Geneva is located in the French-speaking region of Switzerland where it occupies an enviable location along the shores of Lake Geneva. Lovers of history, art and culture can enjoy visiting museums to suit all curiosities and learning about the Reformation, the United Nations and the International Red Cross. Many of the most popular museums are conveniently grouped together close to the large open-air Pleinpalais.
1.Old Town Geneva
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No visit to Geneva could be considered complete without visiting the delightful Old Town, called Vieille Ville in French. Here you can spend a few happy hours exploring narrow cobbles streets on foot to discover several museums and historic buildings with wonderful ancient stone facades. Some of the highlights of the Old Town include Maison Tavel, Place du Bourg-du-Four, Saint Peter’s Cathedral and the lovely Treille Promenade which overlooks the Bastions Park. There are also many restaurants, cafes and squares hidden away in the maze of little passages. Reaching the Old Town, which is located in an elevated part of the city, requires a reasonably steep walk, which is probably why you will find the world’s longest wooden bench (121 meters long) situated on the Promenade. Here you can sit down, relax and soak up the Old Town atmosphere, surrounded by outstanding views.
2.MAMCO (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art)
© MAMCO (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art)
You will find MAMCO holding court next door to the Patek Philippe Museum in what forms a central hub of museums and up-scale coffee shops, close to the huge open-air Pleinpalais square. The entire area is a great place for art lovers to spend a day admiring the visual arts on display at MAMCO and the adjoining Center for Contemporary Art. You should plan to spend at least two hours at MAMCO and it is recommended that you join a guided tour to best appreciate the large variety of art works – free guided tours available in English at 7pm every Wednesday. The museum is home to a large permanent collection as well as quarterly-changing temporary exhibitions.
MAMCO, Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 10, 1205 Geneva, Phone: +41-22-32-06-10-22
3.The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
© The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
Our world would be a sadder, more desperate place without the daily life-saving activities of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent. You can expect your visit to this museum to be different from any other museum you may have visited in the past, as you learn about humanitarianism and the part played by the Red Cross is coming to the aid of people in need. The intention of the permanent (and temporary) collections will always be to evoke emotions and empathy by showcasing artifacts, posters, photographs, films and other objects. You can tour the museum in your own time with the aid of an audio guide or join one of the twice-daily guided tours.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, Avenue de la Paix 17, 1202 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-27-48-95-11
4.Jardin Anglaise (English Garden)
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Geneva’s lovely English Garden is situated along the shores of Lake Geneva where it tempts visitors to come and trade the hustle and bustle of the city for a serene and relaxing green space with wonderful views of the lake. The garden was established in 1855 and has become a popular venue for locals and visitors to meet, stroll and enjoy open-air concerts in summer. You can admire the beautifully-tended floral displays of flowers and the imposing brass fountains or enjoy a snack or drink at one of a few interesting cafes. One of the best-loved highlights of the garden is the Horloge Fleurie, an enormous (functioning) clock made up of a huge variety of flowers, which is over 16-feet in diameter, which pays tribute to Swiss watch-making skills.
Jardin Anglaise, Quai du Général-Guisan 34, 1204 Geneva, Switzerland
5.Bains des Paquis
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The Paquis Baths are located on the edge of Lake Geneva, right in the heart of the city, and are open to the public every day of the year, weather permitting. The public swimming baths have existed since 1872 and are a very popular meeting place and recreational area for locals and visitors in the know. The original wooden baths were renovated and replaced in the 1980’s, using a simple and harmonious style which blends into the landscape. Today you can enjoy swimming all year round (if you wish) and from May to September you can also enjoy the sauna, Turkish bath and Hammam (one of which is reserved for ladies).
Bains des P?quis, Quai du Mont-Blanc 30, CH – 1200, Geneva, Phone: +41-2-27-32-29-74
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When you need to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a few hours the lovely B?tie Woods are an ideal recreational area located close to Geneva’s city center. The large wooded area has been a public park since 1868 and offers city dwellers a great place for both relaxation and outdoor activities. There are several footpaths for walkers and hikers, and there is also a dedicated cycling trail for bicycles and electric bikes. Children may ride their bikes anywhere in the park and can have lots of fun at the large children’s playground, petting zoo and wading pool. You can stop for a cup of coffee or a snack at one of two cafes and sun loungers are available in summer.
