Geneva is not the capital of Switzerland, as many would think, but is only its third largest city. It is the capital of the Canton of Geneva. It is situated where Lake Geneva ( Lac Léman) flows into the Rhône River and is surrounded by two mountain chains, the Alps and the Jura.
Officially, Geneva is a French-speaking city but the large international presence makes English a second language. It has a very international population: 43.4% of the population came from elsewhere. Geneva has one of the highest standards of living in the world.
Geneva is also one of world’s most important centers of international diplomacy. It home to the European headquarters of United Nations and the International Committee of the red Cross. The World Health organization and UNICEF are also present here as are many other international organizations.
Geneva ’s economy is service based and the city is an important finance center specialized in private banking and financing international trade. It is also an important center of commodity trade. Geneva has also had a long tradition of watchmaking with world famous brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe and Franck Muller.
Geneva ’s climate is characterized by its location at a high altitude and its proximity to the lake and the mountains, thus making the prevailing continental climate more temperate. Summers are warm to hot, winters cold and autumns rainy. Rain falls throughout the year but Geneva is drier than most of the country due to the nearby mountains. January is on the average the coolest month and July is the warmest. November is the wettest.
January average temperature 1 deg Celsius, 73.7 mm rainfall February average temperature 2 deg Celsius, 73.7 mm rainfall March average temperature 6 deg Celsius, 73.7 mm rainfall April average temperature 9 deg Celsius, 62 mm rainfall May average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 71.1 mm rainfall June average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 83.8 mm rainfall July average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 66.0 mm rainfall August average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 78.7 mm rainfall September average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 78.7 mm rainfall October average temperature 10.5 deg Celsius, 73.7 mm rainfall November average temperature 5 deg Celsius, 88.9 mm rainfall December average temperature 3 deg Celsius, 81.3 mm rainfall
Geneva International Airport is an important international hub served by almost all European carriers and by two daily trans-Atlantic flights. In the last years it has also become a hub of the low-cost carrier Easy Jet.
Taxis are abundant but expensive; a ride to the downtown costs around 30 CHF. Bus no. 10 leaves from departure level every 15 minutes from 6:00 am – 11:00 pm. The ride to the downtown Geneva takes 20 minutes. Trains leaving Geneva airport train station all stop at the main bus and train station. Services start at 6:00 am. Expect to pay around 3 CHF for a bus or a train ticket. Tickets can be bought at the machines located at the bus stop and the station.
Like in most cities in Switzerland public transport is extremely efficient.
Bus service is frequent and covers most locations in the city and canton.
The tram network is expanding and the services are frequent. Many lines have the hub at Cornavin train station. Tickets covering both bus and tram can be bought at ticket machines located at every stop.
Geneva is a great city to get around with a bicycle. Bikes can be rented free of charge for one day from Geneva’s social organization Genève Roule from May to October. Their booths are located along the lake, behind the railway station and in the plaine de Plainpalais.
Driving is not recommended in Geneva. The parking is restricted and there are numerous one-way streets.
Swimming and bathing is possible in Lake Geneva from May to September in the designated areas. The most popular city beach is at Port-Noir. They offer also a heated Olympic pool, a huge chessboard, and a landing stage for waterskiiing and windsurfing.
Geneva is often referred to as ‘the city of parks’. Its park-covered area covers over 800 acres and among best known are: La Grange, Les Eaux-Vives and Mon-Repos. Another nice strolling area is around lake Geneva, conveniently equipped with concrete walkway.
For those more adventurous the best choice is rafting. The trip starts across the Acacias Bridge from downtown. Daily canoeing, rafting, and hydrospeed trips are available at various companies, as well as paragliding off Mount Saleve.
Hiking up the Saleve, the chain of hills that skirts Geneva, is a wonderful excursion. Another way of reaching the summit is by riding a cable car. The mountain top offers an incredible view of Geneva, the French Alps, and the lake.
Geneva has some nice shopping streets: Rue Basses, Rue du Rhone, Rue de la Confédération, Rue du Marché, Rue de la Croix-d'Or and Rue du Mont-Blanc. There you can find elegant fashion stores, department stores, top quality boutiques, and dozens of watch stores.
