The Quartier des Bains is one of Geneva’s trendiest districts, sometimes compared to SoHo in New York. Its hip, bohemian feel is complemented by numerous art galleries and museums, such as the Contemporary Art Centre, the Contemporary Art Museum of Geneva (Mamco), the Photography Center, the Ethnography Museum of Geneva (MEG) and the Patek Philippe Museum.
As evidence of its appeal, in 2017 the Swiss Tourism board rated the Bains District as “one of the most innovative districts in Europe”.
If this is your first visit, let us guide you through it, starting with a quick word on the museums.
BUT FIRST, A COFFEE!
Birdie was one of the first coffee shops to open in Geneva, along with Boreal in Eaux-Vives. It remains one of the few places in town which not only opens on Sunday mornings, but also offers a healthy breakfast every day from 8.30am to 2.30pm. A very popular choice is their avocado toast with smoked salmon from Norway, poached egg (sourced from Swiss farms), green salad and a serving of Gruyère for CHF 19.90 – fairly affordable for local standards. Personally, I’m a big fan of their hot porridge, made with oatmeal, almonds, apple, milk and honey, and their homemade granola, with cereal, yogurt, honey and fresh fruit (both at CHF 9.90). The high quality of their latte is unquestionable. The staff is usually very friendly and speaks English, always a plus.
The Contemporary Art Centre was founded in 1974 as the first such institution in French-speaking Switzerland. It is a space for modern art as well as its production, research and experiment, and it aims to encourage dialogue around contemporary art, and the publication of art books.
Be aware that it is not a museum, as it has no permanent collection. Instead, it displays upcoming and established artists from the local and international scene. The centre has been able to anticipate art trends, discover new talent and promote Swiss artists. Its program is very broad and it involves architecture, dance, design, drawing, media, music, painting, photography, sculpture and video. The current exhibition is called “the sound of screens imploding” (available until 3rd February 2019). The exhibition features a series of movies, performance and concerts showing that moving images now live outside the screen, where vision can be shaped by sound.
The museum opened in 1994, focusing on artistic movements from the 1960s to the present day and is the largest contemporary art museum in Switzerland. It should be viewed as just one large exhibition, as it incorporates elements from temporary shows into its permanent collections, dedicating particular attention to the art scene in Geneva and Switzerland as a whole.
The current exhibitions on display are “Pattern, Decoration & Crime”, “Mai-Thu Perret” (both shown until 3rd February 2019), “Mail Art” (shown until 1st March 2019).
Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (Mamco)
Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 10
Open Tuesday to Friday (12am – 6pm) and Saturday and Sunday (11am – 6pm)
The Photography Centre opened its doors in 1984, and explores innovative forms of presenting and thinking about photography. Every year, it hosts between four and seven exhibitions. It also publishes a catalogue twice per year.
The current exhibition (available until 2nd February 2019) is about one of the most important Swiss photographers on the international scene today, Jules Spinatsch, and his work in semi-automatic photography. His work has been previously showcased at the MoMA in New York, the Cartier Foundation in Paris, and the Tate Modern in London, among many others.
Geneva’s Ethnography Museum (MEG) was founded in 1901, before relocating to its current address in 1939. It was entirely renovated in 2014, and is home to one of the country’s biggest ethnography collections. In addition to offering guided tours of its permanent collection, “The archives of human diversity”, the museum also hosts concerts, movies, shows, workshops, conferences, and much more – and admission is free.
Its collection is made up of rare objects from all over the globe, as well as 45,000 books about culture. More than 1,000 objects and artefacts are on display for the public, unique items of vast historic and anthropological value.
Located within a beautifully restored art deco building in Plainpalais, this museum takes you on a journey across five centuries of luxury watchmaking. It was founded in 2001, and is internationally renowned as a temple to the art of time and craftsmanship.
The museum’s extraordinary collection dates back to the 16th century, including the earliest known watch ever made, as well as the most complicated timepiece ever made, the Caliber 89. Every Saturday at 2:30pm, public guided tours in English are available to visitors, which are not to be missed. You can also book private guided tours, on appointment only. Both tours last approximately two hours.
Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers 7
Open Tuesday to Friday (2pm – 6pm) and Saturday (10am – 6pm)
One of Geneva’s institutions, the Café des Bains used to be a neighbourhood bistro, and it has kept its original simplicity over the years. Its atmosphere is perched somewhere between vintage and contemporary, with an unmistakable Parisian Brasserie feel. The restaurant can seat up to 50 people and it has a small covered terrace. In the summer, you will definitely enjoy their indoor patio.
From Monday to Friday, the Café des Bains offers a daily lunch menu set atCHF 29, as well as a business lunch for CHF 9, which comes with a starter and a main course. Surprisingly, the restaurant also welcomes customers for breakfast.
