Geneva is one of our top favorite cities in the world, partly due to our being familiar with it, but also due to its proximity to so many great spots to visit. A perfect start to Europe after Virginia.
We love the old town, ease of transport, great food, and beautiful lake. That being said, it’s one of the most expensive places on this green Earth and has its fair amount of negatives too. Below, I’ve shared some of our favorite things to do in Geneva with kids, within surrounding areas, and tips and tricks we’ve learned over the years (and during this recent 2-week trip.)
It’s worth watching with the SOUND ON. Both kids had a chance to narrate.
Things to do with kids in Geneva, Switzerland
Here are some favorite things we did on our 2 weeks stay in Geneva, Switzerland, and the surrounding regions.
Lake and Jet d’Eau – tire swing area
The entirety of Lac Leman (or Lake Geneva) is gorgeous. Since our last visit 18+ years ago, we’ve noticed a considerable change. Since then, Geneva authorities have diverted sewage and really cleaned up the lake. It’s beautiful! Some spots look like the Caribbean.
The Jet d’Eau is an impressive fountain shooting from the apex of the lake. It towers at 140 meters with a velocity of 200 kilometers per hour! At night, they shine colored lights on it, which the kids love! We like to grab ice cream and then walk out along the jetty. Also, at Baby-Plage, there are some fun tire swings and a climbing areas.
Picnic and Walks in the Parks
There are endless areas to walk along the lake. You’ll find grass parks, pebble beaches, swimming areas (when the weather agrees), stages with music during periods of summer, and plenty of cafes and spots for ice cream. The swans and ducks were a big attraction for the kiddos. I really appreciated how clean the water looked versus our last visit 18 years ago.
Our flat was an easy walk to both Parc la Grande and Parc des Eaux-Vives. Both had many paths, water features, views of the lake, flowers, old estates, and plenty of grass for a picnic. As beautiful parks as you could ever want. In the Old Town, we also found some fun parks with large chess, trees, and views.
Boat Rides (both taxis and steamboats)
It’s pretty easy to book a boat trip via TPG for a quick taxi across the lake or for a long trip on a steamboat. These beautifully restored vessels are an attraction on their own. You’ll see in our video that the kids weren’t the only ones in awe of the open machinery pushing us along. It’s worth crossing the lake to Yvoire, Neuchatel, and to the Castle of Chillon. Some require trains too, but you can work out a bunch of great, different trips via boat.
Before leaving for Europe, I had fantasies of eating fondue every night for 2 weeks. Turns out that’s a younger man’s dream. Though I love a good cheese fondue (as do the wife and kids), I couldn’t handle it more than 3 times. There are plenty of delicious alternatives though, including the fresh perch from the lake. My favorite spot for fondue is Les Armures, a spot I’ve visited many times since I was a little kid. It’s magic! The restaurant is old and beautiful, the food delicious, and the past guests numerous and famous.
And surprisingly, we found our bill for 4 people was only a little more than we’d spent at an over-priced burger joint in Eaux-Vives. Get ready to spend money regardless of where you eat in Switzerland, especially Geneva.
Old Town – St. Peter’s Cathedral and Archeology
In my opinion, the Old Town, the center of Geneva, is the best part of the entire city. It’s gorgeous, walkable, and has plenty to see and do. Our favorite spot to visit is St. Peter’s Cathedral. the stained-glass windows, lofty ceilings, and beautiful, ancient decorative features always inspire a reverent jaw-drop. We especially love climbing up the spiral staircases to see the views of Geneva. From the top, you can see everything! On a beautiful day, it’s impossible to not be blown away by the beauty of this city.
We stumbled on something very old but new to us: the archeological site below the cathedral. I think they dug and made it public since we last visited almost 2 decades ago because I don’t remember being offered the option of a tour. They’ve found levels upon levels of historic periods within the rock and dirt below the church. It’s fascinating! It all goes back to the burial site of a paramount chieftain from 100 BC, of whom you can actually see his bones in the ground! This place is sacred on top of sacred on top of sacred.
