Geneva, Switzerland has always been a city of grand ideals. Its motto is “Post tenebras lux,” which translates as, “After the darkness, light”.
Playing host to the Protestant Reformation, from which the quote originated, to the numerous International organizations that claim the city as its headquarters today, it has the reputation for diplomacy and pastoral sophistication. With this in mind, here are the top five ways to enjoy the spirit of the Swiss city of light:
1. Look for the subtle in the obvious
While a trip to Geneva would not be complete without a visit to the United Nations headquarters, the more overlooked aspects may be the most appealing. First, many do not realize that approximately seven peacocks live on the Palais grounds. At least two can be found on a daily basis roaming around Pregny gate. Although they are not completely tamed, most think nothing of having their picture taken.
After chasing the peacocks, the UNAIDS building is also worth a visit. Next to the WHO building on the last stop of OMS bus line 8, the marble and glass structure brims with African artwork and elegant design. Kofi Annan dedicated the building in 2006 and it still seems to sparkle. Feel free to admire the various paintings and sculptures.
Another interesting thing to do is to catch a protest in front of the Nations fountains. All protests are authorized by the government and most take place by the big Olso Convention Chair, installed to raise awareness about landmines. You can watch from the sidelines, or join in if you feel so inclined.
2. Everything revolves around the lake
Genevans love Lac Leman; its hard not to. The lake provides beautiful views and makes the weather milder than other famous Swiss cities such as Zurich and Basel. The park by the lake is probably the best place to hang out in the city; there’s free wifi, potable water fountains and an area where you can swim. In summer, you can even ride a bike – for free, up to four hours – around its perimeter.
3. The center is where it happens… but not really
At some point, everyone will pass through the Gare de Cornavin, Geneva’s main train station. Across from it, McDonalds and Starbucks beckon those willing to spend 12 francs on a happy meal or 8 francs on a frappucino. A few streets down, the Paquis hosts a number of the city’s nightclub and even a small red light district. While this is fine for a night or two of carousing, it all gets old (and expensive) really quickly. The best deal in the area is the local Migros grocery, found under a green awning. Look for the green store brand “Budget” packaging for the best deals. Then, grab a group of friends and head to the lake. Perfect.
4. Old town is awesome
You would think that the biggest business and shopping district would be near the downtown Gare de Cornavin – nope. The main shopping area is in Vieux Ville, “Old Town.” There you can peruse foreign imports such as Ballys, Herve Leger and Lacoste. For those with less cash to burn, the terra cotta colored cobblestone and the placid cathedral architecture itself is worth far more than anything you could buy.
5. See where it started
The Reformation Wall is located on the University of Geneva campus, a lovely place with pink dappled trees and three foot tall movable chess set. While the passion of the Calvinists may escape you, the stroll along the grounds will clear your head and give you the same space to reflect on your own philosophy about life and your next great adventure.
Photo of UN headquarter in Geneva, Switzerland originally posted by Leandro’s World Tour