The weekend just gone has been highly unusual for our family: my husband was away visiting relatives and so the kids and I decided to plan a little adventure for ourselves. Alone, the three of us jetted off to Geneva, Switzerland!
I had travelled alone with the kids before, usually to go to Rome to visit my parents, but this was the first time I had ever brought them on a ‘real’ holiday abroad and I had some last minute doubts about it. The weather forecast, promising when we booked our tickets, was foreseeing incessant rain and cold weather for our entire weekend and I found that disheartening: we are used to rain, here in Dublin is just a normal state of affairs, but the confidence I had felt about entertaining the kids abroad in the sun deserted me when picturing ma and them in city I don’t know much about and in constant, wet conditions.
The moment you have non-refundable flights booked is not the time to have such doubts and so I cheered myself up and ‘Plan B- what to do in Geneva with kids when it rains’ in hand, I got the kids in their rain jackets and packed us up in a taxi to the airport!
My ‘whatever the weather attitude’ paid off: Geneva repaid me welcoming us to a beautiful, sunny, summer day and pulled all the stops to show us how beautiful and family friendly a city it is. While we missed dad, we had a wonderful weekend: Geneva is now, for me, a city break with kids I highly recommend.
One day in Geneva with kids: sunny day itinerary (Plan A)
We got to the Geneva dressed for the winter, but as soon as we got to the city centre, I realised my mistake: the sun was shining and the temperature was so mild that the kids wasted no time in getting undressed! In the space of few seconds, they were in their t-shirts, while I was not only roasting in my jumper and raincoat but also had my arms full of all their winter layers! I was never as happy as in that moment to be a light packer: my backpack was light enough and empty enough to contain all these extra bits and so, hands-free, and just a little but heavier, we headed into town.
On Lac Leman!
The most striking feature of the city of Geneva is its geographic location: the city is built along the banks of Lac Leman and is surrounded by the beautiful peaks of the Swiss and the French Alps. On a sunny day, the lake shines under the bright sky and acts as a magnet for locals and tourists alike. Plan A in action, I ditched the foreseen stop home to leave the bags and headed straight for the lake front!
The easiest way to reach the lake from the airport is to catch the train connecting the Geneva airport to Cornavin station, the main train station in town: before you leave the air terminal you can get a free ‘visit Geneva’ ticket, valid 1.30h and in 7 Swiss minutes, you are into town. From the station, you can then walk to the lake following Rue des Alpes or Rue de Mon Blanc which will bring you to the lake shores in a matter of minutes.
The lake is one of my favourite features about the city and the one I had gotten the kids excited about and the reaction they had when they first saw it was exactly what I had hoped for: ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ greeted the lake and its many vessels (what is with kids and means of transport?) and my son declared that it was ‘the biggest lake he had ever seen’ and, therefore, the best. I pondered if I should correct him and remind him that he saw Lake Ontario, but alone and outnumbered I thought it wiser to let this go and let him bask in his record-setting moment.
After admiring the many boats from the shore I deemed the weather good enough for a little excursion on the lake itself: I had read that Geneva’s public transport system includes some water taxis (they are called mouettes) that criss-cross the lake at regular times and following predetermined itineraries and so I headed to the nearby stop, ‘Paquis’. Here, three mouettes where docked and we took one that promised to bring us close to Geneva’s symbol, the big fountain of water towering over the lake (the jet d’eau)!
The boat ride was a hit: the mouettes are covered, but they have no windows and you sit very close to water level, getting breeze in your face as you speed across the lake. I thought it was a fabulous way to get around and the kids adored it: in less than ten minutes, we were on the opposite shore of the lake, admiring Geneva’s right bank from afar and beside the water fountains, that started working just as we arrived.
The jet d’eau is the world’s tallest water fountain and originally served the purpose of regulating the water pressure in the city’s pipes. Due to its impressive nature, however, it soon became a symbol of the city and the inhabitants are very fond of it. I am myself, partial to the jet d’eau: in its simplicity, I find it beautiful and strangely comforting, a presence you look out for and you feel thankful for whenever you spot it. If the wind is too strong or the weather doesn’t allow it to run safely, the jet stops and you never take it for granted!
Geneva’s left bank
The left side of Geneva is the part of town with the older quarters and, I believe, the most pleasant with kids. Unlike the north side, where the station and alternative quarters are, Geneva’s left side is full of parks and medieval streets and a real pleasure to wander through.
The Jardin Anglais
Along the lake, just at the end of the bridge, you find the beautiful Jardin Anglais: this is a beautiful garden just on the shores of the lake with a few attractions: a lovely cafe brings here a stylish after-work crowd and street performers act as a magnet for families with kids. I was really surpside bt the amunt of families around. I had always thought of Geneva as a city attracting mostly a young international crowd with temparary contracts at the UN, but the many young families proved me wrong: the number of prams, kids activities, and facilities for families is impressive and told me that the city that caters for its yonger ones really well.
The Jardin Anglais is also where Geneva’s famous flower clock is. The whole of Switzerland is famous for watchmaking skills so I took this clock as a beautiful way to showcase their ability: the clock is made of flowers and, of course, marks the time with Swiss precision!
