You can see most of Geneva on foot. The best way to familiarize yourself with the city, however, is by taking a walking tour, which covers all the major sights.
Geneva's top attractions -- all premier sights -- are the Jet d'Eau, the famous fountain that has virtually become the city's symbol; the Flower Clock, in the Jardin Anglais, with 6,500 flowers (it was the world's first when it was inaugurated in the 1950s; today, it's less of a showstopper); and Old Town, the oldest part of the city. All these sights, and more, are detailed in our walking tour.
Les Pâquis District
One of Geneva's most animated and colorful districts, Les Pâquis offers a view of a workaday world that's far removed from the luxurious consumerism and (some say) indolence of better-heeled neighborhoods closer to the lake. Its main thoroughfare, the rue des Pâquis, runs parallel to the rue de Berne. To reach it, head north along quai des Bergues, which leads into quai du Mont-Blanc. On your left, at the intersection of quai du Mont-Blanc and Gare Routière, stands the Brunswick Monument, the tomb of Charles II of Brunswick, who died in Geneva in 1873. The duke left his fortune to the city with the provision that it build a monument to him. Geneva accepted the fortune and modeled the tomb after the Scaglieri tombs in Verona.
Les Pâquis is a sector of bistros, nightclubs, ateliers, hipster boutiques, and banks. The word pâquis comes from the Latin pascuum, meaning "pasture." The cows that grazed here are long gone, but from about A.D. 1330 the district consisted of a vast expanse of fields, pastures, and wastelands. It was far from the heart of the city and its protective ditches, and exposed to the permanent danger of invasion.
From the 14th century, as the city developed a stronger defense system, this unincorporated territory became safer, and more and more people made homes here. In the 15th century, the Pâquis was home to potters and fisher folk, and eventually homes and small industries began to take root.
In 1831, the French writer Chateaubriand settled at the Hôtel des Etrangers, 22, rue des Pâquis. From 1851 on, development was fairly rapid, with the construction of quai du Mont-Blanc and of the Rotonde, the English church. An American church was also constructed, and in 1857, quais Pâquis and Eaux-Vives were erected. Construction on the Cornavin railway station began the following year. The Pont du Mont-Blanc was erected in 1862. Soon, the lake promenade, the facade des Pâquis, and quai du Mont-Blanc became fashionable.
In 1873, construction began on the Hôtel National (Palais Wilson); from 1925 to 1936, it would house the first secretariat of the League of Nations. The Kursaal was built between 1874 and 1879. One of the most infamous events in the history of the area was the assassination of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, in 1898, at the landing stage facing the duke of Brunswick's mausoleum.
After wandering through the district with no particular fixed itinerary, visitors may tour Lake Geneva on a lake steamer. Steamers leave from quai du Mont-Blanc.
For the Literary Enthusiast
At 25, rue des Délices, you'll find the house -- now the Institut et Musée Voltaire (tel. 022/418-95-60; www.ville-ge.ch) -- where Voltaire lived from 1755 to 1760 and from time to time after that up to 1765; he wrote part of Candide here. The museum displays furniture, manuscripts, letters, and portraits, as well as a terra-cotta model of the famous seated Voltaire by Houdon. The museum is open Monday to Friday from 2 to 5pm, and admission is free. Take bus no. 6, 7, 11, 26, or 27.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.