Are you planning on visiting the Lake Geneva region and want to know which is better? Geneva or Montreux? This article compares and contrasts Geneva and Montreux, two French-speaking places on Lake Geneva.
Overview: Geneva vs. Montreux
The key differences between Geneva and Montreux are as follows:
|Population: approx. 200,000
|Population: approx. 26,000
|Switzerland’s second-most populous city
|One of Switzerland’s most important tourist destinations
|Elevation: 375 m
|Elevation: 396 m
|Area: 15 km²
|Area: 33.41 km²
|Highlights: Cathedral St-Pierre, Notre-Dame Church, Ariana Museum, Bains des Paquis, Maison Tavel
|Highlights: Belle Époque Palaces, Old Town, Chillon Castle, Queen Studio Experience
|Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman)
|Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman)
Cities: Geneva vs. Montreux
Geneva is a global city in every sense, and soon after arriving here, you’ll hear people speaking languages from all over the world. On the shores of Lake Geneva, it is the second-most populous city in Switzerland and the most populous in the French-speaking part.
Thanks to its many international organizations, Geneva is a global city, a financial center, and a diplomatic hub. As home to the United Nations, Red Cross, World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, and many more, Geneva truly is an important city for diplomacy, international cooperation, and humanitarian engagement.
As a major financial center, Geneva ranks fifth in Europe after London, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Luxembourg. The Pictet Group, Bank Lombard Odier & Co., Union Bancaire Privée, Mirabaud Group, Bordier & Cie, Edmond de Rothschild Group, and One Swiss Bank are just a few banks with headquarters in Geneva.
Montreux is the most popular spa town on Lake Geneva with a relaxed, touristy feeling. Its mild climate and Riviera make it seem like miniature Cannes. It has a picturesque promenade along the lake dotted by Belle Époque hotels like Fairmont Le Montreux Palace and Hotel Eden Palace au Lac.
Another huge plus is the fantastic view of the Dents du Midi of Valais. Montreux was made popular by the novel Julie ou La Nouvelle Héloïse by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Other prominent visitors include Lord Byron, Mary Shelly, Igor Strawinsky, Edgar Wallace, and Vladimir Nabokov.
Montreux has an eight-kilometer-long riviera, proximity to the beautiful Chillon Castle, and a scenic train to the Rochers de Naye summit.
Montreux is home to one of the biggest jazz festivals in the world – the Montreux Jazz Festival. The festival has attracted famous musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Carlos Santana, Deep Purple, Etta James, Led Zeppelin, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Radiohead, Roberta Flack, Van Morrison, and many more. This is a busy time for music lovers, locals, and businesses alike.
Things to Do: Geneva vs. Montreux
Things to Do in Geneva
While there are many things to do and places to visit in Geneva, we have provided some of the highlights of this city below:
- Geneva’s Old Town – Geneva’s Old Town is its historic center. In addition to Saint Peter’s Cathedral, you’ll find Bastion Park, the Reformation Wall, the Place du Bourg-de-Four, the Treille Promenade, and more.
- United Nations Building – If you want to see one of the world’s most important diplomatic centers, the Palace of Nations is a must. There are tours available upon request.
- Jet d’Eau – Check out Geneva’s water jet, the Jet d’Eau. Bains des Pâquis is also nearby.
- St. Pierre Cathedral – The Cathedral was built between 1160 and 1252. It was used by John Calvin, one of the key figures of the Protestant Reformation. St. Pierre Cathedral is one of the most important landmarks in Geneva.
- Visit the museums – Geneva also has its fair share of museums.
- Lake Geneva – On top of all of that, you can stroll along Lake Geneva or cruise on it – the largest lake in Switzerland is indeed a place where you can swim in summer, cruise in a boat, or just stroll around.
- Enjoy a walk in one of the parks – The two parks worth mentioning are Parc de la Grange and Parc des Eaux-Vives. These parks have well-tended flower beds, and it’s always a pleasure to walk through them. Come see the flowers when they are blooming.
