Known as a hub for winter visitors heading for ski resorts, Geneva is often overlooked as a summer destination, but that’s a mistake. With the sun beating down and the beautiful Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva) on its doorstep, the city turns into an outdoor playground during the summer months, when watersports, open-air entertainment and alfresco festivals make this a fabulous place to hang out. We round up the 10 best things to do in Geneva this summer.
If you’ve never tried wakeboarding before, the vast, clean (and warm in summer) expanse of Lac Léman is a great place to give it a go. Located not far from the famous Jet d’Eau fountain and the beach area Genève-Plage, the city’s Wake Sport Centre (Quai de Cologny 9, +41 22 786 4980) offers taster sessions and lessons off the back of a speedboat or on a brand new 190-metre wakecable where advanced boarders can perfect their kickers and sliders.
Geneva’s green spaces and lakeshores make for a beautiful location for watching films as the sun goes down. In the Perle du Lac park on the lake’s right bank, CinéTransat offers a programme of free outdoor cinema from 9 July to 16 August. Shown in their original language, this year’s films include Footloose, The Matrix, Gravity and X-Men. On the opposite side of the lake at Port Noir, Salt Cinema celebrates its 25th birthday this year with another great line-up of (ticketed) films from 15 July to 20 August. Arrive early to have dinner on its terrace restaurant, which sports a panoramic view over the lake
Make the most of Geneva’s beautiful location at the western end of Lac Léman by hopping aboard a boat for a lunchtime or evening cruise. The CGN (Compagnie Générale de Navigation, Quai du Mont-Blanc 1, +41 848 811 848) fleet includes several paddle steamers built during the Belle Epoque. Take your seat for a three-course lunch or dinner as you cruise across the lake with views of the Jet d’Eau, Mont Blanc and the medieval village of Yvoire on the French shore.
The highlight of summer in Geneva is the Fêtes de Genève, held from 16 July to 9 August. The vast festival programme features free open-air concerts, street theatre and dance events, a craft market, colourful parades and food stalls lining the lakeside. Visit on 1 August when the city celebrates Swiss National Day with an evening fireworks display, before a second round of pyrotechnics concludes the festival in style on 8 August. With around 1 million visitors turning out to watch an hour-long, no-expense-spared display set to music, this is the showpiece of the festival and a truly impressive sight, even if you’re not that into fireworks
A much-loved fixture of the city and a lovely place to spend the day, the Bains des Pâquis (Quai du Mont-Blanc 30, +41 22 738 1616) is a 1930s public bathing area right on the lake. Take a dip, book a massage or relax in the hammam before having lunch at the terrace restaurant. There’s an eclectic programme of events that includes scuba-diving sessions, exhibitions, a pétanque tournament, thai-chi and water-polo games. If you’re an early bird, don’t miss the summer series of 6am concerts when you can start the day with a coffee while listening to anything from contemporary jazz to classic French chanson via Spanish flamenco.
On any given day in summer you’ll likely see a stand-up paddleboarder or two on the lake. A hugely popular sport in Geneva, SUP is easy to pick up, great exercise and tons of fun. Grab your swimmers and head to Tropical Geneva (Genève-Plage, +41 22 786 1679), a watersports company on the left bank where you can rent all the equipment you need and take lessons if you want to perfect your paddle.
Just over the border in France but a short bus ride from Geneva city centre is the beautiful Salève Mountain. Within minutes the cable car will whisk you up 1,100 metres, from where you can follow a hiking trail through woodland to the very top. The impressive panorama takes in the snowy top of Mont Blanc, the wide blue expanse of Lac Léman and the city sprawling around it. No wonder it’s well used as a jumping-off point for paragliders – a sport you can try for yourself by booking a tandem flight with local school Salève Airlines (167 chemin de Verdun, +33 4 5039 7159).
Hire a bike for free this summer with Genève Roule (+41 22 740 1415), which has eight stations around town offering four hours of free hire. Pick up your bike in the suburb of Meyrin (easily accessible by tram from the centre) and you’ll be well placed to cycle the so-called Passport to the Big Bang. Set up by the clever folks at CERN, this above-ground cycle route follows the below-ground path of the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator. Enjoy the pretty countryside along the Franco-Swiss route while information points along the way tell you about the extraordinary activity going on below your feet.
Musiques en été is a summer series of open-air concerts held around the city. Some 38 events are programmed this year, including jazz, opera, classical and world music. The esteemed Geneva Camerata, Chamber Orchestra of Geneva and Chamber Opera of Geneva are among the local groups performing, along with diverse international musicians including a Brazilian hip hop artist, an Ethiopian pop star and a French-Canadian folk singer. Some concerts are free, others ticketed
For an adrenaline-filled afternoon, sign up for a white-water rafting trip on the Arve River. Experts Rafting Loisirs (Route du Pas-de-l’Echelle 4, +41 22 784 0205) will kit you out with all the gear and guide you on the 7-kilometre trip from Veyrier, outside the city, to the point where the Arve meets the Rhône at Jonction. It’s best not to fall in – the glacial water comes directly from Mont Blanc.