10 Top-Rated Day Trips from Geneva
Few cities have such a beautiful setting as Geneva, on the shores of Lake Geneva and surrounded by Alpine peaks. The possibilities for day trips include the lakeside towns and cities, where you'll find outstanding museums and romantic old lanes to stroll, and even one of Europe's most famous castles rising right out of the lake. You can ride mountain railroads and cable cars for spectacular views, visit alpine gardens, relax in a spa, or ski and return for dinner in Geneva.
Many of these day-trip destinations can be reached by the boats that ply Lake Geneva on a regular schedule. You can cruise around the lake and enjoy the scenery, hopping off the boat right in the heart of lakeside towns and cities. There is even a separate steamer stop at Chateau Chillon. As Geneva sits almost at the international border with France, it's also easy to visit the French Alps and traditional French villages.
1 Scenic Lake Tour
Depart from any one of the four quays along the lakefront for a boat tour of Lake Geneva that reveals magnificent mountain views, lush green hillsides with picturesque stone villages, lakeside resorts lined with Belle Epoch hotels, and the famous Château de Chillon rising out of the water. You can leave the boat at any of these to explore, rejoining a later cruise or returning by train for a different set of views of the Swiss Riviera. At Montreux, you can board the narrow-gauge Rochers-de-Naye rack railway that climbs to 360-degree Alpine views. Eight of Lake Geneva Navigation Company's 20 boats are historic paddlewheelers, and on any you can choose a seat on the deck or in glass-walled salons.
2 Château de Chillon
The formidable walls of the 9th-century Château de Chillon rise directly from the waters of Lake Geneva in one of Europe's most dramatic settings for a castle. Its literary fame as the basis for Byron's The Prisoner of Chillon arises from a true story, and you can still see the ring in the wall where François de Bonivard was held. The Counts and Dukes of Savoy gave the castle its present form in the 13th century, but you can still explore the original foundations and cavernous underground vaults with massive pillars carved out of bedrock. Follow the well-marked tour route to see the entire castle complex, which includes upwards of 20 buildings. Costumed guides add to the experience of some rooms with stories that bring the castle to life.
Highlights are the kitchen, banqueting hall, Bernese Room, Heraldic Hall, the Duke's apartments, St. George's Chapel, and the Count's Great Hall with its splendid coffered ceiling and Gothic arches.
Address: Avenue de Chillon 21, Veytaux
3 Mont Saleve
On the French border south of Geneva, Mont Saleve is a limestone ridge that offers outstanding views of the lake and the Alps. Along with the views, you can enjoy hiking and rock climbing here, or simply take the six-minute cable car from Veyrier, at the French border, to an elevation of 1,143 meters. A short distance beyond Veyrier is the summer resort of Mornex, on the southern slopes of the Petit Salève. From the resort of Monnetier, in a cleft between the Petit and Grand Salève, it is a half-hour climb to the summit of the Petit-Salève. At 1.5 kilometers from the Monnetier, a road on the right leads to magnificent views of the Mont Blanc chain, Lake Geneva, and the Jura, as well as to a path (also about 30 minutes' climb) ascending to the Crêt de Grange-Tournier. At 1,308 meters, this is the highest point on the Grand Salève.
4 Chamonix and Mont Blanc
The small mountain village of Chamonix, over the border in France, is a 90-minute drive through the spectacular Arve Valley, with the snowcapped French Alps rising ahead. Chamonix sits at the foot of Mont Blanc, Western Europe's tallest peak at 4,800 meters altitude. For even better Alpine views, ride the cable car to the peak of Aiguille du Midi for a panorama that includes Mont Blanc and the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps. Its rocky summit has snow year-round and on a clear day, you can see the Matterhorn.
A cog railway makes the scenic climb to Montenvers and the Mer de Glace, a "sea of ice," where you can visit ice caves, and a museum, where you can learn about the glacier and the building of the Montenvers railway. Although the main allure of Chamonix is its access to the Alps, the town itself is attractive, its streets lined with chalets, shops, and cafés, where you can sip hot chocolate and admire the scenery.