Things to Do in Montreux
Montreux prides itself as a spa town with a mild climate, blooming flowers, and an eight-kilometer-long riviera. Here are some ideas on what you can visit in Montreux aside from the lakeside promenade and marina:
- Old Town of Montreux – Ten minutes from the lakeside, the old town is a beautiful place for walks and is the start of the Chauderon Gorges path.
- Maison Visinand House – Located on Rue du Pont 32, the Maison Visinand House is a stunning building that dates back to 1592. Today, it serves as a cultural center with various exhibits for visitors to enjoy.
- Montreux Museum – The Montreux Museum, located at Rue de la Gare 40, is housed in a 17th-century building and showcases the history of Montreux.
- St. Vincent Church – Built in the neo-gothic style, the St. Vincent Church boasts exquisite stained glass windows.
- Chillon Castle – Chillon Castle is a romantic castle 2.5 kilometers away from Montreux. It was built by the house of Savoy and included in the Swiss Inventory of Cultural Property of National and Regional Significance.
- Rochers-de-Naye – You can take a cog railway ride from Montreux to reach the summit of Rochers de Naye, where you can delight in breathtaking panoramic vistas of Lake Geneva, the nearby Swiss Alps, and the cities of Montreux and Lausanne. If the weather is clear, you can even catch a glimpse of the Jura Mountains and the French Alps in the distance. The total travel time is around 49 minutes.
- Freddie Mercury’s Statue – along the promenade, the bronze statue is a popular photo subject for tourists. The band recorded music in this town during the 80s.
- Nice open-air markets
Day Trips Nearby: Geneva and Montreux
Geneva and Montreux are close to a lot of beautiful towns and mountains. You can actually visit a lot of these other places from either city.
Montreux is generally closer to the rest of Switzerland. You can get to most of the mountains and towns in Vaud and Valais faster from Montreux than from Geneva.
Geneva has better access to France than Montreux. Here are some nearby towns that you can visit from either one of the two.
- Nyon – this lovely lakeside town is about 25 kilometers northeast of Geneva; it’s actually part of the bigger Geneva metro area. This lovely town has a castle and the entire town itself is on the Swiss Heritage Inventory.
- Prangins – in this town, Château de Prangins is a great place to learn about the history of the country and its heritage. The town of Prangins recently received the Wakker Prize in 2020 for preserving and treasuring its architectural heritage.
- Vevey – is a beautiful town near Montreux that has lots of interesting museums such as the Alimentarium, Chaplin’s World, Museum of Fine Arts and Prints, the Swiss Museum of Games, and more.
- Lausanne – with its charming old town and fantastic views of Lake Geneva, also has a lot of historical buildings and museums to visit. Other places to visit in Lausanne are the Cathedral, Bellerive Plage, the Olympic Museum, Plateforme 10, and Aquatis Vivarium.
- Lutry – The Lutry Castle or Rôdeurs Castle, the Roman Catholic Church of Saint-Martin, the Swiss Reformed Church of Saint-Martin, and a Gothic facade house are just some of the historic places you can visit in Lutry. This whole region is also famous for being part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site: Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces.
Hotels: Geneva vs. Montreux
While Geneva has a greater variety of hotel options, Montreux also offers a variety of hotels with stunning lake views, suitable for a variety of budgets. Check out our Geneva and Montreux hotel recommendations below.
Hotels in Geneva
- Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva (5-star) – Set in a historic building from 1834, Four Seasons is one of the best hotels in Geneva. You can’t go wrong with this hotel with its elegant interiors, fine dining restaurant, indoor infinity pool, spa, business services, and multi-lingual concierge.
- Beau-Rivage Genève (5-star) – With its panoramic views of the lake and Mont Blanc, this elegant 5-star hotel is right on Lake Geneva. Cornavin Train Station is just a five-minute walk away. This hotel has a highly-rated French restaurant called Le Chat Botté. There is a 24-hour front desk, fitness center, concierge service, a business center, and more.
- Hotel Bristol (4-star superior) – Between Geneva’s train station and the lake, this 4-star superior hotel Hotel Bristol makes a great choice for tourists. This hotel has a wonderful spa area with saunas, a hot tub, and a hammam. Besides that, it’s got a great restaurant called Côté Square.
