Even the most experienced and seasoned traveler knows that one day is never enough time to see a whole city. However, if you’re looking for a quick taster, then look no further than The Sybarite’s first installment in a series of 24-hours in… Geneva.
Flanked by the the Swiss alps, and with the sight of towering Mont Blanc in the distance, the city of Geneva strikes a balance between utopian opulence and historic, fairytale beauty. And despite its vastness, a fleeting trip to the city in April, with a Genevan native in tow, gave me a chance to get a real flavour of the city and it’s hot and not-so-hot spots.
Transport in Geneva is fairly straightforward; the journey from Geneva Airport to the city centre station, Gare de Genève-Cornavin, is only six minutes, and the city trams, buses and trains all use the same tickets, making it easy to navigate the city. Despite this, walking around a city is always the best way to immerse yourself in its culture, and in my experience.
What better way to start your day in a European city than some breakfast on the go. Treat your tastebuds to some freshly baked pastries – think buttery croissants and sweet pain au chocolat; there is no shortage of bakeries and coffee shops around the city.
A great way to jump straight into your Genevan experience is to take a walk around the Old Town, or Vielle Ville in French. The Old Town is a sprawling maze of tiny streets, alleyways and squares lined with cosy cafes, antique shops and art galleries around every corner. Be sure to set some time aside for visiting the St Pierre Cathedral, even if only to bask among the stone pillars and snack on some Swiss chocolate. If history is what your seeking, the International Museum of the Reformation Act and the Art and History Museum is sure to impress. There are also various walking tours on offer if you’re looking for a more structured experience.
If, by this time, your legs are starting to ache and your stomach is starting to rumble, head back down to the city centre and visit Café Léo. A tiny, Parisian feeling restaurant bathed in art deco style, with waiting staff who my travel partner tells me have worked there since he was a child. Café Léo is very popular, so avoid the early rush. With a menu full of mouthwatering Italian style dishes, you can’t really go wrong here, when every mouthful of freshly made pasta is better than the last. Relatively modest portions make this the perfect place to graze on a variety of delicious plates, but be sure to try the tortellini, which comes stuffed with a number of delicious fillings – my personal favourite being a combination of Roquefort, Parmesan and Gruyère: a cheese lovers dream! Alternatively, if you fancy dining outside with a view over Lake Geneva, another option is to choose a lakeside restaurant and lunch on filet de perche, the local, up-market version of fish and chips. Served on large silver trays rather than wrapped in newspaper, the bite-sized perch fillets are cooked in herbs and lemon and served with crunchy french fries to create the perfect pit-stop meal.
No trip to Geneva is complete without admiring one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks: the Jet d’eau. Providing a welcome spray of cool water on a hot day, the Jet d’eau can be seen around the city and reaches heights of 140 metres high. Take an afternoon stroll around Jardin Anglais with views of lake Geneva, one of the largest lakes in Western Europe; stretching out to meet the base of the Swiss Alps in the distance. If a lakeside walk is too touristy for you, hop on a bus to Plainpalais, where you can find a flea market and popular farmers market in the wide open space of Plaine de Plainpalais. This is an especially good place to browse local food, antiques, books and homeware. Plainpalais also has a number of bars and restaurants lining it’s square. This is the perfect sunset spot, promising a beautiful view of the sun going down behind the mountains, turning them a shade of soft pink.
For a taste of something different, grab a spot of dinner at Street Beirut in Plainpalais. Serving veggie-friendly fresh Lebanese food, it’s a good option for a light bite if lunch doesn’t feel quite so long ago, or for a bigger meal to feast on. The assiette végétarienne is a great sharing dish boasting seven kinds of falafel, samosas, two kinds of houmous and Greek dolmades, all served in a relaxed, social setting decorated in brightly coloured tiles and murals.
After a packed 24-hours, take the opportunity to see the Palais des Nations, the home of the United Nations at Geneva, as well as La chaise cassée, or the Broken Chair sculpture. The Palais des Nations and the flags of the United Nations which line it’s front are lit up at night, it’s classical architecture making it a powerful and unmissable landmark to end an action-packed day in Geneva.
If you’re lucky enough to take a longer trip to Geneva, make sure you hop onto a cable car and see the entire city from Mont Salève, as well as visiting the neighbouring town of Lausanne for breathtaking views of snow-topped mountains reflected in the glassy waters of lake Geneva.