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Geneva is Switzerland's second-most populous city and is one of the world's major centers of international diplomacy, having served as the site of the initial headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Although the United Nations is now headquartered in New York, the organization still retains a large presence in Geneva at the Palais des Nations and many of its sister/child organizations, such as the World Health Organization and ILO. Geneva itself has only 188,000 citizens but 780,000 people live in the metropolitan region.
In 1536, a young man named John Calvin, fleeing the persecution of Protestants in France, spent a night in Geneva. As it turned out, he was to do a lot more there than sleeping. After being expelled from Geneva for nearly three years, Calvin returned triumphantly in 1541 to help elevate the city to the rank of a Protestant Rome. The intellectual influence of the Reformation extended to all realms of Genevan life: politics, economy, and administration.
Geneva was an independent republic from at least the 16th century until it became a Swiss Canton on 31 Dec 1813. This is a point of some pride to the Genevois, who still refer to their Canton as the République et Canton de Genève. A favorite festival is the yearly celebration of the Escalade, which commemorates a failed attempt in 1602 by the forces of the Dukes of Savoy to invade the city by climbing and otherwise breaching the city walls. Having turned aside this invasion attempt at the cost of only 16 lives, Geneva had secured its liberty, since the House of Savoy was never again strong enough on this side of the Alps to attempt such an invasion.
Geneva is still a very proud city. Some find it downright stuffy, although there is quite a bit more life to be found if you look under the surface, especially if you speak some French.
Geneva is officially a French-speaking city, and the vast majority of the population speak French. All advertisements, information, and signs are in French. With the large international presence, English takes a close second. Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, and Arabic speakers abound, and of course you will also occasionally hear German and Italian.
Due as much to its location as its international status, Geneva serves as a transportation hub for most of French speaking Switzerland and for access to the Swiss Alps from points west.
Geneva airport is served by almost all European carriers as well as a few daily trans-Atlantic flights. These include flights from Montréal's Trudeau International (YUL) on Air Canada (AC), Washington's Dulles (IAD) and Newark International (EWR) on United (UA), and New York's Kennedy (JFK) on Swiss (LX). Otherwise, when flying from North and South America you will have to change planes. Most passengers travelling in from the Asia-Pacific region and Africa will need to change planes as well. Air China has started direct services between the Chinese capital of Beijing and Geneva from May 2013.
Within the last few years, Geneva itself has become a hub for the low-cost carrier Easy Jet serving a number of destinations in Europe including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Edinburgh, London, Madrid, Manchester and Paris.
The airport itself has an UBS bank with ATMs and exchange machines in the arrival area. There is an American Express office just beyond security control in the departure lounge. There are several cafes and duty free shopping as well, open 8am-11pm.
To get into town from the airport, the cheapest way is to take the free public transport ticket from a ticket machine located in the baggage claim area - to the left before the the Green Corridor (nothing to declare) of Swiss Customs. The machine prints you the ticket valid for 80 minutes for Geneva and suburbs.(with this ticket you can go as far as CERN or Anieres or Veyrier). The ticket is valid only with your boarding pass! With this ticket you can either use Train or Bus to reach center of Geneva. The fastest is by train: to reach train station (named Geneva Airport) you need to walk 100 meters to the left after you passed Swiss Customs. Train Station is adjutant building to the airport building. Trains usually go every 15 minutes or more frequently, and all of them stop at Geneva Cornavin (Geneva Central Train Station). The journey takes 6 minutes.
Bus number 10 bus leaves every 15 minutes from 5am to 1am. The stop is near Airport Arrivals level, Entrance number 4. Get off at the 22-Cantons stop for central train station. Bus 5 (the stop is near railway station, not far from the Airport Entrance 1 )also goes to the central railway station but along a different route passing by close to the UN building and stopping at Rue Lausanne. Both buses then continue to the southern side of the city.
