Zurich or Geneva: Which City is Better to Visit?

When it comes to planning a European trip and preferring to see cities rather than hiking the Alps, these two options – Zurich and Geneva – are among the most talked-about. My recommendation would always be to visit the Swiss Alps, as they are without a doubt the crown jewel of Switzerland. However, not everyone is eager nor intends to visit those mountains.

In terms of population, Zurich and Geneva are Switzerland’s two biggest cities. These two cities are both well-known around the world. They are among Switzerland’s liveliest, busiest cities, full of restaurants, hotels, and tourists from around the world. However, if you were to decide which city to visit in Switzerland, which would you choose? Would you pick the German-speaking city of Zurich? Or the French-speaking city of Geneva? 

In this article, we will examine Zurich and Geneva in order to determine which city you should visit during your visit to Switzerland. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in. Is it better to visit Zurich or Geneva, Switzerland?  

Cities: Zurich vs. Geneva

Zurich City – Switzerland’s Financial Hub

Image by Eugene Kim on flickr

Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city and primary financial center. It has plenty of quiet, green spaces amidst historical monuments, a charming old town, a lake, and a river. Zurich offers a lot to visitors, including museums, trips to the mountains, gardens, a zoo, shopping, and more.

Zurich is located in north-central Switzerland. It is also the country’s hub for rail, road, and air traffic. Its main railway station is the busiest and largest in the country. If you are coming from abroad, you are likely to go through Zurich instead of Geneva.

Geneva City – An International City

Image of UN Geneva by Edwin Surbeck from Pixabay

Zurich’s counterpart on the French side of Switzerland is Geneva. On the shores of Lake Geneva, it is the second-most populous country in Switzerland and the most populous in the French-speaking part of the country. 

A global city, Geneva is home to numerous international organizations such as the United Nations and the Red Cross. The city is also a major financial center, ranking fifth in Europe after London, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Luxembourg. 

Key differences: Zurich vs. Geneva

The key differences are as follows:

ZurichGeneva
Population (2015): approx. 1,300,000Population: approx. 580,000
Lake: Zurich (or Zürichsee)Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman)
Elevation: 408 mElevation: 375 m
Language: German, Swiss-German (dialect)Language: French
Switzerland’s most populous citySwitzerland’s second most populous city
World’s 7th most livable cityWorld’s 8th most livable city

Zurich or Geneva: Which City is Better to Visit?

I think visiting either place will be a good experience as both have plenty of hotels, restaurants, museums, and things to do. Zurich will have a fast, efficient, and business-like feel due to its importance as a financial center. On the other hand, Geneva will be similar but with a more international flavor. Zurich is more of a Swiss-German city, while Geneva is a world city.

Zurich is better to visit compared to Geneva for families with children (to visit Zurich Zoo or Technorama for example). The city is also ideal for young, active adults looking for adventure. If you intend to visit Graubünden or the Bernese Oberland later, Zurich will also be a more convenient option logistically.

Geneva will be a better choice compared to Zurich for visitors and couples looking to relax. It boasts a lovely, relaxing setting on Lake Geneva, close to Vevey and Montreux, as well as spectacular views of the Swiss Alps. The Lavaux Wine Terraces, for example, is also a good place to visit while in Geneva. Moreover, if you plan to visit the Valais region afterward, Geneva will be a better choice.

My opinion: In terms of which city is more beautiful, I believe they are comparable. In my opinion, the Lake Geneva region is more beautiful than the Lake Zurich region due to its fantastic views of the Alps. For a similar view, you will need to travel around an hour or two from Zurich to either Lucerne or Glarus. As for the city itself, I really like the beauty, efficiency, and cleanliness that I can rely on in Zurich

Advantages of Zurich

  • Ideal for families with young children. You can visit the Zurich Zoo or Technorama.
  • Ideal for young adults who are into adventure, shopping and night life. You can head to Interlaken for more active pursuits later.
  • Ideal for those who will proceed to Graubünden (Engadine region, Flims Laax Falera, Arosa Lenzerheide, Davos).
  • Ideal for those will proceed to the Jungfrau Region (Wengen, Mürren, Grindelwald).

