Geneva Introduction Walking Tour, Geneva

Geneva Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Geneva

The city of Geneva enjoys picturesque location at the southern tip of the expansive Lac Léman (aka Lake Geneva), surrounded by the Alps and Jura mountains, including the dramatic Mont Blanc peak.

The city was mentioned for the first time in Latin texts, by Caesar, with the spelling Genava, derived probably from the Celtic genawa- or genu- ("bend, knee"), in the sense of a bending river or estuary. It was an Allobrogian border town, fortified against the Helvetii tribe, when the Romans took it in 121 BC. The town became Christian under the Late Roman Empire, and acquired its first bishop in the 5th century, having been connected to the Bishopric of Vienne in the 4th.

After 1400 medieval county of Geneva became the Genevois province of Savoy (albeit not extending to the city proper, until the reformation of the seat of the Bishop of Geneva). In the Middle Ages, Geneva was ruled by a count under the Holy Roman Empire until the late 14th century, when it was granted a charter giving it a high degree of self-governance. In the first half of the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation reached the city, causing religious strife, during which Savoy rule was thrown off and Geneva allied itself with the Swiss Confederacy.

In 1541, with Protestantism on the rise, John Calvin, the Protestant Reformer and proponent of Calvinism, became the spiritual leader of the city and established the Republic of Geneva. By the 18th century, Geneva had come under the influence of Catholic France, which cultivated the city as its own. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, on 1 June 1814, Geneva was admitted to the Swiss Confederation. The French influence, however, is still widespread here, from the language to gastronomy and more.

Geneva flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries, becoming the seat of many international organizations, such as the Headquarters of Europe’s United Nations and the Red Cross, and a global hub for diplomacy and banking.

Today mostly known as the city of watches and jewelry making, Geneva boasts of number of notable landmarks, such as the famous Jet D’eau, the Flower Clock, to mention but a few. To acquaint yourself with these and other attractions of Geneva, take this self-guided tour.
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Geneva Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Geneva Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Switzerland » Geneva (See other walking tours in Geneva)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: john
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Place du Bourg-de-Four (Bourg-de-Four Square)
  • Mur des Réformateurs (Reformation Wall)
  • Cathédrale de St. Pierre (Saint Peter Cathedral)
  • Old Arsenal (Ancien Arsenal)
  • Hôtel de Ville (Geneva Town Hall)
  • Place du Molard (Molard Square and Tower)
  • Rue du Rhône (Rhone Street)
  • Horloge Fleurie (Flower Clock)
  • Jardin Anglais (English Garden)
  • Jet d'Eau (Water-Jet)
Place du Bourg-de-Four (Bourg-de-Four Square)

1) Place du Bourg-de-Four (Bourg-de-Four Square) (must see)

"Place du Bourg-de-Four" is the French translation for the Latin term "Forum of the Burgundians." The reference is also to the Castle of Gomdebaud, king of the Burgundians, who died in 516. From its beginnings, the square has been a venue for markets and fairs. Today it is also a tourist magnet.

Unlike most city squares having a large open space, the Bourg-du-Four is shaped more like an hour-glass. The north side, dominated by the Palace of Justice, ultimately divides into Fountain Street (Rue de la Fontaine) and Verdaine Street (Rue Verdaine). Between these two is the Lutheran Church.

The south side looks more like a city square. The fountain and surrounding buildings form a harmonious grouping, bordering a small, tree-lined promenade and a minute square ("placette") at the start of the Town Hall Street (Rue de l'Hotel-de-Ville).

From the marble fountain, looking east, one can see the Palace of Justice (Palais de Justice). Facing the police station is Saint Peter's Cathedral, the largest church in Geneva. Around the square are gelaterias, cafes, book shops, galleries, bars and bistros. Once a cattle market, the square now offers high-end shopping.

