Hugging the southern shoreline of Lac Léman (more commonly referred to as Lake Geneva), Switzerland’s second most populous city is a melting pot of cultures, global organisations and languages. Cosmopolitan Geneva is the perfect size for a weekend break – or in our case, a mid-week break – and despite Switzerland’s reputation for being an expensive place to visit, there are plenty of low-cost attractions for those travelling on a shoestring.
Back in June, two of my friends from home flew out to visit me in France. We’d arranged to spend a few days in Lyon, and follow it up with a couple of days in Geneva, where Olivia spent her year abroad. So, after three days spent wandering the back streets of the Croix-Rousse, picnicking in Parc de la Tête d’Or and soaking up the sunshine by the Saône, we boarded a train for Genève Cornavin.
As soon as we arrived, we headed over to our hostel to drop off our things; there was ample luggage storage in the basement, which we made use of both before check-in and after check-out the following day. Besides being relieved of our luggage, the other major advantage to stopping by our hostel first was that we were given our free travel passes. These were duly dated for our two-day stay, and we made good use of them while we were there. Geneva is perfectly walkable, but you’ll soon see why they came in so handy.
Our first stop was Parc des Bastions, which was being transformed for the Fête de la Musique later that week, and the Monument International de la Réformation (Reformation Wall). Situated in the grounds of the Université de Genève, devoid of students at that time of year, the wall honours those involved in the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.
We then pottered up towards the Old Town, for a trip up the towers of Cathédrale St. Pierre. Entry was a modest CHF5; if you’ve got tiddlers in tow, it’s just CHF2 for them. The panoramic views from the South Tower are stunning: a fringe of greenery borders the vast body of water, with the magnificent Jet d’Eau sitting just off-centre. Flanking the city are the Alps and the Jura; head up the North Tower for views of the mountains.
With time marching on, we picked up some food from Migros (a Swiss supermarket chain) and plonked ourselves down by the lake with a view of the Jet d’Eau. A short distance away was the Horloge Fleurie (Flower Clock), though if you ask me it looked more like a well-groomed hedge on this occasion, as only the central circle contained flowers.
After lunch, we took the mouettes across the lake. (Fear not readers, I’ve not lost the plot and proclaimed to have ridden a seagull across Lac Léman – mouette is the Genevois term for the little boats which criss-cross the lake.)
Rides on the mouettes were covered by our free travel passes, so we happily boarded each of them in turn, zigzagging across the lake from Quai Général Guisan to the Jet d’Eau. I’ll make no secret of it: the Jet d’Eau is my favourite thing about Geneva. It’s not a particularly showy fountain, but its simplicity is what I love about it: a single jet of water shooting upwards into the sky. (And at a speed of 200km/hr to boot!) A slight shift in wind direction is all it takes for you to end up totally drenched on the platform which runs around the base of the fountain, though fortunately we didn’t get soaked to the skin.
We rounded off the afternoon relaxing by the lake, up near the Botanic Garden. (On this occasion, we didn’t tour the Botanic Garden, though I had been when I visited Olivia during her year abroad.) Sally and Olivia went for a swim, but I was happy to just sit on a rock and dangle my legs in, as the water was still a little on the cool side.
Later on, we headed back to the hostel to move our things into our room, before going out for tea. Eating out cheaply in Switzerland is a challenge, but luckily Olivia knew of a few places and we decided on Chez Ma Cousine. Their speciality was chicken, though they did also offer a range of salads and other dishes. Portions were huge, and we left feeling pretty stuffed. After tea, we took a tram over to Rue de l’École de Médecine, a very student-y district, for a drink, before calling it a night.
- Geneva’s compact size and bounty of tourist-friendly spots makes it an ideal city break. Factor in a couple of days to see all the key sights in Geneva itself, and an extra half day if you fancy venturing out to CERN and/or Mont Salève. (If you only have two days, you may have to give one of the out-of-town trips a miss.)
- City Hostel Geneva is conveniently close to Geneva’s central station, and offers both dorms and private rooms. As with all hotels and hostels in Switzerland, you’ll be issued with a travel pass, giving you free travel in and around the city for the duration of your stay. We paid about CHF40 (c. £30) each for a three-bed private room.