For sheer charm, not to mention its near-perfect setting beside a mountain-backed lake, it's hard to beat the French town of Annecy, about an hour's drive from Geneva. The Counts of Geneva made Annecy their home and headquarters in the early 1200s, and you can learn more about the town's history at the museum inside the Château d'Annecy, a restored castle that dominates the Vieille Ville (old town). But the best way to enjoy Annecy is simply to stroll its narrow streets and soak up the scenery of medieval houses that line its canals. Surrounded by canals is the Palais de l'Isle, a 12th-century fortress that was once a prison. Today, it vies with the graceful Lovers' Bridge as Annecy's favorite photo op.
While this city on the north shore of Lake Geneva is usually thought of as a center of business and commerce, which it most certainly is, Lausanne is also a beautiful city and an interesting place to visit. Its streets - and a trolley line - climb steeply from the steamer landing and shoreline promenade to the cathedral. This important medieval landmark has a 13th-century Apostles Doorway of painted stone sculptures and a glorious 13th-century stained glass rose window. Descend via the picturesque Escaliers du Marche, a long covered flight of steps, to Place de la Palud, where you'll find Lausanne's oldest fountain and an animated clock that re-enacts scenes from local history every hour. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings, the square and adjoining streets become a lively farmers market.
Along the lakeshore, a garden-edged promenade lined by grand Belle Epoch hotels connects the steamer landing and 12th-century castle of Château d'Ouchy with the Olympic Museum. Lausanne is the world headquarters of the Olympics. Other outstanding museums exhibit fine arts, art brut, and photography, as well as Lausanne's Roman past.
One of the prettiest towns on the lake, Vevey combines medieval buildings with Belle Epoch style and makes them seem right at home with each other. At its center is one of Europe's largest market squares, filled on Tuesday and Saturday mornings with local farmers, food producers, florists, and craftspeople. Vevey was the home of Charlie Chaplin, whose statue overlooks the lake. Nearby, its presence announced by a giant fork standing in the lake, is the excellent Alimentarium, an interactive museum of food history, sources, traditions, lore, and science.
Farther along the lakeside promenade are beautiful hotels from the late 1800s, the star of which is Hotel du Lac, made famous by the Booker prize-winning novel that was both set and written here. A castle at the edge of the lake contains a small museum. Vevey is known for both its dining and its shopping.
8 Montreux and the Rochers-de-Naye Railway
The lakeside city of Montreux rings with Belle Epoch grandeur, with its grand hotels, flower-studded terraces, and promenades along the water. Each summer in June and July Montreux hosts the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival. For a sense of the opulence of late 19th-century travel, step inside the grandest of the Swiss Riviera's grand hotels, the Montreux Palace, which is still the haunt of visiting celebrities.
For views of the lake from on high, as well as panoramic Alpine vistas, take the train to Glion, in the hills above town, and board the Glion-Rochers-de-Naye Railway for the scenic ride up to the mountain top of the Rochers de Naye. At the summit, if you can tear your eyes from the views in every direction, visit the marmot house, the small nature museum, and vertiginous La Rambertia Alpine gardens. In the winter, this becomes a center for Alpine skiing.
The name of this hilltop village is forever linked with that of the local cheese, and on a day trip here, you can watch this famous cheese being made and sample the real thing. An equally well-known local product is chocolate, and you can visit the nearby Broc chocolate factory on the way to Gruyeres. The village itself is postcard perfect, topped by a large medieval castle, Château de Gruyères. Exhibits inside reflect its eight centuries of history, and below is a formal garden.
From the first view of its medieval stone-paved lanes, well-preserved buildings, and flower-draped balconies, it's easy to see why Les Plus Beaux Villages de France named Yvoire one of France's most beautiful villages. The setting at the end of a small peninsula with the snow-covered Savoy Alps as a backdrop only enhances the scene. It's a town for wandering, stopping in cafés and shops to admire the work of local artisans.
For determined sightseers there is a museum of local history inside the 14th-century castle, Château d'Yvoire, and Le Jardin des Cinq Sens, a garden designed to appeal to all five senses. If you can, plan to travel at least one way by lake steamer, for the best views of Yvoire sitting along the lake with the Alps behind it.