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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gruyères is a Swiss village world-famous for the production of cheese but this cute little Alpine enclave has an eccentric surprise tucked up its sleeve. Known for surreal and sometimes disturbing paintings, film props, album covers and – most famously – the mechanical monster from Alien, the renowned Swiss artist HR Giger (1940–2014) moved here in 1997, buying the medieval Château St Germain. The following year he opened the world’s biggest collection of his work in a wing of the castle; not for the faint-hearted, Musée HR Giger is no ordinary museum but a fully immersive adventure on the dark side of art, made all the more striking by the chocolate-box sweetness of the surrounding village.
Among Giger’s weird and macabre SciFi models, props, sketches and drawings for the film sets ofAlien,Dune andPoltergeist is some of his graphic erotica, all clearly labeled ‘Adults Only’ and displayed in sepulchral gloom. The exhibition also features a short movie on his life, the Academy Award he won for Alien and artwork from his own private collection, which includes pieces by Ernst Fuchs and Salvador Dalí. Following a tour of the museum, most visitors head to the cavernous Giger-themed bar for a restorative strong drink.
Gruyère AOP is one of the most famous Swiss cheeses and has been produced from cow milk in the Fribourg region since 1115; traditionally the dairy herds roam free over alpine pastures and eat fresh foraged grass, which is is said to give the cheese its mellow taste and distinctive grainy texture.
Lying in lush foothills between Bern and Lake Geneva, La Maison du Gruyère in the charming alpine village of Pringy‐Gruyères is a one‐stop mine of information dedicated to the history and making of this gourmet cheese. As well as being a working show dairy where around 40 wheels of Gruyère are made each day, clever interactive displays describe the eight production processes that are vital to producing Gruyère, and how they have been handed down through the generations since the Middle Ages.
It’s easy to spend the day at La Maison du Gruyère; several cheese‐making demonstrations each day give the chance to see master craftsmen at work in the gleaming steel kitchens; slabs of Gruyère crafted in the dairy can be bought in the souvenir shop; the restaurant has a menu of traditional Swiss röstis and fondues; and there’s even a dairy‐themed play park for toddlers. For those wishing to see more of the alpine landscapes around Gruyères, two walk itineraries lead up to the mountain pastures to see the cow herds grazing, with bells tinkling around their
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.
More Things to Do in Lake Geneva
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.
Welcome to the Olympic Museum Lausanne (Musée Olympique): 1,500 objects, 32,292 square feet (3,000 square meters) and seven hours of audio-visual and interactive material make it the largest archive of Olympic Games in the world. Its state-of-the art, hands-on exhibition immerses visitors in the history and spirit of the Olympics on an approximately two-hour tour of the museum's three stories and surrounding grounds.
Your visit to the museum begins in the basement but ends up in the Olympic Village, where hundreds of athletes live and train over 15 days. Discover how they eat, how they relax and how technology influences their training by trying your hand at interactive devices that will allow you to experience the extent of their physical capabilities.
On the ground floor, you'll learn about the Games themselves with a 180-degree theater and a display room full of memorabilia and Olympic medals. The second-floor exhibit is dedicated to the Olympics' ancient origins and showcases torches from every edition of the Games since 1936, as well as the first Olympic flag, dating back to 1913.
Good for both sports fans and families, the Olympic Museum is a popular stop among visitors arriving to Lausanne on a day trip from nearby Geneva or Chamonix. Most trips include a guided tour of the iconic Château de Chillon and a stop in the lakeside town of Montreux, so you can make the most out of your visit to the Swiss countryside.
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.
The Brunswick Monument in Geneva, Switzerland is a mausoleum for Charles II, the Duke of Brunswick. The Duke was an eccentric linguist, musician and horseman who came to Geneva after being driven out of his duchy of Braunsweig in 1830 and then building a fortune in Paris. He bequeathed his entire fortune to the city in exchange for such a monument being constructed in his honor. Never before had such a mausoleum been constructed in Geneva, so the monument’s construction was subject to great debate. While the Duke died in 1873, the monument was eventually built in 1879. Meant to be a replica of the Scaliger Tombs in Verona, Italy, it was designed in a neo-Gothic style and faces Lake Leman.
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.
The oldest example of domestic architecture in Geneva, the Tavel House (Maison Tavel) traces its origins to the beginning of the 14th century, with its layers revealing the wealth and prestige of its various owners and the growing importance of the city. As you approach, stone heads peer down at you and a corner tower lacks only Rapunzel to complete the fairy tale impression.
Once inside the distinctive dark stone walls you can explore the house from top to bottom. The cellar contains excellent examples of woodcarving and ironwork through the centuries, while the attic boasts a superb model of Geneva in the mid-19th century, when its fortifications were still intact. In between you’ll find displays of domestic interiors, including the surprisingly light and airy private quarters, fully outfitted kitchens, and displays including suits of armour and coins, highlighting the importance of finance to the city.
