Paquis is seen as the underbelly of Geneva – it is often overlooked, misunderstood and dismissed as sleazy and downright dangerous.
Nestled between the train station and the lake, Paquis is the first neighbourhood visitors come across when they arrive in Geneva by train. It also happens to be my favourite part of the city and the place where I choose to live. I want to share my passion for Paquis and show you that it has plenty of charm and is totally worth visiting!
PASTURES AND PHILOSOPHERS
Paquis is the most diverse, authentic and oldest working-class neighbourhood in the city. Originally, it was a big pasture outside of the city limits. In fact, the word “Paquis” in local dialect means “Pasture”. Around 1850, luxurious hotels started springing up next to the lake and the old pastures started to disappear in favour of beautiful mansions surrounded by big yards. At the start of the 20th century, cabarets, nightclubs, music halls and brothels started to flourish in the North of Paquis. Artists and philosophers were drawn to this area because of its bohemian atmosphere, including French writer Chateaubriand who lived here around 1831 and French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who spent his childhood Sunday afternoons in this part of town.
SECRETS AND A SULTRY REPUTATION
The neighbourhood has its share of dark secrets such as the murder of Elisabeth de Wittelsbach also known as “Sissi”, the Austrian Empress, who was murdered on the Mont Blanc Quay in 1898, while leaving the Beau-Rivage Hotel. Nowadays, Paquis is still very cosmopolitan and working-class and it still has its sultry reputation. It is Geneva’s official red-light district and one or two blocks are dedicated to the sex trade and should be avoided, especially for families with children. Specifically avoid the crossing between Rue de Berne and Rue de Zurich as well as the crossing with Rue de Monthoux.
IS PAQUIS DANGEROUS?
It is often labeled as a hot spot for crime because of spates of petty crime blown up in the local press, but there has been a sharp drop since the installation of 29 video 24-hour surveillance cameras in the area in 2014.
As a woman in my late 20s, I feel very safe walking around day and night in my beloved neighbourhood.
Paquis reminds me a little bit of the lower side of Manhattan in NYC where artists and people from different cultures live together in a peaceful community.
ONE OF GENEVA’S TRENDIEST SPOTS
Paquis is in the midst of a massive rejuvenation. Numerous trendy restaurants and bars have opened in the past few years. Here are my favourite spots to grab a drink or a bite to eat.
WHERE TO GRAB A DRINK IN PAQUIS
You can start or finish your day at Cottage Café. It offers breakfast every morning from 7:30 until 11 am during the week and at 09:30 am on Saturday, which consists of Bircher muesli, bread with butter and homemade jam and freshly squeezed juice. I personally love grabbing a good glass of white wine and snacking on their delicious tapas. My all time favourite is the baked eggplant and Gorgonzola for CHF14.50. I advise sharing 3 or 4 tapas between 2 people. The portions are small and well suited for a relaxing light meal. Their terrace is both romantic and cozy. The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed.
Sitting on the terrace you can admire the fountain and the Brunswick Monument. Built in 1879, it is the last resting place of the Duke of Brunswick, a fabulously rich and eccentric philanderer. He was expelled from his duchy in 1830, in what is now Germany. He fled into exile and made his fortune in Paris, before moving to Geneva. When he died he gave his fortune to the city of Geneva in exchange for an eternal tomb.
Rue Adhémar-Fabri 7
Monday to Friday from 07:30 am until 12 am and Saturday from 09:30 am until 12 am. Closed on Sundays.
Qafé Guidoline is a brand new bar dedicated to bicycles that opened not too long ago (Summer 2018) on the Place de la Navigation, in the heart of Paquis. I like to grab a coffee there in the morning or an early drink after work on their terrace. It is good for a quick drink before heading somewhere else for dinner. They have a few options for lunch but I have never tried it. It has mixed reviews online, the service can be on the slow side if you’re in a hurry and you must order at the bar, but it definitely has potential. This bar has room for improvement, but its high-ceilings and very modern design deserves a stopover while on a stroll in Paquis.
TOP TIP: Starting September 2018, on Mondays and Thursday afternoons, there will be a public-letter writing service; available to help you write all types of official letters in French.
For another bicycle themed bar, make sure to pay a visit to La Petite Reine, located right behind the train station, you cannot miss it with its signature bicycle on the grey outdoor wall. It is a great little bar with a nice sunny terrace, where can wait for your friend’s train to arrive while drinking a locally brewed beer. If the first floor is full, which is almost always the case, try the second or even the third floor to get a seat and a table. Apparently, there is a mescal speakeasy bar located on the top floor, however, every time I tried to go, it was closed. It is still on my list of must-try!
Place de Montbrillant
Monday to Friday from 11am until 12am and Saturday from 5pm until 2am. Closed on Sundays.
