Photograph by Clara Tuma
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A tram runs on Rue Ancienne. Historic Geneva is shaking off its buttoned-up reputation with a mix of colorful and classic.

Photograph by Clara Tuma
TravelFar & Away

Go beyond the clichés in Geneva

Once dismissed as a sleepy metropolis, the Swiss city, which is actually one of Western Europe’s largest financial centers, is loosening its top collar button.

Chocolate, cheese and watches. Geneva, a capital of commerce (considered the sixth-largest financial center in Western Europe) is often dismissed as a sleepy metropolis that locals vacate for the slopes once the weekend hits, but the Swiss city—home to a staggering number of international organizations that include the World Health Organization, the World Economic Forum, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders—is shaking off its buttoned-up reputation. There is an energetic undercurrent of lively cocktail bars, creative ethnic fare and unique museums mixed in with the classic grand dame hotels, luxe boutiques and impressive churches. This, along with the backdrop of Lake Geneva and the Alps, makes it increasingly appealing to stick around when the work is done. For a mix of colorful and classic, posh and slightly bohemian activities, we turned to a few Genevois.

Seth Pietras, Corporate Affairs Director, Gunvor Group

Le Verre à Monique: This speakeasy is one of the best bars in the city. There is comfy seating, and typically a chill soundtrack playing in the background. The bartenders are always ready to indulge an adventurous streak. I prefer the Vesper, a classic cocktail, but if I’m feeling bold, I like the Corpse Reviver, featuring a dose of absinthe.

Threekids: Lunch in Geneva can be a drawn-out affair so this new sandwich shop fills a gap for quick noontime meals. They make fresh, New York-style bagels daily and offer lots of sandwich options, from the Eaux-Vives, which has Parma ham, mozzarella, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, to the Plainpalais, which includes chicken with tartar sauce, melted Gruyere and onions.

Alma: This Peruvian restaurant has great Pisco sours. It can be busy. Sit at the bar, where the service is better.

ADC Genève: This is something different than the usual night out for drinks. The ADC Genéve offers a variety of contemporary dance performances. It is located in Eaux-Vives, so afterward, you can easily head to Rue Henri-Blanvalet, where there are a number of bars like Yvette de Marseille, L’Atelier and Bottle Brothers.

SUP Genève: You can rent paddleboards and equipment and see the city, Mont Blanc and Jet d’Eau from the water. If you get a few friends along, you can set up an informal flotilla for a midlake picnic and while away a very pleasant afternoon.

Ada Polla, CEO, Alchimie Forever

The Mirror Bar: When I need to think, write or strategize, and I prefer to be outside of the office, I head to the Hotel Metropole. The Mirror Bar is calm, yet social, the coffee is as good as the champagne, and somehow the red color scheme helps my creativity.

Timothy Oulton: For a business lunch, I love Timothy Oulton. It has the best service, excellent food, and is somewhat surprising in its decor. I always want to buy a gift for my husband there. Their furnishings and accessories are curated and masculine.

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The Geneva gallery of British furniture brand Timothy Oulton houses a popular lounge.

Tiffany Hotel: I always recommend the Tiffany Hotel to my friends. I can never decide what I love best—the art deco feel, the amazing breakfast buffet or the central location.

Forever Institut: For all of my beauty needs, I head to Forever Institut, which my father runs. He is the best dermatologist in Switzerland, although I may be biased.

Philippe Cramer, Designer, Philippe Cramer furniture and home accessories

CERN: This is home to world’s most powerful particle accelerator. That is how scientists found the Higgs boson or the “God particle.” The place will make you want to find your old VHS cassette of Back to the Future. Reserve early as the two-hour guided tour fills up quickly.

Beau-Rivage: The most romantic hotel in Geneva. It is an old-world palace, recently updated, and has many stories. Here Sisi, the beloved Empress of Austria, was assassinated. It has a sublime atrium.

Old Town: There are some fantastic little shops in Old Town. Theodora is a tiny perfume shop that sells scents that are hard to find elsewhere. And Tschin-Ta-Ni is a funny little shop that sells all kinds of Chinese tea. It really belongs in a Woody Allen movie.

Luigia: This pizzeria has a cosmopolitan yet low-key atmosphere. They cater to a mix of U.N. types, yuppies, graphic artists, Russian heiresses and just regular Genevois. And it’s super central, so no need to drive after too much vino rosso.

Where to go on the weekends

The city can be quiet on the weekends as the Genevois are in the mountains. Here’s where to join them:

Chamonix. About an hour outside of Geneva in the shadow of Mont Blanc is the French town of Chamonix. Because it is a town rather than a ski resort, access to the main lifts can be a bit awkward.

Megève. The chic village offers a surprisingly large ski area, fine food and plenty of luxury boutiques in the charming, pedestrian village.

Verbier. A favorite resort town for the British, Verbier includes slopes at varied levels, snowparks and off-piste powder as well as a busy après-ski scene.

Gstaad. This pricey, jet-setter spot two and a half hours from Geneva is surprisingly family friendly and features a mix of terrain for a variety of levels.

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A third-floor view at the Alpina Gstaad overlooks a heated outdoor pool.

Portes du Soleil. One of the largest ski areas in the world, it includes resorts Avoriaz, Morzine-Avoriaz and Les Gets, and has expansive terrain for all levels.

Zermatt. The most famous peak in Switzerland, the Matterhorn, is a three-hour drive from Geneva. The car-free village is packed with high-end shops, bars and restaurants. And the skiing has it all: pistes for all levels, moguls, glacier skiing and freestyle.