The whole of Switzerland is worth visiting but I would have to say that visiting the United Nations Office at Geneva (“UNOG”) should be at the top of your list if you’re in the country. This is because you will get an insight into the workings of the United Nations and have an opportunity to learn and see the various conference rooms and grounds that are at the heart of diplomacy. As the UNOG is the second largest United Nations centre and is housed in the Palais des Nations, there is a great deal of history to the site, thereby, certainly necessitating a visit.
In order to get to the UNOG, you need to take the number 15 tram (in the direction of Nations) from Geneva’s central station and get off at the last stop. Once you depart from the tram, you will see the first of the two entrances to the UNOG. This entrance has the Broken Chair structure outside, a gate and two large columns of flags. This entrance is known as the Nations Gate entrance and is only for United Nations personnel. You need to turn left from this entrance and walk up a hill for about 5 minutes with the UNOG’s grounds on your right hand side until you come to the Pregny Gate. The Pregny Gate is the entrance for visitors and is located specifically at 14, avenue de la Paix.
Securing a place on the UNOG's 1-2 hour tour
You will then have to queue and go through security before your passport will be reviewed and your photograph will be taken. Once this has been completed, a badge will be created for you to wear which will state that you are a “visitor”. You will then be directed down a corridor where you will need to purchase your ticket for the tour (for which I have provided the prices below). Once you have purchased your ticket, you will leave the building within which you are in and will cross the UNOG’s car park to where the tour starts. On route from one building to another, you are likely to see some gorgeous peacocks taking a stroll, if you’re visiting on a warm sunny day.
Once you are in the reception area of the building, you will be asked to sit and wait for the rest of the group to arrive. In this area, you will see a gift shop, restrooms and a drinks machine. You may have to wait here for around 40 minutes due to the time it takes for other visitors to pass through security and the administrative process to be completed. I would urge you to arrive early for your tour due to its popularity and the fact that the UNOG is known to have masses of queues for people wishing to enter and learn about this important site. It is not possible to pre-book tickets unless you are in a large group, so it is important that you make sure that you have enough time to go through security and complete the administrative process, otherwise you may find yourself being unable to participate in the tour.
Each tour group has approximately 20 minutes and lasts between 1 – 2 hours long. Tours are available in over 15 languages and your tour guide will impart upon you a breath of knowledge about the workings of the United Nations. The tour guides’ role within the UNOG is not only as a tour guide but rather they have another more active role in the activities in the UNOG, such as by being an interpreter or translator during conferences and negotiations. At the beginning of the tour, you will be shown a chart, as per the photograph, which shows the different functions of the United Nations and all other associated non-governmental organisations that it works with such as the International Labour Organisation.
See the 2,000 pieces of art and the Council Chamber
Following on from seeing this chart and learning briefly about the current activities of the United Nations, you will be shown an abundance of gifts of art that have been given to the UNOG that are displayed in the various corridors on the first floor. The art collection that has been gathered consists of around 2,000 pieces of work and reflects the cultural identity and diversity in membership of the United Nations. As you walk through the corridors with your guide, you will be able to appreciate the amazing architecture of the buildings that make the UNOG. The scale of the site is so much larger than one could envisage from the outside and there is a volume of permanent operations that are housed there as well as temporary ones.
From the first floor, you will be able to look out over the immaculate gardens and really appreciate the splendour of the building. You will also be able to see the famous Lake Leman, which has a stunning view of the Alps from the windows. On a bright day, you may even be able to see as far as Mont Blanc. The UNOG building itself is such an elegant, serious and warm building at the same time and is most humbling to be inside. You will see diplomats, civil society representatives and many other people from around the world. As you pass by the art collection, you will also see other informative exhibits that your guide will point out to you.
You will be taken inside a few of the major committee and conference rooms including the Council Chamber, which is in the photograph above. This room is where many historical negotiations have taken place and your guide will give you examples of the resolutions that have been debated here. It’s incredible to think that the world’s negotiators have made their mark in this chamber with the intention and aim of making change. Whether or not you are interested in international politics, this tour is certainly eye-opening and I would definitely recommend it. It is no surprise that 115,000 people participate in the tour on a yearly basis.
See the assembly hall and world-famous human rights room
Another room that you will have the chance to see is the assembly hall, as per the photograph. This is the largest room in the UNOG and is a room that is immersed in history and the importance for the new world order and global diplomacy. If the room is not being used, your informative guide may even give you the opportunity to sit down whilst they teach you about the workings of the United Nations. In addition to this, you may also have an opportunity to see the human rights room with its absolutely amazing ceiling that is decorated by the famous artist Miquel Barcelò. Seeing his masterpiece in this room is almost too much to take in as it is so magnanimous and glorious to see. In my view, visiting the UNOG is one of the most historical and awe-inspiring places in Europe and I would have to recommend that you visit it during your lifetime.
For those that are passionate about international relations, the Palais des Nations may even feel like a temple of and for humanity. This is because it is a place that reconnects individuals to the best parts of humanity, the spirit of the collective with an objective to search for a better tomorrow for all. It is a place where the goal is to embrace every soul on earth without leaving one behind. Whilst it is acknowledged that the United Nations does not always achieve its objectives, the goal that it has in itself is a positive step forward in continuously trying to make positive change in our world. We can only hope that further collaboration and positive impact can be made by the the nations that form the membership of the United Nations.
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An inspiring and enlightening experience
The cost of a tour of the UNOG varies contingent on the category in which you fit in in respect to a number of factors including age. For adults, the cost is 12 CHF (13 USD) per person. For university students, senior citizens and disabled persons, it is 10 CHF (11 USD) per person. It should be noted that the tour is not suitable for children under the age of 10 years old. In order to find out the times for the tours in each language, please check the UNOG website. It is an inspiring and enlightening tour that I can assure you will remain with you forever. If, however, you do not have an opportunity to do the tour itself, I would still recommend visiting the area and standing outside of the Nations Gate entrance where you can see the colourful 192 flags outside the UNOG and the important Broken Chair monument, which is located in the public areas and is near the UNOG premises.
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