Geneva: Exploring the World’s Humanitarian Capital

Explore this European city from a different perspective.
by | October 11, 2016

While Geneva is well-known for its breathtaking view of the Alps, Lake Geneva (or Lac Léman) and the jet d’eau, it is also recognized as the humanitarian capital of the world. Over 30 international organizations that focus on humanitarian and development work are based there, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

If you want to explore Geneva in a different way and gain a global perspective on humanitarian work, these are some of the best things to see and do.

Musée international de la Réforme (MIR or the International Museum of Reformation)

In order to understand how humanitarian action is developed and why it plays such a prominent role in this particular Swiss city, you can learn more about its Christian roots at the MIR, as revealed through a series of historical artifacts and modern installations.

In 2007, the MIR won the Council of Europe Museum Prize, an annual prize awarded to an institution that has made a significant contribution to the understanding Europe’s cultural heritage. It is part of the Espace Saint-Pierre, along with an archaeological site, Cathedral and its towers, which visitors can climb up for a 360 degree view of the city.

Broken Chair


This imposing monumental sculpture is located in front of the main entrance to the Palais des Nations. It is 12 meters (39 feet) high and made with 5.5 tons of wood. The sculpture – a chair with a broken fourth leg – was created by artist Daniel Berset and carpenter Louis Genève as a project for Handicap International.

Today, it stands as a symbol for opposition to land mines and cluster bombs.

Palais des Nations (The Palace of Nations)


The United Nations Office (UNOG) is located at the Palais des Nations, which is the second largest United Nations center. Situated in Ariana Park, the Palais has a gorgeous view of Lake Geneva, roaming peacocks and trees that are about 800 years old. There are also a number of beautiful monuments and artworks given by member states on the grounds.

Guided and thematic tours are available for individuals and groups, depending on the schedule on the website.

ICRC Museum


The museum is located beneath the ICRC headquarters. The interactive permanent exhibition is divided into three areas which focus on unique challenges faced by the humanitarian aid sector.

Visitors can listen to personal accounts of workers and civilians from areas of armed combat, go through actual ledgers from WWII and track Red Cross and Red Crescent operations around the world.

ICRC Museum Restaurant and UNOG Main Cafeteria

Have breakfast, lunch or a coffee break at either the ICRC Restaurant (located on top of the museum) or the UNOG cafeteria (on the ground floor of the main building).

It is easy to get lost in the Palais des Nations, so be sure to ask directions to the cafeteria. Both facilities have indoor and outdoor dining areas, with prices that are relatively low compared to other restaurants in the city.

Have you been to Geneva? Post tips and leads in the comments!

Michellan Alagao has been a freelance writer and editor for the past seven years, and has written articles on art, culture and lifestyle for a variety of magazines and websites in her free time. She graduated London Metropolitan University with a BSc in Psychology and Criminology, and went on to complete her MFA in Creative Writing from De La Salle University, Manila. She currently works for a global organization that protects the poor from violence, focusing specifically against the sexual exploitation of women and children.

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