Advantages of Geneva

  • Ideal for couples looking to relax. Montreux 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 prefer a more International City.

Things to do: Zurich vs. Geneva

Things to do in Zurich

Image by Jörg Vieli from Pixabay

While there are many things to do and places to visit in Zurich, we have provided some of the highlights of this city below:

  • Visit the Grossmünster and Frauenmünster Churches – two beautiful churches located right in the middle of Zurich. These are both easily accessible on foot from the train station. The churches have been witness to Zurich’s reformation period from the middle ages onwards.
  • Cruise the Limmat River or Lake Zurich – In case you want to reminisce about times past, there are paddle steamers that cruise the Lake Zurich. Alternatively, you can take a short cruise on the Limmat River to go from one side of the city to the other.
  • Take the Polybahn up to the Polyterasse – To get good views of the city of Zurich, simply take the Polybahn up to the Polyterasse near the University of Zurich and ETH. Alternatively, if you prefer a higher view, you can take the train up to Uetliberg. Upon reaching the top, you are able to see a panoramic view of Greater Zurich. Both are very easy to get to, and can be accomplished in a few hours even if you don’t have much time.
  • Explore the museums – Zurich has a number of museums, some of which are free to visit.  However, I believe that the Landesmuseum is one of the best museums in the city. It is a castle-like museum located directly in front of Zurich train station. Several permanent exhibits provide insight into Swiss culture. They also have changing collections. It is definitely worth a visit. Another interesting museum is the WOW museum, in which you can see illusions. If you want to check out the science museum, head over to Technorama. While it’s not too close to the city center, it’s still worth a visit.
  • Shopping – We have to mention shopping. Check out the Bahnhofstrasse which is the main street in Zurich. Here you can find watch shops, clothes, chocolates, and more.

Things to do in Geneva

Image of Lake Geneva 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:

  • Visit Saint Peter’s Cathedral – built from 1160 to 1252, this beautiful cathedral was built and used by John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant reformation. It is regarded as one of Geneva’s most important landmarks.
  • Get to know Geneva’s Old Town – Geneva’s Old Town is its historic center. Not only will you find Saint Peter’s Cathedral, but also the Bastion Park, the Reformation Wall, the Place du Bourg-de-Four, The Treille Promenade, and more.
  • It is indeed possible to stroll along Lake Geneva or cruise on it – the largest lake in Switzerland is indeed a place where you can swim in summer, cruise on the boat, or simply stroll nearby. Visit one of Geneva’s landmarks – the water jet called Jet d’Eau. Bains des Pâquis is also nearby. 
  • Explore the museums – Like Zurich, Geneva also has its fair share of museums. Maison Tavel stands out as an example of medieval civil architecture. There is also the Ariana Museum, which has ancient artifacts, glass, and ceramics. Alternatively, if you are interested in learning more about watches, there is a Patek Philippe Museum. For those who want to explore a bit further, or for those with young children, there is the Aquatis Aquarium-Vivarium in Lausanne.
  • 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.
  • Discover the United Nations Building – The Palace of Nations is definitely worth a visit if you want to discover one of the most important diplomatic centers in the world. Tours are available upon request. The nearby Ariana Park is also worth a visit.

Summary

Which city you choose will be determined by your needs and wants, as I mentioned. It is generally easier to reach and worth traveling to Zurich first because of its role as an international hub. Geneva may look more relaxing and scenic, but Zurich still can be a worthwhile stopover before going to either the Jungfrau region in the Bernese Oberland or the Bernina region in the Engadine.

If you have already been to Zurich and the other areas mentioned, you can also travel via Geneva. In addition to Geneva, you can also explore the nearby towns of Lausanne, Vevey, and Montreux. And you will definitely be closer to the high alpine setting of Valais. 

I hope we were able to assist you in making your decision. No matter what you decide, we hope you enjoy your stay in Switzerland.

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