Another point of interest is the Passage des Degres-de-Poules ("Chicken Coop Walkway"), a narrow passage on the north side. It is a staircase of 67 steps leading up to Saint Peter's Cathedral. It is a bit wider than two chickens walking abreast.
Mur des Réformateurs (Reformation Wall)

2) Mur des Réformateurs (Reformation Wall) (must see)

Inaugurated in 1909, the Reformation Wall celebrates persons and events of the Protestant Reformation using bas-reliefs. On the grounds of the University of Geneva, the Reformation Wall marks the 400th anniversary of French reformer John Calvin's birth and the 350th anniversary of Calvin's founding of the University.

The wall is built into the Old City walls, emphasizing the role the city and its fortifications played in the drama of the Reformation. The monument was the result of a worldwide competition. Seventy-one designs were submitted. Four Swiss architects were picked: Charles Dubois, Alphonse Laverrier, Eugene Monod, and Jean Taillens.

Due to the close connections to Protestantism, the individuals most prominently depicted on the Wall were Calvinists; however, key figures in other theologies are also included. The sculptures were created by French artists Paul Landowski and Henri Bouchard. At the center of the monument stand four statues, each over 16 feet tall, representing the prominent figures of Calvinism: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and Kohn Knox. They wear scholastic robes and carry small bibles.

On the left of the group are three 10-foot figures of Fredrick Willam of Brandenburg, Willam the Silent, and Gaspard de Coligny. On the right are the figures of Roger Williams, Oliver Cromwell, and Stephen Bocskai. A motto declares in Latin: "After darkness, light."
Cathédrale de St. Pierre (Saint Peter Cathedral)

3) Cathédrale de St. Pierre (Saint Peter Cathedral) (must see)

The locale of the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Geneva has been the site of a cathedral and the seat of a bishop since the 4th century. The present cathedral was the work of the Prince-Bishop of the diocese, Arducius de Faucigny, in 1160. It was begun in the Gothic style, and there have been some changes since then.

The Cathedral of Saint Peter combines styles with a Neo-Classical Roman temple portico adjoined to a high-steepled Gothic edifice with a tall mullioned window. In 1535 French theologian John Calvin and the Reformation arrived in Geneva. Calvin adopted the cathedral as his home church, ushering in an age of architectural iconoclasm.

The cathedral was mostly stripped. The altars, all of the statues, and most paintings were destroyed or removed. The pulpit and some paintings were spared. The interior is spacious and plain, illuminated by hanging chandeliers. There are rows of benches and a few chapels. The aisles hold tombstones of 15th and 16th-century church dignitaries.

At the highest point of the Old Town, there is a stunning panorama for visitors hardy enough to brave the 157 steps of the north tower. The cathedral is often a venue for concerts. There is an archeological site in the crypt with artifacts of a 4th-century basilica. The 14th-century Chapel of the Maccabees should not be missed.

An enormous pipe organ is situated above the main entrance. It has the appearance of a red and gold crown. Loudspeakers are installed to magnify the already sonorous sound. If that is not enough, another, smaller organ is in the front on the left side. John Calvin's triangular stool is still next to the pulpit.

On the north side of the cathedral is the International Museum of the Reformation. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. A five-minute walk away is the Museum of Art and History. It has historical artifacts from the cathedral and the Saint Peter altarpiece painted by German artist Konrad Witz.

The Tower clock strikes every hour, followed by a tune on the glockenspiel, sometimes it's the Swiss National Anthem.
Old Arsenal (Ancien Arsenal)

4) Old Arsenal (Ancien Arsenal)

The Old Arsenal (French: Ancien Arsenal) is a former militarily installation in the heart of Geneva's Old Town, located just a stone's throw from the Town Hall. Back in the day, it was used for storing arms and gun powder, but today serves a more peaceful function, housing the State Archives.

The building’s architecture, resembling a fortified mansion with five cannons set to defend the city against the attackers, recalls Geneva's distant warlike past. Under the Romans, this site was an open-air market, and was covered only in the early 15th century. In 1588, arcades were added, upon which a granary was built that was eventually transformed into a military depot, between 1720 and 1877.

