The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.
Saint Augustine
Geneva, Switzerland

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Visitors can spend an entire day exploring Geneva’s Old Town with or without a guide. If you choose to go without a guide, I recommend taking the audioguided visits. For about $10 US, you can rent an audioguide and map which will take you on a 2 ½ hour walking tour with historic comments on 26 points of interest. These sites include Maison Tavel, the oldest house in Geneva; Palais de Justice, location of the city’s law courts since 1860; Hotel de Ville, site of the1864 first Assembly of the Geneva Convention; and the Old Arsenal with its five cannons and an archway with three mosaic frescoes depicting key periods in Geneva’s history. Along the tour you will pass scores of boutiques and antique shops on the narrow, windy and sometimes steep streets of Old Town.

Even though Old Town with it labyrinth of narrow, angular streets, antique shops and cafes is a prime tourist destination, the Cité Internationale (the base of international organizations) and the rest of the Right Bank hold a number of attractions that shouldn’t be missed.

The United Nations Office (Palais des Nations) is the most important UN Center after the New York headquarters and the most active international conference center in the world. Behind the security gates of the main entrance to the UN are two rows of flagpoles flying flags of all member nations.

This entrance is used only by UN staff. To get to the public entrance, proceed left up the hill to Avenue de la Paix. If you plan to take the tour, be sure to bring your passport since you will be effectively leaving Switzerland and entering international territory after going through the visitor’s security gate.

On the hour long guided tour of the huge complex, you will hear about the history and tradition of the organization, see the magnificent pieces of art donated by member nations and see the Council Chamber decorated with magnificent gold and sepia murals painted in 1934 depicting the progress of humankind. You also get to sit the Great Assembly Hall with seating capacity for more than 1,200 members and observers and simultaneous translation into the language of all member nations.

On the Place des Nations, the broad plaza in front of the UN main entrance, is the 39 foot tall (12 meters) Three Legged Chair. The lost leg symbolizes what so many anti-personnel land mine and cluster bomb victims suffer. The chair was the brainchild of Paul Vermeulen, Director of Handicap International. The broken leg is intended as a daily reminder to UN staff who use the main entrance to urge their governments to take action to help victims and avoid similar injuries in the future.

Across the street from the UN visitor entrance is the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum. Through displays, sculptures, objects and original photographs and film clips, the museum pays tribute to the extraordinary deeds of the men and women of the Red Cross. By following the recommended display route, visitors can trace Red Cross and Red Crescent contributions during wars, floods, earthquakes and other grave events on every continent except Australia during the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. You will leave with a renewed appreciation for the works of these extraordinary organizations.

A short walk down the hill from the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum is the Ariana Museum, the Swiss Museum of Ceramics and Glass. Lovers of kilncraft, including pottery, stone-ware, porcelain, and faience will be thrilled with the more than 20,000 objects in the museum’s collections.

Modern art aficionados will enjoy the artwork on display at the MAMCO Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. The museum exhibits a broad range of works from the early 1960’s to the present day including videos, paintings, photographs, and sculptures.

The Natural History Museum of Geneva, Switzerland’s largest museum of natural history, is popular with tourists as well as Genevans and includes attention grabbing displays for both adults and children. With over 86,000 square feet (8,000 square meters), the museum is dedicated to the preservation of natural heritage. Ongoing research includes the restoration of Lucy, the skeletal remains of an adult female estimated to have lived over 3.2 million years ago.

Naturalist will enjoy strolling through the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Bastions Park. This living museum has a greenhouse, a rock garden, an arboretum, banks of protected and medicinal plants, one of the largest public scientific libraries in the world and many other opportunities to look and learn. Of particular interest to the visually impaired is the garden of scent and touch.

Visitors who fly into the Geneva International Airport can pick up a free bus or train ticket from the machine in the baggage claims area on the arrival level. The ticket, offered by Geneva International Airport, allows free travel on the public transportation system in Geneva for a period of 80 minutes. That is more than enough time to reach your destination since the train ride from the airport to Carnavin, the main train station in the heart of Geneva, takes about six minutes. Without the free ticket, the ride costs only 5 Swiss Francs.
Geneva has numerous moderately priced hotels. I highly recommend the Hotel Kipling on Rue de la Navigation in the up and coming Paquis section of Geneva. The hotel is an easy 10 minute walk from the train station on a narrow, one-way street lined by cafes, bars and ethnic fashion boutiques. Many of the city’s main tourist attractions are within an easy walk from the hotel. One block from the hotel is the trolley line that goes to Place des Nations. The ride is free with the Geneva Transport Card provided by the hotel.

Like many European hotels, the room rate at the Hotel Kipling includes a wide selection of breakfast items and you’ll find many moderately priced restaurants where you can eat dinner for less than $30. My favorite find is the Migros Gourmesa, the self-service restaurant associated with one of Switzerland’s largest supermarkets. Like at a salad bar, most items are weighed but for less than $15, I had a fine three course dinner with a beverage. The supermarket also has a large selection of reasonably priced souvenirs.

German is most widely spoken in Switzerland which has four official languages. However, due to its proximity to France, French is the official language of Geneva. Most tourist and service personnel slip effortlessly from French into English, German, Italian or Spanish.

For many travelers on a European vacation, Geneva is the city they pass through on the way from Paris to Vienna or Milan. With so much to offer, I encourage travelers to linger for a few days. Geneva is a cosmopolitan city with an extremely high standard of living. There is a wide choice of cultural activities including galleries, concerts, opera, and more than 40 public and private museums. Popular historic sites, a variety of shopping, outstanding dining, and beautiful scenery are all waiting to be experienced.

Numerous excursions by coach, cable car or boat are available to the Swiss countryside or locations in nearby France. From center city it takes about 20 minutes to reach Mont Salève where you can take a five minute cable car ride to the top of the 4527 foot (1,380 meters) high peak overlooking the streets of Geneva. From the peak you can also see Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe.

In 90 minutes, you can travel to Chamonix, a famous mountain village at the foot of majestic Mont-Blanc. Before exploring Chamonix, you can take a two-stage cable car to Aiguille du Midi where you can experience the panoramic views of the Chamonix Valley and major peaks of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. On boat cruises lasting less than an hour to a full day you can see Geneva’s exquisite parks, gardens and residences and castles of famous celebrities or visit some of the other cities on the shores of Lake Geneva such as Lausanne, Coppet, Nyon, and Montreux.

While Geneva may not have the night life of Paris or Milan, it has one huge advantage for American travelers - the Swiss franc trades at nearly one to one with the dollar. So your dollar goes a lot further in Geneva than in European countries that have converted to the euro.

If you want to experience European history and culture without the language barrier or the economic drain of paying with the euro, Geneva should be high of your list of places to visit. Depending on your interests, plan to spend at least two to three days in the city, more if you use Geneva as a base for excursions into the Geneva countryside or to nearby sites in France.

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If you go:

Geneva Tourism & Convention Bureau

United Nations Guided Tours 

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

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