From Roman mosaics in the foundations to the neoclassical columns of its facade, St. Peter's Cathedral, or Cathédrale St-Pierre in French, is not only Geneva’s main house of worship, it is also a fascinating time capsule of the different influences that have dominated the city over the centuries. Depending on how you approach it, you could be forgiven for thinking the cathedral is actually a group of smaller buildings huddled together, as successive building programs – most notably Romanesque and Gothic – never completely wiped out previous traces.
St-Pierre is associated above all with the Protestant reformer John Calvin, who preached here in the 16th century; his rather uncomfortable looking wooden chair is still on display. And if you’re feeling energetic, just nearby is the entrance to the cathedral’s north tower, which will reward your 157-step climb with one of the best views of Geneva.
The Red Cross is one of the numerous international bodies associated with Geneva. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum pursues its progress from the mid-19th century, when local businessman Henry Dunant first conceived of a transnational group which would help the afflicted in times of need. The chronologically arranged exhibits follow this great humanitarian organization through the unparalleled destruction of the 20th century to the present day, where the Red Cross (or Red Crescent in Muslim countries) represents a banner of hope in trouble spots and scenes of natural disaster the world over.
Exhibits tell the story through text, video, sound, interactive displays, as well as an archive of some seven million index cards documenting prisoners of war, a testament to the ideals of the Geneva Convention. It is a monument to humanity’s best impulses in the face of its worst.
The beautifully tended Lakeside Flower Promenade (Chemin Fleuri) winds its way for 6.25 miles (10 kilometers) along the Swiss northwestern shoreline of Lake Geneva from Vevey to Villenueve, taking in the stylish town of Montreux and the fortified lakeside Château de Chillon. The pathway is lined
with cacti, palms and plane trees as well as numerous funky sculptures, including one of Freddie Mercury in the center of Montreux; there are benches from which to contemplate the delightful alpine views and neatly planted parks full of exotic flowers. On summer evenings it seems the whole of Montreux gathers along the promenade to take the air, chat, jog, rollerblade or simply admire the spectacular views.
There are plenty of bars and restaurants scattered along the sparkling lakeside, and kids will love the little train that chugs up and down the prom in Montreux during the summer. An easy section of the walk for families to follow runs from Montreux to the 11th‐century Château de Chillon, perched on a rocky islet just south of the town. This gentle stroll takes around 45 minutes amid glorious panoramas; from the castle it is possible to take an old‐fashioned steamer back up the lake to Montreux.
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.
Carouge is where Geneva goes to unwind. It was ever thus: what is now a suburb started life outside the then city walls in the mid 18th century as a parcel of land belonging to the King of Sardinia, who hoped it would provide refuge for Catholics and other minorities from puritanical Protestant Geneva. The area still bears the imprint of the Italian architects he drafted to design the area.
This charming district has developed over the years into something of a bohemian center, with all sorts of artisanal activity going on during the day and a wide selection of bars and restaurants to occupy you through the night. The Place du Marché forms the heart of the district, with its quirky Italianate church at one end and a regular produce market which has been in operation for over 300 years.
Some 20 percent of Geneva is covered in parks, of which the most popular is the English Garden, or Jardin Anglais. Boasting a superb position on Lake Geneva, this space has served as a prime meeting point for locals and tourists alike since 1854, its grand trees, stately fountains and sculptures of the city's noteworthy artists evoking the elegance of an unhurried age. A bandstand hosts concerts in the warmer months.
A national monument commemorating Geneva joining the Swiss Confederation in 1814 is another highlight, while the star attraction of over 50 years is the floral clock, one of the city's best-known symbols. These days, it's a delightfully eccentric display, with the passing of time marked not only by the hands but also by the seasonal flowers that make up the arrangement. And at around 2.5 yards, the second hand is the longest in the world.
Patek Philippe is one of the most prestigious names in timekeeping, and their watches having graced many a royal wrist since the company’s inception in 1839. The Patek Philippe Museum accordingly devotes much attention to the brand’s own products, from the present day’s precision pieces back to exquisitely detailed pocket watches of the early 19th century. Early examples were frequently jeweled, enameled and emblazoned with the arms of the owner.
The Antique Collection turns the clock back even further, tracing the development of timekeeping devices back to approximately 1500. The museum also houses a significant archive and library dedicated to timepieces and related mechanisms, and the whole complex is housed in a handsome early 20th century building distinguished by enormous windows.
A green oasis in the center of Geneva’s historic Old Town, Bastions Park (Parc des Bastions) is as famous for its art and culture as it is for its floral displays, tree-lined walks, and perfectly-shaded picnic spots in summer. Gigantic, black-and-white chess sets located by the park's imposing main entrance gate make for a popular attraction among visitors to the city, as does the famed Reformation Wall—an open-air stone monument honoring the leaders of Switzerland's Reformation and designed by French sculptors Henri Bouchard and Paul Landowski in 1909. The University and Library of Geneva and the Neo-Classical Palais Eynard are also located within the park.
Home to a few cafes, an up-scale restaurant, several family play areas, sunbathing spots during summer and a free skating rink in winter, Bastions Park is always abuzz with activities and visitors. Explore the park and its lakeside promenade by Segway or on foot to get the most out of your visit to Old Town Geneva.
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