Switzerland’s second-largest city is shaking things up with new restaurants, unique museums and lively cocktail bars.
By Kelly DiNardo, Photo by Geneva Tourism
With a variety of French and Swiss ski resorts just a hop, skip and jump away, visitors often breeze through Geneva, Switzerland, and make a beeline for the slopes. But those who pause en route to the chalet find Switzerland’s second-largest city is shaking off its buttoned-up-banker reputation for an increasingly creative food scene, unique museums and lively cocktail bars.
Whether you’re planning to head out on a European getaway this winter or are just getting comfortable on your couch for some armchair traveling, let this suggested itinerary guide you through a fun-filled weekend in this charming city.
Insider’s tip: The city is pretty quiet on the weekends, as the Genevois are up in the mountains, so aim for a weekday visit when the city is active.
Along the busy Quai du Mont-Blanc, a lakeside promenade with views of the towering 15,781-foot Mont Blanc, sits the historic Hotel de la Paix. Once a favorite of Princess Grace Kelly, this mid-19th century grande dame was acquired and remodeled by Ritz Carlton in 2015, reopening in 2017. Inside the Italianate façade, the hotel blends elements from its ornate past—marble columns, an impressive crystal chandelier—with simple, modern furnishings and rich fabrics for a luxurious respite.
Stroll along the waterfront promenade and take in views of the Jet d’Eau, the famous fountain that sits at the point where Lake Geneva empties into the Rhône River and shoots water as high as 460 feet in the air. Cross the Pont du Mont-Blanc bridge, located on the lake’s left bank, and stop to see the Flower Clock, an outdoor clock with more than 6,000 flowers making up the face, before heading to the city’s Old Town.
Wander up the steep cobblestone street to the bottom of St. Pierre Cathedral. History buffs will want to head to the Archaeological Site, a museum situated amid the city’s medieval ruins, for a tour through the Geneva’s history, from Roman times into the Middle Ages. Make your way upstairs to the cathedral itself and climb up the spiral staircase for panoramic views of modern-day Geneva.
Grab dinner at Fiskebar, the city’s first Nordic restaurant. Tucked into the first floor of the Hotel de la Paix, the simply dressed restaurant is done up in natural materials of wood, glass and leather, and accented with pops of emerald green and marine blue. A fresh-fish counter showcases much of the seafood-centric menu, which includes oysters, spider crab and grilled mackerel.
Head to Le Verre à Monique for a nightcap. This shabby-chic speakeasy shakes up classics and more inventive cocktails, such as the lychee and rose martini.
The European Organization for Nuclear Research, situated on the outskirts of Geneva, is home to the world’s largest, most powerful particle accelerator. The machine, which uses magnets to smash together particles moving at a pace just short of the speed of light, made it possible for scientists to identify the Higgs boson. Better known as the “God particle,” the Higgs boson helps explain why much of the universe’s mass exists. Reserve an appointment early, as the two-hour guided tour fills up quickly.
Take the tram to the artsy and bohemian neighborhood of Carouge for lunch at Café des Négociants. The bistro, outfitted with warm, wood floors, retro posters and a tree-hemmed terrace, serves seasonal French fare with an impressive wine list to match.
Take an afternoon stroll through the charming streets of Carouge, a once independent city developed by the former king of Sardinia. Today, it’s a creative enclave dotted with galleries, boutiques, artisanal workshops and cozy cafés.
La Bottega’s minimalistic décor—plain wood tables, exposed-brick walls—belies the creativity of this Michelin-starred trattoria. The menu changes regularly, depending on the ingredients available at the market, but might include smoked beef tartare or spaghetti with goat cheese and anchovies. Don’t miss out on drinking a glass from the unique wine list that features several orange wines.
You’ll find several after-dinner-drink options on the one-block street Rue Henri-Blanvalet. Be sure to pop into lively wine bar Bottle Brothers, or the dark and intimate L’Atelier Cocktail Club.
The sobering but fascinating International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum explores three of the organization’s major challenges: defending human dignity, restoring family links and reducing natural risks. Through artifacts, artworks and life-size videos of 12 witnesses sharing their heart-wrenching personal stories, the museum details the organization’s history and current efforts. An audio guide, available in English, is included in the price of a tour.
Not far from the cathedral, on a sloping cobblestone street, you’ll find Les Armures. The traditional Swiss eatery dishes up fondue and exquisite raclette, a melted cheese dish served with potatoes, and plat Valaisan, a plate of locally cured meats. Sit back, enjoy the people-watching and take comfort in the knowledge that you’ll burn off all those calories on the slopes.