Batie Woods, Chemin de la Batie 28, Geneva, Switzerland
7.Centre de Art Contemporain - Geneva Contemporary Art Center
© Centre de Art Contemporain – Geneva Contemporary Art Center
The Geneva Contemporary Art Center was established in 1974 and is the first contemporary art institution in French-speaking Switzerland. Unlike a museum, the center does not hold any permanent art collections but instead showcases the work of international and local emerging artists, with a view to involving the public in the evolution of art. Art enthusiasts can visit the center from Tuesday to Sunday to see a regularly-changing selection of multi-disciplinary art forms or to visit the extensive reference library. Entrance is free on the 1st Sunday of each month. The center is located in the same premises as the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MOMCA), making it easy to visit both exciting exhibition spaces together.
Centre de Art Contemporain, Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 10, 1205 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-23-29-18-42
8.Conservatory and Botanical Garden of Geneva
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The City of Geneva invites you to come and spent a few relaxing hours admiring the beautiful gardens and the vast collection of plants on display at the Conservatory and Botanical Garden of Geneva. You cannot fail to be impressed by the remarkable collection of plants which has been acquired from all over the world and is showcased in several themed gardens, rockeries and green houses. If you have limited time at your disposal (or if you are visiting with children) you can check their website to find which highlights to include in the amount of time you have. Some of the most popular exhibits include the Garden of Scents and Touch, the Historic Rose Garden and the Evolution Path, while children always love visiting the animal park.
Conservatory and Botanical Garden of Geneva, 1202 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-24-18-51-00
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The City of Geneva is suitably proud of the illustrious writer and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who was born in the city and spent a considerable part of his life there. To honor and celebrate him, a small island in the Rhone River was dedicated to his memory and now forms a lovely public park. You can easily reach the park on foot to spend a peaceful time enjoying outstanding views of the city while you have a drink or snack at the café or just relax under a shady tree. You will see a large bronze statue of Rousseau which was created by sculptor James Pradier and erected on the island in 1835.
Ile Rousseau (Rousseau Island), 1204 Geneva
10.The Institute and Museum of Voltaire (Institut et Musee Voltaire)
© The Institute and Museum of Voltaire (Institut et Musée Voltaire)
The Museum of Voltaire is housed in the lovely historic home (Les Délices or The Delights) of the famous philosopher and author, which was acquired by him in 1755. Today the home is both a research center and a museum dedicated to The Age of Enlightenment and Voltaire’s life. The beautiful building was extensively renovated in 1994 and you will be able to see a large permanent collection of paintings and manuscripts as well as furniture belonging to Voltaire which is realistically displayed as if the philosopher had just left the room. The Museum area is open to the public from Monday to Saturday from 2pm to 5pm. The Institute’s extensive reference library of scholarly works and sheet music can be viewed by appointment.
The Institute and Museum of Voltaire, Rue des Délices 25, 1203 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-24-18-95-60
11.International Museum of the Reformation (MIR)
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If, like many people, you only have a sketchy knowledge about how the Reformation came about, a visit to MIR would be both interesting and informative. At the award-winning MIR you can learn about people like Martin Luther, Jean Calvin and others who were instrumental in initiating the movement which challenged Papal authority and the essence of Christianity. The Museum is housed in a beautiful 18th century stone mansion which is packed with illustrations, books, artifacts and papers which tell the story of Protestantism. Guided tours in English are available or you can use an English audio-guide and explore at your own pace. A combined ticket will also give you access to the next-door cathedral.
International Museum of the Reformation, Rue du Cloitre 4, 1204 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-23-10-24-31
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Probably the most recognizable Geneva landmark, the Jet d’Eau is an enormous fountain located at the end of the Pier des Eaux-vives, in the heart of the harbor. The very impressive jet of water is created by two powerful pumps which propel a staggering 500 liters of water per second over 450-feet into the air. The Jet d’Eau is one of the world’s tallest fountains and can be admired from several prominent city viewpoints including the top of St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Paquis Bath and the Gustav-Ador Quay (if you do not mind the possibility of a soaking). From April to September the fountain is illuminated at night.
