Cultural guide to Geneva
Not just a pretty face, Geneva has a lot of culture to offer beyond its chocolate box scenery. To help you hop between the city’s sights, hire a car with easyCar.
The Swiss city doesn’t just have any old museums; it has some of the most unique museums in the world. CERN is home to one of the most complex scientific experiments ever made and then there’s the UN’s Grand Palais des Nations, with its army of flags, stood to attention outside.
It’s difficult to exist in Geneva without letting your mind wander to the grand decisions and (mostly) good deeds that are done here. Visit the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum where you can explore the history of humanitarian action. The exhibition explores three major themes – defending human dignity, restoring family links and reducing natural risks.
Wander from here towards the Palais des Nations, taking a slight detour via the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Unveiled in 2007, the inscription reads “My life is my message.”
Be one of the 100,000 people each year to visit the UN’s office at Geneva. Tours round the Palais des Nations are free and done in a variety of languages. See the famous ceiling in the The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Room, designed by Miquel Barcelo. The Spanish artist has created an abstract landscape of stalagmites, submerged in a storm of colour. He says the work represents a cave and the sea at once, in an “absolute union of opposites.”
While you’re here make sure to visit the hall of lost footsteps, a space so vast that the noise of footfall is lost. The work of another Spanish artist decorates the walls of The Council Chamber, where the end of the Gulf War was negotiated. José Maria Sert’s gold and sepia murals, depicting the progress of humankind through health, technology, freedom and peace are majestic in their grand statements about humanity.
Geneva’s ICT Discovery is the city’s newest museum, opening in 2009. This is the International Telecommunication Union’s headquarters and the building charts the evolution of technology. Enjoy the hands-on nature of the museum – see technology from the past and the future, and see what impact technology has had on people’s lives all around the world. Entrance is free.
Stick with the museum tour, moving away from the field of humanitarian action and diving headfirst into the world of physics. Take a free tour at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, to see the largest particle physic laboratory in the world. The most powerful and most complex particle collider ever built exists in a 27km tunnel, deep beneath Geneva. Try and grasp the concept of the Large Hadron Collider and ponder the mystery of the universe with your tour guide. Take your knowledge further with the permanent exhibitions.
Unlike the other museums which all sit within the Paquis Nations district, CERN is beyond the city centre. To get there by car, follow signs to the airport and then to St Genis, CERN is on your left. Full directions can be found on the CERN website.
For more cultural sightseeing, amble up to Geneva’s old town, a little climb above the lake. Explore the maze of pretty cobbled streets, until you stumble onto the Place du Bourg-de-Four. A quaint square, spotted with lines of umbrellas, where once a bustling Roman marketplace stood.
On the site of an ancient Roman temple stands Saint Peter’s Cathedral. Standing sternly over the city with its green spire lancing the sky, the building was originally built in a Romanesque style but today it is known for its neoclassical facade and its fusion of many different architectural styles.
In the grounds of Geneva University, find the city’s famous 100m reformation wall. Important protestant figures emerge out of the stone, telling the story of Martin Luther’s breakaway from the Catholic church and the following splintering of Catholic Europe.
Look for the motto of both the reformation and Geneva, along the wall: Post Tenebras Lux (Latin for “after darkness, light”).