- citizenM Geneva (4-star) – citizenM Geneva is close to some main attractions, including St. Pierre Cathedral, Jet d’Eau, the Flower Clock, and Geneva Town Hall. The hotel has air-conditioned rooms, a restaurant, and a bar, too.
- Hotel Bernina Geneva (3-star) – Located opposite Geneva’s train station, the Hotel Bernina Geneva is a convenient 3-star superior hotel with clean, modern rooms.
- MEININGER Geneve Centre Charmilles (Hostel) – Although this hostel isn’t in the center of the city, it’s well connected, so you can easily get to all the sights. With 24-hour reception, free WiFi, luggage storage, a washing machine, a dryer, a kitchen, a bar, and a game zone, you’ve got everything you need for your stay in Geneva.
Hotels in Montreux
- Fairmont Le Montreux Palace (5-star) – Fairmont Le Montreux Palace is located on the shores of Lake Geneva. It offers magnificent views of the lake and the Alps, dining spaces, fitness facilities, swimming pools, and a large garden.
- Montreux Grand Rue – Swiss Hotel Apartments (5-star apartments) – These spacious apartments in the heart of Montreux offer gorgeous rooms, lake views, a terrace, and a fully equipped kitchen.
- JETTY Boutique Hotel (4-star) – A picturesque, newly established beachfront boutique hotel featuring breathtaking lake vistas, a garden, and a fantastic restaurant, tailor-made for those who want rest and relaxation.
- Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic, Autograph Collection (4-star) – With its proximity to Montreux Train Station, this Belle-Époque hotel is ideal for GoldenPass passengers. Hotel amenities include elegant and air-conditioned rooms with a balcony or terrace, restaurant, bar, terrace, winter garden, fitness room, business corner, and laundry services.
- Marché 28 Guesthouse (4-star) – A centrally located gem in Montreux offering spacious suites at an excellent price point. Adorned with tasteful decor, I encourage you to book it fast due to its limited room availability.
Should you visit Geneva or Montreux?
Let’s get back to the question: should you visit Geneva or Montreux? Visiting either place will be great, as they both have lots of hotels, restaurants, museums, and things to do. Moreover, both have picturesque old towns, promenades along lakes, gardens, and shopping areas.
In my opinion, if you’re visiting Switzerland and want to see other Swiss places, Montreux is the better choice, either as a base or a day trip. It is closer to the rest of Switzerland compared to Geneva. There are many beautiful towns near Montreux.
I would only recommend going to Geneva if you were going to France before or after or if you were visiting with an international group. Montreux is the better choice for everyone else, whether you’re a couple on their honeymoon, a family with young children, or an older couple who just wants to relax.
The two cities are comparable in price, so I wouldn’t really use this as a comparison point.
Advantages of Visiting Geneva
- Ideal for an international group looking to visit shops, museums, and restaurants. Geneva is a compact city with more cosmopolitan things to do.
- Ideal for those who wish to visit France before or after Geneva. Closer to the French Alps.
- Ideal for those who come in via Geneva Airport for practical reasons.
Advantages of Visiting Montreux
- Ideal for couples looking to relax. It is a well-known spa resort and the Lavaux Vineyards are always pleasant to visit.
- Ideal for those who will proceed to Valais later (Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Crans-Montana, Grimentz-Zinal).
- Ideal for those who wish to visit Switzerland before or after Montreux. Closer to the Swiss Alps.
- Ideal for families with young children. You can visit the Chillon Castle, Aquatis Aquarium, or the Charlie Chaplin Museum among others.
Summary: Geneva vs. Montreux
Choosing a destination depends on your wants and needs. Geneva and Montreux are only 60-80 minutes away by train, so you can see both cities in one day. Your time will be very limited if you decide to see both, but if you only want to see a few spots, that might be fine. I still recommend spending at least one day in either place.
Although Geneva is more international and cosmopolitan, Montreux is just as awesome. With lots to do for all ages, it’s a gorgeous, relaxing spa town.
Between Geneva and Montreux, I don’t have a favorite. To sum it up, I think that those who need more action should go to Geneva, and those who want more peace should go to Montreux.
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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.