10+ Ideas For Awesome Day Trips from Geneva, Switzerland
Switzerland is a diverse and interesting country, made up of a confederation of independent cantons and boasting some of Europe’s most stunning natural beauty. It’s also relatively compact, so I’m sharing some of the best day trips from Geneva you should consider for your itinerary.
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Some general tips for travel in Switzerland
The country was founded in 1291 when three states (or cantons) united, and grew to the 26 encompassed today. Switzerland has four official languages—German, French, Italian, and Romansch, and so depending on what part you’re in you’ll hear different things. English is very widely spoken and understood though.
One of my biggest tips is to keep your itinerary flexible if you’re planning mountain excursions or one of the scenic train rides. The weather is unpredictable, and if it’s overcast or rainy you’ll have no visibility.
Tipping is not a big part of the culture in Switzerland, as waiters are paid decent salaries and law requires that all service charges be included in published prices. Many people do add a small tip, but it’s more like rounding up to the nearest five or ten francs rather than the 15-20% that Americans do. If you’re a large group, add a little more, and for a simple drink more like 50 cents or 1 franc.
Like many Europeans, the Swiss put a high value on speaking quietly in restaurants and on trains. Avoid loud conversations and talking on your phone in these places, on public transportation, in line at the bank, etc. It’s considered incredibly rude. Also, know some cars on trains are considered “silent zones”, with talking and cell phone use prohibited.
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The best day trips from Geneva
Lake Geneva (a.k.a. Lac Leman) is located in the southwest corner of the country, surrounded by Alps and lined with a variety of castles, museums, spas, resort towns, and vineyards. It’s kind of the Swiss Riviera. French is the predominant language here. Personally I’d skip Geneva itself, but there are tons of cute cities around (like delightful Lausanne).
No matter where you go in the area, make sure you take some time to walk along the shore of Lake Geneva, with swirls of beautiful greens, blues, and turquoises. The waters from glaciers in the French Alps create these vibrant colors, and combined with the deep blue waters of the Rhone River it creates a really cool marbled look.
I’ll go into detail below on several trips we took ourselves, and then I’ll outline a few at the end of the post that we didn’t get to do but I definitely wanted to.
Chateau Chillon (and nearby Yvoire)
The minute I saw a photo of Chateau Chillon, I knew it had to be on our itinerary. The medieval castle is perched on the shores of beautiful, moody Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) and is apparently the most-visited historical building in Switzerland. It’s an easy day trip from Geneva, about an hour’s drive from where we were staying.
We did a self-guided tour through with one shared audioguide between us, and enjoyed learning more about the history of the area. The castle’s dungeons were a pretty cool architectural feat, as they were carved directly into the castle’s rock base—probably my favorite part.
Honestly, one thing I realized on this trip was that, despite my love of European history, the area comprising Switzerland has been under my radar. And in addition to the history, the location can’t be beat…the castle has a gorgeous view of the mountains across the lake and cool mountainside town on either side.
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From Chateau Chillon we drove around the lake a bit, across the border into France, to have lunch at the tiny medieval town of Yvoire. The town itself is an on-foot experience only, no cars allowed.
We didn’t spend tons of time here (there’s not *that* much to do), but it had great views over Lake Geneva and I really loved the cool church, which has a bright silver spire, stainless steel and gold leaf so it shines brightly all of the time.
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We all know I’m a big food tourist, and one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of Switzerland is cheese—and specifically, FONDUE. And when I heard that there was an actual town named Gruyères from which the famous cheese gets its name and that is known for fondue, I had to give it a try.
I was worried that it would be a cheesy (ha, see what I did there??) tourist trap, but I was delighted to find a beautiful medieval hill town with gorgeous Alpine views. Granted, we visited in late March so it wasn’t peak season, but Gruyères was a pleasant surprise.
We didn’t do much shopping or poke around in the stores too much, but rather made a beeline for the outer edge of the town and the castle. You can walk around and enjoy amazing views on a clear day (which we had). The current castle dates back to the Middle Ages, though the spot was inhabited much further back.
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The region’s famed Moitié-Moitié fondue is made using two cheeses—Le Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeois (and wine), and we knew we had to try it while we were in town. In absolutely baffling news, traditionally they only serve boiled potatoes and a few gherkins (gross) with it.
Seriously, out of all the awesome things in the world that you can dip in melty cheese, that’s it! They took pity on us after we asked and brought some bread cubes out too. But we had a blast dipping and swirling that gooey cheese straight from the pot. This is a must if you’re in the area!
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Cailler Chocolate Factory
Besides cheese, what’s the other food that the Swiss are known for?? Chocolate, of course! We did a half-day trip from Geneva that was a one-two punch of calories…the cheese fondue of Gruyeres and the chocolate at Cailler.
Cailler was founded in the early 1800s in Vevey (on the shores of Lake Geneva), and is now a major player in the chocolate industry (owned by Nestle now). It’s definitely a Swiss institution and a great way to spend a couple hours.
We took the tour which walks you through the factory’s history as well as the chocolate-making process. Then you get to the good stuff…pretending to be a Cailler taster. I tried all 6-7 types they offered and then felt ill from the amount of sugar I’d consumed 🙂
I’ll be honest and say that Swiss chocolate (milk) isn’t my personal favorite as I’m a dark chocolate gal, but it’s an awesome experience!
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Luzern (or Lucerne)
Lucerne (or Luzern) is a beautiful ancient town located in central Switzerland on the banks of Lake Lucerne. It is super charming and actually ended up being my mom’s and my favorite part of our Switzerland adventure. You can do it as a day trip from Geneva, but I recommend an overnight if you’re able.
