Geneva is a picturesque city brimming with attractions and activities for expats of all ages who are looking to enjoy some of the finer things in life.
Seasonal activities vary widely, ranging from a warm day at the lake during summer to an alpine ski trip in winter. Thanks to its central geographic location, Geneva is also an ideal base to explore the rest of Western Europe.
Shopping in Geneva
When it comes to shopping, Geneva is a paradise for luxury brand names, and expats will have no trouble spending their hard-earned francs. The parallel Rue du Marche and Rue du Rhone are the main shopping streets and are lined with watchmakers, retailers and cafés.
There are also options for those who don’t want to spend a fortune. The Place de la Madeleine is great for finding clothing and book bargains, while the Plaine de Plainpalais is home to Geneva’s largest flea market and stocks everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to leather goods.
In general, shops in Geneva don't stay open until late in the evening, and most places close between 12am and 2pm for lunch during the week. On Saturdays, grocery shops only stay open until 6pm, and most places in Geneva are closed on a Sunday. Many choose to do their weekly grocery shopping across the border in French towns such as Annemasse or Ferney-Voltaire, where shops are open until 12pm on a Sunday.
Nightlife in Geneva
Geneva isn't necessarily known for its lively party scene, but there are still plenty of opportunities to grab a drink, meet new people and enjoy a night out. Revellers should be prepared to pay, though, as Geneva's prices can be exorbitant.
Plaine de Plainpalais is popular with younger crowds, with Rue de l'Ecole-de-Médecine often crowded by students from the nearby medical college. Place de l'Ile, on the Rhône River, has some expensive bars and some excellent views of the city. Place du Marché and Rue Vautier in the Carouge area are also popular hangouts with many bars and clubs.
Eating out in Geneva
Foodies will be spoilt for choice in Geneva. The city boasts more than 1,000 restaurants and it's undoubtedly Switzerland's cuisine capital. Some areas that expats can explore for restaurants and cafés are around the lake, the Paquis, Eaux-Vives and Carouge.
Expats should endeavour to try local specialities such as fondue, raclette, lake fish dishes and smoked sausage. However, those looking for familiar tastes from home shouldn't struggle to find what they're looking for. As a cosmopolitan city with many different cultures, Geneva offers expats the chance to sample food from around the world.
Kids and family in Geneva
There is an abundance of activities and attractions on offer for kids in Geneva. The public transport system has special discounts for families, and the city's playgrounds, history, culture and museums provide myriad options for expats with families.
Education and schools for kids in Geneva
Education in Geneva is taken seriously. Parents should plan ahead, since there can be long waiting lists, especially for private and international schools. For expats looking for a longer stay in Switzerland and with younger kids, the public school system is a good option. It is free and the quality of education is excellent.
Some schools offer a special programme to help expat children learn the language and settle into the local culture easily. Private and international schools can come with a hefty price tag, but parents can be assured that their children will be able to study in their own language and in the familiar curriculum of home.
Activities for kids in Geneva
Located on the edge of Lake Geneva, the city is perfect for some water sports during the summer months. The beaches are popular during the warmer parts of the year, and the mountains surrounding the city offer some spectacular hikes. Aquaparc is a family favourite, and children can have fun and cool down on its watery rides and slides. Forestland in Divonne-les-Bains is another good place for active kids to let off some steam.
For rainy days and colder months, the city is home to the Natural History Museum, where children can roam and explore in an educational setting. There are several productions performed by the Geneva Amateur Operatic Society throughout the year, providing entertainment for young and old. Those with a sweet tooth can tour the Cailler Chocolate factory and learn how chocolate is made from the bean to the bar.
Parks in Geneva
For a lazy day with the family, pack a picnic and head to one of the city's famed parks. Geneva is home to several green spaces, such as Le Bois-de-la-Bâtie with its mini zoo, Parc des Bastions and the giant chess sets, the Botanical Gardens and the rose garden. The English Garden's flower clock is particularly popular with young ones.
Sports and outdoor activities in Geneva
There is much to experience for expats with a sense of adventure and love of the great outdoors. Geneva is perfectly placed for winter sports and mountain adventures in the Swiss Alps, with more than 200 ski resorts within 60 miles (100km) of the city limits.
Other activities on offer include wakeboarding and sailing on Lake Geneva, mountain biking, rock climbing and rafting on the two rivers that run through the city. For those who don't wish to travel far, the parks of Geneva offer open space and greenery on their doorstep.
What's on in Geneva
As a centre of art and culture, Geneva offers up several celebrations throughout the year. From sports to arts and everything in between, there is plenty to keep expats occupied during the year.
Below are some of the city's most popular events.
Geneva Music Festival (June)
The city's streets transform into a stage when the Geneva Music Festival comes to town. The festival features performances by renowned local and international artists, with everything from classical to contemporary music.
Bol d'Or Mirabaud (June)
Fleets of sailboats gather on Lake Geneva to take part in the world's most important inland regatta. Some of the world's best compete for the fastest time and consequent bragging rights, while a nautical festival accompanies the legendary race.
Geneva Festival (August)
Attracting thousands of people to the lake's shores, the annual Geneva Festival is a celebration of food and music with parades and fairs rounded off with a grand fireworks finale.
This is a festival that commemorates the successful defence of the city against invasion in 1602 when the citizens of Geneva came together to repel the duke of Savoy. The festivities kick off with a five-mile race through the Old Town and culminate with a torchlight procession through the city.
See and do in Geneva
A fascinating place filled with historic, religious and natural attractions, Geneva boasts plenty of exciting things to see and do. Lake Geneva is one of Europe's largest lakes, and the Jet d'Eau fountain is an iconic sight. There are also few things as tranquil as strolling through Le Jardin Anglais on a summer's day.
Attractions such as the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and the Barbier-Mueller Museum will appeal to culture lovers, while history buffs should visit the UN's Palais des Nations and the Patek Philippe Museum.
Home to thousands of artworks and artefacts from around the world, the Barbier-Mueller Museum boasts a marvellous collection, including megalithic Indonesian monuments, pre-Columbian American art and religious relics from Oceania.
The fountain is one of the most recognisable sights in Geneva, shooting water 460 feet (140m) into the air at a speed of 124 miles per hour (200 km/h). It's lit up at night, giving it an ethereal quality that forms a lovely backdrop for romantic evening strolls.
Lake Geneva (Lac Léman)
Lake Geneva attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to its shores each year, and its many lakeside villages are perfect for taking a break from the city bustle.
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMCO)
Visitors can easily spend hours marvelling at MAMCO's range of contemporary work. The museum constantly reinvents itself with changing exhibitions, making it a great place to visit repeatedly.
Palais des Nations (United Nations)
Completed in 1938 to host the League of Nations, the Palais des Nations now houses the UN's Geneva office – the organisation's largest apart from its New York headquarters. Visitors can take a tour of the building and enjoy the sight of peacocks roaming freely through its vast gardens.
►See Getting around Geneva to learn about the city's public and private transport
"I like that it is a small city, which feels cosy, and that it is so close to the lake and the mountains. As far as quality of life, I think that it is slightly higher than where I’m from simply because the salaries are so much higher. It makes things like travel much easier. I think, too, that people here stop and enjoy life more – either by going for a hike or taking hours to have a meal with friends."
For more about American expat Melissa's experiences in Geneva, read our interview with her.
Are you an expat living in Geneva?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Geneva. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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