Geneva vs Zurich: Which Swiss City to Visit?

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If you’re looking for a city break in Switzerland, it can be hard to decide whether Geneva vs Zurich is the right choice for you and your travel style.

Home to a plethora of picture-perfect lakes and majestic mountains, Switzerland boasts phenomenal natural beauty. Visitors can explore the terrain by hiking and soaking up the sun at the lakes during the summer or skiing and snowshoeing in winter.

The Swiss also have four different national languages – namely French, German, as well as Italian and Romansh – making for a diverse cultural experience for visitors.

Although neither are the nation’s capital, Zurich and Geneva are two of the most common destinations for visitors in Switzerland.

Choosing one or the other is sure to prove to be a difficult task, but luckily, if you’re contemplating Geneva or Zurich, we’ve got you covered with a detailed comparison. 

In general, Geneva can be a good choice for those looking for a lively, international city to visit that may be slightly more affordable. On the other hand, Zurich is great for those looking for a typically “Swiss” experience and who don’t mind splashing a bit of cash.


Situated at the southernmost tip of Lake Geneva, the city boasts picturesque views of the water jet and Mont Blanc and is surrounded by the Swiss Alps and Jura mountains.

It’s the most populous city of Switzerland’s French-speaking region, the Romandy region, and is generally known as the global hub for diplomacy. 

Jet D'Eau in Geneva
Jet D’Eau in Geneva


Being one of the largest cities in Switzerland, Geneva is home to its own international airport and it is relatively easy to reach the city directly from countless destinations across Europe. It is also well-connected by train throughout the country – you can check schedules here.

Geneva can also be used as a base to explore nearby attractions on a day trip such as to Montreaux, Mont Blanc, Lausanne or taking a cable car to Mont Salève.

One of the most important things to consider if you’re deciding between Geneva or Zurich is accessibility and ease of movement within the cities.

And unsurprisingly, Geneva offers excellent public transport to all visitors. Ranging from buses and trams to trains and even boats, you can travel to just about anywhere you like using Geneva public transport.

The city has made a concerted effort to ensure that transport options are accessible and there’s even a shuttle service that operates on Lake Geneva to allow transportation from one shore to another.

Best of all, visitors staying in rented-out accommodation options while in Geneva will receive a Geneva Transport Card free of charge. This covers public transport, including local buses, trains, trams and boats on the lake. Alternatively, if you’re staying with friends or family, you can purchase a UNIRESCO ticket that operates in the same way.

The most practical thing to do while spending time in Geneva, however, is to navigate the city on foot as much as possible – it’s only six square miles, after all. Then, depending on where you’re staying, you can use the public transport options listed above for further journeys.

If you’re out late enjoying the nightlife, bars and clubs, note that the bus and tram services generally run until midnight and start again at 6:00 AM. Therefore, it may be a good idea to get an Uber.

But other than that, there’s not really much need to use taxis, and it’s certainly not necessary to hire a car! Geneva’s public transport system is efficient, and the city is super safe, so take advantage of this. 

A Weekend In Geneva On A Budget
View from Chillon Castle in Montreux


When it comes to considering Zurich vs. Geneva based on affordability, the good news is that Geneva is considerably more affordable. Of course, Switzerland on the whole is a notoriously expensive country, but if you’re going to save a few bucks during your holiday, Geneva is the place to do it.

Eating out in Geneva can get pretty pricey, but if you’re aware of where you’re going, it’s possible to not break the bank. Meals will range from about 30 CHF (the Swiss Franc is roughly at parity with USD) at your most casual establishments to well over 100 CHF if you go somewhere really high-end.

Of course, it is essential on a visit to Geneva to indulge in some delicious fondue or raclette, you just need to ensure you budget for it.

Of course, the most cost-effective option will always be to buy groceries and prepare food for yourself, but it’s still plausible to eat out once or twice if you’d like to have a special experience. Booze, however, is pretty expensive, costing about 7 CHF for a beer – but it’s still cheaper than Zurich!

Overall, however, while Geneva is considerably cheaper than Zurich, it’s still one of the most expensive cities in Europe and while it’s totally worth visiting, you’ll need to make sure you plan accordingly.

Panoramic view of Geneva
Panoramic view of Geneva

Things to do in Geneva

The debate between Zurich or Geneva may very well come down to the type of things you want to see and do during your time in Switzerland. On the most basic level, Zurich is generally known as the more “Swiss” city, so to speak, while Geneva is renowned for its diversity.

