Geneva vs. Montreux: Which is Better?

Geneva and Montreux are two of the most popular destinations along Lake Geneva and in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Whereas Geneva is a big, busy city, Montreux is a relaxed spa town.

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:

GenevaMontreux
Population: approx. 200,000Population: approx. 26,000
Switzerland’s second-most populous cityOne of Switzerland’s most important tourist destinations
Elevation: 375 mElevation: 396 m
Area: 15 km²Area: 33.41 km²
Highlights: Cathedral St-Pierre, Notre-Dame Church, Ariana Museum, Bains des Paquis, Maison TavelHighlights: Belle Époque Palaces, Old Town, Chillon Castle, Freddie Mercury’s Statue
Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman)Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman)
Canton: GenevaCanton: Vaud

Cities: Geneva vs. Montreux

Geneva

Image of UN Geneva by TouringSwitzerland.com

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

Image by Tesa Robbins from Pixabay

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

Fantastic Views of Geneva from the Tower by TouringSwitzerland.com

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. 
    • A standout is the Maison Tavel, which is an example of medieval civil architecture. 
    • You can also see ancient artifacts, glass, and ceramics at the Ariana Museum. You can also check out nearby Ariana Park.
    • If you’re into watches, you can visit the Patek Philippe Museum.  
  • 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

Image by 박 기호 from Pixabay

Montreux prides itself as a spa town with mild climate, blooming flowers, 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 – a beautiful house in Rue du Pont 32. Built back in 1592, the house is currently a cultural center with exhibits.
  • Montreux Museum – housed in a 17th century building in Rue de la Gare 40, the museum presents the history of Montreux
  • St. Vincent Church
  • Nice open-air markets
  • Chillon Castle – the 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.
  • 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.

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.

Image of Prangins Castle from wikimedia
  • 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. 

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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