Before I visited Geneva, I imagined a winter wonderland covered in snow. But I soon learned that’s not what Geneva is really like. Even without much snow, Geneva is a perfect city break for the wintertime! Here’s are 8 things to do in Geneva in winter.
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We visited Geneva in February 2023 and stayed for two weeks. However 3-4 days is the perfect amount of time to experience Geneva! If you stay longer, you can also take a few day trips, even to France! First, let’s start with the basics.
Where is Geneva?
Geneva is a city in southwest Switzerland near the Swiss-French border. It is located at the intersection of Lake Geneva and the Rhône River. The city is in a natural basin surrounded by mountains and has a population of about 200,000 residents. It’s a very metropolitan area that houses the headquarters of many international institutions such as Palais des Nations (United Nations) and the Red Cross.
Where to stay?
Geneva is positioned on the bottom tip of Lake Geneva. I recommend staying near the water on either side of the lake, which is also the city center. Staying here will allow you to be close to the main attractions and public transportation. Keep in mind that Geneva is an expensive city, so that may impact the accommodation you chose. Here are some hotels near the lake to check out:
We stayed in an area called Pâquis Centre which is between the lake and the main train station. Being close to the lake also meant being close to the bridge to the other side of the city. So, it was pretty easy to get around. This area is also Geneva’s unofficial “red light district” (prostitution is legal and regulated in Switzerland) – so if that bothers you, you may want to check out a different area. However we felt really safe while we were there and had no issues at all!
Things to do in Geneva
Geneva is honestly so much fun and there’s so much to do, even in the winter. We traveled there in February and the weather was particularly warm – between 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. I sort of expected it to be snowing but that was not the case at all! After spending two full weeks in Geneva, we got a pretty good feel on what to do, and especially the best things to do in Geneva in winter. (And don’t forget to read until the end to see what to skip).
#1. Take a boat ride on Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva is a crescent-shaped lake shared by Switzerland and France. You can actually travel by ferry between countries in about 30 minutes. The Lake is surrounded by the Alps so being on the lake feels like you are in a snowglobe.
Taking a boat ride is the best way to see a lot of the lake in a short amount of time and admire the views. Below is the boat ride we took which I definitely recommend! Keep in mind, there are only four rides a week in the winter: 3:30 and 4:30 on Sundays and Fridays.
#2. Eat Fondue Bourguignonne
Fondue comes from the French word “fondre” which means “to melt.” In Switzerland, “fondue” mostly refers to cheese fondue, but there are other types of fondue! Fondue Bourguignonne, or oil fondue, consists of a pot of very hot oil in which you cook meat, seafood, or vegetables.
In Geneva we had Fondue Bourguignonne with beef at a restaurant called Auberge de Savièse. It was absolutely delicious! It came with various dipping sauces and french fries. It was literally the best meal we had in Switzerland. Plus, any type of fondue is a great way to warm up in winter!
#3. Takes pictures in the Old Town
One of the best parts of any European city is the old town. Geneva Old Town is a few blocks of cobblestone streets interspersed with historic sites, museums, restaurants, bars, shops, and more. It’s definitely one of the most photogenic spots in the entire city! We spent a few hours doing a self-guided walking tour on GPSmyCity and taking lots of photos. The photo below on the right is taken on the corner of Rue des Granges and Rue Henri-Fazy.
Taylor Travelgram Tip (TTT): You are going to want to make sure you bring a portable charger with you because taking pictures is a mega battery drainer. Here is the one I use.
#4. Admire the view on top of St. Peter’s Cathedral
While in the Old Town be sure to head to the top of St. Peter’s Cathedral. (Also known as St. Pierre Cathedral in French). Whenever I explore a new city I always like going up at least one view tower to get a good look of everything. In Geneva, St. Peter’s Cathedral is your best bet! There are two towers – North and South – but the South is better because it has an open air balcony. It costs 5 CH to go up the towers and you can pay by cash or card.
#5. Stroll through the Italian Quarter (Carouge)
Carouge, the Italian Quarter (AKA “Little Italy”), is only 15 minutes from the center of Geneva. The town was Sardinian for twice as long as it’s been Swiss. It only became part of Switzerland in 1816! It’s a charming little area that’s a nice break from the metropolitan bustle of Geneva. I would recommend spending 2-3 hours here just wandering around! Be aware that in the winter, most restaurants stop serving lunch by 2 or 3pm.
#6. Visit the botanical gardens
The best thing about the botanical gardens in Geneva is that they are free to enter. A nice surprise! The botanical gardens are about a 30-45 minute walk from the center of Geneva and along the lake basically the whole way. They are a nice natural refuge to spend an hour or two. The gardens are a little bit more desolate in the winter but there are still thousands of plant species to see, especially in the greenhouses!
#7. Admire the Palais des Nations
Geneva is known for being a hub for international politics and affairs. It is home to Europe’s United Nations, which is housed in the Palais des Nations! The Palais des Nations was originally built in the 1930s for the League of Nations. Today, the Palais des Nations holds about 8,000 important meetings each year. However, the only way to go inside is by booking a tour, which you need to do well in advance. We didn’t have a tour booked so instead we just admired the flags of the member states at the front of the building!
#8. Learn at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman, went to visit wounded soldiers after a battle in the 1800s. He was horrified by what he saw and decided to propose a relief agency for humanitarian aid in times of war. This led to the establishment of the Red Cross in Geneva. This eventually led to the Geneva Convention in 1864. According to Wikipedia, the Geneva Convention is “the first codified international treaty that covered the sick and wounded soldiers on the battlefield.” Today, the International Committee of the Red Cross is based in Geneva.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum is a museum dedicated to bring attention to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and importance of humanitarian aid. It’s a very moving and interactive museum and I definitely recommend stopping by for a few hours after or before visiting the Palais des Nations. Feel free to purchase tickets once you arrive as it’s not super busy.
What you can skip
Let me be real with y’all. I kept seeing travel bloggers talk about the Patek Philippe Museum as a must-visit. The Patek Philippe Museum tells the story of the company Patek Phillippe and Swiss watchmaking from the 16th century to now. Switzerland is known for its watchmaking, so I was a bit interested in seeing where it all began. Personally, I found this museum to be very boring and a waste of time and money. You can’t take photos so we basically just wandered from repetitive exhibit after exhibit listening to a dull audioguide. Of course if you’re really into watchmaking check this museum out, but otherwise, I’d say skip.
Some pieces of advice
Now that you know what to do in Geneva, I want to tell you a few things you should be aware of before you go!
- In Geneva they speak French, but few people speak English. Since hardly anyone spoke English this caused a few hiccups like when we tried to return moldy fruit to the grocery store. Be sure to have a translation app handy!
- Like all of Switzerland, Geneva is very expensive. Be ready to spend a lot of money on food, activities, and excursions. It’s definitely not the best city for budget travelers.
Now you know 8 things to do in Geneva in winter. Enjoy your trip!
If you don’t already have your trip booked, I’m sure I’m convincing you to visit. Check out these resources and tools to help book and plan your trip!
- Booking.com – offers accommodation and unique places
- Vrbo – world’s leading marketplace for vacation rentals
- Hostelworld – global hostel-focused online booking platform
- Wayaway – flight aggregator to find the best rates on airline tickets
- Rentalcars.com – the world’s largest car rental service
- Trainline – Europe’s leading train and bus app
- GetYourGuide – find top-rated tours and activities in your destination
If you’re looking for things to do in Zurich, check out my other blog post: 7 BUCKET LIST THINGS TO DO IN ZURICH.