Geneva – much more than United Nations, Finance and Fondue

Liked the post? Please show some sharing love.
Geneva Travel Guide: exploring the hidden gems of the Swiss city.
Exploring the hidden gems of Geneva, Switzerland

A decade ago, when I visited Geneva, the city of diplomats didn’t leave such a grand impression on me as Interlaken, Zurich, and Lucerne did. And that’s not because Geneva is any less than them, and it may be because of my ignorance. I tick marked almost all the places for which Geneva is best known – Lake Geneva (locally known as Lac Leman), Jet d’Eau (Water Jet), Old Town, flower clock, chair with a broken leg, and Palais des Nations, among others. In three days, I tried to cover the staggering number of international organizations offices in Geneva, including the World Health Organization, the World Economic Forum, the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, the International Organization for Migration and many more.

Are you looking for some unusual things to do in Geneva? Try taking a gourmet cruise on Lac Leman
Are you looking for some unusual things to do in Geneva? Try taking a gourmet cruise on Lac Leman

To be fair, I didn’t go beyond the cliches of the capital of commerce. But on my fourth visit to Switzerland and second visit to Geneva, I decided to go beyond the cliches and explore the unexpected Geneva. I tried to cover as many usual things to do in Geneva as possible in five days.

Exploring the unexpected side of geneva. Photo credit: Aerial der Kathedrale Genf im Sommer mit See und Jet d Eau.
Exploring the unexpected side of geneva. Photo credit: Aerial der Kathedrale Genf im Sommer mit See und Jet d Eau.

Geneva, one of Western Europe’s largest financial centres, has much more to offer than I imagined! I was in Switzerland as part of the Adventure Travel World Summit – Lugano 2022. The first five days of my 18-day trip in Switzerland were spent in Geneva exploring the unexpected side of the city by indulging in activities such as watchmaking, white-water rafting, e-biking through Swiss vineyards, and, of course, eating pounds of chocolate

Six unusual things to do in Geneva

Listed below are my top six unusual things to do in Geneva that not only helped alter the city’s top-collar buttoned-up image in my mind but also left me stunned with surprise. 

Places to see in Geneva - the  Reformation Wall
Places to see in Geneva – the Reformation Wall

1. Become a Luxury Watchmaker 

It’s hard to think about Switzerland without thinking about watches. Geneva is home to most luxury watchmaking firms. While people buy watches from Switzerland, I assembled one for myself! So I ticked off watchmaking from my bucket list. Fabiano Pericles, a master watchmaker at Initium, educated me about the ancestral skill of watchmaking and how it was passed down as a legacy of not just a region but the entire country. In the 1.5 hrs of intimate course, I learnt mechanical watchmaking’s theoretical and practical secrets. There were three different options available based on the session time and price, and I chose the cheapest one (CHF 350) in which I could assemble a watch. With screwdrivers and tweezers in hand, I could feel the heartbeat of the watch I was assembling, a unique experience indeed! 

One of the most unusual things to try in Geneva is attending a watchmaking workshop in the old town of Geneva
One of the most unusual things to do in Geneva is attend a watchmaking workshop in the old town of Geneva.

It was amazing to know that a Swiss timepiece I held had 400 parts. And guess what? The springs, crown, bezel, cases, hands, dials, and bracelets offer more than one million possible combinations! And, god forbid, if you lose any tiny part, it can take hours to find that as they are custom-made and not readily available. Creating my Swiss watch at the Initium Workshop was a timeless and eye-opening experience. A must-try activity in Geneva!

Cost: Swiss Watchmaking workshop starts at CHF 350 and goes up to CHF 2490.