Presently, underneath these arcades is a compact artillery museum with a collection of five period cannons, similar to those used to defend ramparts of the city, plus three colorful, battle-themed mosaics depicting key periods in the local history, namely: the arrival of Julius Caesar in 58 BC; the Fairs of the Middle Ages; and the reception of Huguenot refugees after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

Also, each year on December 11 or the closest weekend, visitors to the Old Arsenal can treat themselves to some vegetable soup served here in commemorative bowls during the historic Escalade festival, celebrating the ill-fated attempt to conquer the Protestant city of Geneva by the Catholic Duchy of Savoy in 1602-1603.
Hôtel de Ville (Geneva Town Hall)

5) Hôtel de Ville (Geneva Town Hall)

For over 500 years, Geneva’s Town Hall has been at the heart of local and even international political life. As the seat of the government of the Canton and the Republic of Geneva, this place has witnessed a number of events of great historic importance.

In 1864, the building’s Alabama Room saw the signing of the very first Geneva Convention, the founding act of the International Red Cross. Also, in 1872 it was here that the international arbitration court ended a long-standing conflict between the United States of America and Great Britain.

The 16th century building boasts three stories of neoclassical design, with a large courtyard and a huge paved ramp. The ramp is a unique cobbled spiral staircase built between 1555 and 1578 enclosed within a square tower, allowing direct access to the upper floors on horseback. Today, visitors can walk up in their forefathers' “hoof-steps” only on foot!
Place du Molard (Molard Square and Tower)

6) Place du Molard (Molard Square and Tower)

Once described as Geneva's “economic lung, urban matrix, and political arena”, Molard Square is one of the city's oldest commercial areas since the 16th century. The first mention of it as a port dates back to 1271. The word "molard" is the Latin for levee of earth and probably refers to a riprap, a dyke, that used to protect the port. In 1309, the first hard hall was built in the area, making it a commercial and customs port.

In the 16th century, the area around Molard became an economic center of the city fitted with warehouses, customs and foreign exchange offices, hotels, numerous craft shops, public writers and notary benches, printers, etc. Eventually, there appeared a fish and poultry market with new halls established in 1690.

At the center of the square is the Molard Tower (aka Clock Tower) which is a remnant of the defensive wall that used to protect the port of Molard in the Middle Ages. In 1906 it was adorned with a painted frieze taken from the demolished house of Rolle. The frieze features the coats of arms of the key actors in the Reformation history and a sculpture, called “Geneva city of Refuge”. Some find the male character depicted on the sculpture to bear a striking resemblance to Vladimir Lenin, although there is no proof that the author used Lenin as a model.

In addition to that, the square hosts a myriad of small boutiques and big brand stores, plus a number of excellent souvenir shops. Twice a week, Molard Square transforms into an open-air flea market organized by local authorities.
Rue du Rhône (Rhone Street)

7) Rue du Rhône (Rhone Street)

Rhone Street is one of the best-known shopping lanes in downtown Geneva. However up until the 15th century the area where Rhone Street is today was still the shore of Lake Geneva. Historically, this street was a gathering spot for horse-dealers and a place for fodder warehouses. It gradually took its current form in the 18th century, and was extended further east from the riverside in the middle of the 19th century.

Today, Rhone Street is a shopper's paradise. If you're a shopaholic, your eyes will sparkle in this bevy of temptations, featuring practically all the known luxury brands, vying with one another in elegance and style. Shopping addicts will find all their dreams come true at Rhone Street, as the local retailers are committed to fulfilling all your longings for luxury, be it watches, fashion or jewelry, handmade chocolate or whatever else you may discover (or rediscover) in what has given Geneva its reputation. Nowhere else will you find such a dense concentration of prestige!

You'll need at least half a day to resist this! And if you're craving for a break while shopping, come and admire the Malbuisson Clock, its chime and mechanical procession, which scrolls by every hour.

Albeit ultimately posh, this shopping street does have some sales taking place here also. So, if lucky, you can grab a bargain in one or more of the local stores.
Horloge Fleurie (Flower Clock)

8) Horloge Fleurie (Flower Clock) (must see)

As the mother of high-end watches, Geneva has long been recognised worldwide for its watchmaking tradition. In tribute to this tradition and in dedication to nature, the Flower Clock was installed on the western side of English Garden in Geneva in 1955.

