This French town on the border with Switzerland is practically a Geneva suburb, and most of its residents work in the city. So while Annemasse isn’t really a place for sightseeing, its value lies in all of the things you can do within a brief drive.
The centre of Geneva, and its culture, parks and museums will be on your radar, and the natural splendour all around should give you plenty of ideas for excursions. You could set sail on a cruise, discovering Lake Geneva or the Rhône, or turn south and East to the Alps for outdoor escapades in winter or summer.
lets explore the best things to do in Annemasse:
1. Mont Salève Cable Car
The “Balcony of Geneva” has a cable car on its north face whisking you up 1,000 metres in just five minutes.
And once you get to the top the mountain’s nickname will make perfect sense as you’re greeted by a view that will stop you in your tracks . You won’t be blamed for pausing over the vistas of Geneva, the lake and the Jura Mountains.
But Salève is also a outdoor wonderland for hikes, mountain biking and climbing, and if you’re up to the challenge you can venture round to the southeast face to see the Alps in all their glory.
2. Out and About in Annemasse
There are all kinds of political and economic reasons why this commuter town cropped up a few kilometres from Geneva after the First World War.
But what was a small village in 1913 has become a sizeable town of 35,000 today.
The hotels in Annemasse tend to be more reasonably priced than those in Geneva, and there’s a good selection of restaurants together with French and international retail brands.
In the mornings you’ll find lots of stalls trading on the market square around a solemn memorial to the Second World War.
Also stop by the Town Hall for a photo before moving on to one of the many exciting places close by.
3. Geneva Cathedral
The reformation theologian John Calvin died in Geneva in 1564 after spending a lot of his life in the city.
One way his presence is still felt in the city’s cathedral is through the absence of decor.
When the city adopted Protestantism nearly all of the ornamentation was removed, and only the stained glass windows were kept because they’d have been too costly to replace.
On display inside is a wooden chair used by John Calvin, as well as Switzerland’s largest assortment of Gothic and Romanesque capitals.
Indeed, the cathedral is far older than the arresting neoclassical portico on the western facade makes it seem, with roots in the 4th century and rebuilds in the 1100s and 1400s.
4. Lake Geneva
Annemasse is ten minutes from the southern nook of the Petit Lac, which is the narrower western end of Lake Geneva.
Where the lake flows out via the Rhône the city is cut into two halves between the commercial districts in the east and the residential neighbourhoods in the west.
Almost anywhere you go in the city you’ll never be far from the lake, which can be gazed at from waterfront walkways like the Promanade du Lac at the Jardin Anglais.
The Rhône is also vey picturesque in places, and spanned by a succession of bridges that incorporate the islands along the river.
5. Jet d’Eau
A sight in Geneva that everyone knows, the Jet d’Eau is a fountain on the lake that has been imitated by cities around the world.
It fires 500 litres of water per second to a height of 140 metres and can be seen all around the city and even from the sky 10,000 metres up.
On the Jetée des Eaux-Vives you can get right underneath the fountain, which was moved to this spot in 1891, and will get some awesome shots of the landmark.
A cool piece of trivia about the Jet is that it wasn’t planned as a monument, and was simply an outlet for a hydraulic power network in 1886. But everyone liked the way it looked and it was placed closer to the city a few years later.
6. Patek Philippe Museum
Since you’re so close to Geneva it’s only right to look a little deeper into the world of luxury watches and watchmaking.
Patek Philippe was founded in the 19th century as a partnership between the Polish entrepreneur Antoni Patek and the French horologist Adrien Philippe.
There’s a fun movie about how the two got together and four floors of mesmerising horological exhibits charting not just the story of this venerable company but the watchmaking industry in Geneva back to the 1500s.
Anyone interested in the mechanics of these timepieces will be enthralled by the third floor, which has the very desk, machines and tools used to build the early Patek Philippe watches.
7. Place du Bourg-de-Four
One street over from the cathedral is Geneva’s central square.
If you’re in the city on a shopping trip or are out for a meal in the evening there’s a good chance that you’ll end up on Place du Bourg-de-Four.
The square is a bit unconventional, in that instead of a quadrilateral outline it’s more of an hourglass, tapering in the middle in front of the Palais du Justice.
On the nearest weekend to 11 December this is the place to see the pageantry, re-enactments and parades of the l’Escalade, which celebrates the night the city fended off a surprise attack by the army of the Duke of Savoy in 1602.
