heart of Geneva’ free walking tour takes place daily at 11am and the meeting point is at the Tour de l’Ile, Pont de l’Ile at Place Bel-Air. It takes about 2 – 2.5 hours and it covers the beautiful old town and the most important things to see in the area.
Explore the Old Town
The Old Town is undoubtedly the best thing you can put on your list if you only have one day in Geneva. It is quite compact and you will get to see the most important points of interest.
The Old Town is a lovely mixture of cobbled streets, historical sights, cosy coffee shops and restaurants and beautiful squares and gardens. Be prepared to get lost in a medieval maze and feel like you ended up in a European fairytale.
Here is a list of some of the most important things to see in Geneva in 1 day:
Basilica of Notre-Dame
One of the most significant buildings in Geneva is the Notre-Dame Basilica, especially for the catholic population. The basilica was built between 1852 and 1857 and it was constructed in a Gothic style.
An interesting fact is that the church is a stopover for pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela.
The basilica is conveniently located just opposite the train station, so getting there is very easy.
St. Pierre Cathedral
St. Pierre Cathedral (or St. Peter’s Cathedral) is Geneva’s main church, which was built between the 12th and 13th century. As it was rebuilt during the years, it combines a variety of architecture styles.
The cathedral is located in the Old Town of Geneva and it’s slightly elevated on a hill, overlooking the city. This makes it the perfect place to admire Geneva from above, as the two towers are open for visitors, and the view from the top is stunning.
The top of the towers are reached via long spiral staircase. If you feel like only visiting one of the towers, you should bear in mind that the South tower offers an open air balcony, which is perfect for good weather. The North tower is good for rainy days, as it offers a spacious room with closed windows to enjoy the view from the inside.
Concerts are also being hosted in the cathedral, with prices varying from 0 to 15 CHF. To learn more visit their website.
The Travel House (Maison Tavel)
The Travel house is the oldest private house in Geneva, built back in the 12th century. It was reconstructed in 1334 after experiencing damaging from a fire. In 1963 the house became a property of the city of Geneva and it was turned into a museum, which can be visited today. The museum focuses on Geneva’s city history, predominantly from the medieval times.
Situated in the heart of Geneva and right next to the Old Town, the Parc des Bastions is the perfect place to unwind and spend some time in nature, while also seeing some of the city’s most important sights.
The park is a place where locals love to come and have a picnic, chill with friends or play chess at one of the huge public black-white boards. During the warmer months there are often events and festivals happening in Parc des Bastions.
This is also where you’ll find the Palais Eynard – the seat of the city government, the Reformation Wall, as well as the old university.
The reformation wall is a monument, built in the old city walls of Geneva to honour some of the most important figures and events during the Protestant Reformation.
It is located in the grounds of the University of Geneva, overlooking the Parc des Bastions.
The Molard Tower
The tower was built in 1591 and it has been standing there for centuries, capturing significant moments of the history of Geneva. It is located in Place Molard, which back in the day used to be a port open to the lake. Initially, the tower was built for military purposes – to protect the port. It has preserved its original look and design – It has a clock and is decorated with arms linked to the history of Geneva.
The English Garden and the Flower Clock
A very recognisable symbol of Geneva i certainly the flower clock in the English garden. The clock is made out of various flowers that bloom during different times of the year, thanks to which the clock always looks different.
It was created in 1955 as a symbol of the city’s watchmakers.
An interesting fact is that with 2.5 metres, its second hand is the longest in the world. The clock comes in second place for largest flower clocks in the world, after the one in Tehran, Iran.
The Geneva Water Fountain
Another one of the main landmarks of Geneva is the Jet d’Eau – a large water fountain, located at the point where lake Geneva meets the Rhone river.
The fountain reaches an altitude of 140 metres and it pumps out five hundred litres of water every second into the air.
The coolest part is that you can actually get very close to the fountain. You may even find yourself a bit wet if you’re standing too close.. and the wind direction changes.
Lake Geneva, or also called Lake Léman by some locals, is one of the largest lakes in Western Europe and it goes through the city centre of Geneva.
During the warmer months people come to the lake for a swim or to paddle board. The clean waters and beautiful scenery certainly make this an unforgettable experience.
Treille Promenade – longest wooden bench in the world
Head to the promenade below the Town Hall to admire the view of the Old Town while chilling on the longest wooden bench in the world. The bench was built in 1767 and it’s 120 metres (413 feet) long and made out of 180 wooden boards.
Along this promenade is also where “Geneva official chestnut tree” is located. Every year, its first leaf symbolises the arrival of spring in Geneva.
Palace of Nations
Palais des Nations is one of the most significant buildings in Geneva for many reasons. It was built between 1929 and 1936 and it houses the European headquarters of the United Nations.This is the second largest UN centre worldwide, after the one in New York.
The palace is open for visitors, who are able to see ‘behind the curtains’ and learn more about the place through a guided tour.
The Broken Chair sculpture
The broken chair is located in the square in front of the Palace of Nations. It is a 12-metres high wooden structure, which symbolises opposition to landmines and cluster bombs.
The European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN, is the biggest particle physics laboratory in the world.
You can take a free guided tour around the laboratory, but you need to book way in advance! The booking happens online in 2 time slots – once 15 days before the actual tour, and then 3 days before the tour.
Bear in mind, you need to be very fast and try to register as soon as they open the website for booking. There is high demand, and sadly we didn’t manage to book due to this.
Plan at least 2-3 hours for the tour.
CERN is easily reachable by tram, which stops just across the entrance.
Take a boat along the lake
Did you know that Geneva’s public transport includes boats along the Leman river? I was so excited to try them out when I heard about this.
The so-called mouettes are yellow shuttle boats, connecting the city center through 4 harbours. You can use the boats for free if you have a Geneva public transport card.
This gives locals and visitors a possibility to experience the city from a new perspective and enjoy a beautiful ride along the waters of the lake.
The boats’ timetable is very regular – they come every 10 to 30 minutes daily. Just bear in mind that the last boats leave around 5-6 pm during the winter time.
I hope this blog post helped you create your one day in Geneva itinerary.
If you’re planning on spending a bit more time in the area and would like to see another place nearby – I strongly recommend visiting Montreux. If you’re looking for more off the beaten path places in Switzerland, you should consider Lugano, Ascona and Vevey.
Read my guide on the best things to do in Montreux here.
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