Greetings, Internet Stranger! I have already mentioned that I was a bit apprehensive about visiting Zurich before I went because I knew nothing about the city except that it was crazy expensive. This was not the case when I was planning my 24 hours in Geneva. I had actually worked in Geneva over vacation when I was a teenager.
Let me elaborate before you get the idea I was some sort of child diplomat prodigy. I was a kind of temporary au pair for a woman who worked for the United Nations. Her children spoke no French, so she wanted an English speaker who also knew French to help them out. I had a delightful experience exploring the Old Town, helping to throw fondue parties, eating boxes and boxes of chocolate, and meeting Geraldine Ferraro. All that usual Swiss stuff.
So I was excited to get back to Geneva as an adult and party on down, Suisse-style. Join me for 24 hours in Geneva with Calvinism, flowers, and attempting to feed ourselves without going into massive debt!
24 Hours in Geneva
Where to Stay?
After Zurich, Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in Europe. So I had to budget very carefully when I stayed here, and that meant staying in a hostel. Fortunately I found a quality room at Geneva Hostel. I chose a shared room with other ladies, but there were private rooms as well. All of my roommates were polite and friendly, even that one girl who never wore clothes. (In fairness to her, if I’d had her body, I’d never wear clothes anywhere.) But I can’t guarantee that the girl will be staying at the hostel when you are there.
24 Hours in Geneva
What to Pack?
The weather in Geneva is unpredictable. I experienced both gorgeous sunshine and horrible rain during my 24 hours in Geneva. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong Swiss winds.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them about a chic city like Geneva without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from Europe, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with either American or British plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Geneva
Morning: Free Tour Geneva
The first thing any tourist will want to see in their 24 hours in Geneva is the historic center. It’s true because I read about it in Any Tourist Magazine. Fortunately Free Tour Geneva offers pay what you wish tours of the Heart of Geneva. This area is sometimes also known as Geneva’s Old Town, but I think some parts of this tour take place outside the old town.
Our guide, whom I will call Marie for reasons that will become clear soon, gave us a spirited tour of her beautiful city full of tips on how to save money. This was most useful because Geneva is often called the second most expensive city in Europe, only after Zurich. She also shared with us the…
approximately top 5: geneva old town
1) Henry dunant monument
As you can tell if you can read French, this is a statue dedicated to Henry Dunant, the Swiss founder of the Red Cross. Dunant, like every good little Swiss boy, grew up to be a successful businessman. But he had a change of heart when he was in Italy in the 1850s and witnessed the horrors of the Battle of Solferino during the Second Italian War of Independence. (Incidentally, why are there so many wars we never learn about in the United States? I never even learned there was one Italian War of Independence in school.)
Dunant realized there was a need for a neutral organization to help people injured in the war, and who better at being neutral than the Swiss? He was rewarded for his altruism with the first ever Nobel Peace Prize and also this beard.
I salute you Henry Dunant! I’m sure you weren’t a perfect person, but how many of us leave a legacy of peace and aid like that behind.
2) La Fontaine de L’Escalade
OK, so this fountain also tells a story of battle, but it is perhaps the greatest and funniest battle story in human history. Even though Geneva is French-speaking and surrounded by Catholics, it has been a Protestant city for donkey’s years.
Back in 1602, the Catholic Duke of Savoy decided to use this as an excuse to conquer the city and make it Catholic. This plot was foiled in part by a woman named Catherine Cheynel. This mother of 14 grabbed a giant pot of soup that I imagine she was planning on using to feed her giant brood and hurled it on the attackers. This gave the Genevians enough time to rouse themselves and save the city.
Catherine Cheynel is now honored with the name Mere Royaume, which means Mother of the Kingdom. The citizens of Geneva celebrate this event, known as L’Escalade, every December with things like giant soup pots made out of chocolate and filled with marzipan vegetables because of course they do. The fountain above also commemorates the event, but the woman represents the city of Geneva, not Catherine Cheynel.
