Is Geneva worth visiting? I didn’t used to think so, which is why it took me over a decade after the first time I visited Switzerland to there.
Which is not to say my recent visit to the city was especially intentional. I had a few of days to kill between a long weekend in Paris and my first meeting with my best friend’s new baby, outside Zurich; I could only afford to spend a couple of them in Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn.
The good news? Geneva far exceeded my wildest expectations. The…neutral news? My expectations were not especially wild in the first place.
Where to Stay in Geneva
Before I dig into all the reasons I think that Geneva is worth visiting, let’s talk about where you should stay. The good news on this front is that the center of Geneva is pretty small. Essentially, most of what there is to see in the city is between Cornavin Railway Station and the entrance to the Jet d’Eau along the southern shore of Lac Leman; you can search for Airbnbs (which may provide a better value) and hotels here.
If you do choose a hotel, they run the entire gamut—well, relative to the general prices of things in Switzerland. The aptly-named Hotel Central is probably the cheapest city center hotel (at least if you want to have your own room and bathroom), while Hotel de la Cigogne is a stylish and chic option if you don’t mind spending a bit more on your stay.
5 Reasons Geneva Impressed Me
I had low expectations
My best friend is from the Zurich area; I’ve absorbed her natural bias against Geneva for years. Beyond this, having seen other gorgeous places in Switzerland (and elsewhere in Europe and the world) I just didn’t really expect much from a city that, to be fair, doesn’t top many people’s bucket lists.
The weather cooperated
I’m not sure if I would’ve found Geneva worth visiting had the skies been cloudy and the air been cool. However, seeing the sun shine on the clear waters of La Jonction (where two rivers meet) and Lac Leman put them in the best light (literally), even if the winds were so strong the famous Jet d’Eau couldn’t operate.
I understood the city’s context
Having stopped in Geneva en route from one place to another, I visited the city with the idea that it would be a crossroads for me. Not coincidentally, this is the role the city serves in international relations and diplomacy; I doubt many UN employees would live here if they didn’t work her, lovely as the city may be.
(And prepared myself for sticker shock)
Some people don’t find Geneva worth visiting because they feel the price they pay isn’t worth it. Geneva, to be sure, is not cheap; then again, nowhere in Switzerland is. Having traveled in Switzerland for more than a decade, of course, I knew to expect this.
I set an affirmative intention
I wasn’t coming to Geneva for two days because I wanted to hate the city—I wanted to see if for what it was, and the best of what it was. I smiled as I walked down the “Street of the Social Contract” (aka the street of the Self-Aware Pun) and said “こんにちは” to the Japanese couple I passed along an extremely international hiking trail.
How Many Days Should You Spend in Geneva?
I spent about two days in Geneva, which I found to be the perfect amount of time. This allowed me to start on the far western end of town at La Jonction, and loop eastward and southward along the Arve River, before cutting through the old town to the shores of Lac Leman. Had I not been headed that way anyway, it would’ve given me time to take a day trip to Montreux and Chillon Castle.
Ironically, although I usually prefer to stay longer in cities rather than spend a shorter amount of time, the opposite proved true in this case. I found that Geneva is worth visiting because I didn’t spend longer there—it’s not a city that’s full of tourist attractions; I didn’t stay long enough for the ones it has to lose their luster, or for me to get bored as I explored them.
Other FAQ About Visiting Geneva
Why is Geneva so special?
In a broad sense, Geneva is special because the large number of international organizations headquartered there form the backbone of Switzerland’s reputation for neutrality over the years. For tourists, however, Geneva is mostly an entry point for visiting more exciting destinations in Switzerland.
Is Geneva really that expensive?
Geneva is expensive compared to many cities elsewhere in Europe, but has prices that are more or less on par with other Swiss destinations. As a general rule, you should expect to spend around 150 CHF/200 USD per person, per day in Geneva, which accounts for accommodation, meals and local transport.
Is Geneva beautiful?
Geneva is beautiful in the sense that it sits on a very clean, clear lake, at the confluence of two gorgeous rivers and has mountains rising around it on all sides. On the other hand, Geneva’s architecture is pretty average by Swiss and European standards; you can see everything in its old town in just an afternoon.
The Bottom Line
Is Geneva worth visiting? I think that depends on what you expect to get from a few days in the city, and its context within your broader trip to Switzerland or Europe. If, like me, you stop in Geneva for a couple of days en route from one place to another, expecting nothing and seeking even less, it’s likely you’ll enjoy your time in the world’s hub for international diplomacy. If, on the other hand, Geneva is your introduction to Switzerland (or, God forbids, ends up being all you see in the country), you’ll reach a very different conclusion. One surefire way to make sure you enjoy Geneva to its fullest? Hire me as your Travel Coach!