Life in Geneva

Compared to other international cities, Geneva is a relatively small city. The city itself has 200,000 inhabitants and the Canton of Geneva a total of 470,000. In other words, it is a little smaller than Washington, D.C. Despite its size, however, the city is world-renowned and has exceptional features owing to its history, the presence of numerous international institutions (International Geneva) and its economic vitality; the latter is supported by the presence of numerous multinationals that have their world or European headquarters in the Geneva region, by a significant financial sector (Geneva has been ranked the world’s sixth most important financial centre by the Global Financial Centres Index) and by the expanding commodity trading sector, notably oil (Geneva ranks as the second most important trading centre for this commodity).

A historical and cultural city


Situated at the very heart of Europe and from the end of the Middle Ages, Geneva has played an important role as a commercial, banking and industrial (watchmaking) centre. During the Reformation, Jean Calvin made Geneva the Protestant equivalent of Rome. At that time, the city took in refugees from all over Europe and created networks that lasted for centuries. During the Age of Enlightenment, the country played an important role with writers such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Mme de Stael and a large number of scholars, including Ferdinand de Saussure, the father of linguistics. 

Heir to this history, Geneva houses rich art collections and vast documentary resources, predominantly found at the University of Geneva, the Graduate Institute, but also the United Nations. Moreover, the city’s cultural life is very diverse: for a city of its size, it is of unrivalled quality anywhere else in the world. Click here for more information on Arts and Culture in Geneva in English.

An international city


In 1919, Geneva was chosen to house the League of Nation's headquarters. After 1945, Geneva became the European headquarters for the United Nations Office (UNOG), where 172 States are represented by permanent missions. Today, it hosts the headquarters of a large number of UN specialised agencies, other international institutions (such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN)) as well as the World Economic Forum.

Along with New York, Geneva is the world's most important conference centre, hosting over 170,000 people participating in 4,500 international meetings each year.

In addition, 14 Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded to individuals or institutions from Geneva. The first was won in 1901 by Henry Dunant, founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the most recent was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in 2017.

Exceptional quality of life


Geneva offers an excellent quality of life; international quality of life indexes consistently rank it among the top 10 cities in the world.

The city is clean and safe. It boasts high quality public facilities. Thanks to first-class urban planning, it is easy to get around, either by bicycle or public transport. The railway network makes it possible to reach all of Europe's major cities with ease. The international airport is 20 minutes from the city centre and is well connected to destinations across the globe.

The city’s population is also very international. The percentage of foreigners in Geneva is very high (40%): it is comparable to the numbers found in New York or Los Angeles and far higher than the percentages of foreigners in London or Paris. This gives rise to a city with a wide variety of cultural events and culinary experiences.

Situated on the shores of the largest lake in Western Europe and only a short distance from the Alps, Geneva is the ideal location for numerous outdoor activities, from water sports to hiking and skiing.