3) Reformation Wall
Now we come to a Swiss monument that features a lot more religion and quite a bit more sexism. The statues are dedicated to famous leaders of the Protestant Reformation. Front and center is Geneva’s own Jean Calvin. He was actually born in France but ended up becoming a major leader for Protestant reforms in Geneva. The other men shown here are William Farel, Theodore Beze, and John Knox, all of whom spent a significant amount of time protestanting in Geneva.
Now, you may be asking yourself, “What about the ladies?” Glad you asked! There is one woman on the Reformation Wall. Her name is Marie Dentière, and her monument is located right here.
4) Old Arsenal
These cannons are kept here to remind people of the times in Geneva’s history when she had to defend herself from foreign invaders. Now times are better and Genevers can content themselves with diplomacy, chocolates, and watch cogs. So the cannons are a charming object for children to climb on and not a weapon. Also, the mosaics in the background depict important periods of Geneva’s history that may or may not involve giant pots of soup.
5) Flower Clock
This flower clock was made in the 1950s to honor the greatness of Swiss watchmakers. It is made with over 10,000 flowers. But my favorite thing about this clock is that it actually tells time! It works via the power of satellite. Way to advertise your product, Swiss watchmakers! If you can get flowers to tell the time, I’m sure you can get my watch to function even if I accidentally drop it in a cauldron of soup.
6) Jet d’Eau
The Jet d’Eau is the most famous symbol of Geneva. Like most good things, it started as kind of a mistake. In the late 18th century, there was a factory that needed a special mechanism for getting rid of excess energy created by their hydraulic power network. Their solution ended up creating this giant spray of water. The Swiss, knowing a good thing when they saw it, realized that the resulting fountain could be a major attraction if it were relocated to a more central location. Now the Jet d’Eau is pumping up Lake Geneva 24-7 for all tourists to enjoy! Yay for hydraulic engineers!
24 hour tip
I mention this in every post in which I suggest a free walking tour. They aren’t really free! The guides usually need to pay the person who runs the company about 3 Euros for each person who is present to take the tour when it starts. So if you leave without paying your guide, you are costing the guide money. Tip your guide well!
24 Hours in Geneva
Afternoon: Explore Geneva
Now that we’ve had our guided tour in the morning, it’s time to get out there and explore Geneva on our own! We’re a little more familiar with the city’s history and landmark. Best of all, our guide Marie gave us a lunch recommendation. So we are all set for…
approximately top 5: 24 hours in geneva
1) Lunch at Cottage Cafe
Cottage Cafe is the restaurant Marie recommended for lunch. It has great views of Lake Geneva, and for Switzerland it is affordable. That means a meal here will only set you back 500 dollars. (I kid! Sort of.) For my main course, I chose pasta with a fresh tuna-tomato sauce. It tasted delicious on a warm August afternoon. But that wasn’t the part of my meal I was most excited about!
24 hour treat: swiss hot chocolate
I didn’t care if it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit, dang it! I was getting my chocolate on. The reason Swiss hot chocolate is so special is that you make it with melted Swiss chocolate. Then you just add whole (never skim) milk and voila! Now you have a perfect cup of bliss!
2) brunswick Monument
The famous Brunswick Monument is located just outside the Cottage Cafe. The monument is dedicated to the Duke of Brunswick, who is now my new favorite person. The Duke of Brunswick was a wealthy man with a genius plan. Before he died, he decided to leave his entire fortune to the city of Geneva.
The only catch was that they needed to erect a monument in his honor. So Geneva created this giant hat/mausoleum for him smack in the center of town near Lake Geneva. What a clever way to make sure people never forget you, Duke of Brunswick. I plan on doing the same thing. Now I just need to figure out a way to accumulate a massive fortune.
This carousel has more personal significance for me that historical significance. When I was an au pair in Geneva, I used to take my Boy Charge here so he could ride the horses and I could keep an eye on him and eat chocolate at the same time.
My main memory of that time, aside from the carousel and chocolates, is that the song No Diggity was playing all over Geneva even though it was many years since its release when I was in Geneva. When I got back home and people would ask me what I thought about Switzerland, I would answer, “Well, I learned that the Swiss love Blackstreet.” I’ve come a long way as a traveler since then.
