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Geneva is a little lakeside gem. The city proper, with views of Lac Léman and Mont Blanc (the highest peak of the Alps), is incredibly scenic and quite compact—making walking the most enjoyable and efficient way to get around. Call a cab or ask your hotel to coordinate a car service from the airport, which is less than four miles from downtown, and spend your day experiencing the delights of the city.
9 a.m.: Start your morning with a brisk walk around the lake. Stop by the Cottage Café, a cozy restaurant situated in the Square des Alpes in what used to be a gardener’s cottage, for a pastry and coffee to go. Head north on the lakeside path to Parc de La Perle du Lac and take a few laps while taking in the idyllic views before heading back toward the city center. Or, if you’re up for it, keep heading northwest to the Parc de l’Ariana, on which sits the Palais des Nations, the world headquarters of the United Nations. Take a tour or check out one of the many museums in the area, then catch a cab back downtown.
11:30 a.m.: Back on foot, head across the Pont des Bergues to see the statue of Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, then check in to L.RAPHAEL’s Temple of Beauty for a treatment or two. The seven-story flagship spa’s offerings range from private yoga or electro-muscle stimulation exercise to facial and body oxygen treatments delivered with the brand’s proprietary technology. Afterward, take some time to relax on the patio with an espresso or fresh-pressed juice.
2 p.m.: Window (or actual) shop down the infamous shopping street Rue du Rhône as you make your way to lunch. Visit the trendy Peruvian spot ALMA for ceviche and other tapas, or, if the mood strikes, try the local cuisine—Lac Léman whitefish, Swiss beef, regional cheese fondue—at the historic Restaurant les Armures. Then spend your afternoon exploring the city’s Vieille Ville (old town) district: Take an hour or more to visit the St. Pierre Cathedral—home to John Calvin, the leader of the Protestant Reformation—and climb up to the Banc de la Treille for stunning views of the city and its surrounding mountains. It’s the perfect place to people watch.
5 p.m.: Wind your way through the old town and stop at the Patek Philippe Musuem to immerse yourself in the history of one of the world’s most luxurious Swiss watchmakers. The museum, which showcases watches dating back to the sixteenth century and houses an extensive library on “time and time measurement,” offers public and private tours. If watches aren’t your thing (although they should be, if you’re in Geneva), head in the opposite direction to visit the city’s largest museum, the Museum of Art and History.
7 p.m.: After a busy day, enjoy a quiet dinner at one of Geneva’s many notable restaurants. Try Chez Philippe, an upscale steakhouse with an industrial design located on the Rue du Rhône. Ask for a table in the upstairs loft for a view into the bustling kitchen or of the extensive wine racks, both housed behind floor-to-ceiling glass doors and windows. In the mood for Thai? Patara, located within the historic Beau-Rivage hotel, an American Express Fine Hotel & Resort property, serves up authentic Thai food (chefs are trained in Bangkok and can only work at Patara after spending at least five years there) in a relaxed yet refined setting.
9 p.m.: Take in the lit-up Jet d’Eau fountain in the lake as you stroll across the bridge. Stop and have a nightcap at a bar on the Rue du Rhône. Sit outside at Arthur’s if the weather permits, or at the Riverside Café. Or get a bit higher and enjoy the views of the city from Rooftop 42. Head back to your hotel for a glass of wine and a bubble bath. The Beau-Rivage Genève, which opened in 1865, feels truly luxurious and modern while maintaining its history and classic décor (and has Jacuzzi tubs). Be sure to book a lakeview room or, better yet, the Sissi Terrace Suite, dedicated to the Empress of Austria, who was a guest at the hotel when she was assassinated in 1898.
It’s easy to assume Geneva is a spot for luxury shopping and international diplomats, but the city has more to offer in terms of food, culture, recreation, and nature—enough to stay for even longer than 24 hours.