Everything you need to know about visiting the heart of the Swiss Riviera if you’ve only got three days to explore.
Known around the world as the playground for the rich, Geneva (or Genève as it’s known in French) might at first glance seem like a sleepy (expensive) Swiss town – but don’t be fooled. This little area of the world has something for everyone. From great restaurants and wine bars to day trips out to vineyards and beyond, it’s hard not to have a good time while there. See below for the full travel guide if you’ve only got 72 hours to spare.
GETTING IN + AROUND
Since Geneva has seemingly always maintained neutrality, it’s a hub for international trade and diplomatic negotiations. Ergo: it’s easy to get in and out of. The train station is pretty close to the center (it was an 8 minute walk from our hotel) and the airport is only 20 minutes away by cab. We flew to Geneva from Spain and it was super breezy. Customs was a quick passport check and baggage was delivered in a quick and organized fashion. We left Geneva by train to Paris and the process was just as smooth. Both the airport and the train station are among the cleanest I’ve ever seen, which is a major plus for pandemic-times travel.
What’s more, if you book at one of the city’s central hotels, the Geneva Tourist Office will email you and provide a free public transit pass, plus great deals on a whole host of other activities. Pretty sweet right?! It made the trip so much easier. We didn’t use the tram or bus system while we were there, but boats crossing the lake are considered public transport, too. Who doesn’t love a free boat ride?! We felt like VIPs the entire time we were there.
WHERE TO STAY
Airbnbs are sparse in Geneva – hotels are the city’s hospitality currency (and understandably so). We stayed at the Hotel Rotary – M Gallery, but I’ll be honest, didn’t love it. It’s very pretty – albeit slightly weathered – and the staff are lovely, but we actually had to switch rooms as the room above us had a massive drain issue and leaked into our room one evening. The hotel is also a little far from the main drag, which we didn’t mind as we love walking, but could see how this could be an issue if you really want to relax and indulge. I’d recommend checking out the partner hotels for the Geneva Tourist Office and picking one that’s within your price range and has great reviews.
Generally speaking, the level of hospitality is no joke here- probably the best I’ve ever experienced. Everyone is extremely accommodating and is not shy about switching between French and English. My fiancé and I actually tried this – I would start a conversation in French and he would finish it by asking questions in English. No hotel, restaurant, or museum staff had any issue switching seamlessly between the two languages. It was actually really cool to see! As a result, if you’re learning French but are not yet confident, you’ll find getting around to be a breeze.
Europe by and large (particularly France) has robust tourist offices. But none quite so incredible as Geneva. 48 hours before you arrive, they’ll send you a free transit pass as well as special offers on things to discover while you’re there, with partner vendors and experiences at a variety of price points. You can also book guided tours of the city directly from their website!
Our first stop? Redeeming the Chocopass. It costs 30 Swiss Francs and with it, you can explore and taste free Swiss chocolates from top chocolatiers all over the city. Unlimited chocolate? Sign us up! But I’ll be honest – Swiss chocolate can be incredibly rich, so our “unlimited” ideas were quickly halted by full stomachs. That being said, we did visit three incredible chocolatiers: Sweetzerland, Zeller Chocolate, and Favarger. Each visit came with a little history lesson, a tour of all the chocolates they offer and a little tasting packet of chocolates. Our favorite was Favarger. Our guide was so kind, answered all our questions, and asked us what our favorite kinds of chocolates were before filling our little gift bags. We loved all the chocolates so much we brought some more to bring home! Definitely makes for a sweet souvenir.
With our bellies and suitcases full of chocolate, we made the most of the afternoon by heading to the beach at Lake Geneva. Let’s just say this is the reason they call Geneva “The Jewel of the French Riviera”: it is truly stunning. (And it doesn’t cost 7 Swiss Franc like the website notes – it’s free!) While it’s not a traditional American idea of a beach (think pebbles and small rounded river stones instead of traditional sand), it’s a beautiful place for a romantic stroll, a chat, and a nap. Pro tip: grab a bottle of wine and some crackers from a nearby wine shop and have a glass while watching the sunset. It definitely makes for a moment you won’t soon forget.