The atmosphere at La Terrasse on a sunny day is the embodiment of the spirit of the Paquis neighborhood; it is relaxed, chilled and way cheaper than anywhere else in Geneva. People buy a drink at the gazebo bar and sit on the grass, or on the few wooden chairs available on the deck. It is on the edge of the lake and you can literally put your feet in the water while you drink your spritz. It is outside so it is only recommended on a sunny day. Being at La Terrasse is more like having a picnic with friends than being in a bar. It has a very special charm to it.
Bains des Paquis is the heart and soul of not only Paquis but of the city. Both in summer and winter, going to Bains des Paquis is always a good idea. During the summer, there is nothing more relaxing than heading to the right bank of the lake for a swim at Bains des Paquis after a long day. Once the sun goes down, you can enjoy your own wine bottle or better grab a beer at the bar and enjoy their dish of the day. After 8pm, the entrance is free (during the day it is Chf2). It is open until 11pm every day and is a great outdoor evening alternative for the people on a budget. In September the saunas and Turkish baths reopen for the winter season. They also offer 50-minute massages for Chf50. Their sparkling wine fondue for CHF23 in the dead of winter is the best in town.
Scandale, conveniently located by the train station it is the place to go to finish your night, to grab this last drink before going to bed, and maybe a pizza slice as well, since they do cocktails and pizza pretty well. The atmosphere is always fun and lively almost any day of the week. They even have a dancing and karaoke area in the basement, which you can rent for private events. It is loud and fun, definitely a party atmosphere. It is perfect for big groups and birthday parties. They recently (September 2018) started offering breakfast starting at 8am
THE HAMBURGER FOUNDATION AND ITS SECRET OYSTER BAR CHEZ HENRI
Perfect for lunch with your friends or family, the Hamburger Foundation is great for all occasions. Their secret oyster bar Chez Henri, which is hidden in the back of their restaurant, is also the perfect place for a romantic date. It is one of the best burger joints in Geneva. This was their first restaurant in Geneva and they now have three restaurants in the city: in Plainpalais, Eaux-Vives and Paquis, along with two food trucks. The restaurant has table-service, nice cocktails and a wonderful little terrace for the summer time. The vintage décor with its black and white checked tiles is very charming.
El Catrin started a few years ago with a tiny restaurant that could only host a handful of tables. It was always full; you always had to book in advance to get a table. They expanded into a gigantic operation but it is still always bustling and you must still book in to get a table. It is perfect for big group and for parties as the atmosphere is very lively, fun and quite loud, as often, in crowded restaurants. It is a very nice Mexican street food restaurant with great tacos. You can get 4 tacos for CHF24 and you will feel pretty full afterwards. The only other option for Mexican in Geneva is in Eaux-Vives at Taqueria Los Cunados, which is also delicious. Their frozen margaritas are good too.
Rue de Richemont 7
Tuesday – Friday from 12pm to 2pm and from 7pm to 11pm and Saturday from 7pm until 11pm
It is the only authentic Thai street food in Paquis. It has an extremely lively atmosphere. It is always crowded but it is worth the wait. It is truly flavoursome and spicy, maybe the best Asian meal in Geneva. It is quite trendy with a diverse and interesting crowd. It is small plates to share with your friends in a very casual setting. You are sitting on plastic stools and eating on small plastic tables just like in the street in Thailand. It may as well be in the streets of Bangkok. You must book your table in advance.
Rue du Prieuré 6
Tuesday – Thursday from12pm to 2pm and from 7pm to 10:30pm, Friday from 12pm to 2pm and from 6:30pm until 11pm, Saturday from 6:30pm to 11pm. It is closed on Sundays.
When I have something special to celebrate, I go to this place and I order the grilled lobster from Maine, USA for CHF35, which is a great bargain for Geneva. The food is delicious, the lobster is fresh, the drinks are great, the service is nice and friendly, they have a nice outdoor terrace, to sum it up: they make me happy. It is the greatest place for lobsters in Geneva without a doubt. The atmosphere is lovely and the experience is always fantastic. I recommend booking a table during weekends.
Rue de Zurich 6
Tuesday to Friday from 12pm to 3pm and then from 6pm to 12am, Saturdays and Sundays from 6pm to 12am.
Paquis has great parks with great lake views as well such as Perle du Lac, which are great for a nice picnic, please read our previous post here.
BEST ICE-CREAM IN PAQUIS
Before heading back to the Lake or to Jardin Botanic, if the weather allows it, I recommend stopping at Gelatomania or Manu Gelato for a homemade ice cream with local and high quality ingredients. At Gelatomania, I LOVE the pineapple basil flavor.
rue des Paquis 25 for Gelatomania and rue des Paquis 15 for Manu Gelato