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Geneva’s fame as a city is centred on its crucial role in international diplomacy, mostly focused in the United Nations and its many sister organisations. However, its spectacular setting on Lake Geneva, its historic Old Town, landmark St Peter’s Cathedral, quaint Quartier des Grottes and many museums and parks make the city a fine destinations for history buffs and those who love exploring the fascinating back-streets of famous conurbations. Switzerland’s obsessive efficiency makes getting about by public transport a joy but, if freedom to roam when and where you please is your obsession, car rental is the answer.
Who to Book With
A wide choice of car hire options can be found at Geneva’s international airport and in the city itself, with trusted international companies such as Advantage, Hertz, Avis, Sixt, National, Europcar and Budget all represented. Obviously, the city is a major visitor hub, with booking well in advance online the best way to make sure of a suitable vehicle at a price which suits your pocket.
Best Time to Go
Mild winters, warm summers and Geneva’s proximity to favourite Alpine ski resorts ensure all-year round enthusiasm for the city as a holiday destination. Summer swims in the lake from its public beaches are refreshing, and the world-renowned Crans-Montana and Verbier ski resorts are two hour’s drive away. Spring on the high pastures is a dream of a season, and autumn, although wetter than the rest of the year, is bracing and crisp.
Need to Know Essentials
The following documents must be shown when collecting your vehicle:
- A valid UK or EU photo driving license or International Driving Permit
- Your passport or other alternative photo ID
- The credit card used for the online booking
- A printed rental confirmation and receipt if available
Roads in Switzerland are beautifully maintained, clean and give great driving, but most of Geneva’s cobbled Old Town streets are off limits for cars. In the rest of the city, street and car park parking is well signposted, reasonably priced and not over-used. Switzerland drives on the right, front and rear seat belts are obligatory and drink-driving levels are below those in the UK – so just don’t drink if you’re driving. Radar traps are everywhere, with motorway speed limits set at 120kph, open roads at 80kph and urban roads at 50kph. On-the-spot fines are common. Garages and post offices sell the vignette stickers required for motorway driving here, with fines for those who forget. Snow chains must be carried in winter and warning triangles are also compulsory, with winter tyres strongly advised.
The Swiss are known for their rigid efficiency and transportation options in and around Geneva run as and when they should as well as being comfortable and clean. Public transport options include buses, trams, trolleybuses, rail services, taxis and boat travel between lakeside towns.
Swiss Federal Railways runs local routes and international trains linked to the European high-speed routes as well as a direct airport link, all centred on Geneva Rail Station. Major Swiss and French cities are covered, and local services are frequent. Tickets for most routes can be purchased online, but train travel is expensive here.
TPG buses, trams and trolleybuses are the cheapest forms of public transport, with short journeys costing around €1 and trips of one hour costing €3. €8 gets you a day pass valid on all Geneva’s public transport networks and the city’s public transport is free to use for visitors staying in Geneva hotels.
Finding a taxi in Geneva shouldn’t be a problem as there are 60 taxi ranks around the downtown district, but the popularity of the service is such that booking ahead by phone is recommended. Registered taxi drivers are legally required to speak English, and the main service provider here, Taxi Phone, gives a 24/7 service with cabs able to be booked online in advance. Taxis, like most other conveniences in Geneva, are expensive.
Surrounded by the Swiss Alps and with Mont Blanc’s high peak visible from the city, almost every drive you take will be scenic in the extreme. From the roads winding around the borders of the huge lake itself to the steep climbs to the high pastures, everywhere you turn there are glorious views.
Geneva to Montreux - This takes you along the lakeshore and through rolling hills towards the French border, with a stop in Lausanne, the cultural heart of Switzerland. This city, nestling below the Swiss Alps, boasts traditional heritage buildings, a lovely lakeside harbour and quaint cobbled streets. From Lausanne, the road winds past Vevey and on to Montreux with its lakeside Chateau de Chillon, one of Switzerland’s best-known landmarks.
Lake Geneva’s south shore - For a mini grand tour taking in Switzerland, France and Italy, this is the best route to France and head for the D902 running south to Thonon les Bains and the steep climb to Chamonix at the foot of soaring Mont Blanc. Take the 11kms Mont Blanc tunnel under the mountain, emerging into Italy’s fabulously lovely Aosta valley. If time isn’t a problem, the beauty and cultural heritage of northern Italy is spread out before you, with the Mediterranean coastline and Genoa just four hours’ drive away.
Annecy - For a short car journey and a great day exploring a breathtakingly pretty French border town, drive for around 45 minutes from Geneva on the A41 fast road and you’ll arrive in Annecy. Set on crystal-clear Annecy Lake, the town’s charming old buildings will delight you and, if you are visiting early in October, you’ll catch the ancient, annual festival celebrating the bringing down of the cattle from the high Alpine pastures for wintering outside the town. The herds are dressed with flowers, traditional dress is worn by the townspeople, and the festival has been celebrated for centuries.