Politics and religion collide to make room for science in one of Switzerland’s most cosmopolitan cities.

There’s more to Geneva than watches, chocolates and banks. As the European home of the UN and the headquarters of the Red Cross, it’s one of Europe’s most international cities, with Lake Geneva and the Alps beyond making for an impressive backdrop.

See
The Jet d’Eau is one of the city’s famous landmarks – a 140-metrehigh tower of water shooting up on the lake. At any one time, 7,000 litres of water are in the air – a change of wind direction can result in getting drenched (Quai du GéAnéral-Guisan; admission free).

CERN is the world’s biggest particle physics lab – home of the Large Hadron Collider, where particles are smashed together at mind-boggling speeds. There are two permanent exhibitions here. Book guided tours in advance (tours Mon-Sat; admission and tours free).

The Cathédrale Saint-Pierre is where theologian John Calvin preached in the 16th century. Climb the 157 steps of the northern tower for amazing views of the city, the mountains and the Jet d’Eau (Place du Bourg-de- Four 24; tower admission £3).

A monster complex of buildings overlooking Lake Geneva, the Palais des Nations was built in the 1930s to house the League of Nations – the forerunner of the UN. Tours explore its grand monuments and murals (Ave de la Paix 14; tours £9).

Slightly northwest of Geneva, the French lakeside village of Yvoire is a popular weekend escape. A castle and cobbled streets add to its considerable charm. CGN Boats run to Yvoire from Geneva in 1¾ hours (returns £40).

Eat and drink
With a bright pink façade, Gilles Desplanches is a place for serious Swiss chocolate connoisseurs – exquisitely crafted cakes and chocolates star alongside imaginative salads and savoury tarts. It can get very busy at lunchtime (2 Rue de la Confédération; hot chocolate £4).

Buvette des Bains is a vibrant canteen on a pier jutting out onto Lake Geneva. Breakfast is muesli and fresh fruit juice, while dinner is the time for fondue au Crémant de Dardagny, made with sparkling wine. Diners can go alfresco in summer (Quai du Mont-Blanc; plat du jour £9).

‘On y mange du poulet’ (‘We eat chicken’) is the mantra at Chez Ma Cousine, serving up generous portions of chicken, potatoes and salad in a lively green and yellow dining room (6 Place du Bourg-de-Four; mains from £11).

A restaurant, boutique and gallery in one, L’Adresse is one of the trendiest places for a bite in Geneva, occupying a loft that was once an artist’s workshop. The kitchen nods to Mediterranean and Asian traditions (32 Rue du 31 Décembre; plat du jour £13).

An impressive dining experience since 1930, the elegant Café de Paris sees all diners plump for steak with its legendary herb and butter sauce (26 Rue du Mont-Blanc; steak and chips £29).

Sleep
Affordable rooms can be hard to come by in Geneva – fortunately the Hôtel St Gervais offers reasonable rates on small, simply decorated rooms within walking distance of the old town (20 Rue des Corps-Saints; from £85).

Formerly a women’s hostel, Hôtel Bel’Esperance is a good-value hotel managed by the Salvation Army, set on the fringes of Geneva’s old town. Rooms are sparsely decorated but comfortable, and there’s a flower-filled rooftop terrace with great views (1 Rue de la Vallée; from £115).

Edelweiss is a Heidi-style alpine hideout in the middle of the town, with cosy timbered rooms featuring wild-flower-painted pine bed-heads. Its restaurant serves fondues and even hosts yodelling performances (2 Place de la Navigation; from £155).

Quite what the Bombay-born author has to with Geneva is unclear, but Hôtel Kipling is nonetheless an exceedingly good hotel in the city centre with dark wood-furnishings and Oriental objects peppered about the place (27 Rue de la Navigation; from £200).

 Disguised by a 19th-century façade, Hôtel La Cour des Augustins in the city’s Latin quarter styles itself as a ‘boutique-gallery-design-hotel’ – accordingly, rooms feature leftfield artwork and Modernist furniture. There’s a design shop should you fancy taking a slice of the hotel home (15 Rue Jean-Violette; from £225).

Getting around
Transports Public Genevois operates buses, trolley buses and trams in Geneva (fares from £1.40). Noctambus operates night buses. Geneve Roule offers a free bike rental service during the summer months.

When to go
Geneva is worth visiting year-round – you can swim in parts of Lake Geneva in the summer, while ski resorts are nearby for winter months. L’Escalade on 12 December commemorates the defeat of an attempt to capture the city in 1602. August’s two-week-long Fêtes de Genève sees fireworks and open-air concerts take place along the city’s waterfront.

How to go
Swiss International flies from Heathrow (from £105), while easyJet flies from Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester and Glasgow (from £70). From Geneva airport, take a train to Gare de Cornavin (returns £3).

The article 'Mini guide to Geneva, Switzerland' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.