Geneva: the city that rhymes with expensive. To be honest, everyone knows that the city has a pricey reputation. When I mentioned to my colleagues that I was going for a winter weekend in Geneva, their reactions were “Geneva is the most expensive city in Europe!”
The city has been was in my bucket list of European cities to visit for a long time. So when I decided to travel, my sister thought that Geneva was the perfect city to celebrate my birthday. I found it to be a nice city with friendly and welcoming people, scenic and panoramic view of the Alps including of course Lake Leman (also known as Lake Geneva).
- 1 Preparing your trip
- 2 Where to Stay: Hotel Rotary – MGallery by Sofitel
- 3 What to do during a weekend in Geneva?
- 4 Visit Geneva’s main attraction
- 5 Explore Geneva’s Old Town
- 6 See a different side of Geneva
- 7 Take part in a winter festival
- 8 Visit an art museum – MAMCO
- 9 Explore Geneva’s shops
- 10 Eat no matter the size of your purse/wallet
Preparing your trip
It’s easy to get to Geneva either by air or train.
We travelled with British Airways using our Avios. We only paid only £35 and 8000 points each.
Alternatively, you can take the train. If you are in England, after taking the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord, you can hop on the RER line D to Gare de Lyon, ad then high-speed TGV to Geneva. This can be a long journey but you can enjoy the scenic views.
Tip: At Geneva airport, after the baggage claim, you can collect your free ticket to the town. The machine that dispenses the tickets is easy to spot with the queue forming in front of it! The cool thing about the city is that transport is free for tourists! Imagine if London or even Paris was handing out free tickets at Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle airports! Getting into Geneva is extremely easy as the train journey only takes 7 minutes.
When to visit?
Geneva is a city that can be visited any time of the year. Summer is great as you can enjoy the different attractions that the city offers. In winter, you can enjoy the Christmas lights and sight of snowy Mont-Blanc (on a good day). Also, Geneva being so close to France, you can actually hit the slopes and enjoy a day snowboarding.
How long should I stay in Geneva?
We spent 3 days in Geneva and it should have been enough. However, due to the bad weather on the last day, we didn’t get to see or do much. Therefore I would recommend 4 days to explore the city at your own pace. To help plan your trip, I would recommend a visit to the Geneva Tourist Information Centre for a detailed travel guide to the city and its attractions.
Living costs are relatively higher in Geneva or Switzerland for that matter. The country’s high currency is the Swiss franc. As guidance, a coffee will cost you £4.50 while a simple lunch (salad and coke) will be about £19.
Where to Stay: Hotel Rotary – MGallery by Sofitel
We stayed at Hotel Rotary Geneva MGallery by Sofitel, located within walking distance to Geneva train station and in the business district. The four-star hotel is styled in a traditional but stylish way. I usually don’t book this kind of hotel but since I visited Geneva for my birthday, I thought I could treat myself for once. The staff were professional and welcoming. The decor of the hotel was warming and the room classy, comfortable and spacious. Built in 1978, the hotel was renovated in 2015 and offers 95 rooms including 10 suites within 8 floors.
Tip: At the check in we were given a free Geneva Transport Card which was valid for the duration of our trip and was valid on trains, buses, boats and trams. So make sure that you request the ticket!
Address: 18-20 rue du Cendrier – 1201 Geneva
What to do during a weekend in Geneva?
Before travelling for my weekend break in Geneva, I tried to make the visit a little personal by mixing the touristy attractions with ‘going off the beaten path’. On my list of things to do in Geneva, I had the famous “jet d’eau” and the United Nations’ headquarters. However, I ended up discovering the streets of the old town and its medieval architecture. Geneva is best when you wander around the streets, weather permitting!
Visit Geneva’s main attraction
Every big city has its famous landmarks. For example, London is known for its Big Ben, Paris for the Eiffel Tower and New York for the Statue of Liberty. For Geneva, it’s the Jet d’eau. The impressive water fountain can even be seen as you fly to Geneva. You can have a good view of the fountain from the Pont du Mont-Blanc or by walking along the Promenade du Lac. You can get very close but be prepared to get wet. On the way back, be sure to pass through Jardin des Anglais and Horloge Fleurie (flower clock). Since it snowed the night before, the clock was covered in snow.
Explore Geneva’s Old Town
Geneva is a city of contrast. On one side you have the luxury brands and their massive buildings and on the other side, you have the Old Town. The Old Town situated around the Cathedral Saint-Pierre and the pedestrian Place du Bourg-de-Four is very picturesque. With its independent boutiques, art galleries, antique shops, cafes and small restaurants, the area is very pretty and a great location for people watching.
At the moment, the place is decorated with Christmas lights making it an enchanting location at night. A little walk south takes you to the Bastions Park, a calm spot where you can enjoy a nice cup of hot chocolate. The outdoor terrace is transformed into an ice rink in the winter.
