Here’s our family-friendly, fun and almost FREE things to do in Geneva, Switzerland in one day… with kids or without (for you singletons out there). Check out the “jazzy” video too!
Onward and southwards we moved on our camping road trip from the city of bears (Bern) to the capital of peace, the city of world famous watches, international center of finance and diplomacy being home to the highest number of international organizations, including the headquarters of many agencies of the United Nations, Red Cross and Red Crescent. That sounds like a bunch of gobbledygook to our kids (and me, dad) so that’s NOT why we visited Geneva, Switzerland!
We came here for CERN! You know, the European Organization for Nuclear Research that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world???!! NO? What about home of the Large Hadron Collider where little things crash into each other and create BIG BANG?!!? NO? Not Yet? What about the birthplace of the World Wide Web!??? Still, NO!!??? What about that matter/anti-matter thing in the Da Vinci code that could wipe out an entire city… or planet?
That’s the main goal and Geneva, the city itself, was a pleasant side trip that was well worth a day of family fun visit, if not more, even if it was quite a cloudy day. The sites we did miss we saved for another time.
Our first attempt at visiting Geneva, Switzerland on our first road trip from Spain to Poland and back again was a failure. The city was too expensive for us to stay in. This time, camping made Geneva much more accessible to budget family travelers like us.
Make sure to check out what our free electrons family Geneva video (below) that shows: Saint Peter’s Cathedral with fantastic panoramic view of the city and the bell rings, yellow taxi boat rides from the Geneva “beach” to Parc Mon Repos, a cantonal (state/municipal) camping site in Satigny (a 20-minute train ride away), and more.
One great thing about Switzerland or Geneva is that you can get free public transportation with your accommodations. It doesn’t matter if you stay in an expensive hotel or youth hostel or camping site. As long as the city recognizes it, your accommodation can give you a “city transit pass” for FREE!
And no one likes FREE more than this little semi-roaming family, especially in this already expensive city and country.
cheap way to stay in geneva: GO camping!
As I mentioned earlier, the year before we wanted to stop by Geneva on our first family camping road trip in the summer. But the cheapest place we could find to stay in was something like 240 euros per night for a family of four (and that includes Air B&B).
So, instead we bypassed Geneva and went through the southern part of Lake Geneva, the French side, and stopped at Thonon Les Bains, where we had our first truly camping experience.
So, for this year’s family camping road trip we made it our goal to visit Geneva and to go camping all the way. . . for 6 weeks in total. Luckily, we found an excellent state campground in Satigny called Cantonal Camping Val de Allondon. We did have to drive to the train station from the camping site. At least, on street parking around the station was FREE.
For 28 euros a night (30 Swiss Francs or $31 USD), that made it affordable for us to visit this diplomatic hub of a city and the French-speaking capital of Switzerland–NOT that these matter to this non-French speaking me, who only knows how to say “Oui, oui” on my way to the restroom at the train station where I had to pay, YES PAY!!!!! to heed the call of nature (can you imagine, in Switzerland!)!
What?! You don’t feel comfortable going camping with your kids? Don’t be! Here are the 17 must-haves to bring on your fun family camping trip.
We were exactly like you, until we tried it 2 years on our first summer camping road trip. Note that we (parents) had never done camping before in our lives (ok, Six, the dad, had done it once as a scout in 1). And on our second camping road trip, we went camping all the way through for 6 weeks in total WITHOUT pre-booking campsites! What makes family camping both fun and practical? To help you out, READ the 9 practical benefits of family camping.
what to do in GENEVA. . . with kids or not
It was a cloudy day when we rolled in but still still the kids had a great time walking through the old city center and the waterfront.
Apparently, Geneva (specifically Saint Peter’s Cathedral) was the center of the Reformation movement –the social protest that questioned the rituals and politics of the Catholic church some 500 years ago that gave the city the name “Protestant Rome”. There are several other walking tours that you can do that are related to it.
But our kids were a little too young (3 and 7 at the time) for such a heavy topic of the politics of church and religion.
Getting up Saint Peter’s cathedral (Saint Pierre) was quite an adventure for them though. They enjoyed the narrow, winding, stone staircase all 157 steps or something, going through the old wooden rickety attic, through the small passageways leading up to the towers with outdoor access to get a great panoramic view of the city; resting in the enclosed watchtower with (curiously enough) a pillar in the center with a hole for old-school shackles. The ringing of the bells were enjoyable too, as shown in the video. In the summers there would be weekly FREE concerts here.
When we visited there was apparently some kind of Swiss Village theme at the English Garden (Jardin Anglais) lakeshore/waterfront. There was a ferris wheel which we didn’t get to do. There was also a “chiringuitto“-type shack that sold “churros”. But of course we couldn’t quite pay 8 euros a taste of churros which we could easily get a kilo for back home, right? There’s also a train ride for kids, but we also skipped that because. . . well, we like free things to do as much as possible OR low-cost, no-cost things to do cause we travel a lot and we hardly work! But, if you have the spare cash, why don’t you treat the kids for some additional memorable experience!
Swimming: There’s also a an open-air swimming area, an outdoor bath house (Bains des Pâquison) a pier at the lake. That’s more recommended for older kids OR at least those who can swim well because, you know, it’s cold water and there’s a lot of people, a lot of teenagers in it when we visited. As alternative, spend a fun hour or two or half a day at the Geneva Beach (Genève-Plage). It has a large and verdant park on the shore of Lake Geneva with a restaurant and a large swimming pool.
