Mar 26th, 2020, 11:04 PM

8 Hours in Geneva

By Adriana Alonso
How I got to see a large portion of the city in a short period of time.

In February, I visited the Swiss city of Geneva for a week. As I waited for my train back to Paris, my dad (who has a ‘Top Contributor’ badge on TripAdvisor) called me and asked me what I did that day. I gave him a list of the things I had seen since I woke up that morning in Geneva. He told me, “That is interesting, considering Geneva is not know for offering much to visitors.” After hearing that, I realized one could tour many of the city’s interesting points in little time. 

You are probably wondering why I had only eight hours to tour Geneva if I was there for a week. My first six days there were spent at a conference at the United Nations, which brings me to my first “must” in Geneva: The Palace of Nations. This iconic building, finished in 1938, is a global emblem of justice and peace. Because I was there for five days in a row, eight hours a day, this landmark is excluded from my eight-hour tour. Still, I insist that everyone who goes to Geneva must visit it and take a picture with its famous Broken Chair. My highlight from the Palace of Nations has to be Spanish artist Miquel Barceló’s ceiling for The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room. Although controversial, this piece of art has been referred to as the ‘21st Century Sistine Chapel.’

Miquel Barceló's ceiling for the Human Rights Council. Image credit: Adriana Alonso

On Saturday, my last 8 hours in Geneva began. I won't guide you through my route, but instead will recommend a better one, in hopes that you'll be able to fit more activities into your schedule. Planning ahead this way will probably earn you at least an hour, which I lost moving back and forth through the city. It is important to note that Geneva is divided in two by the Rhône River. The right bank is the newer part of the city. This is where the United Nations along with more than 200 other non-governmental organizations are situated. This is where I suggest you start my five-stop tour since there is only one stop on this side of the river: The Schtroumpfs Buildings. Named after the Smurfs, I stumbled upon this bizarre housing complex after wandering through Les Grottes, Geneva's bohemian neighborhood. These oddly shaped and colored buildings were built in the eighties, inspired by the famous Spanish architect  Gaudi. I sat in the area for about half an hour, admiring these unique buildings, which made me feel like I was in Disneyland. Too bad I was alone because this spot would have been a great opportunity for a fun, colorful Instagram shot. Apparently this area is full of markets, cafés, and second-hand shops which are worth checking out if, unlike me, you have the time.

The Schtrumpfs Buildings. Image credit: Adriana Alonso

The rest of the stops of my short tour take place on the left bank of Geneva, home to the Old Town and, in my opinion, the nicer half of the city. Only a five-minute walk from Pont Mont-Blanc, the main bridge, is Quai Gustave-Ador. Here you can find the famous Jet d'Eau (water jet). Honestly, I was not expecting much; I just felt like I couldn’t go to Geneva and not see the lake, at least from afar. Well, it turns out I could not have been more wrong. The sight is breathtaking. I ended up walking around it for about one or two hours (I lost track of time). The day was sunny, so the water jet formed a rainbow from certain angles. If I got closer to the jet, I could feel a refreshing breeze an this bright but windy day. Near the edge, you can see ducks and swans swimming in the crystaline water. With the sunbeams creating sparkles on the water, everything felt magical - children playing around the lake, families feeding the ducks, it was all perfect. It is probably the closest thing to a fairy tale I have seen. To complement the lake's beauty, at a distance were the Alps covered in snow. The whole scene felt like it was out of a movie. If you only have time to see one thing in Geneva, I would say the lake is where you have to go. 

Jet d'Eau. Image credit: Adriana Alonso

After my lake promenade, I spent a while walking around Old Town Geneva, which I suggest you should do too. During the week, I stayed on the other side of the bridge, and I must admit, it is not the most exciting sight. On the other hand, the Old Town has the typical charm of a European city, but with its own twist. You could walk towards St. Pierre Cathedral, which I accidentally bumped into. This structure, which dates back to 1160, is not very big, but the stained glass is a spectacle on its own. My favorite part was the colorful reflections they made on the floor. Adjacent to the cathedral, there is another famous ceiling that is worth seeing; the one in the Maccabees Chapel (originally a storehouse). Inside, there is also an astonishing organ worth seeing. 

Ceiling at the Chapel of the Maccabees / Adriana Alonso

Very close to the St. Pierre Cathedral you'll find the Promenade de la Treille. I walked there for a bit, while I googled what else I could see in Geneva before I had to be at the train station. If you have some spare time, the walk is very relaxing. If you want to rest, you can take a seat on what this park claims to be the longest wooden bench in the world. You might want to do that if you're planning to visit the fifth and final stop on my tour since its a little bit further away.

This stop is probably only interesting to architecture enthusiasts. On Avenue de la Roseraie 64 you'll find the Swiss Medical Research Foundation. This building has been nicknamed la Tulipe (the Tulip) because of its odd shape and pastel-colored windows. The peculiar building was designed by architect Jack Vicajee Bertoli, who once collaborated with one of my favorite architects, Le Corbusier.  I found out about this building online, and its brutalist architecture caught my eye since I found it unusual for a city like Geneva.

After the fifth stop, I checked the time and realized it was time to start heading to the train station. I wanted to see the Flower Clock before I left but realized since it was February, there probably weren’t going to be many flowers. As someone who misses trains and planes more than the average person, I decided to say goodbye to Geneva and catch my train. There were still many places I wish I had had time to visit, like the CERN, Jorge Luis Borges’s tomb, the Botanical Garden, and the Patek Philippe Museum. Still, I was pleased with what I got to see and how much I got to know Geneva. Hopefully, I will return and discover the rest of it. And hopefully, you won't make the same mistake as me, and will manage your time in order to see more things. If you ever go for a short time, don’t worry because you will probably get to see a lot of this small town. Oh, and don’t forget to get some fondue!

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