Café des Bains
Rue des Bains 26
Open Monday to Friday (7.30am – 10.30am; 1pm – 2.30pm; 7pm – 10.30pm) and Saturday (from 7pm – 10.30pm)
Ou Bien Encore was the first purely vegetarian and healthy eatery to open in Geneva – and for this, it deserves a place at the top of my list. In the summer, patrons can enjoy the restaurant’s lovely terrace; during wintertime, we can cosy up inside. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, and on Saturdays, brunch. In the morning, on your way to work, you can grab a homemade granola with fresh fruit, and your choice between soymilk, regular milk or goat’s milk yogurt, for CHF 7. Those who favour gluten-free foods will be pleased to find vegan (CHF 9) and flour-less sandwiches (CHF 8), as well as the ever-popular avocado toast (CHF 9).
TWhile their lunch option might seem a bit pricy (their quinoatajine is set at CHF25), their daily menu (CHF 16) includes a vegan sandwich and a choice of salad or soup, which is very filling. Their daily selection of homemade cakes, many of which are vegan, is to die for!
Brunch is served from 11.30am on Saturdays, and reserving ahead of time is recommended, as it gets quite crowded. A variety of veggie dishes are offered at CHF28, with an extra CHF6 should you wish to add eggs to your meal.
Ou Bien Encore
Rue des Bains 61
Open Monday to Wednesday (8am – 7pm); Thursday (8am – 9pm), Friday (8am – 7:30pm), Saturday (10am – 4pm); closed on Sunday
FINALLY, PARTY TIME
Nuit des Bains
Four times a year, the Bains District Association welcomes the Night of the Bains: a night in which all 15 art galleries and four cultural institutions in the neighbourhood open their doors and invite you to discover their new exhibitions while sipping wine and having fun – a very popular activity among locals and visitors alike. The atmosphere is comparable to a street party, especially in the summer, when days are longer and the weather is nice. During these events, all the museums in the area also stay opened until 9pm. Approximately 3,000 people attend these events.
The next events will be held on 17th January 2019 (6pm – 9pm), 14th March 2019 (6pm – 9pm), 16th May 2019 (6pm – 9pm) and 12th September 2019 (6pm – 9pm)
Excellentcocktailsat Le Verre à Monique
Le Verre à Monique is a hidden gem: a small, elegant boutique cocktail bar where the drinks are truly fantastic: the menu categorizes each by flavour – fruity, fresh, sour… allowing you to choose depending on your preference. The bartender can also mix a drink especially just for you.
It is the perfect place for a romantic date, or as a first stop to kick-start your night. The atmosphere is enchanting, like having drinks at your quirky-but-cool aunt’s place. Travel through time to an elegant past, and relax at this speakeasy surrounded by old bottles and retro glassware. As yet another original detail, Le Verre à Monique allows you to order takeout from the Chinese and Japanese restaurants across the street, which then deliver to your table at the bar.
Le Verre à Monique
Rue des Savoises 19
Open Tuesday to Thursday (5.30pm – 1am); and Friday and Saturday (5.30pm – 2am)
For more drinks and more fun, head to LeKraken on the famous Rue de l’Ecole de Medecine, a street lined with various bars frequented by local university students. Of all the bars in the area, Le Kraken is my favourite – they offer a great selection of cocktails as well as beers on tap, the staff speaks English, and the crowd is not as young as elsewhere in the neighbourhood.
The decadent décor, with retro crystal chandeliers hanging above the bar and dark wood shelves not unlike an old apothecary, adds to the ambience, and is sure to please those who have an affinity for vintage bars. And of course, to complete the experience, push the false bookcase at the end of the bar to discover Le Kraken’s very own secret speakeasy…
Rue de l’Ecole de Medecine 8
Open Monday to Wednesday (1pm – 1am), Thursday (1pm – 1.30am), and Friday and Saturday (1pm – 2am)
The Cercle des Bains is a breath of fresh air in Geneva. Secretly located within Geneva’s modern art museum, the Mamco, this place is always crowded. The live DJ is usually very good, and the atmosphere is laid-back and fun, making this the perfect place for you to dance the night away – and no one will judge your dancing skills. Come as you are, there is no need to dress up: the unofficial dress code is casual.
Cercle des Bains
Rue des Vieux Grandiers 10
Open Thursday (6pm – 2am) and Saturday (10pm – 4am)
FINISH YOUR VISIT WHERE MANY HAVE FINISHED THEIR DIARY
Take a walk in the famous Cimetière des Rois – it’s not as morbid as you might think! Geneva’s oldest cemetery is our answer to Paris’ Père Lachaise: Calvin’s final resting place, as well as that of many famous personalities, from Geneva and beyond, such as the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, renowned psychologist Jean Piaget, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s daughter Sophie, Swiss President Adrien Lachenal, and Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, killed in Iraq in 2003.
Founded in the 15th century, this peaceful place at the heart of a bustling district is dotted with pieces of art, making it an unusual but pleasant walk, and a witness to Geneva’s ancient and contemporary history.