Address: Place St Pierre 1204 Phone: 022 311 75 74 Web: www.saintpierre-geneve.ch Open: June – September: Monday – Saturday: 9:00 am – 7:00 pm; October – May: Monday – Saturday: 10:00 am – noon, 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm
The imposing cathedral dominating the center is half Romanesque and half Gothic in style. It is best known as the adopted home church of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. The church features a wooden chair actually used by Calvin. The cathedral and its towers embody the high point of the Reformed tradition. The site is now completed by the International Museum of Reformation located on the ground floor of the Maison Mallet.
The area under the cathedral has recently been intensely excavated, revealing a rich history dating back to Roman times.
PALAIS DE NATIONS
Address: 14, avenue de la Paix Phone: +41-22-917 48 96 Web: www.unog.ch Open: April – October: daily: 10:00 am – noon, 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm; July – August: daily 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; The rest of the year: Monday – Friday: 10:00 am – noon, 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm Access: Bus no. 8 (Appia)
This huge palace, designed in form of a double horse shoe and set in a park with ancient trees, serves as the European headquarters of the United Nations - the second largest UN center after New York. Built in the 1930s it was originally home to the League of Nations, the predecessor of UN. Visitors are allowed in certain conference rooms, including the Council room with frescoes by José Maria Sert and the magnificent Assembly hall. The palace features a collection of public art, library and landscaped grounds. The visitors also have the opportunity of signing the ‘Livre d’Or – the golden book of peace.
Address: Chemin de l'Impératrice 1, Chambésy Phone: (022) 418 5100 Open: October – March: daily: 9:30 am - 5:00 pm; April – September: daily: 8:00 am – 7:30 pm Admission: free
The world-renowned Geneva Botanical Gardens were created in 1817 by the botanist de Candolle. Today the gardens cover an area of 69 acres and feature greenhouses with tropical plants, a pond with aquatic plants, aviary park, a park of rare animals, and thousands of flowers.
Address: On the Rive Gauche, off Quai Gustave Ador and the Horloge Fleurie in the Jardin Anglais Open: March - October 9:30 am - 11:15 pm Admission: free
This monumental fountain is one of the crowning symbols of Geneva. It dominates Geneva harbour and is Europe’s tallest fountain. Water is pumped 140 m into the air at the speed of 200 kmph/124 mph. At night it is beautifully illuminated.
Lake Geneva is the largest lake in central Europe, surrounded by beautiful alpine panorama, and its waters dotted by numerous sailboats. For decades, people have been drawn to its shores, among which also many famous writers, composers, poets and actors.
Geneva has a large number of restaurants, and their great diversity can be attributed to the fact that Geneva is an international city. On the downside, they are even more expensive than restaurants in other Swiss cities. However, you can find many budget spots around the train station and in the nearby Paquis district. Some are located near rue de l'Ecole de Médecine off of Plaine de Plainpalais.
Address: Rue des Pâquis 25 Phone: (+41) 22 738 84 88) Open: weekdays for breakfast, lunch and dinner until 2:00am
The restaurant is serving good pizza, pasta, salads and vegetarian dishes.
Chez Ma Cousine
Address: pl. du Bourg-de-Four 6 phone: (+41) 22 310 96 96)
The restaurant has a simple menu, and is famous for its roasted chicken.
Café de Paris
Address: Rue du Mont-Blanc 26
This establishment serves Genevois favorite dish only - steak, chips, and salad.
Date: December 1 – January 31 Location: throughout the city
This is one of more recent additions to the events calendar in Geneva. The festival invites artists from Switzerland and all over Europe to come in Geneva and create unique artistically decorated Christmas trees. The best trees are usually around Place St-Gervais, Place de Chevelu, Place de l'lle and around the river.
Date: December 11 Location: old city
This is one of the oldest, most popular and most pompous festivals in Geneva, celebrating the city’s independence when it was attacked by Duke of Savoy troops in 1602. Many legends are connected with this historic event, but the best known is about a woman named Mère Royaume who emptied a large cauldron of hot vegetable soup on the attackers. Today, the L’Escalade is celebrated by eating vegetable soup and chocolate cauldrons filled with marzipan vegetables.
There are parades, period costumes, torches, drums and pipes giving Geneva a carnival atmosphere. A huge bonfire is made in the cathedral square.
This hugely popular festival is the highlight of summer, drawing people to the shores of Geneva Lake. There are several entertainment areas around the lake offering a variety of entertainment, open-air concerts with all kinds of music, fun fairs, food and crafts. The celebration culminates in a grand finale with the musical fireworks.