The Swiss Federal Railway serves Geneva's Gare de Cornavin with trains to Neuchâtel, Bern, Basel, Zürich, St. Gallen, Luzern, Interlaken and the Valais (e.g. Sion, Visp --> Zermatt, and Brig) at least every hour, or even half an hour. Regional and InterRegional trains heading to Nyon, Lausanne, Vevey, and Montreux leave every 15 minutes.
The Gares des Eaux-Vives is another railway station and it is situated on the southeastern side of the lake. It has French train services with the SNCF to and from Evian, Chamonix and Annecy.
International trains leaving from Cornavin include the joint service by the Swiss (CFF) - there are 6 to 10 times a day a direct TGV service from Geneva to Paris with a journey time of three hours as well as a direct service to Nice, by way of Marseille of six hours. Many Italian cities are connected by direct connections from Geneva to Milan (daily four direct connections in less than 4 hours travel time) and Venice (daily one direct connection in 7 hours). There is also a night train service to Florence and Rome Termini Station.
Geneva, like most cities in Switzerland, is a marvel of public transportation efficiency. Transports Publics Genevois provides frequent bus, tram, boat, and suburban train service to within a block or two of most locations in the city and canton.
The law changed this year and anybody staying in a Geneva hotel/hostel is entitled to a free daily travel pass for the local Transport TPG. This is provided by the hotel. Read more about it in the section "by bus".
Old Town and St. Gervais
What to see in Geneva
Jet d'Eau, the Rade (visible from most of the Lac Léman waterfront). daily 10AM-11PM. One of the crowning symbols of Geneva is the monumental Jet d'Eau, a fountain of water pumped 140m into the air. The spectacular plume was once an occasional pressure release for hydro-power generation on the Rhône River, but people liked it so much that in 1891 the city created a permanent pumped fountain. It's beautifully lit at night. Best viewed from a distance — the surrounding half kilometer is soaked with water. However, the more adventurous might want to try the pathway leading right up to the Jet d'eau -- prepare to get enjoyably wet! Free.
Cathédrale St-Pierre, Place St. Pierre (At the highest point in the Old Town). Jun-Sep, M-Sa 9AM-7PM, Su 11AM-7PM; Oct-May, M-Sa 10AM-noon and 2PM-5PM, Su 11AM-12:30PM and 1:30PM-5PM. The new Espace Saint Pierre pass includes entrance to all three sites of Cour Saint-Pierre, a noteworthy space of unique spiritual and cultural importance. The Cathedral and its towers, originally Catholic, both embody the high point of the Reformed tradition and explore the origins of Christianity with an extensive archaeological site and they are now complemented by the International Museum of the Reformation on the ground floor of the Maison Mallet. An underground passage, reopened when the Museum was created, connects the two buildings. The archeological tour beneath the cathedral is excellent for those interested in such material and it explains the origins not only of the cathedral but the reason for Geneva's location back to pre-Roman times. Those willing to climb the steps of the Cathedral's towers will be rewarded with magnificent views of Geneva and the lake. Nearby, the Auditoire, where Calvin taught, completes a complex that is both representative of the past and open to current questions. The new Espace Saint-Pierre thus aims to contribute to our understanding of today’s world – between tradition and modernity, cultural experimentation and spiritual practice. These three buildings invite the visitor to explore the city’s history. Religious denominations aside, Espace Saint Pierre represents a spirit that continues to guide the city and citizens of Geneva today. For schedules and information about free live organ performances in the cathedral, go to the website. Adults CHF 16 (Seniors, Disabled, Students aged 16-25, and groups of more than 15 qualify for a CHF 10 pass, children aged 7-16 qualify for an CHF 8 pass. Entry to the church itself is free, of course, but donations are welcome.).
