Looking for some lakeside living? Find out whether you should be living in Geneva or the surrounding area with our helpful neighborhood guide.
When it comes to Swiss cities, Geneva is very unique. Along the shores of the crescent-shaped lake of the same name (in English, anyway), this compact world city is a popular destination for expats moving to Switzerland. Home of multinational corporations and a charming lakeside old town, it really does have it all. So, if you think Geneva sounds like the perfect place for you, then read on for more information on living in this great city. From the best spots for lakeside people-watching to the most accessible nearby towns for commuters, it covers everything you need to know.
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Introduction to Geneva
French-speaking Geneva is every inch the cosmopolitan international city and you’ll soon hear plenty of languages from around Europe and beyond after arriving here. This is in part due to the fact that the city is home to a number of international organizations, including the United Nations and the World Health Organization. This makes it a melting pot of culture, but all the while maintaining that Swiss charm.
The presence of these organizations has earned Geneva something of a reputation for being a little sterile when compared to other nearby cities. That said, many expats will tell you that this is largely unfair, and recent years have definitely seen Geneva embrace a more laid-back lifestyle. Although Geneva is located at the very western corner of Switzerland, it is still fairly accessible from other Swiss cities, as well as those across the border in France.
Genevese society and culture
Despite its international reputation and status on the world stage, Geneva is a relatively compact city with a center that’s easy enough to explore on foot. The city itself is home to around 200,000 people, although the larger canton of Geneva (officially known as the Republic and Canton of Geneva) has approximately half a million residents. However, with its cosmopolitan make-up and cultural offerings, Geneva can feel like a much bigger city.
Thing to do in Geneva
If you’re living in Geneva, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how much there is to do in this lakeside city. As the largest city in Switzerland’s French-speaking region of Romandy, it boasts a number of cultural offerings, including the Museum of Art and History, the History of Science Museum, and the ever-popular Museum of Natural History. However, this is just the tip of the cultural iceberg, so you’ll never be left with nothing to do.
However, Geneva wouldn’t be a Swiss city without offering plenty of outdoor activities to suit all ages and interests. In summer, the beautiful Lake Geneva is the place to go. Whether you’re lounging on one of the lake’s many beaches, indulging in some watersports, or simply enjoying a coffee on a café terrace, there’s never a dull moment. In winter, many locals head up to the nearby ski resorts in both Switzerland and neighboring France to enjoy some of Europe’s best pistes, too.
Entertainment and dining
As you’d expect from somewhere as cosmopolitan as Geneva, there are plenty of places to grab a decent meal and explore cuisines from around the world. Indeed, as one of Switzerland’s richest cities, many of these restaurants skew towards the higher end of the market. In short, if you like your cuisine haute, then you’re in the right place. However, there are options for every budget if you know where to go.
When it comes to entertainment, Geneva punches above its weight, too. The city is home to a number of festivals throughout the year, alongside more permanent fixtures, such as the lakeside Théâtre du Léman. If you’re looking for wild nights out, though, then your options are limited in Geneva. So while there are plenty of fantastic local bars and cafés where you can while away an enjoyable evening with friends, don’t expect to be staggering out of too many clubs after dawn.
The cost of living in Geneva
If all this lakeside living sounds too good to be true, then the rub might come when you start looking into the local cost of living. As you’re probably aware, Switzerland is now the most expensive country in Europe when it comes to everyday living. And, along with Zurich, Geneva is one of its most expensive cities. To give you an idea of what to expect, rents are typically more expensive in Geneva than in cities like London, Paris, or even New York. In short, it’s not cheap.
However, the cost of living is not the only factor that you should consider when thinking about moving to Geneva. For starters, Swiss salaries are typically much higher than in other countries, as is the quality of life in the city. But if you’re still not convinced, then there are other options. These include living just across the border in France, where you’ll find things to be a little cheaper while still being within easy reach of all that lakeside goodness. Alternatively, you could live in Geneva but do much of your everyday shopping across the border in the local French supermarkets.
Neighborhoods in Geneva
Geneva is a relatively compact city with excellent local public transport connections. This means that wherever you live in the city, you’ll be able to get around quickly and efficiently. That said, if you’re moving to Geneva, then it’s important to find the right neighborhood for you and your family. To give you an idea of what to expect, here are a few neighborhoods in Geneva that are favorites among expats.
On the northern banks of the lake, sandwiched between the railway station and the waterfront, sits the somewhat eclectic neighborhood of Les Pâquis. This multicultural district has plenty of character, being home to Geneva’s red-light district as well as some of the cities best shopping, dining, and nightlife options. And, of course, the lake is right there, with the Bains des Pâquis being a popular swimming spot among locals.
