Things to Do in Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) is Switzerland's largest body of water, though most of its southern shore lies within France. A crescent of blue hemmed in by the snowy peaks of the French and Swiss Alps, the lake is a year-round hotspot for outdoor activities, with a northern shore covered in picturesque villages, terraced vineyards, and medieval castles.
Paris has the Eiffel Tower, New York has the Empire State Building, and Geneva has the Water Fountains (Jet d’Eau)—a stunning feature in Lake Geneva launching water 460 feet (140 meters) into the air. Enjoy views and snap a souvenir photo from the waterfront, where the River Rhône meets Lake Geneva.
All visitors to Geneva should spend some time exploring the Old Town (Vieille Ville) area. It’s full of fascinating museums, churches, and atmospheric cafés, plus most of the streets are pedestrian-only, so you can wander aimlessly without a care.
Home to the world’s largest archive of modern Olympic artifacts, a visit to Lausanne’s Olympic Museum is a must for any sports fan or history lover. Visitors of all ages are catered to across the museum’s three floors, while the encircling Olympic Park is an ideal location for families or solo travelers to while away an afternoon.
A snow-coated wonderland perched high in the Vaud Alps of Western Switzerland, the Glacier 3000 resort is a one-stop destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Just an hour from Montreux, it offers spectacular mountain views, ample opportunities for hiking and skiing, and a huge range of adrenaline-fueled activities.
The United Nations has its European headquarters in Geneva, in the Palace of United Nations (Palais des Nations Unis). Guided tours of the offices offer a behind-the-scenes look at rooms like the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room, which was decorated by famous artist Miquel Barcelò, and the Assembly Hall.
The Old Town of Geneva may reflect centuries of history in its buildings and cobblestoned streets, but no structure is more steeped in history than the Cathédrale de St-Pierre. Visitors admire the cathedral's varied architecture, stained glass, and religious artifacts. Try climbing the 157-step tower for some of the best city views.
Come learn everything there is to know about Switzerland’s famous 16th century reformation, where theologians like Martin Luther and John Calvin (a Geneva resident) broke off from the Roman Catholic church, effectively eroding the people’s faith in the Papacy and in many of the Catholic doctrines. The International Museum of the Reformation (Musée International de la Réforme) presents the history of Protestantism from its very humble beginnings right here in Geneva, explaining its conception of mankind and the world it lives in through diverse iconography and detailed chronicles, and addresses issues like polemics and various interpretations of the Bible; in fact, the museum is home to over 500 artefacts pertaining to the history of reformation in Geneva, including original scripts penned by Calvin and Luther themselves. An underground passageway even connects the IMR to the archaeological site under Saint-Pierre Cathedral next door, where the vote was taken for the Reformation in Geneva in 1536.
As the Reformation museum is located in the heart of Geneva’s most historic quarter, manycity tours will at the very least whizz past it, like this Geneva City Tour or this exhilaratingSegway tour of the Old Town.
The Flower Clock in Geneva is hard to miss. It's adorned with seasonal flowers, and known as the largest flower clock in the world, making this centrally-located attraction a tourist hot spot. Located in Geneva's lakefront English Garden (Jardin Anglais), the horticultural timepiece is one of the most photographed sights in the city.
Montreux, on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva, has been a popular hangout among artistic types since the 19th century. The Old Town of Montreux (Vieille-Ville de Montreux) is an often overlooked part of the city, due to its location on a steep hill high above the town, but the views and relaxed atmosphere are worth the climb.
More Things to Do in Lake Geneva
Chillon Castle (Chateau de Chillon), a medieval castle on the banks of Lake Geneva, is one of Switzerland’s most visited attractions. Travelers come to find out more about its fascinating history—it was used as a defensive outpost, a summer home for the dukes of Savoy, and a state-run prison.
If Geneva is rich in history, then Maison Tavel is its time capsule. The museum captures, in precise detail, what life was like from the 14th century onward. As the earliest example of Genevan domestic design, visitors find ancient stone walls, iron detailing, and antique furnishings. Be sure to visit for a look at Geneva's storied past.
Celebrating the history and legacy of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Association, this museum in central Geneva will be of interest to anyone who wishes to learn more about the humanitarian association’s impact on the world.