So, it really comes down to preference, but here are some of the top things to do in the city of Geneva. If you plan on visiting a lot of attractions, consider purchasing a Geneva Pass for discounts to many places of interest.

Visit Lake Geneva

This shouldn’t come as a surprise but one of the must-see places in the city is its world-famous lake. Whether you’re visiting in summer or winter, this magnificent body of water is an iconic landmark in the city.

As you wander around the lake, you’ll come across a number of points of interest including the Jet D’Eau (Geneva Water Fountain), Jardin Anglais (English Gardens) and the Bains Des Pâquis (Outdoor Baths).

It is utterly breathtaking and the views of the mountains in the distance are exquisite. If you visit during warmer weather, you can even jump on a pedal boat or have a dip! The area surrounding the lake is also nice and vibey, making for a great place to walk around and get to know the city.

Go See the Temple De Saint-Pierre

Built during the 12th century, the Temple De Saint-Pierre boasts gorgeous Neoclassical architecture and just oozes history. The building is beautiful and is an absolute must when visiting Geneva.

Saint Pierre's Cathedral
Saint Pierre’s Cathedral

Wander the Cobbled Streets of Vielle Ville

Known as the city’s historic quarter and Geneva’s old town, Vielle Ville was once enclosed by walls. Today, it’s littered with fountains and cafes, and its history is palpable. In fact, it was the birthplace of famous philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

It is also home to several museums that might be of interest including the Patek Philipe Museum and The Art and History Museum.

Palais De Nations

Home to the second most important United Nations (UN) building in the world (after New York), Geneva’s current UN building dates back to the 1930s and was originally used as the headquarters for the League of Nations (the UN’s predecessor).

Palais des Nations building in Geneva
Palais des Nations building in Geneva

Where to Stay in Geneva

Hotel Astoria – Located close to Geneva’s central train station, this is a good mid-range hotel option in the city. They offer a range of private rooms suitable both for couples or single travellers and breakfast is included in the nightly rate. Click here to see their availability

Hotel D Geneva – This luxury hotel is a great choice for those looking for a high-end place to stay in this beautiful Swiss city. They have a range of modern rooms on offer and a great location for exploring Geneva. There is also an option to include breakfast in your nightly rate. Click here to see their availability

City Hostel Geneva – Those travelling solo or on a tight budget will love this centrally located hostel. They offer a range of dorms and private rooms, shared kitchen facilities and it is only a short walk to the train station. Click here to see their availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Geneva. 


While it’s known as the economic hub of Switzerland and the country’s largest city, Zurich has far more to offer than just its financial district. This large, German-speaking city boasts a combination of beautiful scenery, namely Lake Zurich, as well as a plethora of museums and other interesting sites.

If you’re deciding between Geneva or Zurich to visit and you’re particularly keen on experiencing typical Swiss culture, then Zurich is the place to go!

Old town of Zurich
The old town of Zurich


Like Geneva, Zurich is home to its own international airport with countless connections across Europe and further afield. You can also reach Zurich via rail from all over the country, including cities like Bern and Interlaken.

It ought to come as no surprise that since Zurich is seen as being very Swiss, the city’s transport system is nothing short of flawless. It’s efficient, effective and you don’t really get much better!

The best thing to do while in Zurich is to purchase a Zurich Card which will allow you to travel on all of the city’s major modes of transport – including buses, funicular railways, and cable cars. It’ll also get you free transport from the airport to the city centre which is an absolute score!

Essentially, with this card, you have unlimited access to second-class transport on the city network and you can purchase it online or at a ticket machine.

Within the city, however, if you’re not travelling far, the preferred mode of transport tends to be buses (which are included on the Zurich Card), but mostly travelling by foot.

Much like in Geneva, travelling after midnight immediately gets more expensive because you’re pretty much limited to taxis or Uber, and unfortunately, these services are far pricier in Zurich.

It’s certainly not worth renting a car in Zurich unless you want to travel all over the country on your own time. But even so, Switzerland’s public transport network is so efficient and so vast that you could travel all over the country via public transport with no trouble at all.

Overall, however, while transport is super reliable and accessible in both Geneva and Zurich when it comes to choosing between Zurich vs Geneva, the former does tend to be a little bit pricier, much like everything else in the city.  