Jet d’Eau, Quai Gustave-Ador, 1207 Geneva
13.Local Flavors Tour
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Chocoholics can rejoice - Local Flavors Tours offers the ultimately indulgent foodie tour you can imagine. There can be no better way to grasp the essence of a city than by immersing yourself in its food culture, and Local Flavors Tours will lead you on the walking food tour of your life, visiting a string of artisan Geneva chocolatiers. You will visit a succession of chocolate makers, both modern and traditional, and learn all about the history and secrets of Swiss chocolate making. The tour will take you on a gently walk (with historic anecdotes and stories) through the Old Town and give you the chance to try everything chocolate, from truffles and pralines to hot chocolate and pastries.
Local Flavors Tours, Quai des Berques 23, 1201 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-25-39-15-46
14.Musee Ariana (Ariana Swiss Museum of Ceramics and Glass)
© Musee Ariana (Ariana Swiss Museum of Ceramics and Glass)
The Ariana Museum’s remarkable collections of ceramic and glass works of art are housed in a purpose-built opulent mansion which was built from 1877-1884 and is well deserving of a visit by anyone interested in architecture. The expansive collection (over 27,000 pieces) of glass and ceramics originated from a private collection and documents the history of ceramics from the Middle-Ages to the present day, covering both Europe and the East. You will not only get to see some outstanding pieces of glass, porcelain and earthenware, but also see how tastes have changed through the ages and how technical prowess has evolved.
You can view the outstanding collection at your own pace with the aid of an audio-guide.
Musee Ariana, 10 Avenue de la Paix, 1202 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-24-18-54-50
15.Musees d'Art et d’Histoire de Geneve (Museum of Art and History)
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Geneva’s Museum of Art and History documents the evolution of Western civilization from ancient days to the present and is an ideal museum for the whole family to visit. You will find that the museum is a very large and modern place which offers everyone an interesting way to learn about the interaction of present and past times. The ground floor showcases the Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman periods, followed by slightly more recent armor, weapons, cannons and more. One the second level you can immerse yourself in a large collection of fine art featuring prominent artists like Rembrandt, Pissarro, Cezanne and more. You can take a break at the café and there is also a children’s playground. Entrance is free and audio guides are available.
Geneva Museum of Art and History, Rue Charles-Galland 2, 1206 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-24-18-26-00
16.Musee d'ethnographie de Geneve (The Ethnographic Museum of Geneve - MEG)
© Musée d'éthnographie de Geneve (The Ethnographic Museum of Geneve – MEG)
Located in an eye-catching modern building designed by Zurich architects Marco Graber and Thomas Pulver, MEG is home to one of the most comprehensive ethnographic museums in Europe. As you step inside the bright and modern exhibition space you will find yourself surrounded by some of the 80,000 exhibition pieces which form the museum’s permanent collection entitled “The archives of human differences”. Here you can learn how the different cultures of the world have evolved and moved apart during the evolution of mankind. Apart from this core permanent collection the museum hosts regular temporary themed exhibitions. The permanent collection is free to view and the museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday.
Musée d'éthnographie, Boulevard Carl-Vogt 65-67, 1205 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-24-18-45-50
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© Musée Rath
The beautiful classic lines of Geneva’s historic Musée Rath draw both art lovers and architecture enthusiasts. The beautiful building opened to the public in 1826 (it is named for the Rath sisters who donated the building to be used as a “Temple of the Muses”, to welcome and display visual art). Today the Rath Museum is used solely as a temporary exhibition place for the Museum of Art and History and hosts an ever-changing calendar of large-scale art exhibitions. The Rath Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm and entrance is free on the first Sunday of every month.