We had a little less than a day in the city and because of its size and walkability, were able to really see and do almost everything we wanted (minus a more involved trip up to Mount Rigi). The best way to enjoy it is on foot, strolling past the historic, brightly-colored houses and well-known medieval sights, and then exploring the surroundings by boat.
Probably the most recognizable thing in Luzern is the Kappellbrücke, the oldest wooden bridge in Europe and oldest surviving truss bridge in the world. Make sure you take the time to walk across it as well.
We enjoyed a quiet sunset reflecting of the beautiful old buildings, had a delicious dinner, and then in the morning walked over to see the Lion of Luzern. Probably the second-most famous thing to see in Luzern, the lion was carved in 1820 to remember over 700 Swiss soldiers who were massacred in the French Revolution.
The style of carving is just so…sad. It’s really emotionally and beautifully done, and I highly recommend making a stop to see him.
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Luzern is also surrounded by some of Switzerland’s most stunning mountain scenery in Mounts Pilatus, Rigi, and Stanserhorn—easily accessible by cableways, trains, and boats. If you have more time, it would make an amazing base for 3-7 days as you explore the mountains and lakes in the area.
If you have time, Luzern is just a short boat ride away from Mount Rigi, which can be accessed via the first cogwheel train in Europe, with gorgeous and dizzying views of Lake Lucerne and over two dozen Swiss cantons. I had REALLY wanted to, but it was already so late in the day that it just wasn’t possible.
So on a whim we bought a ticket and hopped on one of the last boats of the day, over to Vitznau. It was a glorious spring day, perfect for being out on the water. And the views from the boat were stunning! We didn’t do much in Vitznau, just wandered around a bit and then had a glass of wine by the water before catching the ferry back.
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Golden Pass Train
If you’re planning a trip to Switzerland, my guess is that one of the first things that will come up in your research is the “scenic” train trips. There are, I think, four different official ones, and I definitely knew I wanted to make one happen as a day trip from Geneva.
That made the Golden Pass train the most logical choice, given its route and proximity. I will say that it was way harder than I would have thought to actually figure out the route logistics and timing, but everything went perfectly once I did.
The scenery along the route is absolutely stunning, and changes pretty dramatically so you get a good sampling of bucolic Heidi-like pastures, crystal-clear mountain lakes, and craggy snow-capped Alpine peaks. One watch out though, if you’re *only* wanting to do it for the photos, you might reconsider because the glare from the windows is challenging.
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The first leg of the trip is from Luzern to Interlaken, and is your quintessential Swiss mountain and valley scenery. I particularly loved the gorgeous turquoise lakes you start seeing as you get close to Brienz.
From there, the scenery starts to shift to sharp mountain peaks, to crazily turquoise lakes, to cute little villages, and eventually the fancier French-feeling buildings around Lake Geneva.
We did ours “backwards”, from Luzern back into the Geneva area. Internet wisdom says that Zweisimmen to Montreaux is the best segment, but it actually wasn’t my favorite (which may have been due to time of day or time of year).
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Other Geneva day trips to consider (that I didn’t get to try)
This is the #1 day trip from Geneva that I really wanted to do and didn’t get to. You have a number of different famous and under-the-radar options around here for wineries, including the UNESCO World Heritage Vineyards in Vevey. You can visit by car, train, or as part of a boat cruise around Lake Geneva (MAN I wish I could have done this!!).
The vineyards here date back over 1,000 years, when the Italians brought the first grapes to Switzerland. One you should definitely look up is the massive Lavaux Vineyards (a UNESCO World Heritage site), then walk down to St. Saphorin or Rivaz which are lovely vineyard villages.
Montreux is a lovely expensive resort set along an expanse of Lake Geneva. Chateau Chillon is also here, so you can do a two-fer. You’ve got miles of lakeside walking paths, beautiful flowers and trees, and views of the Alps that never get old.
If you hit the timing right, they host the Montreux Jazz Festival in early July, the second largest annual one in the world (I was SO sad we weren’t here for this!).
The Romans founded Lausanne on the lakefront, but when Rome fell and the barbarians arrived, the people fled for the hills and ended up establishing what’s the Old Town today. Make sure to explore both the lakefront area and the twisty, steep Old Town if you visit!
Mountain explorations near Luzern
I mentioned this up in the Luzern section, but there are so many amazing options around here (depending on time of year and weather, of course). You have many options to get up into the Swiss mountains, from gondolas and cable cars to unique things like the CabriO (the world’s first open air cable car) and the world’s first cogwheel train up to Rigi Kulm.
Both Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus offer a lot, so look into a combination of ferries, trains, and hiking. If you love a little adrenaline, you might even look into paragliding here!
I already went into detail on the Golden Pass above, but there are a few other train trips you can look into (that are further away and so not a day trip). This blog post does a great job of outlining the different scenic train routes and also what to see along the way.
The Glacier Express is the world’s slowest “express” train and connects St. Moritz and Zermatt. The Bernina Express is on the opposite side of the country and goes between Chur and Lugano (including a bus portion). The Veralpen Express goes between Luzern and St. Gallen. And the Gotthard Panorama Express goes between Luzern and Lugano.
So there you have it—a ton of different options for day trips from Geneva! Whether you’re looking for history, culture, stunning scenery, thrilling adventure, food and wine, or just some place chill, this area of Switzerland has something for everyone.
Other European day trip adventures you’ll love:
- Exploring the Towns of the French Riviera
- Everything You Need To See & Do In Devon, England (UK)
- Blown Away By Norway’s Fjords: Norway In A Nutshell Tour
- A Day Trip to the Fairytale Castles of Sintra, Portugal
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