Photograph by Borges Samuel, Alamy Stock Photo
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Lake Geneva, or Lac Lèman as the locals call it, is one of the largest alpine lakes in Europe.

Photograph by Borges Samuel, Alamy Stock Photo

Geneva's hidden gems: the ultimate weekend itinerary

This charming metropolis is the gateway to the Swiss Alps.

Nestled in the far southeastern corner of Switzerland between the Alps and Jura Mountains, Geneva is known for its natural beauty and long history of commerce, scholarship, and international diplomacy. From chocolate-tasting tours to ski slopes to cathedrals, this lakeside haven caters to all tastes. Yet, far from the crowds and clichés of Geneva's posh tourist mainstays—Michelin-star eateries, chic boutiques, and luxury watch museums—lies a warm, slightly bohemian side to Switzerland’s second largest city. Here’s where to find Geneva’s hidden gems.

Day 1: Cooking, comics, and craft beer

9 a.m. Start your Saturday with members of Geneva’s English-speaking community at Feed the Needy soup kitchen. Your mission for the morning is to cook lunch for 150 to 200 homeless folks who eat at the refurbished eatery on every third Saturday of the month. You’ll work alongside 10 to 20 expats, students, and residents to assist a master chef with shopping for and preparing hearty dishes. A word of caution for spice lovers from coordinator Rohan Oberoi: “This crowd tends to get very vocal when the curry is too spicy, so we won’t entertain any chili-crazy helpers.”

12:30 p.m. After a morning behind the stove, it’s time to soak up the sun with an al fresco lunch. If you’re dining on a weekday, ask the garçon for a plat du jour (daily special). On weekends, opt for a portable picnic lunch from Geneva’s best bakery, Boulangerie des Bains, run by the award-winning duo Pierre-Alain and Jean-Claude. Signature breads (notably, the olive or fig-and-walnut), artisanal Viennese pastries, and jams (such as the Fruits de Bois, which won Gold at the Swiss Bakery Trophy) will tempt you at every turn. Head to the freshly baked goods and sandwiches section for a curried chicken sandwich or ham quiche to pair with those brownies and éclairs.

3 p.m. Fans of comic creators Frank Miller, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Will Eisner, Stan Lee, Dave Gibbons, Jean Giraud, and Osamu Tezuka can pour over their favorite works at Roland Margueron’s semi-circular comic book store, Papiers Gras. Here, the comic king of Geneva supplies all the classics against a spectacular backdrop of the Rhône. The 30-year-old space, which doubles as an art gallery, is well known for openings, exhibitions, discussions, readings, and performances based on the “ninth art.”

5 p.m. Your hunt for the hippest place to start an early apéro (the Swiss version of happy hour) ends here. Travel back in time to the 1970s at the best-kept secret in the Plainpalais neighborhood: Bongo Joe Records, Geneva’s grooviest music shop and independent record label. Locals usually meet here to sift through vintage records, cassettes, CDs, and books for sale. The store offers a modest menu of hot and cold drinks, and an extensive vinyl collection spanning folk, blues, soul, funk, rock, country, disco, and jazz. Patrons can also enjoy Bongo’s in-store, live shows while sipping local Genevan craft beer.

8 p.m. Reserve the evening for farm fresh oysters at Gouzer Oyster Bar. The chic, speakeasy-style spot is tucked inside the trendy Hamburger Foundation, and offers up cool green-and-white interiors finished with tall, copper tabletops. Start with freshly shucked, seasonal mollusks—sourced daily from the family farm in Brittany—before sampling the smoked salmon and sardines paired with bespoke wines.

10 p.m. A decade ago, music in Geneva meant mainstream hits, jazz, classical, and the occasional live concert. Lately, the posh banking and diplomacy hub seems to be morphing into an alternative music mecca. For local and metal acts, head to the slightly underground L’Ecurie. Then check out Geneva’s hottest nocturnal destination, Village du Soir. Located inside a warehouse, this “evening village” packs three terraces and stages, a distillery, eight bars, a night club, a deli converted into a musical bar, and a few food trucks. My personal favorite is La Gravière, which is home to music programming that includes rock, techno, hip-hop, house, Balkan beats, and electro swing.

Day 2: From saunas to cinemas

9 a.m. Start your Sunday like a local and head to Geneva’s pier-esque public baths, Bain de Pâquis. This dramatic, old-school beach park dates to 1890 and extends to the middle of Lac Léman’s glacial waters. Slow risers can swim, sunbathe, and sauna while adventure seekers can leap off a 32-foot-high dive platform or rent a motorboat. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to La Buvette des Bains for a full spread of freshly pressed juices, handmade bread, bircher muesli, fruit salad, and a hot drink.

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A swimmer leaps into the water at Bain de Pâquis, Geneva's public baths.

11:30 a.m. One of the rare exceptions to the sleepy Sunday rule that seems to blanket the Genevois is Marché de Plainpalais. The weekly market for fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, furniture, trinkets, and crockery is held at plaine de Plainpalais every Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday. Peruse the rows of Swiss cheesemongers, olives, dried fruit, and spice stands while snacking on delicious food truck finds, such as the rotisserie chicken van.

5 p.m. Ornate purple silks, muted classical music, antique chandeliers, and overstuffed chairs welcome patrons to Madame Véronique Cadot’s La Vouivre, Geneva’s most eclectic tea room. This small, baroque-themed shop is the best spot for an afternoon pick-me-up, packed with warm pain au chocolat, plum crumble, Swiss-style savory ramekins with cheese, Viennese coffee, and cold-pressed juices.

8 p.m. Cinema Spoutnik is an experimental movie theater: a cinema, living room, and bar all rolled into one. Located in a former gold processing factory next to the Rhône, this avant-garde projection room screens a variety of unconventional films, hosts midnight movie events, and organizes outdoor shows in unusual places, including swimming pools, garages, and CERN, a world-class physics laboratory.

12 a.m. While there are plenty of kebab pushers in Geneva’s trendy Pâquis district, Hussein Jouni’s late-night Lebanese restaurant, Parfums de Beyrouth, is the longest reigning king. Start with an assiette mixteor, or mixed Lebanese plate, which comes piled high with falafel, hummus, labneh, salad, lamb, and chicken. End with ashare-a-chawarma (shawarma), which is stuffed with spit roasted lamb or chicken shavings, and topped with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickled radish, tahini, and a secret garlic sauce.

Jharna Thakkar is a hospitality, travel, and lifestyle writer. Her work appears in the Hindustan Times, Condé Nast Traveller, Time Out, and Mumbai Mirror. Doubling as a trained chef, she portions her time into freelance writing, cooking Goa sausages, and pickling seasonal vegetables. This story is adapted from National Geographic Traveller India.