While the chocolate tours and an afternoon at the beach made for a lovely day exploring Geneva, the highlight of the trip was our TukTuk Tour to Swiss Vineyards. Run by a local, sustainable company, Welo Swiss, this is a great tour to book if you don’t want to rent a car but still want to see Swiss wine country. We met up with our tour guide in front of the Grand Théâtre de Genève and took a quick tour through Geneva’s old town and beautiful cathedral. Our next stop was a local wine and cheese shop, where the proprietor prepared us a lovely cheese and charcuterie board, paired with a glass of Swiss Pinot Blanc, to enjoy on the ride.
Next, we headed up the hills and out of Genève to the main event: the vineyards. The Swiss countryside is absolutely incredible, and when we were there it was right at the end of sunflower season and the beginning of the harvest, so you can simply imagine how beautiful it was. Along the way, our driver stopped to ensure we saw all the beautiful glacial lakes, terraced vineyards, and limestone peaks. This area of the world is as rugged as it is incredible. Our final stop? Domaine des Rothis, nestled away in a little Swiss town named Dardagny. This domaine makes beautiful Chasselas, Gamay, Pinot Blanc, Cabernet France – and even a few permitted hybrid grape varieties that are common in Switzerland, like Gamaret. Our tasting was lovely and I left with a promise to return to Swiss wine country and explore more!
RESTAURANTS AND WINE BARS
Central Geneva is less than 8 kilometers from the French border. That means that France’s food and wine culture is everywhere in downtown Genève, so if you love French food with a taste of the Alpine and a hint of Germanic influence, you won’t be disappointed. Geneva is also an international finance hub, so even if French food isn’t your thing, you’ll find a wealth of Japanese, Chinese, and Indian options around, too.
We visited White Rabbit for brunch on our first morning in Geneva and were not disappointed. This is a classic spot for a modern French breakfast, with a great selection of all kinds of eggs and toasts, pastries, breads, and coffees. Every time we passed by it, it was understandably packed! The outdoor patio is quiet and cute, and the interior reminded me of a trendy spot I once went to in Brooklyn. Definitely a place I’d go to again!
This place was easily the most adorable spot we visited – bar none. It’s tucked away behind a unique monument called the Brunswick Statue, surrounded by a stunning garden and a plethora of bird baths. The ambiance outside is top notch and the wine list is lovely. Definitely a top spot for people watching! In the summer, it was perfectly shaded and slightly breezy, too.
Craving some classic maritime French cuisine? Café du Centre is your spot! With a focus on fresh oysters, shrimp, and other French/Swiss seafood, you won’t be disappointed with the selection, and the ambiance – right in the center of Downtown Geneva – is perfection. Great place to people watch!
As a wine blogger, I’ve been to a lot of wine bars. From Paris to New York and beyond, some simply stand out from the rest. Le Rouge et Le Blanc now joins that list. It’s such a great wine bar that it’s actually been named to the Michelin Guides in Switzerland for almost ten years running! Right on the bank of Lake Geneva, with an expansive patio and views for days, you’d think it would be ultra-premium, but it’s actually extremely down to earth. The food menu is an eclectic mix of Indian and Spanish tapas, with tons of vegetarian options, and everything was delicious. My favorite part? There is no wine list. If you ask for it, you won’t get one! Instead, the servers will ask what you’re in the mood for or the wine you’re looking to try, and they’ll bring something out to you. I LOVE this concept for wine tasting. We tried everything from Sancerre to local Chasselas, Gringet, Pinot Noir, and Gamay. Le Rouge et Le Blanc truly believes they can find something for everyone and I couldn’t agree more. Only have time for one night out in Geneva? Go here.
If you’re looking for a traditional luxury dining experience, Windows is a great option. Located on the first floor of the famous Hôtel d’Angleterre, this is a white glove, Old World Luxury option. The wine list is stellar (Ruinart is the partner Champagne house), with hundreds of options not only from Switzerland and France but around the world. If you have an option for the main course, make sure you pick the Grilled Turbot for two. It was easily the best fish we had on the trip, and was filleted right in front of us.
Originally a French chain, with locations all over Paris, I was delighted to find that MARCEL had a Swiss outpost. Check this spot out for a great local wine list, fantastic snacks, and great ambiance.
All in all, our time in Switzerland was a fabulous three day escape. We left inspired to return to the country to explore everything else this it has to offer. If you’re heading to western or central Europe, a stopover in stunning Genève should be on your list. Bon voyage !