Of the many cities in Switzerland, Geneva is probably one of the most well known thanks to its ties to global diplomacy and the United Nations. This name recognition tends to put Geneva on peoples’ radars, even if they don’t know what to expect from a visit there. But actually, the city of Geneva has an interesting mix of things to do and see for tourists.
Three days is generally the best amount of time to spend in Geneva to experience the city fully. It’s also best to follow a detailed Geneva itinerary if you really want to get the most out of a visit. With our Geneva itinerary, you’ll learn about all the best places to visit in Geneva so that you can plan accordingly and not feel like you’re missing out on anything. Once you’re through it all, you should know precisely what to do in Geneva in 3 days to create an entertaining and memorable trip.
Best Time to Visit Geneva
Timing is always important when planning a trip, so you’ll want to think carefully about when to visit Geneva. Factors like weather and tourist numbers can have a major impact on your trip, affecting when it’s best to be outdoors sightseeing or when accommodation is at its most affordable. There’s usually a trade-off between these points, so you may need to decide which is more important to you.
Typically, the best time to visit Geneva is when the weather is at its warmest from June through September. Summer weather in Geneva is usually pretty mild which makes it especially pleasant for sightseeing. Of course, this also means that this time of year is quite busy with tourists, so you can expect high season rates and greater demand for accommodation. Those looking for an alternative to the summer crowds may want to instead try going between September and November. Autumn weather at this time is still nice enough to be outdoors, but hotel rates should be a little more reasonable.
Then there’s the matter of coming to Geneva during winter. This is actually one of the busiest and most expensive times to travel there as people flock to the region for skiing. Plus, the weather from December through March is sure to be cold and snowy which isn’t ideal for general sightseeing. One redeeming point though is that in December, Geneva hosts its L’Escalade festival which is quite a fascinating event.
How to Get Around Geneva
When visiting Geneva, the only way to see some of its highlights is by exploring different parts of the city. Reaching these neighborhoods though means knowing the best ways to get around Geneva. While it’s possible to walk between attractions in the city center and by the waterfront, other areas are simply too far to get to on foot.
Tourists will be glad to hear though that the city of Geneva has a great promotion for using public transport. Those staying in a hotel, youth hostel, or campsite, are entitled to a free Geneva Transport Card across the public transport network for the duration of their stay. This makes exploring Geneva an easy, stress-free experience that also helps save a little money.
In Geneva the public transport network consists of trams, buses, trains, and yellow taxi-boats known as Mouettes. Likely the most useful mode of transport for this Geneva itinerary is the city’s trams as they’re uncomplicated and their network covers much of the greater Geneva area. Reaching attractions like CERN and Carouge in particular are super easy if you go by tram.
If you’re arriving in Geneva by plane, then it helps to know how to get from Geneva Airport into the city center. The good news is that the city also has a promotion for tourists here, whereby they receive a free 80 minute ticket for travel into the city on all public transport. Train and bus are your two options out of the airport, but the train is quicker as it only takes 6 minutes to reach Geneva train station. From there you can continue with other transport to your accommodation.
Where to Stay in Geneva
Deciding where to stay in Geneva may well be the hardest question you grapple with when planning your visit. It’s always hard to work out accommodation in a place you haven’t been, because you don’t know which hotels are good, where things are, or what the neighborhoods are like.
Luckily, finding the best places to stay in Geneva isn’t actually that tricky. With the city’s free Geneva Transport Card it doesn’t matter how far you stay from the sights as you can get to them easily enough and for free. That said, central is always better, and if you can find somewhere in or near the Old Town, or if need be between Geneva Station and the waterfront.
For a truly luxurious stay you won’t soon forget, look no further than the Hotel d’Angleterre. This 5-star hotel sitting right on the lakefront boasts refined and immaculate rooms and suites, plus a restaurant and bar.
Balancing comfort and affordability, Hôtel Bel’Espérance is a straightforward mid-range pick in the historical center. Besides an excellent location, this 3-star hotel also features a complimentary breakfast and friendly staff.
Budget accommodation is hard to find around Geneva, with Geneva Hostel being your most affordable good option. This hostel offers guests clean, simply furnished dorm beds and private rooms, as well as a free breakfast.
For more accommodation options in Geneva check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 3-Day Geneva Itinerary
You may not have realized it beforehand, but you won’t have any trouble keeping busy for a few days while in Geneva. To really see the best of Geneva though, you’ll need to venture a little further out than you would in other destinations. This moving about will take you well beyond the city’s historical center, but if you want to find all the best things to do in Geneva then that’s what it takes. What’s more, this guide will even allow enough time for a day trip to see what else the region has to offer.
However, before we get to our Geneva itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
SafetyWing offers travel insurance for only about $10 a week, making it a no-brainer to get. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
With that important subject covered, we can now hone in on our Geneva travel itinerary and show you what to do while you’re there. What follows is our advice on how to make the most of your 3 days in Geneva and best experience the city.
Day 1 in Geneva
Upon arriving in Geneva, you’ll want to start with the historic center of the city to see the more traditional attractions there.