How to book: Tel: +41 32 953 10 87, website: https://initium.swiss/, or email at info@initium.swiss

2. Go River rafting & Canoeing in the heart of Geneva.

From Swiss Watchmaking, I tried something wholly unconnected but equally exciting. As vague as it may sound, it’s one of the most adventurous experiences that thrilled and ignited the fear factor in me when I learnt that I could go river rafting in the middle of Geneva! Experiencing Grade IV river rafting in the city centre of Geneva was one of the most thrilling experiences I had. Rafting through the icy cold waters of the Arve River of the Mont Blanc Glacier spiced up my adrenaline rush. With the help of my rafting guide Axel who kept us entertained and updated with his knowledge on the inflatable rafts that travel a 7-kilometre path, we rafted through eight waterfalls along the route. 

White water rafting in Grade IV rapids was definitely one of the most unusual things to do in Geneva
White water rafting in Grade IV rapids was one of the most unusual things to do in Geneva.

What filled my soul after the adrenaline rush was the deliciously prepared barbecue dinner at the rafting base amid nature.

Exploring the Versoix marshes on a Canoe was also a part of my itinerary. Unfortunately, the rain had its plans. The Versoix marshes are one of the most unusual places you’ll come across in Geneva. In the wilderness, you’ll see the signs of wild boars and beavers hidden among the trees and bushes. A pristine, gorgeous, and unique setting within a short distance from Geneva. 

Cost: The river rafting starts at CHF 60 and goes up to CHF 600.

How to book river rafting in Geneva: Tel: +41 (0)22 7840205, website: www.rafting-loisirs.ch, email: info@rafting-loisirs.ch

3. E-bike through the countryside in search of Switzerland’s best-kept secret

After taming the wild waves of the river Arve, I tried another adventure that became one of the highlights of my Geneva trip – e-biking through the countryside in search of Switzerland’s best-kept secret. Before arriving in the country, I had no idea that Swiss grapes have been farmed in Switzerland since Roman times. Still, unlike its neighbours France and Italy, most of the wines that get produced are consumed by the Swiss themselves, leaving less than 2% of Swiss Wines to get exported. So, if I had to taste this elusive nectar, I had to do it in Switzerland. What better place than Geneva, the country’s third-largest wine-producing region?

Wine tasting and biking in a city of Diplomats? Definitely one of the most unusual things to do in Geneva
Another unusual thing to do in Geneva is Wine tasting and biking in a city of Diplomats.

The e-bike tour company made my wine-tasting experience more adventurous as we rode for three hours in the Genevan countryside. We stopped at two homegrown wineries – Les Perrieres in Peissy and Domaine du Centaure in Dardagny. Kristelle Charré, the Marketing Manager at Geneva Tourism, had informed us a day in advance that we would be cycling near the CERN site. The European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, is the largest particle physics laboratory in the world and is credited for inventing the world wide web (WWW) in 1989.

In my 20 km (12 miles) ride, I witnessed how beautifully the landscape transformed from the concrete buildings of Geneva to the chlorophyll-green vineyards of the countryside. Seeing the French culture-inspired villages and the farmers celebrating the grape harvesting season coming to an end through song and dance in a trailer, it felt as if I was experiencing the authentic Swiss culture to its core. 

After paddling for an hour, our first pit stop was Les Perrieres, where the winegrowing tradition has been alive for over 225 years thanks to its family legacy of the Rochaix family, whose 8th generation now runs the estate gracefully. Here I tried the ever-sweet apple juice that quenched my thirst and prepared me for the uphill pedalling I was about to do. 

At our next stop at Domaine du Centaure, Govinda, the highly experienced sommelier, enriched my wine knowledge as I cherished over ten varieties of Swiss Wines. These wines came from more than 30 grape varieties cultivated in Geneva itself. 

The wine tasting experience at Domaine du Centaure, Dardagny, Geneva, Switzerland
The wine-tasting experience at Domaine du Centaure, Dardagny, Geneva, Switzerland

During the wine-tasting experience, I learned about the significant contribution the Ramu family made to the Swiss Wine industry dating back to pre-1602. Considered to be one of the pioneers in wine-making in Switzerland, the Ramu family has passed the wine-making tradition of excellence and innovation for over 400 years. E-biking through the Genevan countryside was one of my trip’s most unusual things I did in Geneva. Something I strongly recommend trying.