While this area might not be ideal for families looking for something a little more spacious and calm, it can be a great neighborhood for young internationals moving to the city. This is because you’ll find a diversity that isn’t common in many other parts of Geneva, while still being in the heart of the action. Typically speaking, rental prices in Les Pâquis are slightly more affordable than in other areas, too.
Stretched along the waterfront behind the city’s famous Jet d’Eau, the neighborhood of Eaux-Vives is definitely a mixed bag. The area is home to a mix of older apartment buildings and family housing, as well as a surprisingly decent selection of restaurants and cafés. Eaux-Vives is also one of the greenest areas of central Geneva, with the large Parc de la Grange offering excellent views over the lake.
Eaux-Vives is a decent option for all new arrivals to the city, from families to young professionals. The area is well-located within the city. The old town is walkable and you can jump on a ferry across the lake to visit Les Paquis to the north should you wish. The mountains and countryside to the south are also within easy reach, while the French border is just a short drive or bus ride away.
On the southern edges of Geneva, you’ll find the sought-after residential district of Champel. This is one of the more expensive parts of the city, with leafy streets and plenty of parklands to relax in. The area is also home to the University’s student campus; although most of the other residences in the area are upmarket apartments and family homes.
Despite its leafy reputation, Champel is within easy access of all the city center delights you’ll find in Geneva. There are also train connections linking the area with the wider region, including Annemasse across the border in France. That said, you’ll find most things you need within the neighborhood, particularly on the streets surrounding the beautiful Parc Alfred Bertrand.
Geneva and the surrounding areas
While Geneva is undoubtedly attractive for many internationals moving to the area, some will prefer to look a little further afield for their next home. These towns and small cities around Geneva can offer better value for money in terms of living costs. They can also offer more space, comfort, and quiet. Here are some locations that are easily commutable to and from Geneva.
Travel north from Geneva along the Swiss banks of the lake and you’ll soon come across the small waterfront town of Versoix. This relatively sleepy lakeside is home to several multinational organizations, which helps give it a surprisingly cosmopolitan feel. You’ll find a clutch of restaurants and cafes near the waterside, as well as essential shops.
Versoix is a great place for families looking for a little more space for their Franc. The town is predominantly made up of larger, individual houses with gardens. However, being a lakeside town in Switzerland, homes can still be pricey. That said, it is generally cheaper than Geneva, which is just a twenty-minute train ride away from Versoix.
Located just across the border sits the often overlooked French town of Annemasse. Although it is part of the wider Geneva urban area, Annemasse has a rather unenviable reputation among the locals. However, as with any town, some areas are much nicer than others. Furthermore, central Geneva is within easy reach via train, tram, bus, or even bike. The cost of living is substantially cheaper too, so depending on your needs, this could make Annemasse a good option.
If you choose to set up home over the border, whether in Annemasse or in one of the cities further afield such as Annecy or Thonon, then you’ll need certain documentation as a cross-border worker. However, despite the paperwork and the commute, living in France can be a great way to get more out of your new life in Geneva. For more information, read our guide to moving to France.
A little further afield along the shores of Lake Geneva sits the Swiss town of Nyon. This is another popular place for internationals looking to cast their net a little wider than Geneva. The town is home to UEFA, European football’s governing body. However, it’s a fairly laid-back place with a decent collection of cafes and restaurants. In the summer, the lakefront is popular with local families, while ski resorts are within easy access during winter.
Nyon is a popular place for families and that can easily be seen when walking around the town. Nightlife is limited, although the student city of Lausanne is not too far away. However, just be aware that Nyon is in the neighboring canton of Vaud. While this makes little difference in everyday life, moving between two Swiss cantons can feel like quite the task thanks to local bureaucracy.
How to find a home in Geneva
When looking for a new home in and around Geneva, the best place to start is online. You’ll probably want to start the process well ahead of time as it can take a while to get sorted. Just be aware that you’ll need to have an address in the city before registering with the local municipality. And if you want to live over the border, then you’ll need other documentation.
To get you started, here are a few Swiss websites to give you an idea of what to expect:
As you probably already know, Geneva isn’t the cheapest place in the world to find accommodation. For this reason, most newcomers choose to rent somewhere to begin with. This can help you get a better idea of the city and where you would like to live. If you’re arriving with a family, then you might want to enlist the help of a local realtor to help. Alternatively, if you’re moving alone, there are plenty of flat-share options in the city. You can begin your search on the local Facebook groups or by checking out WGZimmer and Craigslist. But as ever with these sites, be aware of scams and always take precautions before transferring any money.