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).
Although a landlocked country, Geneva is a haven for swimming enthusiasts – unsurprisingly, given the pretty lake on its doorstep. The most famous swimming spot is probably the trendy Bains des Pâquis, dating back to 1872 but revamped in the 1930s, with a waterfront bar and restaurant. In the summer months it’s awash with swimmers enjoying a refreshing dip in Lake Geneva. When temperatures get colder, the focus shifts to the on-site sauna and hammam.
Geneva is also flanked by staggering mountain ranges, which means you can be on the slopes within hours (and even back in time for dinner). The pretty French resorts of Samoëns, La Clusaz and Chamonix are just an hour away. Rochers de Naye close to nearby Montreux is good for winter sports and marmot-spotting, while just 25 miles (40km) away is Espace Dôle, one of the most picturesque ski resorts in the Jura Mountains. Also in the Jura is Saint-Cergue. In summer, these same resorts are fantastic for hiking, paragliding, summer tobogganing and mountain biking.
Boaters should set off down the Rhône on a canoe trip to the Marais de la Versoix. The 3-mile (5km) route winds its way through some of the prettiest chocolate-box countryside Switzerland has to offer and puts you in with a chance of seeing some of the local – yet sometimes elusive – wildlife, including beavers and otters.
Lausanne and Cully
Geneva is home to a network of famously efficient Swiss trains, so whizzing out of town to picture-perfect neighbouring towns is quick and easy. At Lausanne, you’ll find medieval streets, a 12th-century Gothic cathedral and a very decent Olympic museum, while Cully is the place for dazzling lake vistas and gorgeous mountain treks (plus a superb jazz and wine festival in April).
Fans of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein will be familiar with this place: Frankenstein’s monster is seen hanging off the cliff-face in Chapter 7. Just a short bus ride from the city centre, Salève is so close it’s known as Geneva’s local mountain (although it’s actually just over the border in France). Take the short ride on the cable car for sweeping views of the city, Mont Blanc and lake. You can hike or even paraglide down.