Absolutely no way. It’s an insult to any major city or country to say you can ‘do it’ in a day or even just ‘do it’ at all. But can you fly into Geneva from the UK and do some heavy duty sightseeing and experiencing and then fly out all within 12 hours? Yes you can.
I’m a big fan of British Airways. I follow them on Twitter so when I read they were launching cheap day return flights to 6 European cities for under £100 I sat up. Dublin, Edinburgh, Rome, Munich, Vienna and Geneva are the first 6 of these test day returns. The downside is that at the moment they are only available from Heathrow. Good for me as I live not far away. The upside is…BA.
So last Saturday, I put it to the test and flew out for a day trip to Geneva. Just what could I get done in how much time and at what cost?
BA’s cheap day returns are only available on the weekend. It’s hand baggage only of course. I took the first flight to Geneva from Terminal 5 (the 4th departure of the entire day) at 06:40. The flight was around 1hr 20mins so was on the ground in Geneva around 9am local time. No baggage to reclaim so headed for the exit. TIP ONE: do your research. Found out from Trip Advisor that EVERYONE who lands in Geneva gets a free 1hr travel pass into the city centre. I did my research and was able to help other new arrivals who hadn’t. A ticket machine is stood next to the exit from the baggage reclaim. Press the button. Get your free pass et voila.
TIP: Google or consult Trip Advisor before you go.
I’ve done a fair bit of first time travelling to European cities this year to make comparisons. I did find Geneva wanting in terms of clear directions for travellers but if you’ve got any sense and logic you’ll find your way.
So off into Geneva. Follow the signs to the buses and look for the No. 5 (usually parked outside the exit from the Terminal). Don’t expect the driver to open the door for you. Figure it out and you’ll open it yourself. Don’t expect him to look at the ticket you show him on entering. No-one pays. It’s all free. For an hour.
TIP: don’t throw away the boarding pass from your flight. You may need it to prove you are a new arrival by bus ticket inspectors.
You won’t need an hour to get into a Geneva. I got off the bus at the ‘Nations’ stop. Having done a Google plus asking a sleeping Swiss sat next to me I knew this was the stop for the European HQ of the United Nations. Why is this a place to see? Well look, the Geneva Convention on human rights was brokered here. 160 international organisations are headquartered in this district, in major world crises Geneva is never far from the headlines and the world’s decision makers plus….they have some lovely fountains you can run through and get soaked in.
Onwards from the UN, I decided to walk into town. As ever I have a map on me. I always travel with one but never use it. If you (if anybody) read my blog from Oslo..I seldom use one. Yes I consult and study maps before I travel but not so far when I’m on the road. I head down what I think is the way to town. No sign of Lake Geneva yet or the one landmark by which I hoped yo navigate my way around – the ‘Jet d’Eau’ – or the 150ft high fountain which is the city’s signature. I spot the very top of it rising above the buildings as I descend.
Soon I spot signs to the City centre. I can set my course from these and from where I saw the Jet d’Eau but I walk through a residential area in a clearly poorer district of the city and one mostly populated by migrants. Their sort of car boot sale was on that day. Streets were closed and wares were for sale displayed on rugs and sheets just on the pavements. It was a generally a nice atmosphere. Some techie stuff looked too good and new to be 2nd hand and nothing was in packaging. I was just passing through but apart from a couple of photos, I felt it best to keep my iPad tucked away, hold onto my bag and to move on quickly, especially after I noticed some guys paying too close attention to me.
The guide books tell you that Geneva is small and compact, which it is in the centre. If you are not at all interested in the UN, ignore it, head to town and gain time elsewhere.
Into town and all before 11am local time. Found my way to the lakeside to be confronted by that fountain. And it is impressive. It shoots up the highest of its kind in the world – 150ft.
TIP: check the weather before you travel. The fountain will be switched off in adverse weather conditions.
Booked a 1hr 15min cruise on the Lake. If you want an instant tan in just an hour, forget tarting around on so sunbed. I’m brown skinned and I tanned in an hour and my workmates noticed.