And though our kids are a little old for it, they still wanted to do the merry-go-round. Other than these attractions, there are many open-air restaurants, cafes, and shopping opportunities.
It’s always worth checking to see which markets are running on certain days each week. We found a few with crafts, great food, cheese, meats, produce, and shopping.
It’s important to venture outside of the city center to see some of the many small towns that dot the lake perimeter. These ancient towns have been here for hundreds of years and more. Our favorite, though we’re biased, is Hermance. About 45 minutes from the city center by bus, this quiet little town is where our family grew up. The castle in the center of town was our family home for my mother’s childhood, and it now is used by the mayor for government administration. It’s stunning, and we managed to get a private tour off-hours when we went. We got to see the attic that my mother and her sisters would spend endless hours playing in. Since then, it’s been redone and is currently a flawless mix of modern and historic. It’s beautiful.
Across the street is the cemetery where my Aunt Toni found herself sleepwalking on a few occasions. The thought of waking up in the middle of a spooky, old cemetery in the middle of the cold night gives me the chills. Great story though!
Along the lake, you can find some cafes, a beach with a playground, amazing views, and swans. We took a walk to the lifeguard area, where when I was younger, my friend Katie and I partied with the lifeguards during some kind of celebration we never really understood. Beautiful area!
Natural History Museum
Our kids absolutely love natural history museums, and it helped that this one was pretty much empty when we visited (off-season, mid-week.) The museum is broken into different levels: a level specifically for animals/creatures found in Switzerland, a level of exotic creatures, a level for ocean creatures, and an exhibit on climate change.
I’ve never been to Neuchatel, and visiting was on our list because our family roots stem from this charming city on the lake. We visited some of the estates that our family owned long ago, and we grabbed food by the lake. We also visited Hopital Pourtales, the hospital our family gifted to Neuchatel long ago whilst our family was traveling around Europe “collecting castles.” I kid you not! I had no idea the level of wealth my family once held (pity it hasn’t trickled down to our generations.)
We walked up the hill to the Chateau and grabbed dinner at a restaurant with great views. Just before eating, we found this old bookstore that absolutely blew our minds! Hundred-year-old books and maps in the coolest setting.
We were told by both my Aunt Vanessa and Aunt Nicole that the fish in Yvoire are delicious, and the town is worth visiting. We took the big steamboat across the lake with Nicole to explore the town. Along the way, Nicole pointed out a town with a haunted house hanging over the water that she had visited in the past. Spooky! It dawned on us that we’d visited this town before, but only briefly about 20 years ago. It’s the cutest little lakeside town with boutiques and restaurants strewn with flowers every which way.
Nicole had always wanted to visit the Jardin des Cinq Sens, which are gardens separated into 5 sections for each sense. It was a lot of fun and beyond gorgeous. We finished the day eating moules and perche at a pirate-themed restaurant on the lake.
At the top of our revisit-bucketlist was the Castle of Chillon. So far, we’d been spending the entire trip staying in Geneva proper, and we hadn’t ventured too far out. Natalie suggested we do a quick overnighter to Gruyères while hitting Chillon along the way. Since we hadn’t rented a car, we figured out a series of trains and boats to make it happen. Boy, am I glad we decided to do this! Just the train trips alone made for an unforgettable adventure. The best leg, as far as views, was between Chillon and Gruyeres, where we climbed up from the steep lakeside cliffs and up into the misty mountains. It was everything you would expect from idyllic Switzerland.
Chillon Castle is set on a tiny island up against the shore, where you can visit massive dining rooms, dungeons, bedrooms, secret passages, unique bathrooms, and views in every direction. It’s one of the most picturesque settings for a castle ever. We spent most of our day here and were pleasantly surprised by a sausage roast in the middle courtyard just before our boat left. We bought some sausages and cooked them over a fire! It was one of the more unique experiences we’ve had thus far. Lord Byron was kept here for years in the dungeon, not far from the gallows, which made for some interesting stories. The kids loved the armor and weapons from the knights, and Witty got a little wooden sword that he seldom leaves from his sight.
