Usually a seven hour layover isn’t exactly ideal, but a few months ago I was thrilled for the chance to spend a summer afternoon in Geneva, Switzerland between Swiss Air flights. Leaving the airport on a stop over can be nerve-wracking – especially when traveling internationally – but Geneva’s quick and easy public transportation can offer a wealth of memorable experiences on an otherwise uneventful layover.
Geneva Airport is only 4 km from the city. The trains are frequent and reliable so public transit is an easy choice. You can even get a free ticket (valid for 80 minutes) from the Unireso machine in the baggage claim area. From the airport it’s less than 10 minutes to Cornavin Station, which is centrally located and within walking distance to several great spots to check out. There are luggage storage lockers on the ground floor of Cornavin Station (4 CHF for a few hours) and a Migros grocery store near the main exit. Fyi, Migros has a big selection of prepared meals, sandwiches, snacks, etc. A great option for a picnic in one of Geneva’s lovely public spaces.
Leaving the station we headed down Rue Mont Blanc toward the lake, passing the ornate Neo-Gothic Brunswick Monument and smelling the flowers blooming in Square des Alpes.
Once near the lake the incredible Jet D’eau dominates everything…it’s hard to take your eyes away from this massive jet of water sprouting over 400 feet into the air. The water shoots straight up to its peak height with enormous pressure, then spills back down to the surface of the water. It sounds simple but is actually very striking. It’s a must see in Geneva and very hard to miss. We even saw it from the plane approaching the city!
It would be easy to spend hours relaxing in one of the lakeside cafes watching the boats and swans, but we continued across Pont du Mont Blanc into the Old Town -Vieille Ville. The famous flower clock is also on this route. A tribute to the city’s famous watchmakers, this 1950’s era landscaped display is a functioning clock whose floral design changes seasonally. Very interesting! Continuing uphill we window shopped the luxury retailers like Fendi, Herve Leger and Chanel and stared in awe at the stunning architecture.
Vieille Ville is absolutley breathtaking. Like a quintessential delightful European neighborhood full of Neo-Classical architecture, medieval stone fountains, colourful flowers in window boxes and perfect little cobblestone side streets to wander through. When I turned a corner and saw the pretty Carrousel de la Madeleine it felt like I was in a classic European dream.
There are numerous sites to check out in this neighborhood, but St. Pierre Cathedral is one of the main attractions. Perhaps best known as the home church of Reformationist John Calvin, this cathedral partially dates back to 1160. If you are willing to brave the endless narrow stairs to the north and south towers, you’re rewarded with amazing panoramic views of the city. I took about a million pictures!
There are plenty of cafes in this neighborhood and we stopped for drinks at one on Place du Molard. The beer and Henniez were expensive, but the atmosphere and people watching were priceless. Families with exceptionally dressed children, tourists, international diplomats, and chic ladies walking fluffy dogs in a setting straight out of a storybook. It was so much better than wasting hours in uncomfortable airport seats.
On our way back towards Cornavin Station we browsed a book shop and perfumerie, thinking about how nice it would be to spend a few days exploring town. We stopped to listen to a street musician playing sax, and stretched out our last moments having lunch at another sidewalk cafe near Square de la Chantepoulet…and of course sampled plenty of Swiss chocolate.
We caught the train back to the airport approx 2 hours and 15 minutes before our next flight and that had us at our gate in plenty of time. When we first arrived in Geneva, it took exactly an hour from the plane landing to getting to Cornavin Station (considering we only had carry on bags and didn’t have to collect any luggage). This gave us about 4 hours in Geneva on a 7 hour layover. Short but very sweet! Obviously there are many weather/airport issues that could make fast transit into the city difficult, but whenever possible even a brief glimpse at Swiss beauty is worth it. It certainly left me wanting to see more of Geneva someday.