There’s a huge variety of cafés in Geneva, from American-style coffee bars to English tearooms, quirky park cafés and old-fashioned places packed with character, history – and some of the most interesting decor in Geneva. Coffee culture is as refined here as any city in Europe, and what most Geneva cafés have in common is a preference for outdoor seating, ideal for people-watching in the Swiss sun all year round. Get under the skin of the Genevois by heading into the neighbourhoods of Plainpalais, Les Grottes and Bains to watch the world go by from a street corner café, mingle with tourists and locals in the Old Town or mix with a real cross-section of society at the ever-popular lakeside Buvette des Bains des Pâquis.
An antidote to big-name chain cafés and a pocket of calm amid the bustle of Rue de Carouge, Les Recyclables is a delight. Half café, half second-hand bookshop, it lures you in for a drink or lunch and tempts you with a selection of new reading material. The café itself is friendly and cheerful, with purple and orange chairs, fairy lights strewn around the windows and table centrepieces of wild heather. The food is imaginative and well-presented, and there’s a well-priced dish of the day each lunchtime. On selected evenings you’ll be serenaded as you eat by invited musicians – jazz, bossa nova, Brazilian ‘choro’ – while the café also hosts regular lectures, debates and literary evenings.
This stylish café is so-called due to the presence of several newspaper offices in this area during the last century. Now they’re gone, you’re no longer likely to see shifty-looking hacks scribbling furiously in spiral bound pads (they’d have laptops now, surely). Instead, this classy corner cafe is open to anyone after a relaxed lunch or coffee in convivial surroundings. The café is attached to the restaurant Le Reservoir and shares a similarly Italian-inspired menu, though options in the café are generally simpler and less expensive. Sports are shown on large screens and on weekends the 4am opening time makes it ideal for a sobering coffee after a long night out in nearby bars.
This late 19th-century pavilion in the Bastions park is a peaceful spot for lunch or Sunday brunch, either in the rather grand conservatory-style interior or on the pretty outdoor terrace which comes into its own on a sunny summer’s day. It’s not cheap and service can be plodding, so come when you have the time and the francs to make it worthwhile, or use it as a coffee stop on a stroll through the park. In winter the terrace is transformed into an ice rink which is free to use – you can hire skates (for a charge) on site.
Created by an Italian family of ice-cream makers in 1921, Remor hasn’t changed much since then – at least in decor. But its charming pre-war feel is part of the reason why people flock here in droves – that and its prominent people-watching position in Plainpalais, its relaxed, artsy feel, its outdoor terrace and its free wi-fi. That’s before we even get to the food. As you’d expect, there’s a copious selection of homemade ice creams, sorbets and classic ice cream-based puds such as banana split which are satisfyingly large and rich. Desserts aside, Remor’s line-up of pizzas, cheese toasties, charcuterie and sandwiches is decent, if not spectacular. The café also hosts regular movie nights screening short films by local directors.
This café-restaurant is part of Geneva’s Bains des Paquis, a 1930s-era public swimming baths and spa on Lake Geneva’s right bank. As such, it’s a great place to hang out in the sun right next to the lake, whether for coffee, drinks or a light bite. Open year round, it’s as popular in summer for breakfast on the spacious outdoor terrace as it is for a hearty fondue in the heated cabin in winter – and it attracts all types, from bankers to beach bums, self-employed to unemployed. The menu of salads, soups and charcuterie is simple and pretty cheap and there’s a set-price dish of the day. Mostly though, you come here for the laid-back atmosphere, the people-watching, the view of the lake and the opportunity to take a dip if you fancy it – even in winter.
Fully embracing Geneva’s thriving café culture, this contemporary coffee bar is slick but comfy, functional but inviting, and attracts a clientele of streetsmart urbanites, students and young professionals. The coffee is excellent – not always an easy find in Geneva – counter service is efficient and there’s a range of sandwiches and snacks if you’re looking to linger longer. A good central meeting place for a catch-up with friends, it’s also ideal for freelance types looking to work over a coffee – find the code for free wi-fi on your receipt. There’s a second, smaller branch on Rue du Mont Blanc near the train station.
There’s something a bit fairytale about this place. Tucked on a grassy patch near the Brunswick monument on the right bank of Lake Geneva, it’s a cosy cabin designed as a home from home. Inside there are old wooden dressers containing books and magazines, paintings on the walls, mismatched lamps and trinkets. Outside, the leafy terrace looking onto the monument and the lake is a peaceful spot to sit and have a quiet breakfast or lunch – the large salads are particularly tasty. Or come after 6pm to take advantage of its menu of tapas – cheeses, dips, smoke fish, marinated vegetables – and local wines. And as befits a gingerbread house, the cakes and puddings are to die for.
Tucked up a cobbled street in the Old Town, this charming ‘laughing teapot’ tearoom is ideal for those looking for an English-style high tea on a rainy afternoon. As you’d hope, there’s a vast array of loose-leaf teas on offer, along with some properly decadent cakes and homemade scones, which come warm with jam and cream (not clotted, but you can’t have everything). The decor is cosy and quaint, and there are usually newspapers and magazines to read. It’s not always service with a smile (let alone a laugh), but it’s a relaxing place to be nonetheless.
A Geneva institution, the main reason to visit this long-standing café-bar in the Old Town’s main square is its large outdoor terrace, the perfect spot for some quality people-watching in an area of the city that attracts both tourists and locals. Stop by for a morning coffee, a lunchtime snack – quiche, sandwiches and soup make up the limited menu – or an early evening beer as the locals arrive for a post-work apéro before heading for a meal at one of the numerous restaurants around the square.