6 things to do during a weekend in Geneva

27 May 2019

Switzerland is synonymous with skiing and winter pursuits, so it's not surprising that many of us overlook Geneva as a city-break destination. But a weekend away in this lakeside city will give you a chance to experience everything it has to offer -- outdoor markets, lakeside beaches, international flavours and stunning Alpine scenery. 

Flights from London take around an hour and 40 minutes -- and don't forget, the main currency here is the Swiss franc.

Here are our top six things to do in Geneva:

1. Share in its culture of learning & international co-operation

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Geneva has some incredibly impressive credentials. It's home to the the World Health Organisation, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the European headquarters of the United Nations, as well as the largest particle physics laboratory on the planet –- the European Organization for Nuclear Research, more commonly known as CERN.

Many of these headquarters have some excellent visitor centres and museums, including CERN's fascinating exhibitions and tours of the building. Just don't expect to see its famous Large Hadron Collider in action, as it's unsafe for the public.

Thanks to the presence of these prestigious establishments, Geneva is a thriving international city, so you'll hear snatches of almost every language imaginable as you potter along its streets.

2. Reach for the sky

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For some of the best views of the city, you'll need to scale the 157 steps up to the towers of Cathedral of St Pierre. For less than £4 (CHF5), you'll see over the rooftops of the old town, across the lake and -- on a clear day -- over to Mount Blanc.

A popular day trip destination is Mont Salève, billed as the “balcony of Geneva” thanks to its knockout views over the area as far as the Jura Mountains. There’s a cable car that will whisk you to the summit in just five minutes, and you could always try paragliding down during the summer months, or hiking back through Alpine meadows.

3. Take to the water

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When the temperatures start to soar, you'll find the locals heading to the shores of Lake Geneva. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the lake's crisp mountain waters, the most popular being the Bains des Pâquis -- public baths along the pier on the lake's west shore -- or the gardens of Perle du Lac, where you'll also find jetties to lounge on and a small stretch of sand.

Of course, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the lake when the weather isn't as warm. Try striking out in a pedal boat on your own or relax on a cruise across the waters -- the paddle steamboats are a fun way to see the sights.

4. Wander the wine trails

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You're unlikely to find Swiss wine on the UK supermarket shelves (less than 2% of bottles produced are exported from the country) because of its relatively small-scale production and high domestic demand. But head to Lake Geneva and you'll be greeted by the sight of lush UNESCO World Heritage Site vineyard terraces cascading down the hillside slopes. The wine trail of La Vaux is less than an hour from Geneva itself and is peppered with medieval towns and a terrific choice of wineries. You can also have a tipple or two on the city's doorstep at Château du Crest or at one of the vineyards around Satigny. 

We recommend heading there as autumn settles over the region, when the vines turn from a vibrant green to a patchwork quilt of reds, oranges and yellows, and the light is crisp and clear.

5. Say ciao to Little Sardinia

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Once a small village outside Geneva's boundaries, and now a trendy bohemian suburb, Carouge is infused with Mediterranean charm. Its historic centre was built in the 1800s by Italian architects commissioned by the King of Sardinia. Today, you'll find streets adorned with colourful shutters and fluttering bunting, lively cafés, bars and restaurants that spill out on to pavements, boutique shops stocking artisan goods, and a wonderful little farmers' market on Saturdays and Thursdays. All this, and only 15 minutes by tram from central Geneva. 

6. Savour Swiss treats

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While the country's national dish may be the humble (yet delicious!) potato rösti, it really wouldn't be a trip to Switzerland without eating a vast amount of cheese. As clichéd as it may be, fondue really is a staple dish eaten by tourists and locals alike, whatever the season. Plus, there's nothing quite like dunking chunks of rustic bread in bubbling pots of velvety gruyère, is there?

For dessert, try contemporary chocolatier Philippe Pascoët's unusual creations. His boutique shops are home to a dizzying array of delicacies, from herbal infusions to rose-coloured bars and melt-in-your-mouth ganache.

Search for flights to Geneva with Swiss International Air Lines.

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