Exploring Lake Geneva (Switzerland) by Boat

Seeing a destination from the water offers radically different perspective. Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) is one of the world’s most spectacular bodies of water. At the foot of the Alps, the color of the lake is ever-changing and there are moments when it’s ocean-like with surf and waves.

Note, when you are on the Internet doing research Lake Geneva, Wisconsin will come up in searches too so you need to make sure you are looking at the right version …

Taking a boat tour on the lake is an essential activity for visits when the weather is nice (spring through the early fall).  There are many different boats and itineraries available, particularly over the summer months. I was fairly overwhelmed when I first tried to figure out how to choose the best tour for outings with kids so I interviewed the Montreux Riviera tourist office for some insider tips and advice.

Lake Geneva Boat Tours

First and foremost, bookmark the website for cgn.ch — this is the website for the Compagnie Générale de Navigation (CGN) sur Le Lac Léman and it is the directory for all routes and timetables. I’ve added this URL to my Switzerland tourist attractions resource list.

Take a paddle steamer trip

The tourist office suggests a trip on one of the paddle steamer ships where kids can see up close how these old boats run. Favorite options include Geneva to Yvoire medieval village in France and Lausanne to Montreux and Chateau de Chillon.

We took a round trip 2-hour cruise on the Vevey through Montreux and Bouvret. We enjoyed ourselves but next time I’d leave more time for one of the shore excursions below.

Combine a boat trip with shore excursion

Over the summer months there are enough ships where it is easy to get off for a few hours and catch another boat home. Excursions of interest for families include:

*Olympic Museum in Lausanne

*Alimentarium Food Museum in Vevey

*Swiss Museum of Games in La Tour-de-Peilz

*Cogwheel railway to Rochers-de-Naye from Montreux

*Aqua Parc in Bouvret (this place looks like school age kid paradise)

*International Red Cross Museum in Geneva

*Musee du Leman (museum about the lake) in Nyon

*Chateau de Chillon near Montreux (Switzerland’s most visited historic monument)

I haven’t been to any of these suggested venues yet but will do so in the upcoming months and report back on the blog.

September sunset on Lake Geneva

Booking process

If you are a group of less than 10 people you don’t need a reservation. You can buy your ticket at the port before boarding or even at the desk on the ship (same price). It is recommended, however, to make reservations head of time for any meal-specfic cruises. You can do that via phone on +41 (0) 848 811 848 or via email on info@cgn.ch.

You can also combine rail and boat passes at train stations and the Lausanne and Geneva ports. Kids under 6 are free and ages 7-16 pay half-fare. Dogs are allowed.

First versus Second Class tickets

We went first class on our last boat trip and I liked the fact that you have more room to move around and choose seating. Also, it varies by boat, but some ships only have substantial food in First Class. Snacks and drinks make the trip more pleasant.

Pricing is based on the number of kilometers, but as a general rule, First Class is about 33% more. That said, if you are on a tight budget, Second Class is fine — just bring your own drinks/snacks and get to the port early so you can be one of the first people to board the ship for optimal seating. Note, there are also a few boats with only First Class seating and services available.

When to go

Boats run through the winter months too but on a more limited schedule. I can’t imagine it would be fun to take one of these boats with kids in terrible weather when everyone is locked inside so plan accordingly.

Also, remember to bring your passport with you for excursions to France. There is nobody checking but it is good to have on hand nonetheless.

Photos courtesy of Amie O’Shaughnessy

Start a Discussion

  • Hi Jeff – In the villages of Vevey and Lutry (both GORGEOUS!) you can find people that will rent boats to you although I’m pretty certain that you need a license for a motor boat. I would email the tourist offices for each of those villages for more info … I see Lutry info is
    POINT I: M. Gervasi Paolo
    Quai Gustave-Doret – 1095 Lutry
    Tél.: 021 791 47 65 infolutry@mvtourism.ch
    And the broader tourist site is: http://www.montreuxriviera.com/en/index.cfm

  • I will be at Lake Geneva with my family in mid June this summer. I was wondering if anyone knows a contact for renting small boat to take out on the lake ourselves. Live by a lake in California and boat all the time. So does anyone know how to rent a motorized (ski or wakeboard size) boat or slightly larger to tour the lake on our own?

  • There is also Swiss Vapeur Parc in Bouveret. We’ve never been there but I heard that it’s a big hit with little children.
    And don’t forget that in summer you can (almost?) always find a beach to swim on the lake in every stop of the boat. It’s for free and really great!

  • Thank you for the many great tipps for travelling Europe with kids, I am organizing a destination wedding on Lake Geneva including family with kids and your website is extremely helpful in setting up a program that will be suitable for them, too.

  • Yes, Anna, I was just looking at getting down to Lake Lugano and actually couldn’t believe how expensive it is. In terms of accommodations specifically … Nonetheless, I hear it is spectacular!

  • We were in Switzerland too this summer, in Lake Lugano, it’s absolutely beautiful but very expensive compared to the rest of Europe!

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