Old Town (Vieille Ville). Aside of the cathedral the Old town in general is worth walking around in for a hour or two. Among the highlights are the city hall with the cannons in the little square opposite to it, Rousseau's birth house and various antique shops with all sorts of interesting stuff in the windows. A word of warning to people with physical disabilities: the Old town, is situated on a hill with quite steep streets leading up to it. edit
Palais des Nations, 14, Avenue de la Paix (Number 8 bus, stop at Appia), ☎ +41-22-917 48 96 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +41 22 917 0032), . Open daily(Mon.-Fri.) Apr-Oct 10AM-noon and 2PM-4PM; Jul-Aug 10AM-5PM; the rest of the year M-F 10AM-noon and 2PM-4PM (except over the Christmas period). Originally built to house the League of Nations, the Palais is worth visiting just to take in the magnificent Assembly Hall, in addition to the large collection of public art, the library, and the landscaped grounds. CHF 12 each for adults. (groups of 20 adults or more qualify for a 20% discount; private tour of 1-14 adults CHF 127.50; CHF 10 each for students, senior citizens, and disabled persons; CHF 4 for schoolchildren; free for children under six years old). A Passport, National ID or Driver's License is required for entry.
Quartier des Grottes, Place des Grottes (north of Gare Cornavin), . An area with interesting shops and most importantly, a series of residential buildings called "les Schtroumpfs" (1982-1984), where the architects tried to avoid all straight lines, leading to an unconventional Gaudi-like appearance. Free.
Monument Brunswick, Quai du Mont-Blanc. An impressive monument, constructed in 1873 as a Mausoleum for the Duke of Brunswick, as a replica of the tomb of the Scaligeri family in Verona (14th century). Also worth visiting for the 5 star hotels and the cars in front of them. Free.
Ile Rousseau, Pont des Bergues. Small island named after the famous philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Free
L'Ile. Worth visiting for the old Tour de L'Ile, the remains of a fortified castle erected in the 13th century. Very good. Free.
Jardin anglais. Small garden at the lake where people like to spend their lunch break. See the famous Flower Clock. Free.
Place Neuve. See the impressive Grand Theatre (1879, renovated after a fire in 1951), the Conservatoire de musique, and the Musée Rath. Also visit the Parc des Bastions, which includes a large wall ("Mur des Réformateurs") showing some of the famous people of the Reformation movement.
Eaux-Vives. While many of Geneva's buildings are similar in style to what you would find in French cities, the Mairie of Eaux-Vives is a great example of the typical Swiss architecture you would find in cities like Zürich. If you're interested in modern architecture, also visit Rue Saint-Laurent for "La Clarté", an avant-garde building designed by Le Corbusier in 1931/32. Another interesting attraction here is the Russian Orthodox Church built 1859-1866 with its golden cupolas.
Carouge. A suburb of Geneva that once belonged to the Kingdom of Sardinia and hence retains a distinct Italian flavour.
It's worth taking at least a day to explore the green places of Geneva, of which there are quite a few, not the least because some of the more interesting parts of town are between those green places. There are a number of suggested promenades for which there are maps available at the tourist office on the Ile de la Machine.
Parc des Bastions, entrance at Place Neuve or just down rue St. Léger from Place Bourg de Four. This lovely tree lined park, which is home to the liberal arts campus of the University of Geneva features giant chessboards and even larger statues of Geneva's Calvinist founding fathers, and it's directly between the old town and Plain de Plainpalais, so it makes a good transitional area for exploring.
Parc des Eaux Vives, entrance at the far end of Rue des Eaux Vives and the number 2 bus line. There's also a boat dock, with service from the Pâquis. This park offers promenades and views over the lake of the U.N. campus and the Palais des Nations. Geneva beach is at the end furthest from the city, on the lakefront.
Parc de la Grange. — Just along the south side of the Lake Geneva promenade, Parc de la Grange is a large park which contains a rose garden, an historic mansion and a tree-lined path leading to the nearby Parc des Eaux Vives.
Bois de la Bâtie — Just over the river Arve from Jonction. Most of this woodsy bluff has been left in a more-or-less natural state, though there are walking trails around the edges. The trails connect eventually with a sidewalk which crosses a railroad bridge to the St. Jean neighborhood. There is also a small zoo at the western edge of the woods