Zurich's main train station
Zurich’s main train station


I’m sure it’s become pretty clear by now, but Zurich is not a cheap place, but it’s important to note that a lot of its reputation pertains to living expenses, so it’s not all relevant to tourists. That being said, however, there are still many ways to keep your costs down if you do decide to visit.

Again, the cheapest way to keep food costs down is to shop at grocery stores – that way, prices will be fairly similar to Geneva.

However, eating out in Zurich is quite a lot more expensive, and alcohol – ranging from domestic to imported booze – is also pricier, costing about 8 CHF a pop for a beer.

The best option would be to pop into a bottle shop and have a drink at home!

Beautiful Zurich
Walking around Lake Zurich

Things to do in Zurich

Visiting this densely populated Swiss city means having lots to do. Here are a few things you absolutely can’t miss out on when you’re in Zurich:

Take A Walk Alongside Lake Zurich

Unsurprisingly for the Swiss, Lake Zurich is an absolutely pristine body of water boasting a three-kilometre-long promenade, extending from Bellevue to Tiefenbrunnen.

You can gaze out at the yachts gliding across the surface. The water is known to be some of the cleanest in all of Europe, so if you’re visiting in summer, be sure to have a dip.

Visit Altstadt

Lying on both sides of the Limmat River, Altstadt is considered Zurich’s old town. It’s a gorgeous area to get lost in wandering, from one café to the next and seeing historic monuments, medieval churches, and quirky shops. If you want to learn more about the history, you can book a walking tour here.

Some of the main points of interest here include walking up to Lindenhof for views of the city, seeing the Grossmünster church, walking along Bahnhofstrasse or visiting one of the many museums such as the Beyer Clock and Watch Museum or The Swiss National Museum.


Check Out the Museum of Art

If you’re a fan of art and history, the Swiss Museum of Art will absolutely blow your mind. It’s home to pieces ranging from the 11th century to the 19th century, including some of the most famous Swiss art of all time.

Explore Zurich-West

Get a taste of Zurch’s serious side when you visit the western side of the city. This former industrial area used to be a hub for manufacturing up until the latter half of the 20th century but is now a hip neighbourhood with plenty of places to eat, drink and see.

Where to Stay in Zurich

Motel One Zürich – This 3-star hotel is an excellent option for those travelling to Zurich on a mid-range budget. They have a number of lovely rooms available, a hip on-site lounge bar and they even allow pets for those travelling with a furry friend. Click here to see their availability

Sorell Hotel St. Peter – Those after a bit of luxury during their trip to Zurich are sure to love this plush hotel. Boasting a number of luxe rooms and plenty of other amenities, it is also very centrally located close to everything this Swiss city has to offer. Click here to see their availability

HITrental Stauffacher Apartments – These apartments are a great choice for you if you’d like to have your own space in Zurich. They have a range of various-sized flats on offer, some with balconies, that are all fully furnished with everything you may need. Click here to see their availability.

Zurich Youth Hostel – An excellent choice for those sticking to a budget in Zurich, this centrally located hostel has a lot to offer. They have a range of both dorm beds and private rooms available and great common areas and self-catering facilities for guests to use. Click here to see their availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Zurich hotels!

View from Lindenhof
View from Lindenhof

Geneva or Zurich: The Verdict

Deciding between Geneva or Zurich for tourists is a tough one, no doubt about it. The cheaper destination is Geneva – not only are prices generally lower across the board, but it’s also easier to get free transport (depending on where you’re staying), and eating and drinking out is more cost-effective too. So, if you’re hoping to save some money while in Switzerland, Geneva is the place to go.

In terms of things to do in each city, however, there are loads to do in both Zurich and Geneva for tourists – both cities offer a mixture of outdoor sites as well as museums and cute districts.

The main difference, however, is that Geneva is generally best suited to visitors wanting to have more of an eclectic cultural experience, while Zurich is far more traditionally Swiss.

If you’re wanting an interesting cultural experience that’ll cost you a little less, Geneva’s the place for you. But if money isn’t your concern and you’d rather get a real feel for Swiss life, then I’d recommend Zurich.

Both Zurich and Geneva are incredible cities to visit with both offering you an opportunity to see a unique side of Switzerland.

Are you wondering whether to visit Zurich or Geneva? Have any questions about either city? Let us know in the comments!

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Lizzie is a writer for The World Was Here First. She loves travelling and discovering new places but also often finds herself returning to her favourite destinations. She has a particular affinity for Greece where she has visited countless islands and destinations on the mainland.

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