Geneva’s little train
Here is also where the Little Train of Geneva has its main station. I read abuot this little train online and I knew straight away it would be a hit with my kids. It has the shape of a typical tourist train but there is something special about it: it only uses solar power to go and it is, therefore, a very green transport option!
The train chugs very slowly along the lake’s rive gauche and in about 20 minutes connects the jardin anglais with the parc des l’eaux vives, a big park further up the lake. It’s not a long stretch and an adult can easily walk this distance in a few minutes, but it is a really fun ride for the kids and a way to spend part of the afternoon having them contained and entertained. We got on at its main station and used our return ticket to decide where to stop: a place that really appealed to us was the baby plage, the children’s beach, so on our way back this is where we got off.
The little train is also a good opportunity to get a glimpse of the UN headquarters: they are on the opposite side of the lake and therefore not easy to visit if you only have one day, but the good PA train system points them out to you,explaining what each building hosts.
The baby plage, the children’s beach
The baby plage is a stretch of sandy coast, equipped to welcome babies and young children. Water buoys separate the part of the lake that is safe for kids from the open waters, where boats and water sports are practised and the beach is equipped with a lawn, a sandy area and an unusual but beautiful set of climbing equipment build under a massive shady tree. My kids were in heaven: I dropped my bag near one of the benches and let them roam between the beach and the frames. The beach is perfect for young kids and a favourite outing of local playschools. We shared the space with a small class of kids around 5 years of age and younger, and they all had a ball: swings, climbing frames, a high rope bridge connecting two big tree branches – it’s a mix between a playground and an adventure trail for little explorers and excellent also for parents because secluded and easy to patrol.
The little train follows a specific timetable which unfortunately did not match ou plans, so we decided to go back on foot: my daughter does not love to walk but the distance proved manageable – an ice cream bought just before departing and a stop at the vintage merry go round helped the short trek!
The old town
After an early start and such a long walk we were ready to head to our home for the night. I had hoped to be able to visit the old town, sitting just between the Jardin Anglais and where we were staying, but the kids were too tired for an extra walk and we had to let it go: if you are staying in Gevena for a full day, rather than an afternoon like we did, make sure you take the time to visit. The old town is really pretty and interesting and there are loads to keep the kids entertained including the reformation wall in Parc de Bastion, the big cathedral and a fantastic and free museum of the history of the city wth a reconstruction of old Geneva worth seeing (I was in geneva before and took notes for when i would be back with the kids!).
What to do in Geneva with kids when it rains: Plan B
Expecting incessant rain I had made a detailed plan about what to do with the kids in case the lake and parks were not accessible and came up with some alternative activities. Please note: unlike the rest of this post, this plan is drafted on the basis of research on the web and advice from friends rather than personal experience.
The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Mamco) is very family friendly and also offers tours that are specifically for families (on Sunday morning the family tours are offered in English as well). Official site here
The Natural History Museum: Another family friendly museum, devoted to the discovery animal species, earth sciences and the history of men. Many installations and reconstructions of different environments are designed with kids in mind, to give them a sense of what life around the planet and in different times must be like. The main emphasis is placed on local species of animals and plants but you have life-size specimens from all over the world including alligators and bears! Info, in French, here
The oldest house in Geneva, Maison Tavel: this is a museum I have visited during a previous trip to Geneva and one i thought the kids would love. It is the oldest house in town and it is perfect to get a glimpse of life in a different time. It develops over several floors, it is free and it contains, among other things, a 3D map of Geneva that shows what the city would have been in 1850, when still surrounded my its impressive fortifications. It is close to the main Geneva cathedral, also a beautiful building with an interesting history linked with the reformation, an important aspect of swiss culture and history
Transport: Geneva has a fantastic public transport system, efficient and family friendly. Kids under 6 are free and adult tickets can be bought at bus tops with change or credit/debit cards (widely accepted). Buses have small steps and while they didn’t seem to recline entirely, they were easily managed by the may buggies around and even in rush hour we always managed to get a seat – not something I am used to in Dublin or, even less, in my beloved hometown of Rome! If you are staying more than one day, consider getting the geneva card for a good discount on transport and attractions.
Food: Geneva will spoil you with food choices but be warned: prices are steep. We had eaten on the plane so we only stopped for a burger on the main street (McDonalds) but I looked at the price on the menus of several restaurants and mains would easily set you back 25 to 30 euro. The good thing is that many restaurants seemed to cater for kids with kids menus and /or smaller portions available. A good address I always find reliable is Le pain Quotidien and a friend also recommended a place in the old town called the spaghetti factory and an R de Famille
Accommodation. I have a friend in Geneva who kindly hosted us for the night and therefore I am not able to recommend tried and tested family friendly hotels, but her neighbourhood proved perfect for us and I highly recommend staying in the area if you can. She lives on the South Side of Geneva, just beside parc Alfred Bertrand and the area has many advantages including: easy connection to the train station and the city centre, possibility to walk to the lake crossing the old town (if with older kids), a fabulous park with playground nearby and a full array of shops and local restaurants that offer eat in and take out/delivery options: we ordered a pizza and were not disappointed: it really felt like holiday!
Disclaimer: this post contains an affiliate link, which means if you make a booking through it I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. My reviews of attractions and services in this post are unsolicited and unbiased and I received no compensation for them or any preferential treatment or discount: all opinions are, as always, my own.