Musée Rath, Place Neuve Museum, 1204 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-24-18-33-40
18.The Natural History Museum of Geneva
© The Natural History Museum of Geneva
Housed in a commanding cubic 60’s building, the Natural History Museum of Geneva is one of the most popular city museums, attracting over 250,000 visitors every year. If you are not fond of taxidermy you may be tempted to skip the first floor, which displays over 200 local stuffed animals which comprise their “Regional Fauna” exhibit. Next up you will find a large collection of tropical animals and birds including reconstructions of extinct species like the emu and dodo. Once you reach the upper levels the emphasis changes to astronomy and evolution and exhibits include some very ancient fossils and an earthquake simulator. A café and a museum shop complete the picture.
The Natural History Museum of Geneva, Route de Malagnou 1, 1208 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-24-18-63-00
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19.The Palace of Nations (Palais des Nations)
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Home to the United Nations Office in Geneva, the Palais des Nations is a very imposing art deco building located in Ariana Park, overlooking Lake Geneva. To fully appreciate the lovely building and the remarkable work which goes on inside its walls you can join a guided tour which takes around 45 minutes. No two tours are identical and what you see will depend in part on what is on the go inside the Palais on the day of your visit. Some of the highlights you may see include the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations room, the Assembly Hall and the Council Chamber. You can freely explore the grounds surrounding the building, which are dotted with monuments donated by Member States and include The Celestial Sphere, the Conquest of States and the Family.
Palais des Nations, Avenue de la Paix 14, 1211 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-29-17-48-96
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20.Patek Philippe Museum
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Located in Geneva’s museum hub close to Pleinpalais and MAMCO (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art), the Patek Philippe Museum showcases Swiss precision watch-making through the ages. The museum is situated in a restored art deco building, where it is widely regarded to be a “Temple to Watch-making” and essential viewing for all visitors to the city.
There are two wonderful collections to admire; the Antique Collection features time-pieces from the 16th century to the 19th century. The second collection, the Patek Philippe Collection showcases more modern pieces dating from 1839 to the present day and includes the Caliber 89, the most complicated timepiece ever produced. Public guided tours are offered every Saturday afternoon.
Patek Philippe Museum, Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 7, 1205 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-27-07-30-10
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21.Place du Bourg-de-Four
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During your exploration of Geneva’s Old Town you should make a point to visit the charming Place du Bourg-de-Four (meaning “Outside Village). This pleasant square was originally situated outside the Old Town walls and was used as a cattle market. Today you can enjoy strolling through the square which is a popular shopping area featuring fountains, coffee shops, restaurants and high-end boutiques. Perhaps you can enjoy a coffee or drink at one of the pavement cafes while enjoying the particular ambiance found only in the Old Town. Interestingly, you can find a long and narrow flight of 67 stairs which will lead you up to St. Peter’s Cathedral.
Place du Bourg-de-Four, 1204 Geneva, Switzerland
22.The Reformation Wall - Mur des Reformateurs
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Of particular interest to visitors who have taken a tour of MIR (Museum of the Reformation), the Reformation Wall is a striking monument to the founders of the Reformation. You will find the Wall of Reformers (aka International Monument of the Reformation) against Geneva’s ancient city walls. The impressive monument is composed of a series of statues of ten of the original proponents of the Reformation including, in a central grouping, John Knox, John Calvin, William Farel and Theodore Beza. The central statues are five meters tall and are flanked by smaller statues. Interested visitors can follow a pedestrian trail called “In the footsteps of the Reformers” which will lead you to 14 sites symbolic of the Reformation.
The Reformation Wall, Promenade des Bastions 1, 1205 Geneva
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23.Tavel House (Maison Tavel)
© Tavel House (Maison Tavel)
Maison Tavel forms part of the famous Museum of Art and History Geneva, and is home to a permanent exhibition of Everyday Life and Urban History. The building is well worth a visit in its own right and architecture enthusiasts can look forward to admiring an exceptional example of medieval architecture, dating back to the early 14th century, in the heart of Geneva’s Old Town. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1334, and excavations of the original cellars and cistern continue to turn up surprising finds. The Museum’s permanent collections are showcased in exhibition areas which were reconstructed in the 18th century, tracing the history of Geneva and her inhabitants.