8. Natural History Museum
Geneva can be a pricey place, so free attractions like this are all the more worthwhile.
But even if you had to pay this excellent museum would still be essential.
Dinosaur skeletons are always box office, and here they on the third floor together with prehistoric mammals, so you could begin your visit at the top and work your way down through the other galleries.
On the floor below are eight aquariums for species from the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean, and further down the museum has made an immersive reconstruction of the African Savannah.
9. Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (MAH)
The most diverse of Switzerland’s three largest museum, the MAH is bursting with art, decorative items and archaeology of national importance.
The sheer quantity of epoch-making artists assembled here is dazzling, and just by way of a snapshot includes Cézanne, Monet, Picasso, Rubens and Veronese, with an accent on Impressionism and Mannerism.
The premier collection of Swiss ancient archaeology is in this museum, consisting of gallery after gallery of statues, sarcophagi, ceramics and everyday items like combs and toys.
And as for applied arts, you can study precious enamel, watches, tapestries, lace and see the hall of armour which recounts the story of the Escalade we mentioned earlier.
10. CERN Tour
From the centre of Geneva you can take the tram out to what is probably the most important facility in 21st-century physics, home of the Large Hadron Collider, the most complicated machine ever constructed.
A cool thing about this experience is how it will occupy you for days on end: Before your tour it’s worth reading up on what happens at CERN and why it’s so groundbreaking, but also reminding yourself of some of the basics of physics and chemistry that you learned at school.
That way you’ll have some worthwhile questions to ask on your guided tour, which does a great job of condensing complicated particle science into something everyone can understand, almost!
11. Bains des Paquis
With a perfect view of the Jet d’Eau, the Bains des Paquis is a bathing area on a pier that extends from the right bank of the lake.
In summer you can sunbathe or swim in the lake’s waters at the outdoor pool.
If you’re really hardy you can do the same in winter, but at that time of year most people only come for walks or to hit the saunas and steam rooms.
The restaurant is fabulous too, serving simple and affordable food and packing in an interesting cross-section of Geneva’s residents.
In the evenings there’s mulled wine and fondue by the fire in a party-like atmosphere.
12. Parc La Grange
The largest green space in Geneva is particularly close to Annemasse, at an effortless five kilometres.
The park promises a bit of relaxation in all seasons, but summer is when it’s indispensable: The city’s biggest rose garden is in bloom, and the sight of 10,000 roses of 200 varieties is not to be missed.
Summer evenings mean culture, with plays at the Théâtre de l’Orangerie and outdoor concerts of all descriptions at the Théâtre de Verdure amphitheatre.
And by day you can bring children to the large paddling pools and playgrounds, or idle over a picnic while staying connected with one of four free Wi-Fi hotspots.
At the harbour in Geneva you’ll be scratching your head at the long list of boat tours available.
If you don’t have long to spare there’s a quick trip around the Petit Lac in front of the city, granting you a fresh look at the cityscape.
But if you’d prefer to make a day of it you have loads of options.
One would be to journey to the French south shore of the lake to the gorgeous Yvoire a walled medieval settlement on a promontory and lauded as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France”. But the placid banks of the Rhône may also call your name, as you float down to Verbois past gorges and nesting waterfowl.
14. Les Voirons
Hoving into view just east of Annemasse is this 1,480-metre peak.
In around 10 minutes from the town you can park up and begin your attack on this tall but accessible mountain, and at the summit your reward will be a view that you won’t soon forget.
You can see it all from up here: Mont Blanc, the entirety of Lake Geneva and the Montagnes du Giffre.
Les Voirons is just one peak along the GR du Balcon du Léman, a long-distance trail that encompasses all of the best natural vantage points on the French south shore of Lake Geneva.
15. Regional Cuisine
If there’s one dish associated with Savoy and Switzerland it’s fondue.
For the uninitiated it’s a blend of cheeses, chiefly Gruyère or its French equivalent Beaufort, melted down with white wine.
You’ll use long forks to dip bread into the unctuous, indulgent cheese.
Melted cheese is also the basis for raclette, which comes with potatoes and goes perfectly with white wine.
You can see the Italian influence in crozets, small pasta squares that are often enjoyed with yet more melted cheese and diot, the regional sausage.
Almost as famous as fondue is tartiflette, a potato gratin, composed of onions, lardons and, you guessed it, melted cheese.