Boat rides: The yellow water-taxi boats are a blessing after walking about the city and being on your feet all morning. When the kids got tired we took the “M2” at the Eaux-Vives port on the eastside of the lakeshore to Paquis port on the other side. Then, we took the “M3” to Port Noir and later the “M4” to De-Chateaubriand for the Mon Repos Park. The boats were scheduled to depart every 30 minutes. So, there was time to check out what else was going on near the ports.
While waiting for a yellow taxi-boat, you can also just chill by the waterfront open-air lounge space at the Genève Pâquis boat terminal area and watch the white and brown love swans swiddle while the boats gently go by. Admire the iconic landmark “Jet d’Eau” (The Geneva Water Fountain) in the background while you nurse your six-euro beer, wondering why the hell would they have a 140-meter water jet there.
Peaceful. . . That’s pretty much it sums up Geneva for us. Not only is it referred to as the city of peace. It’s also just a very calm big city. Not as I had expected it would be.
The highlight of the tour is definitely being atop the Cathedral and the boat rides to take it all in from above and below.
At the final destination, the boys still had energy to play with all the other kids at the playground with a zipline at the picturesque lakeside park that’s great for bikers, walkers and daytime dreamers at Mon Repos Park (Parc Mon Repos). Sure enough, the boys were out cold by the time we got back to the tent at night.
That’s pretty much it. For the next time in Geneva, we plan to see the European Headquarters of the United Nations, the Geneva Beach and Mont Salieve.
The next day we headed to CERN for a FREE visit of the “Microcosm” and “Universe of Particle” exhibitions and maybe get a a glimpse of the super Hadron Collider.
RECOMMENDATIONS for family with kids
- Remember to obtain a “Geneva Transport Card” for FREE with your hotel/hostel/campsite so you can take the tram, bus, train and yellow taxi-boats for FREE.
- If your accommodation does not come with the FREE transport card, you can get a 24-hour Geneva pass for 26 Swiss Francs or 22 euros (also available for 48 and 72 hours). With it, you can see museums and other attractions for FREE, along with your FREE public transportation for moving within the city. You can purchase this at the tourist info center
- If you need to bring a stroller/pram, bring one of the small ones that you can easily fold and fit for your boat ride. Otherwise, they may NOT let you in as the boats are small.
- Switzerland has different electrical plugs/sockets. So, remember to have a universal charger for your phones, cameras, computer, etc.
- Unless you really want to try out the already internationalized “local” cuisine, save some money and bring your own snacks or at least buy it ready made from the local grocery store, such as COOP.
- Use the yellow taxi boats called “Mouettes” to rest in between walks and at every stop explore the area for additional things to do and see, such as the parks.
- Stop by the tourist information center to get the low-down on what’s happening on the day of your visit and get maps. Unfortunately, the maps and brochures they gave us were so small that I got dizzy looking at it.
One-day family-friendly itinerary: Geneva
So, here’s a REVIEW. If you only have a day in this city of artful watchmaking, here’s the itinerary that we’d recommend as a family with two young kids. KIDS?!? Why is it important to mention this??? Well, they can’t walk too far and bringing our stroller/pram would NOT have been a good choice for the boat trip. Besides, you’ve got to make the visit interesting for them as well as yourselves.
- From the train station, stop by at the tourist info to get a lowdown on what to see that day in case they have something truly unique happening that day (hopefully they have better maps and city guides than the one we got which was so small it was useless).
- Then head to the old historic center passing through one of the two bridges (Pont des Bergues or Pont de la Machine). Midway point of either one is a good place to have a snack and take in the views.
- Then head to Saint Peter’s Cathedral and pay a small fee (4 Swiss Francs/3.7 euros/4 USD) that lets you climb to the top two towers (north and south) and get a panoramic view of the city, including the famous water fountain “Jet d’Eau“, and the surrounding mountains. Remember, this is the center of the Reformation movement that shook the Western Christian world 500 years ago. Spend some time in the watchtower and wait for the bells to ring.
- Next, head to the English Garden on the waterfront. Check out the iconic outdoor clock made with flowers that vary according to the season, IF you are into that kind of stuff. Our boys looked at it and before I could come up with some B.S.tories. . . they were gone to elsewhere. . . “to the BOATS!”, they cried out with glee!
- And so, to the yellow taxi-boat ride we went. . . Head to the Eaux-Vives port on the eastside of the lakeshore. Take the “M2” to the other side. Then, take the “M3” to Port Noir and later the “M4” to De-Chateaubriand for the Mon Repos Park. The boats were scheduled to depart every 30 minutes. So, there was time to check out what else was going on near the ports.
That’s a full day. If you have a second day, don’t forget to check out CERN (we have separate post and video). And if you have a third day, you can take a bus and a cable car to Mont-Saleve for a panoramic viewpoint of the whole city and the surrounding mountains where you can also do a bit of trekking/hiking.
REMEMBER, GENEVA is the home to the United Nations Headquarters in Europe as well as International big International organizations such as the Red Cross and International Red Crescent among many other things. It is also the center of the excellent and exquisite Swiss watches (we missed that part, not that we can afford any, not even the famous Swiss Army knife). There’s also a one-hour, self-guided tour with 10 stops on the important landmarks of the Reformation Movement. MAKE SURE to adjust your itinerary accordingly, if you are into that kind of stuff, that is.
That’s it. Thanks for stopping by. Remember to SUBSCRIBE and CHECK OUT these family-friendly videos in Switzerland.
NEXT stop: CERN! Then down to France we go!