A cosmopolitan city with a vibrant international community, Geneva is the undisputable belle of Switzerland.
Situated on the shore of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), the city is surrounded by towering, stately French Alps on all fronts, meaning that wherever you are, you’ll have an unparalleled view of them. Geneva was originally established as a Roman outpost and the city has a strong historical significance, well-preserved buildings like St. Pierre’s Cathedral litter the Old Town. The cathedral, a European heritage site, served as a refuge for Jean Calvin; it was here that he professed his Calvinist ideas of austerity and advocated for returning to basic interpretations of the Bible itself. Geneva’s proximity to France resulted in an influx of Counter-Reformation ideas and to the city, which in turn led to a mix of culture and belief still present today. Home to more than 22 international organizations including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, and—how could we forget—the United Nations, the city has established itself as a powerhouse on the international stage.
The city of Geneva is located in the westernmost region of Switzerland on the southwestern shore of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), with suburbs extending into neighboring France. The city is split by the Rhône River—which transports the water from Lac Léman to the Mediterranean Sea—into Rive Gauche, the left bank, and Rive Droite, the right bank. The Rive Droite is the area of the city north of the Rhône River; here you’ll find the main train station, the headquarters of several international organizations, and the airport. The Pâquis District, close to the main train station, is filled with international restaurants and upscale hotels, and is where the city’s prostitution and drug markets are most concentrated. The Vieille Ville (Old Town), whose center is the picturesque Place du Bourg-de-Four, is located on the Rive Gauche and filled with chic bistros. Rue du Rhône is one of the main shopping streets in the city, filled with upscale shops and the equivalent of Swiss shopping malls. To the northeast of the city center is Collonge-Bellerive, Geneva’s most expensive residential area. In this neighborhood stands the Villa Diodati, where Mary Shelley worked on her seminal work, Frankenstein.
Geneva has the second largest international airport in Switzerland after Zurich. The airport is located 4km from the city center and is easily accessible via the public transportation system. Upon arrival at the airport, you can collect a free, 80-minute public transportation ticket that covers Zone 10, Tout Genève. In order to use this ticket, you have to provide a valid plane ticket. Take the tram to the main train station, Gare de Cornavin. The main bus station is Gare Routière de Genève, located a 5-minute walk from the Gare de Cornavin. This station serves both domestic and international travel. Buses are typically cheaper than trains, but may not be as reliable.
Most of Geneva can be covered on foot or bike. You can rent a bike from the Genève Roule stops for four hours of free bike-riding with a 2CHF deposit. There are six stations around the city. Geneva has a fairly efficient public transportation system (Transports Public Genevois) that includes buses, trams, and boats. Download the TP app to view the bus and tram schedule. The public transportation system is divided into different zones. Zone 10 is the zone for Tout Genève, the proper city of Geneva and suburbs. Zones 21, 22, 81, 82, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88 and 90 are the regional zones outside the city, some in the Canton of Geneva and others in France. As of 2008, public transport is free if you are staying at a hostel or hotel in the area. You will receive a Geneva Transport Card, which is valid for the duration of your stay (maximum 15 days). If you are planning to use the public transport system and do not have the Geneva Transport Card, then you must buy a Tout Genève pass. A one-hour ticket costs 3CHF.
Tourist Offices: Geneva Tourist Information Office (Rue du Mont-Blanc 18; 022 909 70 00; open M-W 9am-6pm, Th 10am-6pm, F-S 9am-6pm, Su/public holidays 10am-4pm).
Banks/ATMs/Currency Exchange: There are banks and ATMs all over the city. One of the best currency exchange houses is Migros Change (Rue du Mont-Blanc 16; 058 573 29 40; open M-F 8:30am-6:30pm, Sa 9am-6pm).
Post Offices: There are many different post offices throughout the city, but the largest one is located by the main train station (Rue des Gares 16; 0848 888 888; open M-F 9am-7pm, Sa 9am-noon).
Internet: The city of Geneva boasts more than 78 spots with free Wi-Fi. You can get a map at the Tourist Information Office with all of the locations. You can also rent out a Wi-Fi router at the Tourist Information Center (3 days 39.90CHF, 7 days 64.90CHF, 15 days 129.90CHF).
BLGTQ+ Resources: The main BGLTQ+ helpline in Switzerland is 080 013 31 33.
Emergency Numbers: General (112); police (117); fire department (118); ambulance (144); Swiss Helicopter Rescue Service (1414)
Police: Fondation Privée de secours du Syndicat de la Police Judiciaire (Blvd. Carl-Vogt 17; 022 427 81 11; open M-F 9am-4pm).
US Embassy: Consular Agency in Geneva (Rue Versonnex 7; 22 840 51 60; open M-F 10am-1pm, by appointment only).
Rape Crisis Center: Rape Centre (Pl. des Charmilles 3; 022 345 20 20; information for different types of hotlines in Geneva can be found at www.angloinfo.com/how-to/switzerland/geneva/healthcare/support-groups).
Hospitals: The Geneva University Hospital is the biggest in the country (Rue Gabrielle-Perret-Gentil 4; 022 372 33 11; open daily 24hr).
Pharmacies: Pharmacie Amavita Gare Cornavin (Gare Cornavin; 058 878 10 00; open M-Sa 7am-11pm, Su 9am-11pm).