Being honest, the best bit about the boat cruise was just being on a clear, freshwater lake in the sun on a Saturday that might otherwise be spent mowing the lawn. There was commentary in a dozen languages it seemed, but for me the joy was just being there. And I did at last get to breeeeeeeeeeaaaaaathe and chill.
Back on dry land and the short walk of say 20 minutes to the Old City was next. You can’t miss it…it’s on a hill and part of the city skyline. As you leave the modern city and head into the old I felt a very distinct change. Bearing in mind I was there on a Saturday, which is heaving at home. The Old City is sedate, refined, quiet, social, dignified and beguiling all at once. It was like I stepped over a line in a movie. It all became quiet and almost rural. Distant sounds of traffic, the square where I found a gorgeous Italian restaurant to eat was filled with the hubbub of people socialising and eating together. Just outside the al fresco restaurants you could hear the spring water public fountains from which travellers fill their bottles.
Onwards and upwards to the Cathedrale de St. Pierre. If you are into religious history at all, Geneva was a hotbed of the Reformation under Luther and Calvin. I’m not, so that kind of washed over me. The Cathedral I thought was sadly dead inside and depressingly austere. Its one redeeming feature is the hike up the tower to see the view over the city, but one I didn’t take. If you go, don’t follow my lead on this. As long as the Jet d’Eau is in full Flow, you won’t find any other viewpoints overlooking the fountain and city you can get to in time to make best use of your day so get your arse up those loooooong stairs.
So how were the Genevans or Genevois as I’ve read they are called? Geneva is the 4th first ever visited by me city I’ve landed in this year. As with the others, people were friendly, and welcoming and English widely spoken. That said, there is a very welcome caveat. English was not as fluent as I’ve heard on my other travels and surprising for a city that is host to the European HQ of the UN, also the HQ for 160 international world organisations but it was so good to practice the basic French I knew that sped back to mind just being there. The Genevois I met were all that one could want in a city you are visiting for the first time: welcoming, communicative and not surprised to see you there. It is without a doubt the most cosmopolitan city I’ve visited this year so far, bar London.
I still had time to mooch around town before my flight home but didn’t do that much shopping. Plenty to tempt me but I never went for that. I stepped into THE MOST amazing department stare ever visited called The Manor built on 5 storeys. Never seen any shop like it ever. Utterly fantastic and a must go visit.
So to costs. Flight was £79 return, scheduled from Heathrow. My travel to Heathrow was covered on my monthly London travel pass. Travel into Geneva from the airport is free for all arrivals. The 1hr 15 min cruise on the Lake cost £10. Lunch was the most expensive e item at nearly £40 (main, 2 beers and pud) and the 6 min journey out to the airport from the city cost £3. A couple of Starbucks coffees to add. Considering my normal weekly shop is around £70 and my cupboards and freezer are well stocked, this was money well spent and I would do it again and most likely will, hopefully with some friends in tow.
British Airways launched these day trips to fill otherwise almost empty regular routes at weekends. I can see why and so forbid any readers to forward this blog post on. On both the outward and home bound flights I had a whole row of leather-clad seats to myself. On my homeward, I had the entire back of the aircraft just for me. Thanks to the BA mobile app, I could check-in on both flights and choose my seats for free while drinking coffee in Starbucks. Unlike other national carriers I’ve travelled with this year, BA just does it for me. Smart, helpful, efficient and believe it of not…friendly staff. Complimentary anything is a bonus on any flight over 2 hours. My flight was 75 minutes and though it may seem just token, but you feel valued with a drink and snack. You’d think the sleek Scandinavians would have got this before us, but if they did they don’t now and are a poor shadow to what BA provides as standard.
If you are in a reasonable travelling radius of Heathrow, Geneva via BA is a a really good buy.
TIP: research all 6 cities via Google. Especially check for how far the airport is from the city centre so you can be realistic about how much time you will have there before you decide your itinerary. Not all flights you will find will be under £100 but not that much over. Be flexible about your dates of travel and check random weekends well ahead of time to see the going rate.