Tavel House, Rue du Puits-St-Pierre 6, 1204 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-24-18-37-00
24.Eat and Chill Tour
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The wonderful Five Senses Tour, offered by East and Chill Tours, is the ideal activity to book right at the beginning of your visit to Geneva. Not only will you have the chance to find out where the locals go for palate-pleasing gourmet foods, but you will also learn all about the history and culture of the city from enthusiastic locals. The three hour walking tour through Old Town Geneva will take in some of the most passionate artisan food producers in the city as well as introduce you to some of the best views of the city. You can expect to taste great cheeses, hand-made pasta, wine and, of course, Swiss chocolate. Book online.
East and Chill Tour, Geneva 1204, Switzerland, Phone: +41-7-64-43-36-84
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25.House of Rousseau
© House of Rousseau
Lovers of history, philosophy and literature will relish the opportunity to walk in the very footsteps of the famous Geneva-born writer, philosopher and play-write Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778), whose political philosophy is thought to have strongly influenced the French Revolution. The shrine to the life and times of the famous author is located in his birthplace and offers visitors the opportunity to retrace his life by means of multi-lingual audio-visual displays featuring some of his most prominent works. The house is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 5.30pm. Please note: Due to building renovations the House of Rousseau is currently closed and a new exhibition will open in 2020.
House of Rousseau and Literature, Grand-Rue 40, 1204 Geneva, Phone: +41-2-23-10-10-28
25 Best Things to Do in Geneva
- Old Town Geneva, Photo: Courtesy of Arndale - Fotolia.com
- MAMCO (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art), Photo: MAMCO (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art)
- The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, Photo: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
- Jardin Anglaise (English Garden), Photo: Courtesy of jasckal - Fotolia.com
- Bains des Paquis, Photo: Courtesy of wemm - Fotolia.com
- Batie Woods, Photo: Courtesy of as_trofey - Fotolia.com
- Centre de Art Contemporain - Geneva Contemporary Art Center, Photo: Centre de Art Contemporain – Geneva Contemporary Art Center
- Conservatory and Botanical Garden of Geneva, Photo: Courtesy of Scott Latham - Fotolia.com
- Ile Rousseau, Photo: Courtesy of Elenarts - Fotolia.com
- The Institute and Museum of Voltaire (Institut et Musee Voltaire), Photo: The Institute and Museum of Voltaire (Institut et Musée Voltaire)
- International Museum of the Reformation (MIR), Photo: Courtesy of R.Babakin - Fotolia.com
- Jet d'Eau, Photo: Courtesy of JFL Photography - Fotolia.com
- Local Flavors Tour, Photo: Courtesy of eugenesergeev - Fotolia.com
- Musee Ariana (Ariana Swiss Museum of Ceramics and Glass), Photo: Musee Ariana (Ariana Swiss Museum of Ceramics and Glass)
- Musees d'Art et d’Histoire de Geneve (Museum of Art and History), Photo: Courtesy of rb3legs - Fotolia.com
- Musee d'ethnographie de Geneve (The Ethnographic Museum of Geneve - MEG), Photo: Musée d'éthnographie de Geneve (The Ethnographic Museum of Geneve – MEG)
- Musee Rath, Photo: Musée Rath
- The Natural History Museum of Geneva, Photo: The Natural History Museum of Geneva
- The Palace of Nations (Palais des Nations), Photo: Courtesy of Arseniy Krasnevsky - Fotolia.com
- Patek Philippe Museum, Photo: Courtesy of vladnikon - Fotolia.com
- Place du Bourg-de-Four, Photo: Courtesy of Lotharingia - Fotolia.com
- The Reformation Wall - Mur des Reformateurs, Photo: Courtesy of andreykr - Fotolia.com
- Tavel House (Maison Tavel), Photo: Tavel House (Maison Tavel)
- Eat and Chill Tour, Photo: Courtesy of photosiber - Fotolia.com
- House of Rousseau, Photo: House of Rousseau
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of R.Babakin - Fotolia.com