Geneva is Switzerland's second-largest city, located at the southwestern end of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman in French) where the Rhone river flows out of the lake. It is almost completely encircled by France and therefore French-speaking, although English is spoken widely.
It is known as the "capital of peace" due to its tradition of humanitarianism. Several international organisations are based in Geneva including the European headquarters of the UN, the Red Cross (with a museum beneath the offices) and the World Trade Organisation. It is also one of Switzerland's business cities.
Geneva's defining symbol is the Jet d'eau, the 140m-high fountain at the edge of Lake Geneva. On the right side of the lake are many of the city's hotels and restaurants; on the left is the Old Town. Lively promenades with cafes, markets and shops line the lake.
There are two monuments that pay tribute to Switzerland's watch-making industry. The enormous Flower Clock is in the English Garden on the left bank; the "monumental solar and laser clock" is on the right.
Finding cheap flights to Geneva is not a hard task. Between the Alps and its position as an international business city, Geneva flights are easy to pick up.
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Summer is warm with temperatures in the mid-20s (Celsius), and July can be in the upper 20s and hot. Autumn is mild as temperatures drop to the low 20s and into the low teens in October. Winters are cold with daytime temperatures ranging from the very low single digits, and when the bise (north wind) blows, it can be bitterly cold. Spring is mild with temperatures reaching the teens. Rain falls year-round, and September usually gets the most rain.
When to fly to Geneva
July and August have the best weather and the biggest crowds. The beginning of August marks Swiss National day with two weeks of festivities. The summer is packed with events, especially music festivals.
Tourism peaks again during the Christmas and New Year holidays. The celebration of l'Escalade in December with its costumed and torch-lit processions brings throngs of visitors to the city.
The shoulder months of June and September are pleasant times to visit and slightly lower hotel rates and Geneva flights can be found.
October, November, April, and May have fewer crowds, and possibly the lowest rates, although some lodging establishments are closed during the low season.
Getting around Geneva
The best way to see Geneva requires you to slow down a little. You can walk through the city or pick up one of the free bicycles that are available outside Genève Roule, the main train station, from May to October. The public transport system is very reliable and fast, but you’ll miss some of the lovely city if you’re speeding by on a tram, bus or trolley. You can travel on a bus or tram from early morning to midnight. After that a night bus runs until the next morning.
Purchase your tickets ahead of time and don’t forget to validate them when you board. Buy a week-long pass if you’re staying long enough and save a bit of money. To get across the lake and back, hop aboard the seagull shuttle boats (les mouettes), which are part of the public transport system. Bus tickets and les mouettes tickets are interchangeable. You can also lounge around the lake on one of the many cruises offered. Float around for the whole day, half a day or just an hour, whatever your heart and travel schedule desires. Taxis are easy to find, but fairly expensive. Parking is so difficult that it’s not worth the hassle of renting a car. Instead, try hiring a car and driver for the day.
Geneva insider information
- Geneva is known for watches and clocks. One more unusual version is the flower clock in the Jardin Anglais. The huge clock is planted with many flowers and keeps perfect time. Its second hand is the largest of any clock in the world (at 2.5 metres long).
- Walking tours of the city centre are available through the tourist board and are an excellent way of seeing the main tourist spots along with some less well-known attractions. Among the tours on offer are “Art, Architecture and Urban Development”, “Geneva through Tales and Legends” and, fitting with the city's location, “A Walk with Water”.
- The town of Lausanne is situated near to Geneva on the banks of the lake and is an easy day trip to make. The famous town was once known for its restorative qualities because of its position on the lake. Today, it is a vibrant and fascinating city, with some stunning Swiss architecture.
- Shopping is a popular pastime in Geneva. As well as watches, other good buys to take home include the famous Swiss Army Knife (made by only two companies in the world) and chocolate.
- Geneva is the main arrival point for skiers to the French and Swiss Alps. Be aware that the airport is divided into two sections and you can exit by either the French or Swiss side depending on your destination. As you exit the airport in the winter season, you’ll be faced with lots of ski reps collecting passengers for their buses. If you’re not booked on a package, don’t worry. It’s very easy to catch to the snow train to the major resorts. Failing that, try sweet-talking one of the reps headed to your resort to let you on the bus. If they’re not full up, they may take you.