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It’s impossible to explore Geneva in a day but sometimes a day is what you have. Having spent a few days walking by Lake Geneva, eating too much chocolate, visiting cute bookshops and seeing some of the most inspiring buildings in the world, I can tell you that one day in Geneva is far better than no days at all.
I flew in and out of Geneva Airport for a week-long ski trip in the Swiss Alps in January 2023, so I booked a few extra days there. Work commitments caught up with me so I couldn’t get out and about as much as I wanted. But despite the dull grey January weather that greeted me every time I resurfaced from my desk for fresh air, Geneva always brightened my days.
In the end, I spent the equivalent of 1 day in Geneva, Switzerland’s French capital. That’s why I’m wrapping up my splintered experiences into this one-day Geneva itinerary like a neat little box of Favarger’s chocolate nougalines.
Booking a day trip to Geneva means that you’ll also be able to walk through the streets of well-appointed townhouses and cobblestone lanes. You can also climb to the top of St Pierre Cathedral and gaze beyond the city and the lake and out to the Alps.
Yes, even you can sit on the world’s longest bench. What more could you possibly ask for?!
This guide includes lots of ideas for what to do in Geneva, Switzerland and offers some alternatives. There are suggestions for food and drink and I’ve included some helpful information about public transport and accommodation at the end.
My One Day in Geneva, Switzerland Itinerary
Breakfast: Geneva Hostel
As standard, Geneva Hostel provides breakfast for everyone who stays there so I didn’t eat anywhere else. I visited Geneva solo and I tend to stay in hostels when I’m travelling by myself, so this worked out well.
I did have the Boréal Coffee Shop written down as somewhere that’s great for breakfast. They open early and there are a few locations around the city. I ended up going in once for a coffee and cake and I did really love the vibe.
Stroll Around Lake Geneva, Jardin Anglais and the Geneva Water Fountain
After breakfast, I headed to Geneva’s historic centre via a longer, scenic route along the banks of Lake Geneva. Actually, this isn’t quite accurate. The bracing wind meant that the path running along the perimeter of Lake Geneva was flooded with waves crashing over the walls, so I kept my distance.
Across the lake, I spotted the Geneva Water Fountain shooting 140 metres into the sky despite the wind’s attempt to extinguish the powerful stream. It’s known as Jet d’Eau in French and has become an icon of the city since it was installed in the late 19th century.
My walk around the lake would eventually guide me to Jardin Anglais. Luckily, I don’t need to recall any high school French to understand that translation. I’m happy to report that Jardin Anglais looks exactly like you would expect an English garden to look in mid-January.
I’m sure it’s blooming in spring and summer, and the Flower Clock was as lush and colourful as I’d seen on postcards. Walking around this garden with a view of Lake Geneva is probably one of the top free things to do in Geneva.
Buy Fancy Chocolates at Favarger Boutique Store
Ever the early bird, the Favarger Boutique Chocolate Store wasn’t open by the time I reached the main high street despite my dawdling. Luckily, by the time I’d bought postcards and stamps to write later, it was open and filled with an Italian family buying out the store.
I have no idea if this is the best chocolate shop in Geneva, but I liked it. It’s a family-run business dating back to 1826 and they’re known for making nougalines which is a mixture of nougat and pralines. Favarger had lots of samples out and even sold their own chocolate fondue sets.
Honestly, I didn’t enjoy the taste of a lot of Swiss chocolate I ate during my trip but the nougalines were pretty good.
Obviously, you could go to a Lindt store or any of the other fancy chocolate shops when you visit Geneva and I’m sure you’d have the same experience. Fun fact: Alfred Hitchcock’s favourite chocolate is Lindt!
Take a Break at Pages & Sips English Bookstore and Cafe
Pages & Sips was closed on my first day in Geneva (it doesn’t open on Mondays) but you can bet I returned the next day. If there’s a cute, independent, English-language bookstore and café somewhere you’d have to tackle me down to stop me from visiting.
It was utterly adorable. I ordered a Darjeeling tea and a freshly-baked scone with jam and cream. Against my better judgement, I walked out with an overpriced copy of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and a sticker for my laptop too.
In my humble opinion, you have to squeeze in a mid-morning break at Pages & Sips during a day in Geneva.
Visit St Pierre Cathedral and Place du Bourg-de-Four
The closer you get to St Pierre Cathedral, the prettier Geneva becomes. This area is Geneva’s historic centre and it was full of staircases, narrow alleyways, cobblestones, and old street lamps. The streets around the Place du Bourg-de-Four are just beautiful!
The Gothic cathedral dates back to 1150 when it was a catholic cathedral. During the Reformation, it was modified into a protestant church. You’ll be pleased to know that’s not the last you’ll hear about the Reformation from me, don’t you worry.
St Pierre Cathedral was free to enter, but there was a small fee to visit the towers. You have to climb the towers because the view is one of the best things to see in Geneva. Make sure you walk up and down all the staircases and rooftop platforms so you don’t miss a viewpoint!
Check Out the Reformation Wall and World’s Longest Bench
After you’ve visited Geneva’s cathedral, head towards the Reformation Wall. It’s a 100-metre-long monument running along the back of the University of Geneva detailing the events of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries.
John Calvin was the main reformer in Switzerland, so he appears many times on the monument. It’s an impressive wall but you don’t need to linger for too long.
Next, I headed up towards Promenade de la Treille. I didn’t know this was the World’s Longest Bench during my trip (hence no photos!) and I didn’t even mean to see it. However, you really just can’t help but remark on how long this bench is when you see it. It really is quite long and it has a nice viewpoint.
