Global travel. On local public transportation.

Geneva, Switzerland: Public transportation exceeds expectations

June 10, 2011 Markus Seppälä

Geneva, Switzerland: Public transportation exceeds expectations

For a weekend city trip in Europe, you can hardly find anything more scenic than Geneva. It’s so close to the French border you can feel it. Especially if you step over it.

Welcome! Here’s a free ticket…

There are a few different ways of greeting your visitors at the airport. As someone who reluctantly but frequently coughs up the SEK 260 (EUR 28) for a one-way ride on the train from Stockholm-Arlanda Airport to the city, I’m not expecting much in this department. But I was nothing less than shocked to find out that Geneva has adopted another approach: free. Yes, in the airport’s baggage collection area you can pick up an 80-minute public transportation ticket at no charge. And it’s not only for the train to the city center either. No, you can then ride the tram or the bus and get all the way to your hotel. Now that’s the way to make a fellow feel welcome!

… up to a point

So I hopped on the train (departing on schedule, naturally), and changed to one of Geneva’s new, immaculately kept trams. The ride was nice and smooth and full-color displays overhead were constantly updated with route information. Outside was nothing but polished façades and streets so clean you could eat off them. But my journey to the hotel was interrupted at one point. A point after which the shiny tram turned into a decades-old diesel bus. A point at which I saw the first pot hole in the asphalt. And then another. And then another. A point at which the banks and Patek Philippe boutiques turned into dime stores and kebab stands.

That point was the Swiss-French border just east of Geneva. As you may be aware, Geneva consistently scores high on cost of living among international cities. One way to cut costs on your trip is to stay on the French side in Annemasse, which I too had decided to try. This isn’t a bad idea in itself – just be aware of the night-and-day difference between the countries. Also note that the 80-minute travel pass will only take you to the border.

Lakeside views from land and train

The Geneva area is perfect for a weekend of peace, quiet, and beauty, both natural and man-made. Lake Geneva, together with its alpine backdrop, adjacent parks and well-kept neighborhoods, forms an obvious focal point for the city’s center. If you want to explore the lake, any number of watercraft is available for rent or passage and will take you across and along the shores.

Lausanne, Switzerland’s fourth largest city, is across the water to the north and provides an excellent day trip option. Many have said before that the way to experience Switzerland is by train, and you can see it already on this one-hour journey: the landscape stretches from the sky-blue lake to the vineyards on the hillsides and into the distant snow-capped Alps. Once you reach the train station you can walk through historic districts down to the lakeside for a meal with a view.

Finally, let’s not forget the area around Annemasse on the French side. There are plenty of marked and unmarked walks in the hills and along the Rhône River just south of town. This is also where I saw and tried my first McDonald’s self-service kiosk, at a rest stop near the intersection of the E25 and E712 highways. You order at the kiosk, and they call your number when it’s ready.

, , , , , Europe, Sony Ericsson K800i, Train, Tram

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