4) Maison Tavel
The Maison Tavel is the oldest existing residence in Geneva. Now it is used as a museum of the history of Geneva. You can explore the entire house from the basement to the attic and learn lots of fun facts for your 24 hours in Geneva. Mostly I learned all about the different ways that wealthy Genevans have historically shown off their high status.
One way Geneva flaunted their stacks of cash was by having elaborately carved doors. This door definitely has a whole bunch of naked butts on it. Are we sure Jean Calvin was okay with this?
My favorite Swiss status symbol was fancy wallpaper. You can have purple flowers and spiderwebs.
Perhaps you’d rather have blue and yellow people and…hyenas? Wild hogs? Are they eating fish? I like a wallpaper that makes you think.
Maybe you’d prefer wallpaper so fancy it needs to be kept behind glass?
Fanciest of all is wallpaper that is too nice to go on your walls, so you have to frame it. That’s just science.
5) St. Pierre Cathedral
If you’re a Jean Calvin groupie, you’ll be excited for our next destination. It’s Calvin’s own former church, and if you go inside, you can see a chair that he actually used. Don’t get too excited though. You’re not allowed to sit in the chair. See!
I should take a moment to point out that I don’t really recommend being a Jean Calvin groupie. I’m quite sure he would not have approved of such a thing.
As with many churches in Geneva, this used to be a Catholic church, but after the Reformation it was turned into a Protestant church. Because of this, all the decorative elements were removed from the interior.
This is the thing about some Protestants I don’t really understand. Is there something about the religion that forbids pretty things? I get not building expensive churches and using that money to feed the poor instead, but isn’t throwing away rood screens and gold leaf wasteful? And now all you’re left with is a church people are less excited to visit.
24 hour tip
For five Euros, you can climb the towers and get sweeping views of Geneva’s roofs and mountains. The only problem was that my view was blocked by this screen. I guess Jean Calvin didn’t approve of people slipping and toppling off of his towers. Actually, I would have to say I agree with him on that one. Well played, Jean Calvin. Safety is more important than Instagram.
6) Parc des Bastions
If it’s a pleasant evening during your 24 hours in Geneva, you can spend some happy moments before dinner reading or strolling around the Parc des Bastions. (This is where the Reformation Wall is located, so you’ve been here before.) Don’t miss the Geneva Library located here. It’s where Lenin visited when he was living in Geneva in the early 20th century. I was told that if you ask, you can see his library card.
Also, I found another naked butt in Geneva, but this time it was on a statue. Butts on doors, butts on headless marble people…I just want to know how Jean Calvin’s ghost feels about all of this.
24 Hours in Geneva
Evening: Dinner at Chez Ma Cousine
My guide Marie had recommended this restaurant as a good choice for an affordable dinner in Geneva. As Cher from Clueless would say, finding affordable food in Switzerland is like searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore film. Chez Ma Cousine is indeed affordable, and for this reason it is as full of people as Jean Calvin’s ghost is full of sadness about all the naked butts running around Geneva. As a solo diner it was pretty easy to get a table, though.
This pink concoction looks like a massive girlie cocktail, but it’s actually a beer. It’s called a bière grenadine, which is exactly what it sounds like. Apparently it’s a French thing to put sweet syrup in beer. I’m pretty sure this practice was the cause of the Franco-Prussian War. I was already beginning to notice that the food in Geneva was “Frenchier” than the food in Zurich. No complaints here!
24 hour treat: poulet roti
I continue to prove my case that the food in Geneva is on the French cote of things with this classic roast chicken. If you’re one person, get the half portion. It’s plenty of food because it comes with crispy roast potatoes, smooth gravy, and a mustard-coated salad. All of this for under 20 Euros! You can’t imagine what a mitzvah it is to find a deal like this in Switzerland. We’re not all international bankers, you know.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Geneva, Switzerland!
What would you do with 24 hours in Geneva? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Geneva right now? Have you ever seen Lenin’s library card? And how does Jean Calvin’s ghost feel about butts? Please leave your thoughts below.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Geneva. If you have another 24 hours in Geneva, try this itinerary!