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Which city--Geneva or Zurich?

I'm in early stages of planning my first and only European trip. Age 66, traveling alone, probably about 10 weeks, 13-14 cities. I like city things most--art, culture, history, churches, restaurants--but did want to sample some mountain scenery in Switzerland for a short time. I have no interest in hiking in the Alps, but the question is whether Geneva or Zurich is likely more interesting for someone with my tastes. I can make either of those two work with other destinations. I'll be taking the train and not driving anywhere, and am open to a few short excursions outside the city of choice providing I can take a train that doesn't look like it's going to fall off a cliff.

Any advice will be much appreciated.

Posted by
6642 posts

I've been to both twice. I think Geneva is much more interesting from history and culture standpoint. Zurich is OK, but very business/banking oriented. However you can find great scenic destinations easily reachable by train from either.

Posted by
3304 posts

I haven't been to Zurich, but I can add to the reasons for choosing Geneva. There are many other interesting towns along the lake, which can be visited by train or boat. I strongly recommend that you do the boat for at least one excursion. Attractions: Lausanne, Montreux (combine with a visit to Chateau de Chillon), a bit farther afield, Gruyere, Freiburg and Martigny. The latter two have small, but quite interesting museums of modern art, Espace Jean Tinguely in Freiburg and Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny.

Posted by
3336 posts

I give a third vote for Geneva - I was just there this summer and it is now one of my favorite cities in Europe. Someone might disagree with me but the vibe reminded me a little of San Francisco...I guess lots of money does that! There is so much to see from Geneva by train, listed by the previous reply, and you'll just love the views from the train of the lake and the alps if you head east - stunning! If you head past Montreux east into Valais, there are lots of nice little towns like Martigny and Sion that are well worth a visit. No cliffs either!

Posted by
150 posts

I can't speak for Zurich as I have never been there, but Geneva offers some very nice views of the mountains as it is pretty much at the foot of the northern end of the Alps.

Posted by
72 posts

Thanks, all, for such thoughtful replies. I really appreciate your sharing your experience.

Posted by
7205 posts

Just because you visit an alpine village doesn't mean you have to "hike". There's no place you'll ever see that equals the stunning beauty of Murren high up in the alps. I can't even count the number of times I've been there, and my most serious hike (other than the 15 minute walk from one end of town to the other) is a leisurely stroll down the paved path to Gimmelwald.

Don't dismiss alpine destinations just because you don't want to hike.

Posted by
5475 posts

I would respectfully suggest that if you're going to stay in the cities named, you might want to save time and money and omit Switzerland. By that, I mean that going to Luzerne and taking a boat ride to a mountain cable-car (zero hiking) of Rick Steves (or your ... ) choice would be a much more fulfilling "mountain" experience. (I'm intentionally omitting Rick's entrancement with the alpine villages even further south.)

As often noted here, weather is very variable in Switzerland. You run the risk of having a cloudy day followed by a cloudy morning, and having a whole short outing for naught.

I happen to love museums and city sights, so I'm not disparaging your stated interests. It's just that Switzerland is so expensive and such a detour that you might settle for something like a boat on Lake Konstanz, or the Rheinfall on the way to somewhere else. When you're in Germany and Austria, you'll have much easier to get-to cablecars with magnificent mountain views from the top.

Would that be enough for you?

Have you traveled a lot, but not to Europe? I'd encourage you to break 10 weeks into two 5-week trips, which is the longest time I've spent in Europe.

Posted by
3933 posts

We did visit Zurich...mind you, we only had a night and morning there before a flight, but do agree with others that it is def a more 'business' feel compared to our visit to Bern/Murren. Very clean...and for a Monday morning, there seemed to be not a soul around! Can't comment on Geneva, as we haven't been there. I would probably revisit Zurich again for a day, just to see if there is a heartbeat under that cold I'd prob do Geneva based on other suggestions...

Posted by
591 posts

Have been to both several times. If you only want to spend time in one Swiss city, then I'd choose.....Lucerne. It's much smaller than the other 2, has great views of the Alps, and has all the things you like the most. If you happen to fly into Zurich, you can take a train directly to Lucerne from the airport.

Posted by
11 posts

I agree with Geneva. Both cities are very expensive hotel-wise, but you can stay just on the other side of the Geneva airport, which is actually France, and the hotels are 40% less. Then, take a lake steamer on Lake Geneva or the train. Go all around the lake. You can stop in Lausanne, Cuilly, Montreaux, etc. The region is breathtaking.