I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of 20 students from my university to go on an intensive exchange program over the Australian Summer / European Winter. It was my first international trip and I absolutely LOVED every minute of it! I stayed in Geneva for almost a month and it’s a beautiful international city.
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT GENEVA:
Geneva is located in south Switzerland, near the French/Swiss border. And no, I’m not talking about the fictional city Genovia (a lot of people got confused between the two when I said that I was travelling to Geneva…)
It is an international city due to it being the home of the United Nations and many other important international organisations like World Trade Organisation, World Intellectual Property Organisation, International Labor Organisation, and the International Federation of the. There are often delegates from around the world visiting Geneva all year long.
Geneva surrounds a lake with a fountain (which instantly reminded my of my home city, Canberra). There is the Old Town up on the hill with cobble stone streets, a cathedral and many other interesting historical locations. The shops line the streets down near the lake, with all the high end fashion brands on one end, and other stores like Zara and H&M on the other end.
When I arrived mid-January, the weather was cool but pleasant. Apparently it was unseasonably warm at that time. It did end up snowing half way through my trip and I got to experience waking up and seeing it snow out my window (which was a first for me!)
The locals in Geneva speak French, but a lot of locals also know English. The menus in most restaurants and Cafes are in both French & English, which definitely makes ordering food easier. I would still recommend to take along a French phrasebook, or learn some basic French, just in case.
There are trams throughout the city and they are easy to navigate. They are very busy during peak hour, but do come regularly and are ALWAYS on time. Every place I stayed at gave me a Transport Pass which covered free public transport in the city during my stay.
(TIP: be careful for pick-pockets on the trams – one of my fellow travelers had her passport stolen out of her handbag on the tram during peak hour)
I stayed in three different places during my stay in Geneva. When I first arrived, I stayed 2 nights in a hotel, then I stayed for about 3 weeks in an apartment styled hotel, and finished off my final night in Geneva at a hostel.
Hotel Les Arcades. It cost me CHF 251.80 for the stay in a single room with daily continental breakfast. All the rooms in this hotel surrounded the breakfast and reception area in a U-shape and I liked the bed-and-breakfast feel to this hotel. It is just across the road from the train station, so it is perfect for anyone who is catching the train in from the airport.
Hotel Drake-Longchamp. I honestly don’t know how much it cost me to stay in this hotel as it was a group booking part of the exchange program. However I can say that it was a good choice of accommodation. Two people shared each room which had two single beds, a large closet, a desk, a balcony and a kitchenette. The hotel also had continental breakfast in the restaurant for breakfast, consisting of cereals, milk, cheese, eggs, sliced meats, yogurt, fruit and tea and coffee. The lift is exceptionally small and can only fit maybe 2 people and their suitcases in there at one time. We mostly took the stairs during our stay to avoid being stuck in the tiny lift.
City Hostel Geneva: I stayed only 1 night in this hostel before I was due to fly back home. It’s close to the train station and it is a nice, clean hostel. I staying in a private room for around CHF70. It was the most immaculate hostel room I’ve ever seen. It was also the quietest hostel I’ve eve been in – probably due to the time of year and the lack of tourist traffic.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN GENEVA
I am not expert on what to see and do, but I am going to recall some of the things I did and what I would recommend future travelers also see and do. Please excuse me if I have missed or muddled up details – it’s been over 2 years since this trip so I will do my best to be as accurate as possible!
Old Town: To experience some history of Geneva and see some of the beautiful sights, a visit to Old Town is a must. You can take a walking tour around the streets to get some in depth history, or wander around at your own pace and marvel at the beautiful buildings. The giant Cathedrale Saint-Pierre in old town should be a must see – it’s a stunning piece of architecture, and there is a tour of the ruins of the old Church underneath the Cathedral. It does cost money but for only CHF 7 it is definitely worth it.
Fondue Meal: You can’t visit Switzerland without experiencing a fondue night! Edelweiss is a fantastic place full of very kitch looking pieces on the wall, with music and different kinds of fondue. If you are gluten intolerant like me, you can enjoy the meat fondue in hot oil with a variety of sauces. Yum!
Chocolate Tour: Another thing you definitely should do when in Switzerland is a chocolate tour! See how chocolate is made and have a few samples of course! The tour I went on was CHF 25 but I thought it was fun doing something touristy like this. (Unfortunately I can’t remember which company/shop this activity was through)
Drink Mulled Wine in Old Town: Up in old town there are lots of restaurants and cafes scattered along the streets. In winter, mulled wine is a popular drink for cafes to sell. Mulled wine is wine that is mixed with spices, warmed up in a large pot and served in a mug or coffee cup. It’s definitely a great way to unwind and relax on a cold winter’s day!
Go to the Park: On the other side of Geneva, over past the giant wall with the world’s longest park bench, you will see a park filled with giant trees. Near the entrance of the park you will see there are giant chess sets with many people playing along. There was also an ice-skating rink set up during winter and onlookers were very entertained by my lack of skating abilities.
Mr Pickwick’s Pub: Twice during my trip our group went to a pub up the road from our hotel called Mr Pickwick’s. On Australia Day there were Aussie celebrations which made us feel like we were at home. We also went there for our last night together and it was a lot of fun. The band played for ages, the drinks kept coming, and the friendly bar staff even helped me find my wallet (which I stupidly left unattended.) Unfortunately we did not end up going to any night clubs because (a) we didn’t know where we should go, and (b) the only one we found had a massive line up to get in. I’m still happy with our adventures at Mr Pickwick’s.
Visit the United Nations: Visiting the UN was just part of my study timetable when I was on exchange, but it was still a very fun and interesting experience. You need to have your passport on you to enter the UN, and there’s often different exhibitions on inside. Don’t forget to take a picture of the giant wooden chair out the front of the UN!
Go Shopping: Start from the Flower Clock and walk back towards the City Center and you’ll find lots of different shops with watches, jewellery, clothes and more. I did lots of shopping, especially at H&M and Zara (we didn’t have either of those stores in Australia at the time).
So that’s my wrap-up and summary of Geneva. I had such a great time on my trip and would definitely recommend other’s to visit this beautiful, international city.
Until next time,
Vintage Barbie xo