Recommendation: Make the most of your time in Geneva with the Geneva Pass, and receive free offers, preferential rates, great discounts, and surprise gifts at over 40 of Geneva’s favorite attractions, including museums, cruises, and guided city tours.
As is so often the case in Europe, the best place to begin is the Old Town of Geneva. While not as extensive or consistent as other historical centers in big cities in Europe, the Old Town still has a wonderful mood to it that’s a joy to explore. Hallmarks like cobblestone streets, fountains, and old-fashioned architecture are all in ready supply there.
But there are some interesting touches too. For starters, there’s the L’horloge fleurie floral clock over in the gardens of Jardin Anglais by the waterfront. Then there is the copious amount of independent and upscale boutiques in the Old Town which make shopping the primary activity for so many there. Head for the Rue du Rhône if you want to window shop the most luxurious spots in town.
One of the most noteworthy landmarks in the Old Town is Geneva Cathedral, which rests at the heart of the area on a small hill. The cathedral’s striking Neoclassical facade from the 18th century betrays the fact that most of the building was built in the 12th century in a Gothic style.
Even though this spot has been home to churches since the 4th century, most talk surrounding the cathedral focuses on its relationship with famed reformer John Calvin. Inside you can see his personal chair at the church, which he attended from 1541. Visitors to the church can also venture down into the crypt to see remains of the ancient basilica that stood there or climb up its towers for stunning views.
A short walk from Geneva Cathedral is the Maison Tavel, a historic home that’s been converted into a museum. Following a windswept fire in 1334, the house was rebuilt in the 14th century and is now the oldest surviving private home in Geneva. By taking a tour of this traditional house you can learn what it was like to live back then. The museum, which is part of the Art and History Museum, also covers elements of the city’s history and how it grew over time.
Place du Bourg-de-Four
For a picturesque spot in the Old Town with lots of history, head for Place du Bourg-de-Four. This square is the oldest in Geneva and was where the ancient Roman marketplace once stood. Lining this pleasant plaza are rows of wonderfully quaint houses which create a fantastic atmosphere even though they now house restaurants and cafes. If you want to see the beating heart of Geneva’s Old Town, that is it.
Resting along the southwestern edge of the Old Town is the Parc des Bastions, where you’ll find your next stop. Known as the Reformation Wall, this large stone monument is dedicated to the Protestant Reformation and key figures in its development such as John Calvin. The monument and its looming sculptures were installed in 1909 against the 16th-century city walls of Geneva before the space was transformed into a park. At first glance you might expect this landmark to be a war memorial and not something deeply tied to local religious views.
Art and History Museum
Being an international city and major cultural hub, it’s hardly surprising that Geneva is home to so many museums. One of its best is the Geneva Art and History Museum on the edge of the Old Town. Although there is a strong focus on Swiss art in particular there, the museum’s exhibitions do feature international pieces from names like Rembrandt and Cézanne. There’s more than just fine art within its large collection, with quite an impressive archaeology collection which includes an Egyptian mummy and statues from Classical antiquity.
Finally, head down to Geneva’s waterfront to see the towering Jet d’Eau fountain. This mighty jet of water is one of the city’s most famous landmarks, spurting up 140 meters into the sky. The best spot to admire this powerful sight is from the Promenade du Lac that runs along the south side of the lake there. To get even closer, take a Mouette taxi-boat from one bank to the other.
Day 2 in Geneva
Having covered the obvious attractions in the Old Town, it’s time to widen your gaze and see what else the city of Geneva has in store for you.
Crossing the Rhone River and following Geneva’s lakefront north, you’ll soon reach the elaborate Brunswick Monument. Full of Neo-Gothic detail, this mausoleum is a replica of the Scaligeri family tomb in Verona, built for the Duke of Brunswick. Upon his death in 1873, the Duke’s fortune was given to the city of Geneva on the condition that he receive a grand funeral and a monument in his name. This landmark is what remains of that vanity project, making it one of the stranger sights in Geneva for sure.
Palais des Nations
We mentioned earlier that Geneva is closely tied to the United Nations. That bond relates to the city hosting the European headquarters of the UN inside the offices of the Palais des Nations. Thanks to Switzerland’s well-established neutrality, Geneva now hosts a variety of international organizations and was a natural choice for this role. It’s possible to take a guided tour through the Palais des Nations where you’ll see various rooms, halls, and chambers, depending on the tour schedule of the day. You can book a guided tour, which also includes a tour of the old town, here.
Outside the Palais des Nations stands the Broken Chair sculpture. Standing on three legs, this large piece of modern art protests the use of landmines and cluster bombs, providing a reminder of their lasting damage.
Quartier des Grottes
Heading back to the city for a little bit, head for the neighborhood of Les Grottes near Geneva Station. This dense neighborhood had quite a rough reputation back in the 60s, but has gone through various phases since, including a recent wave of gentrification. But it was the architectural decisions of the 80s that draw many people there today.