See a different side of Geneva
Other locations we were suggested to visit but we unable to due to bad weather and lack of time was Carouge (take Tram 12 heading south). Carouge is (we were told) the hidden gem of Geneva with Italian architectures (the neighbourhood was built by architects from Turin the 18th century.
Bains des Pâquis
If you are on a lookout for a relaxing spa day but don’t want to spend a week’s salary on it, then the Bains des Pâquis is for you. The public swimming pool is open all year round and it’s where all the locals’ hangout. There you can swim, get a massage, use the sauna or have a cheap meal.
Address: Les Bains des Pâquis, Quai du Mont-Blanc 30 – 1200 Geneva
Take part in a winter festival
Fête de l’Escalade
La Fête de l’Escalade is a traditional and very popular festival celebrated each year around mid-December. To be honest, the first time I heard about the festival was during my weekend in Geneva. My sister and I were intrigued by the people (young and old) wearing ancients’ costumes. This festival is held to celebrate the victory of the Genevois against Savoyard troops held by the Duke of Savoy in December 1602 when they tried to climb the city walls at night. Escalade means “climb” in French.
Festival of Lights
Like Geneva wasn’t attractive enough, throughout December and early January, the city is illuminated with thousands of lights. Geneva Lux, better known as the festival of lights is spectacular.
Visit an art museum – MAMCO
One thing I like to do when I visit a city is to visit at least one of their museum. So it wasn’t any different during my weekend in Geneva. I like modern art so was pleased to hear about the modern and contemporary art museum called MAMCO. I was even more pleased to visit it as the weather wasn’t to our advantage, therefore, it was a good refuge. We discovered all the different floors. The snag, however, was that you had to leave your belongings in a locker. In summer or on a sunny day, it wouldn’t be a problem but when it’s pouring and all your stuff is wet, it’s not ideal to leave it in a confined small space. Nevertheless, we started our tour on the top floor and made our way down the industrial building.
I really enjoyed it and wanted to visit the Centre d’Art Contemporain (contemporary art) which was located opposite MAMCO. Unfortunately, we didn’t visit as we were in need for a nice cup of coffee/tea and agreed we would come the next day. Sadly the museum was closed on Mondays. I’ll return on another visit then!
MAMCO is located in the Quartier des Bains, nicknamed Geneva’s little Soho is home to numerous art galleries, exhibition centres and museums. If you like art, you should definitely stop by.
Explore Geneva’s shops
As the capital city of luxury, Geneva has an array of shops. It’s not hard to flex your plastic there with price tags that will give your banker a headache! Rue du Rhône is where most of the high-end shops, watchmakers, jewellery shops are located. If your wallet or purse is not as heavy as some people, you can still do some window shopping.
After about an hour window shopping we were tired and cold so we decided to warm ourselves in the department store Globus. I’m not sure if it was a special day but they were offering prosecco to the shoppers. I thought this marketing idea was brilliant! People browse for clothes, homeware, cosmetics etc while a sipping a glass of bubbly… I can guarantee that most people left the store with a bag even when they intended not to buy anything! If you are one of those who resist shopping while on holiday, you can still pay Globus a visit for the food hall. We stopped for a sample at the Vietnamese stand. The food was pricey but less than most restaurants in the city centre. Space was packed with tourists and business people. We literally had to circle the area twice before being able to find a space to be seated; this is how crowded it was!
While in Plainpalais on our way to the museum, we came across the Plainpalais flea market. It was pouring down so we had no interest in stopping to explore the biggest and best flea market in Switzerland. A member of the hotel staff recommended it as well. It was unfortunate as both myself and my sister enjoy exploring flea markets.
Eat no matter the size of your purse/wallet
Chez ma Cousine
On the evening of our first day, we decided to eat at the restaurant Chez ma Cousine. We decided on the one located in the old town not knowing that there was one just minutes away from our hotel. The place is great for people who don’t want to spend too much but want to eat good food. The chicken is cooked on site and is served with potato wedges and a salad. We found the atmosphere to be very warm and cosy. The staff were welcoming and nice.
Address: Place du Bourg-de-Four 6 – 1204 Geneva
Wine & Beef Lévrier
As the name suggests, Wine and Beef Lévrier is a wine bar which serves beef, especially rib eye steak in various sizes. The wine list and the dessert menu are more extensive than the food menu. But you can’t complain as the food is well cooked and tasty. The atmosphere is modern and spacious, you have a large seating space at the front and back of the restaurant.
Address: Rue Ami-Lévrier 3 – 1201 Geneva
My weekend in Geneva was amazing despite the bad weather on the last day. I learned so much in 3 days! And, the best part, I brought home the best souvenirs: a wonderful birthday celebration and great Swiss chocolates
Have you ever been to Geneva? Share your tips!