Zurich or Geneva: Which City is Better to Visit?

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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 or 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?  

Overview: Zurich vs. Geneva

The key differences between Zurich and Geneva 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

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 TouringSwitzerland.com

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. 


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: I find Geneva and the region around Lake Geneva to be more beautiful than Zurich and its surroundings. In the surrounding area of Zurich, you tend to find mainly residential homes and apartments used by people working there. In contrast, Geneva and its surrounding area have a lot more touristic places to visit, such as Montreux, Lausanne, and Vevey. Furthermore, I also find the Lake Geneva region has better views of the Alps compared to Lake Zurich. For a similar view, you will need to travel around an hour or two from Zurich to either Lucerne or Glarus. Zurich does, however, tend to be the most convenient city to stay in since it is home to the country’s largest airport. The city of Zurich is also very cosmopolitan and offers many restaurants and hotels.

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 nightlife. 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 who 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 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 the 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

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 St. Pierre 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.

Hotels: Zurich or Geneva

With Zurich and Geneva being two of the biggest cities in the country, you’ll find hotels for every budget. These are the hotels we recommend.

Beau Rivage Hotel in Geneva by TouringSwitzerland.com

Hotels in Zurich

  • Baur au Lac (5-star) – This gorgeous hotel in the heart of Zurich has fantastic views of Lake Zurich and the Alps. It has two renowned restaurants, a fitness center, luxurious rooms, and excellent service.
  • Dolder Grand Hotel (5-star) – This fantastic hotel is located on the Zürichberg hill overlooking Zurich. Located next to a Cog Railway Station, Dolder Grand has 2 outstanding restaurants, an exclusive spa, fitness facilities, and superior service.
  • B2 Boutique Hotel (4-star) – One of the cool things about this hotel is its public thermal bath and spa, which features different swimming pools, a wellness area, and a steam bath, right in the heart of Zurich. In addition to that, it’s located in an old brewery.
  • Hotel Schweizerhof Zurich (4-star) – A short walk from Zurich’s main train station, this hotel is a great choice for people who want something stylish and convenient. Schweizerhof Zurich has noise-proof rooms, a great location, and free access to Holmes Place Fitness & Spa next door.
  • Motel One Zurich (3-star) – I’d highly recommend Motel One to anyone looking for something more inexpensive. Having stayed at Motel One Basel, I am 100% sure that the Motel One hotel in Zurich is just as nice, clean, and affordable. Plus, it’s incredibly close to the train station, Grossmünster, and the heart of the city.

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. 

Summary: Zurich or Geneva

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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