How to book: for a bike tour with wine tasting, contact http://www.ebiketour.ch. For wine-tasting only, contact the wineries – https://domaine-du-centaure.ch/visitez-nous and https://www.lesperrieres.ch/en/the-cellar/

4. Enjoy a Chocolate tour in the heart of the old town. 

Something I religiously did every day in Switzerland was stuffing myself with Swiss chocolates. And the best day was when I experienced Geneva’s award-winning 3-hour guided chocolate tour, the perfect 3-in-1: where I got to taste out-of-this-world artisanal chocolates, learn about the history of chocolate through anecdotes from your engaging guide, and see the city’s iconic spots. Margaux, a bubbly-young girl with a beautiful smile and blonde hair, a student with migrant parents, was our tour guide.

A chocolate tour is s must-do activity in Geneva
A chocolate tour is s must-do activity in Geneva.

In this walking city tour, I tried chocolate in all shapes and forms: from chocolate pralines to truffles, ganaches, drinking chocolate, and pastry. During the entire 3-hour time, we stopped at seven chocolate stops, out of which six were at chocolateries and patisseries. One was at Arsenal, where I indulged in a genuinely unique Genevan tradition- – smashing the chocolate “marmite” (cauldron). 

Eating and buying chocolate may not be an unusual thing to do in Geneva, but how about experiencing Geneva's award-winning 3-hour guided chocolate tour.
Eating and buying chocolate may not be unusual in Geneva, but how about experiencing Geneva’s award-winning 3-hour guided chocolate tour?

A few of my favourite Geneva chocolate shops included Phillippe Pasoet (try the natural “ruby” chocolate), Pierre & Jean (must-try their chocolate pastry) and MANOR (for cheap treats to bring home). 

Cost of the Geneva Chocolate Tour: Adult – 99 CHF, Child – 69 CHF

How to book: Tel: +41 77 955 62 39, website: https://www.ferme-de-bude.ch/http://www.localflavourstours.com, or email: info@localflavourstours.com

5. Experience a farm-to-table Sustainable culinary journey

As a sustainability writer, I always look for sustainability solutions wherever I travel. And, since the day I arrived in Switzerland, sustainability was all I saw around me. And one of the experiences that I highly recommend is a Culinary workshop at the Budé urban farm, where you participate in authentic farm-to-table sustainable cooking. I explored, harvested, prepared, and tasted garden goodies with a professional chef. 

Experience a farm-to-table Sustainable culinary journey. Truly an unusual thing to do in Geneva
Experience a farm-to-table Sustainable culinary journey. Truly an unusual thing to do in Geneva

My farm-to-table sustainable culinary experience in Geneva took me through the cycle of sustainability (or Swisstainable as they call it in Switzerland). A qualified farmer first gave a farm visit and later explained how 100% pesticide-free vegetables are grown and harvested at the Bude farm. Then we moved to the kitchen of Ma-Terre, where I witnessed delicious food being prepared sustainably (without much wastage) by Master Chef Manuella Magnin.

We made a full four-course dinner with a salad, soup, main course and dessert. All were prepared from ingredients sourced locally except for the coconut milk and spices that Manuella collects on her travels. She adds her magic touch to turn an ordinary recipe into an extraordinaire recipe. The pumpkin soup that I prepared with Manuella’s guidance was one of the best pumpkin soups I have ever had. It had coconut milk and Indian curry paste, which raised its flavour to an entirely new level. It was indeed a meal to remember! 

How to book: Tel: +41 78 667 57 97, website: https://ma-terre.ch/, or email: contact@ma-terre.ch

6. Learn about the sustainable side of Geneva

The farm-to-table sustainable culinary Journey at Bude Farm piqued my interest in knowing more about the sustainable side of Geneva. So, I decided to dig deeper with my local tour guide, Emillie Bissardon.

Geneva is best explored on foot.
Geneva is best explored on foot.