Built in 1879 to commemorate Charles II, the Duke of Brunswick, this neo-Gothic mausoleum in Geneva’s Jardin des Alpes is a historical replica of the 14th-century Scaligeri tomb, located in Verona. Despite the controversy around its origins, the monument is now a notable landmark and photography spot on the shores of Lake Geneva.
The town of Montreux, in eastern Switzerland, boasts a 10-foot-tall statue of Freddie Mercury that commemorates the singer’s years living here and his lasting musical influence. The memorial is a popular tourist attraction, and many Queen fans make a pilgrimage to the spot to leave flowers and other tributes.
A paradise for wine enthusiasts and photographers, these UNESCO-listed terraced vineyards rising steeply above Lake Geneva form one of the most magnificent landscapes in Switzerland. Grape vines have been cultivated in the Lavaux wine region for centuries, and today much of the Canton of Vaud’s wine is produced on these slopes.
Switzerland is famous for its high-quality chocolate, so a visit to the oldest chocolate manufacturer in the country should be on your itinerary. The Maison Cailler—a renowned chocolaterie—offers informative and interactive guided tours that are fun for the whole family, even members without much of a sweet tooth.
The pre-Alpine town of Gruyères is best known as the home of Switzerland’s most famous cheese. The town’s working show dairy, La Maison du Gruyère, educates visitors on the region’s traditional and modern cheese-making through an interactive exhibition and factory tours, which include ample opportunity to savor a taste of authentic Gruyère AOP.
In a leafy park along the scenic banks of Lake Geneva is the Ariana Museum–a palatial, three-story mansion home to over 20,000 glass and ceramic objects. The museum features a private collection of ceramic vases, cups, statues, stained glass windows and paintings, plus a room of contemporary ceramics on the second floor and a display of temporary exhibitions in the basement. Though most descriptions are in French, the free museum is still worth a visit for its beautiful surroundings.
Held in an impressive, Baroque-meets-classical-style building, the museum gives way to high-vaulted ceilings, rich burgundy walls, massive columns and an accessible balcony overlooking the Parc de l'Ariana. There's also a tea room (similar to a cafe) and an outdoor patio offering lunch (though you'll need reservations).
The Ariana Museum is located alongside the entrance to the Palace of United Nations and opposite the Red Cross Museum, so you'll be able visit all three attractions in just a few hours. Visitors with a Geneva Pass can enter the museum for free, with the added benefit of free, unlimited public transportation and admission to over 40 other city attractions, including the Red Cross Museum.
What do Swiss cheese and Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise have in common? The pre-Alpine town of Gruyères is not only home to the famous hard cheese, but also the HR Giger Museum (Musée HR Giger. Opened by the late Swiss artist himself, the museum offers an immersive experience of his surreal, sci-fi-infused artwork and set designs.
There's no better place for a stroll than Geneva’s Bastions Park (Parc des Bastions. This verdant oasis down the street from Geneva’s Old Town boasts green lawns, tree-lined walkways, and benches perfect for sipping coffee. Visitors entering through the main gate, at Place Neuve, can enjoy a quick game of chess at the giant public sets.
Montreux’s picturesque promenade extends for over six miles (10 kilometers along Lake Geneva, from Chillon Castle all the way to Port du Basset. Flanked by exotic flowers, trendy cafes, and public artwork, it’s a great place to unwind away from the city buzz, with its well-placed lookouts offering unparalleled views of the Alpine landscape.
Geneva's English Garden (Jardin Anglais is an English-styled flower garden at the foot of the Mont Blanc Bridge. The garden is perhaps best known as home to the city's celebrated Flower Clock, a top attraction honoring Genevan watchmaking. It's the perfect spot to enjoy unobstructed lake views after strolling along the Quai Gustave Ador.
The Carouge district in Geneva was once its own town, and walking the neighborhood feels like strolling a quaint hamlet. Visitors ditch the buttoned-up architecture of Geneva's downtown, and find pastel-colored buildings, boutiques, and hip bars. With its Mediterranean feel, and walkable streets, Carouge offers a pleasant change of pace.