In Geneva, a 48-hour window could never be enough time to fully experience the masterful city. Though it is an international political and banking hub, the city itself is very walkable and confined. Given it borders Lake Geneva and is surrounded by the Alps and Jura Mountains, the best way to see the city is to be outdoors.
There are a number of high-end hotels in Geneva, so finding a place to rest after all of the sightseeing is relatively simple — most places even have views of the lake, including the sophisticated Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Mandarin Oriental, Geneva that’s located along the Rhône River near the city’s heart.
But even beyond exquisite accommodations, the metropolis is filled with pastry shops, cultural attractions and fine restaurants to help ensure two days of Swiss bliss.
Mandarin Oriental, Geneva provides sumptuous in-room breakfasts but there’s nothing like being in the thick of things to gauge the palpable energy of Geneva. Therefore, after your bags have been stored — if you’ve reserved one of the Mandarin Rooms, prepare for an internal struggle as one part of you will insist on staying around to ogle the Rhône River vista — start with coffee at Pougnier, an address with decadent pastries on the Place du Bourg-de-Four in Geneva’s Old Town. Buildings here date back to the 1500s, but before that the area was a Roman forum and then a cattle market.
At the northern side of the square is a narrow staircase leading up to St. Peter’s Cathedral, which offers panoramic views of the city from its north and south towers once you climb up the narrow twisty staircases. Each tower offers a different glimpse of the city. It was here that John Calvin preached reformation ideology in the 16th century.
Visit the colorful Chapelle des Macchabées, a side chapel with 15th-century angel frescoes, a boisterous contrast to the strict architectural interpretation of the cathedral.
From there, wander towards the lake and the city’s 15-foot diameter flower clock inside Jardin Anglais. You can also peek inside the boutiques along Rue du Rhone, one of Geneva’s fashionable shopping streets.
For lunch, the historic Le 49 Rhone is one of the few fully preserved bistros in the city, dating back to the 1920s.
After you’ve tried the wild cod and a bit of bubbly, head back towards Parc des Bastions, which offers a charming combination of formal gardens, outdoor chess and historic buildings. The main attraction here is the Mur de la Réformation, a 328-foot long relief paying tribute to Protestant reformers such as John Calvin, John Knox, Theodore Beza and William Farel. Their 16-foot stances tower over a reflecting pool.
From there, it is a 15-minute tram ride to Carouge, an 18th-century “suburb” of Geneva that’s now filled with artisans, boutique shops, trendy bars and dining.
For a cocktail or glass of local wine, the comfortable and convivial Qu’importe offers plenty of Swiss and European offerings. Sitting beside the fireplace in winter or on the sidewalk in summer is best.
Take a short walk to Au Vieux Carouge for traditional Swiss fondue. Many places offer formal fondue dining, but the authentic experience is found at this compact spot with tables crammed together and staff busily running around you. Yes, you will want to sample the traditional cheese fondue but there are many seasoned varieties worth trying, too, especially the tomato cheese fondue poured over boiled potatoes.
Opt for breakfast in your room or visit La Riviera by Mandarin Oriental, an eatery on the first floor of the hotel that serves contemporary style, open-air windows and menu items reminiscent of the South of France.
After your meal, walk along Geneva’s glamorous lakefront, Quai du Mont-Blanc, where you can see stately buildings, snow-capped Mont Blanc and endless views of the iconic Jet d’Eau fountain.
Venture 10 minutes from the hotel to hop on a boat ride departing from Geneve Mont-Blanc to ride to Nyon, roughly an hour away. As you relax on board, you’ll take in views of the United Nations building, Bellerive Castle, the Alps and parts of France. In Nyon, visit Chateau de Prangins, home of the Swiss National Museum, to get a surprising dose of historical context to this country.
Upon your return to Geneva, stop at Cottage Café located near the boat ramp. Situated inside the Square des Alpes, a small park along the lakefront, the gentle surprise of a café has a Bohemian vibe that floats in the air like the smell of its tapas and coffee.
Heading back toward the hotel, stop by Stettler Chocolates, founded in 1947 by Paul Stettler, and try the traditional Pavés de Genève (cubed pieces of chocolate truffle dusted with cocoa powder).
As you continue along Quai du Mont-Blanc, a number of shops will remind you of Swiss watchmaking. Answer the call by visiting Audemars Piguet, located inside Four-Star Grand Hotel Kempinski Geneva, and Vacheron Constantin located on the Pont de l’Île, the little island in the middle of the river facing Mandarin Oriental, Geneva.
End with dinner at the Bistrot du Boeuf Rouge, an establishment that’s full of charm and elegant Lyonnaise dishes like Chateaubriand, a thick cut of tenderloin. It’s located along Geneva’s vibrant and non-traditional Pâquis quarter.