As I walked through the streets of Geneva, I learnt how slowly and steadily Geneva is becoming one of the most sustainable cities in the world. It is on the path of producing 100% renewable energy by 2050. In Quartier des Grottes (Smurf houses), I learnt how the residents, voters and neighbourhood community associations successively fought for the area not to be torn down. Fortunately, the people managed to preserve this area more or less the same.

Today, the bohemian Quartier des Grottes has redeveloped, attracting successful young professionals. I leant how the city developed city parks as a nursery for seedlings and a source of honey, meeting the need for conservation and modernization of the botanical gardens.

In this knowledge-filled walking tour, I learnt how Geneva is using its biggest asset – Lake Geneva for cooling & heating the buildings. And, in the process, is reducing electricity consumption by 80% and CO2 emission by 80%. This was just one of the many things Geneva is doing to transition to a sustainable, resilient and efficient urban energy infra system. A system that will continue to evolve to decrease fossil fuel dependence promotes local renewable energy and create a healthy city for its citizens. 

The water systems are so good in Geneva that I could drink water from any fountain or tap. All I had to do was look for a blue water tap sign. 

Cost: starts at 25 CHF per person.

How to book: Tel: +41 22 909 70 00, web: http://www.geneve.com, email: info@geneve.com

Travel Tips & FAQs for a Geneva Trip

How many days are enough for Geneva?

About 5-6 days are enough to explore the city and around, but if you are hard-pressed for time, three days are also okay.

Whether it's your first time or second time in Geneva, keep at least 3-4 days to explore the city and around.
Whether it’s your first or second time in Geneva, keep at least 3-4 days to explore the city.

How is the average weather in September-October? What clothes should I pack?

The climate of Geneva is mild, with no extremes in terms of cold or humidity. In October, the daytime temperature ranges from 8 to 17 °C (46° – 59° F). Therefore, bring a sweater, walking shoes, sunscreen, sunglasses, a compact umbrella, and a light raincoat.

What clothes to pack for Geneva, Switzerland
What clothes to pack for Geneva, Switzerland

When is the best time to visit Geneva?

June to August, as the weather remains mild and breezy. Summers in Switzerland are sunny, though rain is just as expected. However, remember that this is also the peak season for the region. So brace yourself for big crowds. Personally, I loved Autumn more than summer because there were fewer tourists and the city was glowing in fall colours.

Is transport expensive in Geneva?

Public transport in Geneva is pocket friendly and hassle-free. I acquired a Swiss Travel Pass before my arrival to make things simple and convenient. The 15-day first-class travel pass cost me about 675 CHF. Still, it was very economical as I could use it for transactions at train stations, bus stations, museums, and restaurants. Although even if you don’t have a pass, most hotels/Airbnb hosts and guesthouses offer complimentary city travel pass. 

Public Transport in Geneva, Switzerland is top notch and free for tourists
Public Transport in Geneva, Switzerland, is top-notch and free for tourists.

How to reach Geneva, Switzerland

I took a direct Delhi to Zurich Swiss Air flight that took 7.5 hours from India. From Zurich Airport, I took a train to Geneva with one transfer. The train station was conveniently located opposite the airport. The SBB app is one of the best travel apps in the world that gives you real-time information about public transport in Switzerland. 

Geneva is a fascinating city filled with many unusual things to do. Make sure you keep at least 3-5 days for the city
Geneva is a fascinating city filled with many interesting attractions. Make sure you keep at least 3-5 days for the city.

Where to stay in Geneva, Switzerland?

To try out many unusual things and get the most out of Geneva, staying at a central location is essential. I stayed at The New Midi. The privately owned hotel overlooks a square by the River Rhône. It is located in the heart of Geneva, just a 3-minute walk across the bridge from the Old Town. 

