The centre of Geneva is fairly small compared to other European cities, with lots of well-heeled people in very nice coats and expensive shoes. We felt under-dressed! This was emphasised by our trip to McDonalds – there was some litter left by our table.. any guesses as to what it was? You might guess a chocolate wrapper, drinks can, cigarette packet… all normal types of rubbish you might find discarded in a McDonalds. No, in the Geneva McDonalds, there was a Versace shoe box. That says it all really! 😉
We wandered around the shopping street, which was nice, with tall grand buildings and the standard array of shops – H&M, C&A, Claire’s Accessories etc. But there were also finer shops – for example a shop selling the most beautiful flowers which I’d need to take a mortgage out to afford, a caviar and vodka shop, and boutique cafes. We then climbed the hill to the castle and old town. This was my favourite part of the city centre, with lots of small lanes filled with cafes, antique shops, rare book shops, art galleries, and small bars.
Most of the hotels in Geneva are on the North bank of the lake, near the train station. I had read lots of stuff before I went about the areas being quite dodgy, being as the red light district is near there. Due to struggling to find somewhere affordable for dinner, we ended up near the train station so wandered through the red light district at around 8.30pm. It wasn’t too bad but there were lots of places which were clearly in the sex business. There were even girls sitting in full-length windows in their underwear, lit up with red light, like in Amsterdam. I was really surprised as I thought this was specific to Amsterdam, and I would have expected Geneva to be more understated. Although in Amsterdam there were many many windows and in Geneva we only saw 2, so maybe that is understated 😉 There were also several men just hanging about on the street. I was with my boyfriend and we walked briskly and didn’t make eye contact, so I didn’t feel in danger. However, I certainly wouldn’t go there at night on my own.
So as I hinted above, Geneva is very expensive. We looked around for somewhere to eat for dinner, and after refusing to pay the extortionate prices, we ended up in McDonalds. The bill came to 28 swiss francs (around £21). We have had a McDonalds in the UK since coming home, and paid £12 for almost exactly the same thing.
On the brightside, tourists arriving at Geneva airport can get free travel into the city centre. This is not very well publicised, and had we not researched it before we went, we wouldn’t have noticed the small machine in the arrivals hall which dispenses the tickets. This is located just by the exit, next to the other ticket machines, opposite the baggage carousel. There is a sign on top of it which says something like “Free travel into Geneva”. Remember to get your ticket before you leave the Arrivals hall!. Even after we got the ticket, we were confused as it wasn’t clear which platform the trains into the city departed from. Or whether our ticket was valid on any trains at those platforms. There were however signs clearly explaining that if we travelled with the wrong ticket we would get a penalty fare of 90 Swiss Francs. We were fine, so we either got on the right train, or we got away with being on the wrong one 😉 I would make sure you get your free travel pass into Geneva – it’ll make you feel better later when you’ve just spent two month’s wages on dinner (I’m kidding) 🙂
The next bonus to Geneva was free travel cards. It appears that tourists staying hotels in Geneva get free travel cards for transport in the city throughout their stay. This sounds wonderful, and it is a nice thought, however in reality the city centre is so small that we didn’t need to use it – in the time you’d spend waiting for a bus or tram, you probably could have walked it, assuming you’re of average fitness. We used our travel cards on the little yellow boats that go across the lake. The bridge across the lake can be walked in a minute, but it was more fun crossing by boat!
One note about the lake – the famous “Jet D’Eau” (Jet of water), which you’ll see on all souvenirs of Geneva, apparently has a strict schedule and is turned off at 4pm on the dot in the winter. We did not have such a strict schedule and so sadly we missed it, although we saw it from the plane on the way home 🙂
I think we were able to see Geneva and do it justice in one afternoon / evening, although I’m sure you could spend more time there. Most of the skiing masses (the English anyway) pass through Geneva airport annually but never stop to see Geneva, so I’m glad we stopped. It was a lovely little break. The downside for us was price – not being able to buy normal things like a sandwich without saying “how much??!!” takes the shine off it a bit. I think you have to save up and be able to splash out. But if you can get past that, it’s a lovely city to visit for a short break! 🙂
Next blog: La Clusaz, France