Acknowledged by the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA) this is the only annual fair in Europe. It is considered one of the most representative car exhibitions in the world with a large number of premieres, news and prototypes. Attracting over 700,000 visitors each year the motor show showcases leading car manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and many more.
Geneva ’s nightlife will hardly get your pulse racing. For popular culture you will have to go to the nearby Lusanne.
There is plenty of classical music and opera in Geneva. There is the world-famous Orchestre de la Suisse Romande playing both in Geneva and Lusanne.
The Geneva Opera House (www.geneveopera.ch) is one of the best known in Switzerland as well as Europe. It is one of the cities most visited cultural institutions owing to its varied program. It opened in 1876 and since then its reputation has been steadily growing.
High quality amateur theatre can be found also performed in English, however, most theatre is in French.
The first traces of human settlement in Geneva were discovered on the shores of Lake Geneva and date from 3000 A.D. but the hill of the old city was not inhabited until 500 A.D. when it was settled by A Celtic tribe. In 58 A.D. Rome took over and first recorded use of the name Genua was by Julius Cesar. The city lies in turbulent mid-European area and was constantly under conquest by Burgundians, Franks, Merovingians, Carolingians, and more. This eventually ended in the 15 th century when Geneva gained prominence and reputation of a trading capital due to its fairs. The dukes of Savoy controlled the town affairs until 1530 when the inhabitants took control and formed a pact with Bern and Freibourg.
Reformation was accepted in 1535 and the following year the preacher John Calvin visited the city. There followed a period of great social and political reform reflecting a strict Protestant theocracy; for example dancing and wearing jewels was banned. From 1550 onwards the persecuted Protestants from Italy and France fled to Geneva in search of sanctuary. Geneva’s reputation as an intellectual center grew. The refugees also helped rebalance the economy which was in decline due to the recession of fairs.
On the night of 11-12 December 1602 the Savoyards, hoping to once again annex Geneva, launched a night attack which came to be known as L’Escalade. The greatly outnumbered Genevese managed to repel the attackers. This day is today a symbol of independence and is celebrated in the old city with parades and period costumes.
The refugees continued to flow into the city, bringing with them a sense of cosmopolitanism and religious liberality. Trade, banking and matchmaking were all flourishing and in 1792 the Geneva revolution brought down the aristocratic rulers of the city aand political equality was proclaimed. In 1798 Geneva was annexed by France and remained under their control for 16 years until it was once again freed on June 1, 1814. In 1615 it became the canton of Switzerland. Geneva’s role in international humanitarianism has its beginnings in a businessman and humanitarian Henry Dunant who shaped the Geneva Convention in 1864. For the first time the rules for soldier conduct in war were set down. Then the International Red Cross was created to help the soldiers or civilians in wartime or in natural disasters. Dunant was the co-winner of the Nobel Prize for peace in 1901.
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
After WW I Geneva’s international role was confirmed as it was chosen as home to the League of Nations’ headquarters. After WW II more international organizations arrived, the UN, WHO, and other. The Swiss did not become members of the UN, NATO and EU so as to secure its neutrality.
The 1992 referendum to approve membership of the European Economic Area was also denied due to the disagreement of the German-speaking cantons. The French-speaking cantons agreed with the proposal so the situation ended in some conflict between the communities.
Geneva ’s economy has been modernized, directing itself more to the hi-tech industries. It is today one of the world’s 10 most expensive cities.
The Swiss take punctuality very seriously. Be on time whether for a social gathering or a business meeting. If you are delayed, you should call and explain. Most valued characteristics are honesty, hard work, cleanliness, punctuality, tolerance, sobriety, and responsibility. The Swiss are also very proud of their environment and take great proud in their neutrality and promotion of peace. As a general rule, be punctual, don’t litter, don’t put your feet on the desk and show respect for the elderly.
Geneva is a very safe city as is Switzerland in general. However, there has recently been an increase in petty theft especially in the city center and on public transportation. Keep an eye on your belongings in public and you should be fine. If you find yourself a victim of any such activity do not hesitate to report it to the police.
Switzerland ’s weather and climate are determined by the 4 seasons. Winters are quite cold with a lot of snow, summers are sunny and warm. July and August have the best weather but also the crowds are biggest at that time.
It is advisable to visit in June or September when the weather is still pleasant but the hotel prices are somewhat lower and there are not so many tourists. October has pleasant temperatures of around 20°C and sunny weather so it is ideal for hiking in the mountains.