Adopting a colorful modern style similar to that of Gaudí throughout Barcelona, the buildings are an unexpected sight in a city like Geneva. They essentially center around a building known as Les Schtroumpfs, the French name for the Smurfs, which is the most famous of these unconventionally fascinating buildings.
Next, you’re off to see another major international organization that calls Geneva home – CERN. Found out in the suburbs of the city, CERN is the laboratory for the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The institute is home to The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, used to help solve problems at the cutting edge of particle physics.
You’ll get to learn all about it with a tour of the visitor’s center and museum there. Unfortunately, you can’t actually go down into the Large Hadron Collider, but you still get to see plenty of this world-renowned facility.
Continue hopping around Geneva and make your way to the neighborhood of Carouge to the south of the city center. Once a separate town that was heavily shaped by Italian influences, Carouge looks more like the Mediterranean than Geneva. This makes it a fascinating part of the city to explore, before you even get to the cafes, bookshops, and antique stores that line its traditional streets. In many ways Carouge has become the bohemian quarter of Geneva due to its differences with the rest of the city, lending it even more character.
For some wonderful views of Geneva to round out the day, make your way up to Mont Salève over the border in France. This mountain reaches an altitude of 1,100 meters and enjoys sweeping views over Geneva, Lake Geneva, and the nearby Alps. To reach its panoramic viewpoints, take the Téléphérique du Salève cable car which leaves from just across the border. Riding the cable car takes just five minutes and will show you the city in a way you’ve yet to see it.
Day 3 in Geneva
With only a little of your 72 hours in Geneva remaining, there’s just enough time to find out what other great destinations call this corner of Europe home. Because of how close Geneva is to the French border, there’s an opportunity with these day trips to see more of Switzerland or actually pop over the border if you like.
Sharing the banks of Lake Geneva is the city of Lausanne, an excellent idea for a day trip from Geneva. Sitting on a steep hillside overlooking the lake and facing the Alps, Lausanne goes all in on superb panoramic views. The city itself also has more than enough to keep you happily occupied for the day.
The Old Town of Lausanne is a natural starting point for exploring the city. Place de la Palud is a small square with lots of historic charm and is a short walk from the Escaliers du Marché, a gorgeous covered wooden stairway that runs up through the area. This endless stairway will bring you to Lausanne Cathedral and the Palais de Rumine, whose respective Gothic and Florentine Renaissance architecture are interesting to compare.
Lausanne is also quite a cultured city, boasting a great selection of museums for visitors to explore. While the Musée de l’Élysée is a more conventional museum with its vast photography collection, it’s the Olympic Museum that many people prioritize. Lausanne is the home of the International Olympic Committee and with the Olympic Museum you can learn all about the games and see special memorabilia as well. For a more detailed look at visiting Lausanne, check out our comprehensive Lausanne itinerary.
2. Swiss Riviera
Another popular place to visit along the shores of Lake Geneva is a group of destinations often dubbed the Swiss Riviera. These destinations rest at the very far end of the lake and boast an eclectic mix of attractions that ensure there’s something for everyone there.
It’s best to start your trip in the town of Montreux, the largest town in those parts. Although most famous for its international jazz festival, this resort town also boasts a scenic waterfront and the Queen: The Studio Experience, a museum dedicated to the iconic rock band. Next, take a nice walk along the lakefront to reach the magnificent Chillon Castle. This 10th-century castle is incredibly photogenic, earning it the title of the most visited historic monument in Switzerland.
The Swiss Riviera is a perfect place to take a cruise on Lake Geneva, so why not hop aboard a ferry over to the resort town of Vevey. In town you’ll find some brilliant Belle Epoque hotels and lake views. From there, head up into the terraced Lavaux Vineyards which blanket the hills of Lake Geneva. What better way to end the day trip than with a wander through vineyards with views of the Alps?
Day trips from Geneva don’t have to be limited to Switzerland, with one of the best taking you across the border to the French city of Annecy. This adorable alpine city is known for its winning combination of old town character and picturesque canals. Annecy is even nicknamed the Venice of the Alps giving you a great idea of what lays in store for you there.
Begin your visit there with Annecy’s old town of Vieille Ville, where you’ll be seemingly transported back in time. Cobblestone streets and floral window boxes on pastel houses create wonderful medieval scenes that are a joy to stroll through. Allow yourself to wander and you’ll uncover tiny cafes, flea markets, and much more. As you go, be sure to find your way to the Château d’Annecy, an art museum within a medieval castle.
It’s then time to witness the superb scenery created by the city’s waterways. The Thiou River is responsible for some gorgeous shots, especially around the Palais de l’Isle, a local history museum that was a medieval castle-turned-prison. Follow the river upstream and you’ll find the pretty gardens of Jardins de l’Europe on the banks of Lake Annecy.
And there you have it – the ultimate Geneva itinerary with everything you need to know to comfortably explore Geneva in 3 days. With this information to help you prepare your visit, you should have a solid idea of how best to spend your time. For those planning on traveling more in Switzerland, be sure to also check out our guides to Zurich, Bern and Lucerne.