Measuring 5 meters (16 ft) in diameter, with the second hand being 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) long, it took some 6,500 flowering plants and shrubs to create the clock face. Geneva's Flower Clock remained the world's largest outdoor clock made of flowers until 2005, when it lost premiership to a 15-metre (49-ft) counterpart in Tehran, Iran.

Being in service for over half a century, the acclaimed Swiss clock has never stopped nor been out of order. What's also interesting is that it always looks different, being made of various flowers which bloom at different times during the year. The plants are changed according to season thus bringing in a new set of colors each time, making the Flower Clock truly unique. The entire mosaic is produced and maintained in a natural way without use of chemicals.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Jardin Anglais (English Garden)

9) Jardin Anglais (English Garden)

Spread over 25,430 square meters of land, the English Garden is a spacious urban park, one of the greenest in Geneva. Originally built in 1855, it was modeled on traditional English landscape design. In 1863, the park had its form drastically changed to a trapezoid following the construction of the nearby Mont Blanc bridge.

Whilst an attraction in its own right, the English Garden is also home to several notable landmarks, such as the National Monument, the world-famous Flower Clock, the bronze Four Seasons Fountain, several pavilions and a coffee house.

The latter, called "The Gossips", is a great place to relax in the middle of the Garden and, as its name suggests, exchange some gossips. Another local attraction is the Geneve Boat. This boat was made famous when, on September 10th 1898, the Austrian Empress Sissi, after being stabbed in the heart by an Italian anarchist, ran to catch him and collapsed on the deck only to die an hour later. The boat is now a welfare association, offering counselling and free meals to the people in need; tourists are also welcome to hop on for a lunch or dinner.

The three busts found in the Garden celebrate the great Swiss painters, Alexandre Calame and François Diday, as well as sculptor Auguste Rodo de Niederhausen.

From mid-July to mid-August, the English Garden serves as one of the hosts of the annual summer Geneva Festival.

The Garden is also home to several hundred-year-old trees, like a ginkgo planted in 1863 and a purple beech planted in 1895 for the National Exhibition. A giant cedar, a majestic sequoia, a large-flowered magnolia, horse chestnut trees, a tulip tree and other species complete the enchantment of the site. The entire green space of the park is managed ecologically, without any chemicals.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Jet d'Eau (Water-Jet)

10) Jet d'Eau (Water-Jet) (must see)

The Water-Jet is a large fountain in Geneva, and one of the city's most famous landmarks.

The first Water-Jet was installed in 1886 at a site a little further downstream from its present location and was used as a safety valve for a hydraulic power network. The installation was soon recognized for its aesthetic value so in 1891 it was moved to its present location to celebrate the Federal Gymnastics Festival and the 600th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation. The Water-Jet you see today was installed in 1951 in a partially submerged pumping station.

Nowadays it is regarded as one of the largest fountains in the world. It is visible throughout the city as well as from as high as 10 km (33,000 ft) in the air. Five hundred liters (132 gallons) of water per second are jetted to an altitude of 140 meters (459 feet). The water leaves the nozzle at a speed of 200 km/h (124 mph). When in operation, at any given moment there are about 7,000 liters (1849 gallons) of water shooting upwards.

The fountain can be reached via a stone jetty from the left bank of the lake. Unsuspecting visitors to the fountain may be surprised to find themselves drenched after a slight change in the wind direction.

Since 2003, the fountain has been operated during the day all year round, except for frosty or particularly windy weather. It also operates in the evenings between spring and autumn, when it is lit by a set of 21 lights.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Geneva, Switzerland

Create Your Own Walk in Geneva

Create Your Own Walk in Geneva

Creating your own self-guided walk in Geneva is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Architectural Jewels

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Geneva, a city renowned for its diplomatic prowess and picturesque landscapes, boasts an array of architectural jewels. The remarkable medieval and more contemporary structures such as Geneva Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville), Saint Peter Cathedral (Cathedrale de Saint-Pierre), and Schtroumph Buildings, showing a mix of French and German influences, have captivated both locals and tourists for decades.
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Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Historical Churches

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Best Swiss Watch Shops Tour

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Chocolate Tour

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