Geneva's Quais & Old Town
Start: Jet d'Eau
Finish: Place du Bourg-de-Four
Time: 2 hours
Best Times: Any sunny day
Worst Times: Rush hours, Monday to Friday from 8 to 9am and 5 to 6pm
If, like most tourists, you arrive in the summer, you may begin your discovery of the city with a long promenade along the quays of Geneva. The one sight you can't miss is the:
1. Jet d'Eau
In the quai Gustave-Ador, this famous fountain is the trademark of the city. Visible for miles, from April to September it throws water 138m (453 ft.) into the air above the lake. The Genevese call the fountain the jeddo. It dates from 1891 but was improved in 1951. Many cities have sent engineers to Geneva to study the workings of the fountain, a version of which now throws water to a slightly higher elevation in the desert air of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The fountain pumps 132 gallons of water per second into the air.
Once you've seen the fountain, you'll be ready to explore the quays, with their gardens and ancient buildings. The aquatic population consists of sea gulls, ducks, and swans. A fleet of small boats, called mouettes genevoises, shuttles visitors from one quay to another throughout the year.
Lying directly off quai du Général-Guisan is another Geneva landmark, the:
2. Flower Clock
In the Jardin Anglais (English Garden), the clock's face is made of carefully landscaped beds of flowers, and it keeps perfect time! The Jardin Anglais is at the foot of the Mont Blanc Bridge, which spans the river at the point where the Rhône leaves Lake Geneva. The bridge was rebuilt in 1969.
Cross Pont du Mont-Blanc and turn left (south) along quai des Bergues on the Right Bank of Geneva until you come to the next bridge, called Pont des Bergues. If you cross this bridge, you'll come to:
3. Ile Rousseau
A statue of the philosopher, sculpted by Pradier in 1834, greets you here. The island, which was Rousseau's stomping grounds and the site of many of his reveries, is now home to ducks, swans, grebes, and other aquatic fowl. Situated in the middle of the Rhône, it was once a bulwark of Geneva's river defenses.
Return to quai des Bergues and continue to walk left along the quay until you reach place St-Gervais and the:
A château was built here in 1219, although the tower is all that remains today. The château had been used as a prison and place of execution by the counts of Savoy. A wall plaque commemorates a visit by Caesar in 58 B.C. at the beginning of his Gallic Wars. Once the fortified core of the Old Town, it bears some similarities to Paris's Ile de la Cité. You can also explore the old markets, which often exhibit the works of contemporary Genevese artists.
The walking tour of the quays is particularly appropriate for children because the sights are outside and easily understandable. If the children get tired, however, you can take them to quai du Mont-Blanc, where they can board le mini-train de Genève. This 40-minute excursion will take them -- within rubber-wheeled "trains" (a kind of urban tram, actually), which are painted in tones of green, red, and white -- along the major parks and quays of Geneva. Departures from March to October are daily every 45 minutes from 9am to 10pm. Adults pay a fare of 7.90F and children are charged 4.90F.
At this point, you'll be on the doorway of Geneva's Old Town, or Vieille Ville, set on the relatively artsy Left Bank.
After leaving the Tour-de-l'Ile, you can continue across the Rhône until you reach place Bel-Air, on the Left Bank. From here, head south for a short distance along rue de la Monnaie, which quickly becomes rue de la Cité. When that street changes its name to rue de la Tertasse, continue south along this street until you reach:
5. Place Neuve
This is the cultural heart of Geneva. The square has a statue of General Dufour, who was a cofounder of the Red Cross. Monuments on this square include the Grand Théâtre and the Conservatory of Music (Le Conservatoire de la Musique). The Grand Théâtre (opera house) was built in 1874. The conservatory dates from 1858.
Also on the square is the:
6. Musée Rath
The museum, place Neuve (tel. 022/418-33-40; www.ville-ge.ch), has temporary exhibitions of paintings and sculpture. It's open Tuesday and Thursday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm, Wednesday from noon to 8pm; costs 10F for adults and 5F for students; and is free for children 17 and under. The museum can be reached by tram no. 12 or bus no. 3, 5, 32, or 36.
From place Neuve, continue southeast along rue de la Croix-Rouge until you come to the:
7. Le Mur des Réformateurs (Le Monument de la Réformation)
The Reformation Monument was built in 1917 along a 16th-century rampart, beneath the walls of the Old Town on promenade des Bastions. The monument, which is 91m (298 ft.) long, represents John Knox, Calvin, Théodore de Bèze, and Guillaume Farel -- the four Genevese reformers. Other statues include Cromwell, the Pilgrim Fathers, and, on either end, Luther and Zwingli.
Retrace your footsteps along rue de la Croix-Rouge until you return to place Neuve. From the square, take a sharp right and follow ramp de la Treille, which becomes rue Henri-Fazy, where you can:
8. Take a Break
One of the oldest and most venerated cafes of Geneva, Le Café-Restaurant Papon, 1, rue Henri-Fazy (tel. 022/311-54-28), lies near the Tour Baudet in the vicinity of the Hôtel-de-Ville. A restaurant, creperie, tearoom, and cafe, it has been entertaining drinkers and diners under its vaulted ceilings since the 17th century.
Turn right at rue de l'Hôtel-de-Ville and you'll approach the:
9. Hôtel-de-Ville (Town Hall)
The Hôtel-de-Ville is a short walk from the cathedral and dates from the 16th and 17th centuries. Its Baudet Tower was constructed in 1455. The building, which has a cobblestone ramp instead of a staircase, has witnessed some of the city's most important diplomatic events. The Red Cross originated here in 1864.
Across from the town hall is:
10. The Arsenal
This arcaded structure dates from 1634. In the courtyard of the building is a cannon that was cast in 1683.
Continue along rue de l'Hôtel-de-Ville until you reach:
11. Place du Bourg-de-Four
This spot was first a Roman forum and later a medieval town square. The Palais de Justice here was built in 1707, but it has housed courts of law only since 1860. While you're in this area, you'll come across a fountain, many antiquaries' shops, and art galleries.
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.