Geneva is a city of about 200,000 people in Romandy, the Swiss-French speaking Cantons of western Switzerland. The city is very international (about 40% of residents aren’t Swiss nationals), and English is also commonly spoken— however, it would be helpful to pick up a few basic French phrases before you arrive.
Switzerland does not use the Euro as its currency. Instead the Swiss use their own currency, the Swiss Franc. One Swiss frank (written as Fr1, SFr1, or CHF1) is at the time of writing this article worth about $1.06 USD (€0.83, £0.66). Although the exchange rate might not seem scary, the prices in Geneva are astronomical. A medium coffee at Starbucks was Fr 5, so bring enough money to get you through your stay and don’t forget a student ID card (if you have one) for possible discounts.
There aren’t many youth hostels in Geneva. When I was booking my trip, I only found two. But I had a great experience at City Hostel Geneva, which is in walking distance from both the train station and many restaurants, pubs, and attractions. Because Geneva is so expensive, what I really liked about this hostel was the free public transportation card good for the duration of your stay, which gives you access to the wide-ranging tram and bus systems. You can also pick up a free public transportation ticket if you arrive at the airport, but it’s only good for a little over an hour. However, it’s just a short train ride between there and Carnavin, the train station in the city center, so save your money and grab this ticket.
Geneva is a picturesque city. It is situated on Lake Geneva, which has the famous Jet d’Eau fountain, and has spectacular views of Mt. Blanc, the highest peak of the Swiss Alps. The Rhine River splits Geneva in half and there are countless bridges on which to have some fantastic photo-ops!
The city is very walkable, and I was particularly struck by the really exotic-looking trees that line many of Geneva’s streets and the waterfront. There are also plenty of public and green spaces that are packed with residents and tourists alike, such as:
Geneva has some unique museums that celebrate its history, commerce, and culture— museums you can’t really find elsewhere.
Musée Patek Philippe, for example, celebrates Switzerland’s history of the art of fine watch-making— it offers an extensive collection of ornate wristwatches and time pieces from this Geneva-based, and very high-end watch company. Each piece was more elaborate than the last.
Musée international de la Croix-Rouge (International Red Cross Museum) is another main attraction you may wish to visit.
L’Organisation des Nations Unies (The United Nations) maintains an administration headquarters in Geneva. The tour of the U.N. was the best Fr10 (franks) I spent in the city. Going through those buildings and being able to stand in the Assembly Hall was truly a one-of-a-kind experience that I recommend. But if this tour isn’t your style, go up to the Palais des Nations, it’s impressive.
Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Genéve (St. Pierre of Geneva Cathedral) isn’t like other cathedrals you may have seen— the entire bottom is an archaeological site. For Fr4 (for students), you receive an audio tour and embark on a maze through centuries-old ruins that teach you so much about the city’s religious and political history. I hadn’t expected to like it as much as I did, but in fact it became one of my favorite things in Geneva.
There are also many places to visit for art and music lovers.
I’m so glad I went to Geneva. The tour of the U.N. still remains one of the best things I’ve ever done, and the views of Lake Geneva and the Swiss Alps are unforgettable. Don’t pass up an opportunity to go to Geneva—it’s a truly unique city.