Geneva Travel Guide
Resting on the southwestern tip of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), Geneva is the cosmopolitan, graceful soul of Switzerland’s French-speaking territory, a high-profile crossroads of wealth, influence, and cultures from around the world. Rolls-Royces purr past manicured promenades, and grand mansarded mansions stand guard beside the River Rhône, where yachts bob and gulls dive. The combination of Swiss efficiency and French savoir faire gives Geneva a chic polish, and it is home to some of the world’s most luxurious and exclusive stores and extravagant restaurants.
Geneva pads the southwestern tip of Lac Léman, then bulges farther west into France. The city itself follows the lake as it narrows into the River Rhône. The two halves of this bisected center—Rive Droite (Right Bank, on the north side) and Rive Gauche (Left Bank, to the south)—have distinct personalities. The Old Town, the main shopping streets, and two-thirds of Geneva’s museums fill the historic Rive Gauche. The Rive Droite includes the International Area and many handsome hotels. Most of the main neighborhoods are easily explored on foot.
Along the northern edge of the city, 10 minutes by car or bus from the pont du Mont-Blanc, is the International Area, Geneva’s humanitarian and diplomatic zone, with the Palais des Nations as its core. Modern office buildings of the UN are threaded between 19th-century villas, which house nongovernmental organizations, embassies, and a handful of museums.
Geneva Restaurant Reviews
Geneva has more restaurants per capita than New York City, and its chefs excel at everything from haute gastronomie to traditional bistro fare to creative ethnic food.
Geneva’s rich, earthy local cuisine emphasizes abats (organ meats), andouillettes (chitterling sausages), potatoes, and onions. Lac Léman yields abundant fish—perch, trout, féra (related to salmon), and omble (char)—in summer. La chasse (wild game) turns up between late September and mid-December. Year-round standards include pieds de cochon (pigs’ feet), fricassée de porc (pork simmered in wine), longeole (unsmoked pork sausage stuffed with cabbage and fennel), petit salé (salt pork), tripe, and boudin noir (rich, rosy-brown blood pudding).
Prices at the top spots can be dry-mouth high, but—as in most Swiss cities—you’ll save considerably by choosing a prix-fixe menu or a lunchtime plat du jour. It is possible to eat well at even the plainest corner bistro, but if you want to splurge, starting with truffles and foie gras, ending with poire William (a pear-based eau-de-vie), and plumbing the depths of great French-Swiss wine lists, there’s no limit to what you can spend here.
Be sure to plan ahead: Many of the top spots close on weekends, and it’s a good idea to make reservations wherever you go.
Geneva Hotel Reviews
Spending the night in Geneva can be financially taxing—rates are comparable to those in most European capitals—but you’ll limit the damage if you can take advantage of special weekend or group deals. One side effect of Geneva’s popularity as a convention center is the willingness of the hotels to drop rates at nonpeak times. Book well in advance, since large blocks of rooms fill up during major events, and remember that rates plummet most dramatically at luxury hotels.
Also keep in mind that many hotels close for a short period during their region’s off-season; closing dates often vary from year to year, so be sure to call ahead and check.
For a city of its size, Geneva enjoys an unusually rich arts scene. Indeed, its mix of cultures guarantees a steady influx of international artists and performers year-round. Tickets to most concerts remain on sale up to the day of performance and can be purchased direct at theaters.
For help in determining how to spend your time in Geneva, consult Geneva Agenda, a bilingual (English and French) weekly publication that lists concerts, exhibitions, performances, and other events. It is available free from tourist information booths and most hotels.
Many of Geneva’s stores and galleries are devoted to those with deep pockets. The epicenter of luxury shopping is the Rue du Rhône, which alternates Gucci and Valentino with diamond-studded watches and jewels. One block in, at the foot of the Old Town, is the less expensive, trendier street known variously as: rue de la Confédération, rue du Marché, rue de la Croix-d’Or, and rue de Rive. Galleries, antiques shops, bookstores, and boutiques line the Grand-Rue and the streets radiating from place du Bourg-de-Four. Rue du Mont-Blanc, on the Right Bank, is choked with souvenir stores.
As a jewelry capital rivaled only by New York and an international center for Swiss watchmakers, Geneva regularly hosts high-profile auctions by the major houses.
General opening hours for stores are weekdays from 9 to 6:30 and Saturday from 9 to 5. Shops in the downtown area close at 8 on Thursday.