Lunch: Manora Restaurant Genève
To be honest, I mostly ate at my hostel during my trip to Geneva. They had a great coworking space well hidden next to the laundry room so I had it to myself most of the time. I made my own meals and ate while watching Clark on Netflix if you were curious.
However, if I was going to eat lunch out, I had Manora Restaurant Genève marked on Google Maps. It’s a highly-rated department store restaurant on a high floor with views over the city so it would have been ideal since I was by myself.
Photograph The Broken Chair and United Nations Peace Gate
There are so many great Geneva attractions and museums. I considered staying around the city centre but decided I couldn’t go to Geneva without seeing the United Nations Peace Gate. You might want to take a bus or a tram to this part of town because it’s a little far out, but I was happy to walk the long way around the lake.
If I had more time, I’d have taken a guided tour inside the UN. I settled for taking lots of photos of the gate and The Broken Chair installation right outside. Sculptor Daniel Berset made this red chair with a broken leg back in 1997. It’s supposed to represent fragility and strength, imbalance and stability, violence and dignity.
Explore the International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent
Just opposite the United Nations are the Red Cross Headquarters and also the International Museum of the Red Cross. It’s also closed Mondays. Top tip: if you’re going to spend only one day in Geneva then make sure it’s not a Monday!
This museum genuinely moved me. You get an audio guide that automatically plays as you walk around the exhibits, which was cool. There are three distinct spaces that cover the Red Cross’s mission: defending human dignity, reconstructing family links, and reducing natural risks.
It was really well thought-out and curated. Geneva has lots of wonderful art and history museums but I’m so happy I chose to visit this one instead.
Dinner: Fondue at Café du Soleil
Again, I didn’t actually eat at Café du Soleil. But if you’re going to visit Switzerland then you should eat cheese fondue at least once, right? I’d already eaten a lot of fondue and raclette during my ski week. I couldn’t face a third melted cheese meal in such a short space of time. I’ve heard good things about Café du Soleil though.
Watch a Movie at Ciné 17
I love watching movies abroad (you know, when they aren’t dubbed into a different language). So, I have to recommend that you watch a film too. Ciné 17 is in the centre of the city and is a cool little old-school style cinema.
Other Fun Things To Do in Geneva, Switzerland
- Lake Geneva Sunset Cruise – I didn’t even see the sun in Geneva, let alone witness it set. I’m not 100% sure I even saw a boat depart from Lake Geneva’s docks. January isn’t the best time for such activities but if I was exploring the city in warmer weather then I’d definitely go out on a sunset sail.
- Geneva Walking Tour – My limited time meant that if I went on a walking tour of the churches, museums, etc. then I wouldn’t have time to go back and actually head inside. If I were visiting Geneva for two or three days, I’d do a walking tour and my hostel offered free ones.
- Museum of Art History – Geneva has lots of great museums and the Museum of Art History is a beautiful building.
- Patek Philippe Museum – I almost visited this place when the Red Cross museum was closed but then I realised that I have absolutely no interest in the history or design of Swiss watches. But maybe you do?
- Geneva Botanical Garden & Greenhouse – If I’d visited in the summer and had more time then I’d have visited the botanical gardens because they’re so close to the UN building.
How To Get To Geneva: Planes, Trains & Buses
One of the best things about travelling internationally to Geneva is that Geneva Airport is so close to the city and not miles and miles away. I flew from Manchester Airport with EasyJet and I could have had my choice of flights, there were so many.
Gare de Genève, the city’s main train station, is also super well-located. I took the train back to the airport and looked into taking a day trip to Lyon and it’s very easy to buy tickets at the station. It’s Switzerland, you don’t really need to worry too much about the transport system.
After my trip to Geneva, I planned a spontaneous trip to meet up with a friend in Italy so I booked a FlixBus from Geneva to Milan. It was so cheap and arrived on time, even driving through two borders.
How To Get Around Geneva: Public Transport
This is one of the best things about staying in Geneva. If you book a stay in a hotel, hostel, or B&B then you will receive a free public transport pass that is valid throughout the length of your stay.
Yes, I’m being serious! One great reason to not book a short-term rental in Geneva. I took the N.5 bus from the airport to my hostel and I didn’t have to worry about buying a ticket as a digital pass was already on my phone. Geneva has buses, trams, and trains to get around and I just used Google Maps to find the best route.
Where To Stay in Geneva: Accommodation Options
I stayed in Geneva Hostel which I think is one of only two hostels in the city. It’s not a party hostel or a great hostel for meeting travellers, but for my needs it was perfect. It had everything I needed. I stayed there both before and after my ski trip and I booked my stay through Hostelworld.
If I’d have travelled to Geneva with a friend, we probably would have stayed in a hotel booked through Booking.com. Geneva Hostel is probably too far out of the city centre for most people, though I felt it was in a great spot because it was closer to the United Nations.
One Day in Geneva FAQs
How Many Days in Geneva?
If you’re visiting Geneva during the summer months, book three days in Geneva if you have the time. You can spend two days in Geneva exploring the city and then take a day trip to somewhere else like Annecy or Lyon in France.
Is Geneva Worth Visiting?
Absolutely! I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed Geneva. It’s an easy city to walk around, the historic Old Town is beautiful, and it has so many incredibly important organisations and buildings. I didn’t eat much of the food there or visit any bars like I would normally. However, I have no doubt there are lots of options.
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