I’m obsessed with Gruyère cheese, and ever since my mother and aunts showed me some photos from a trip to the town of Gruyeres, a pilgrimage has been in the works. We arrived in this quiet town apparently after all the tours of tourists had left, and it was everything we ever wanted from this country. SO BEAUTIFUL! We checked into the Hotel de Ville, where the reception was within their little restaurant. The smell of cheese was overpowering and both of our kids were worried about staying there. Thankfully, our room smelled fine and had great views of the town. We had a delicious dinner of fondue and too much dessert and crashed for the night.
In the morning, we walked down past sheep and cows to La Maison Du Gruyère to do the cheese tour. It was PACKED! Tour upon tour had arrived just before us and it was an S-show. Once on the tour, we scooted past everyone to see milk being cooked and turned along with cheese in salt baths. It was beautiful. They also gave us 3 samples each of 3, 6, and 12-month-aged Gruyere. They all tasted fairly similar, but you can get a fuller, richer, and more buttery flavor from the 12.
We walked back up for some pizza and explored the town. It was a different town from the evening before, due to the many tourists visiting. We’re so glad we saw it after the tourists left the night before. We walked up towards the castle and stopped in the HR Giger Gallery, which showcased the artist’s paintings and sculptures from the Alien movies. It was creepy and amazing, but the kids didn’t really dig it. It definitely felt out of place in this sweet little town.
The Chateau Gruyeres was beautiful with gardens, views of the mountains, and plenty of rooms to explore. I wish we could have stayed longer and done some hikes through the mountains. Some areas looked like the Shire from the Lord of the Rings, only with snowy mountains peaking out over and within misty clouds. So beautiful.
We finished our trip visiting our friend Katy (who has lived in Switzerland off and on for the better part of a decade) at a restaurant in town that would be the German-Swiss equivalent to Chuck-E Cheese: Edelweiss. The food was good, and the traditional music was fun, but it was a little cheesy in every respect. We still enjoyed it.
All in all, We could do a full summer in this part of Switzerland, as Geneva is a great spot to shoot out from to visit towns and regions in France and further into Switzerland. 2 weeks was enough to give our kids a really good feel of Geneva and the surrounding areas. So many great memories and unforgettable experiences! Merci, Geneva!
Quick travel tip:
Being from the US, we downloaded the Airalo app before arriving and followed the prompts to set up an eSIM for our data per phone. We already have a decent plan via Spectrum/Verizon for texts and phone calls, but the data is really expensive. We set up the eSIM just for our data and dropped 50GB on each phone, which has been plenty for 2-3 months when not around wifi. We find we use a lot when doing maps, sending images/videos, and when tethering our computers for data usage.
The bus system seems to have 2 apps. The TPGpreview app is the only one that’s worked for us. You can set up an account, add multiple passengers to your account, and buy tickets before each trip. We would book 2 adults, 2 kids for an hour for 10 Euro. That would get us most anywhere around here, including on boat taxis.
For trains, we downloaded the SBB Mobile app and it was pretty straightforward. wIt was fairly easy to buy tickets for each train leg through the app. We had our aunt help us purchase tickets for the kids (30 Euros each) for the entire trip, but for some reason, we screwed this up. We had to buy per leg. I would make sure to get a Swiss card and have an actual physical card because they kept asking and we never got one. Oh well. The tickets for trains are very expensive too, so it’s good to figure this out asap at a ticketing office where you can speak to a human and get the physical card(s).
Taxis & Ubers
– We took a taxi from the airport since we had so many bags and couldn’t figure out where we would meet an Uber. We joined the queue for taxis, found a big one, and it cost the same as an Uber would. When using Uber for other trips (like back to the airport), we had little trouble obtaining one. Any chance you get, use the buses before booking an Uber though. The TPG system is so much cheaper and very reliable. The maps on the app make it simple to find stops and know when they arrive and where they’re going. But, we did grab an Uber here and there when it was really cold and we didn’t want to walk to a stop after dinner late at night.
Next Stop: Richelieu, France!