If you want to explore some of the hidden gems of Geneva, make sure you stay at a central location
If you want to explore some of the hidden gems of Geneva, make sure you stay at a central location

5 Restaurants worth trying in Geneva and around

Geneva is filled with world-class restaurants offering all kinds of cuisine. Here are some of my favourite restaurants:

  • Chez Philippe, located in the Passage des Lions, may be taken for a stake house of New York in the centre of Geneva. It was a delight to dine at Philippe Chevrier’s, Geneva’s most well-known Michelin star chef. I loved their steamed artichoke, wild mushroom soup and the vast wine collection they had. Other must-try items are Grana Padano braised cauliflower, Roasted salt-crusted whole sea bass, Swiss Beef, Brittany Crab cake and Five spices duck rillettes.
  • The Café de Penney, a member of the “Terroir Ambassador” label, serves authentic cuisine made with local ingredients. It pleased me to savour a delicious lunch in a fancy country restaurant. Although I loved their vegetarian pasta, non-vegetarians must try their Swiss beef tartar. 
  • Hôtel de Ville restaurant: Serves a wide variety of Swiss delicacies in an authentic environment. You must try their authentic Swiss fondue. The interior had a French-era feel, with many police, military, and other official hats adorning the restaurant’s walls. Apparently, these hats were gifted by the officials themselves. 
  • Cottage Cafe is a cosy cabin created as a home away from home, tucked on a grassy plot near the Brunswick memorial on the banks of Lake Geneva. Outside, the leafy terrace overlooking the monument and the lake is a tranquil setting for a relaxing evening. You must try their Pecan pie.
  • Manora restaurant is excellent if you want fresh, seasonal and locally produced food at an economical rate. You can choose from homemade dishes that are freshly prepared daily – from meat dishes, fish, pasta and pizza to a buffet of side dishes, salads and a dessert buffet.
The best restaurants to eat at in Geneva are - Chez Philippe, Hôtel de Ville restaurant, Manora restaurant, Cottage Cafe, and Café de Penney in Satigny
The best restaurants in Geneva are – Chez Philippe, Hôtel de Ville, Manora, Cottage Cafe, and Café de Penney in Satigny.

I also loved my picnic lunch prepared for my Lac Leman Cruise, prepared by Fairmont

Where to go next from Geneva

Although the Swiss city has a lot of attractions offering unusual things to do in Geneva that can keep you busy for many days, you can also use the city as a jump-off point for diving into the broader region of Geneva or across the border in France. Here are my favourite places to visit nearby:

  1. Chamonix. About an hour outside Geneva in the shadow of Mont Blanc, this French town is worth a day trip from Geneva. Skiers would love it even more in winter.
  2. Lavaux: If you are an oenophile, an hour’s train ride east of Geneva will bring you to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Lavaux, where terraced vineyards perch dramatically on the northern shores of the lake. 
  3. Gstaad. This extremely photogenic village is just two and a half hours from Geneva and is a great day tour option. Many Hollywood and Bollywood movies were shot here, such as the Return of the Pink Panther, the Palace, DDLJ, Bachna Ae Haseeno, Golmaal Returns etc.
  4. Zermatt. The most famous peak in Switzerland, the Matterhorn, is a three-hour drive from Geneva. The car-free village is packed with high-end shops, bars and restaurants. And the skiing has it all: pistes for all levels, moguls, glacier skiing and freestyle.
Where to go next after Geneva
Where to go next – interesting places near Geneva?

I hope you found this post relevant and would love to go beyond the cliches and try out some of the unusual things to do in Geneva as I did. Have you been to Geneva before, or are you planning to visit Switzerland soon? I would love to hear your feedback or experience. Please use the comment section below to convey your thoughts.

Further Reading:

If you are planning a trip to Switzerland in winter to read Snow, Skiing and Stopover Switzerland in winters

Save this post to Pinterest if you like it!

What next?

In the following article, I’ll take you to Lugano, a lake-front city of the Ticino region which hosted the Adventure Travel World Summit 2022.

Disclaimer

I was invited by ATTA & Geneva Tourism. However, all the experienced mentioned above were personally experienced by me during my stay in the country. Please do not copy or use any of the above content without written consent from Travel See Write.

14 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.