Set around glittering Lake Geneva, this gateway to the Alps is also the European headquarters for the United Nations.
Sidestep the flashy billboards and you’ll discover a slick, quietly cool city with a burgeoning food scene, a rich history of religious turmoil and a clutch of fascinating monuments and museums.
Arriving at Geneva Airport
GVA has only one runway, tucked up against the craggy Jura mountains. But whichever approach you make – over the mountains themselves, the foothills of the Alps, or sweeping across Lake Geneva – it’s a picturesque one.
Getting away from the airport is very simple. There is a CFF train station attached to the main terminal and all trains go to Gare Cornavin, Geneva's main station (the journey takes about seven minutes). From there, you can easily connect onto Geneva's bus and tram network.
You can also take the number 5 or 10 TPG (Transport Public Genevois) bus from the airport – go up to the ground-floor check-in level, exit the airport and turn left towards the train station entrance.
Avoid taking an expensive taxi from the airport into town (a run between the airport and the city centre can cost CHF35—45, without luggage). Trains and buses are free if you pick up a ticket in the baggage reclaim hall. It’s best to pre-book car-hire if you need your own wheels (although traffic within Geneva itself is heavy and parking is expensive).
Geneva city centre is easily walkable. Gare Cornavin, the main railway station, is in the centre 10 minutes’ walk from the lake and 20 minutes from Geneva Old Town.
Geneva’s interconnected system of trams, buses, mouettes (yellow transport boats) and trains uses the same tickets, which can be bought at machines at every bus or tram stop in the city and aboard buses going outside the city.
If you’re planning a full-on programme of sightseeing, a Geneva Pass (valid for 24, 48 or 72 hours) entitles you to free transport along with access to many of the city’s most popular attractions.
Hailing a taxi on the street isn’t always easy, and there are only several ranks dotted around the city. Booking online or saving a taxi mobile number to your phone is recommended. You can also take to the water on a yellow taxi-boat. The Mouettes Genevoises (Geneva Gulls) are free to use with a transport card and, depending on the line, depart every 10 or 30 minutes from city centre stops.
Rue du Rhône: for shopping
If you’re feeling flush, head here for high-end clothing boutiques, exquisite watchmakers’ outlets, dazzling jewellery shops and the imposing Bon Génie –essentially the Harvey Nichols of Geneva, bursting to the seams with designer labels. If you’re looking for something more down to earth, or need to refuel, central department store Globus has an incredible food hall with upmarket burgers, finely crafted sushi and freshly flipped crêpes.
The Old Town: for sightseeing
These cobbled streets, narrow winding passages and hidden courtyards – classed as a national heritage site - conceal tiny bars, pretty cafés and quirky antique shops. At the Cathedral of Saint Pierre nearby, clamber 157 steps up its main tower and you get superb panoramic views of the lake with its famous Jet d’eau fountain.
Carouge: for authentic local life
Just a short tram ride from the centre of Geneva, this distinctly Mediterranean suburb is where the Genevois go to relax. With beautiful red-roofed Italian architecture, second-hand bookshops and wonderful restaurants, it attracts artisans and bohemians in their droves.
• Voltage: 220V.
• Currency: Swiss Franc (CHF).
• Time zone: Central European Standard Time (GMT+1) and Central European Summer Time (GMT+2).
Languages: French is the main language spoken in Geneva, but most residents also speak German and/or Italian. Staff in most attractions, restaurants and bars also speak excellent English.