Don’t miss out on these 10 remarkable Lake Geneva experiences

Lake Geneva is a hidden gem in Wisconsin

Is it Geneva Lake or Lake Geneva? The former is the name of the lake and the latter is the name of the town that grew up along its shores. While it’s easy to confuse the two, they are so interlinked that no one gets upset when you use one incorrectly. Once the playground for the wealthy from nearby Chicago and Milwaukee, Lake Geneva has become a popular tourist destination for people from all over. Here are 10 amazing things you can do and experience in this delightful corner of Wisconsin:

See Geneva Lake’s mail jumpers in action

There aren’t many places left in the United States where mailboats continue to operate, but the mansions that line Geneva Lake still get their daily mail delivered straight to their docks. Tour boats sail past these historic homes several times a day, but the most popular sailing is the one where the mail jumpers leap from the boat, drop off their delivery in the dockside mailboxes, then jump back onboard. It’s a unique spectacle that you won’t see anywhere else.

Look to the stars at America’s most fabled observatory

Legend has it that when Albert Einstein visited America for the first time there were only two places he wanted to see, Niagara Falls and the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin on Geneva Lake.  Not only does the observatory, which is an architectural masterpiece, house the world’s largest refracting telescope, it’s also was where some of America’s most famous astronomers like Carl Sagan, Edwin Hubble and Gerard Kuiper worked. No matter where you sit on the Venn diagram of the intersection of astronomy, art and architecture, a visit to Yerkes is something that shouldn’t be missed especially on a cloudless night when you can peer through its mighty telescope.

Take a twirl in a lakeside ballroom

Perched by the shores of Geneva Lake in downtown Lake Geneva you’ll find a gorgeous Depression-era building known as The Riviera. This lovingly-restored ballroom once hosted the biggest names in music during the 30s, 40s and 50s and lives on today as one of the city’s most popular event spaces. Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, it’s a beautiful place worth exploring before you board one of the tour boats that ply the lake’s waters.

Walk through the front yards of the lake’s most expensive mansions

You might think that the wealthy families that built their lavish mansions along Geneva Lake would have the shore to themselves, but the lake boasts a unique 40-km (26-mile) path that lets you walk completely walk around it. About the distance of a marathon, this would take the average person 8 to 10 hours to walk around, but you can explore as little or as much as you like, just be warned that there are only a few public washrooms. The path exists today because early settlers decreed that the “20 feet leading to the shoreline be preserved as public domain.” Part of the fun is that property owners are responsible for maintaining their stretch of the path and each one puts their own personal touch on it.

Tour a mansion from Lake Geneva’s gilded age

Many of the mansions and lavish properties along Geneva Lake are quite modern, but there are still a number of them that were built by wealthy industrialists in the 19th century. The closest you’ll get to any of these historic homes is by walking along the shore path or taking a boat tour, but one historic home, the Black Point Estate & Gardens, is open to the public as a museum. Once owned by a Wisconsin beer baron, this Queen Anne-style mansion features a collection of beautiful Victorian furniture, as well as pieces from later generations, that make it a rare time capsule of Wisconsin history.

See a Vegas-style illusionist show, but without going to Vegas

If you’re looking on TripAdvisor for things to do in Lake Geneva, it’s not the mail jumpers or the lakeside mansions that top of the list. What you’ll most likely find instead is The Tristan Crist Magic Theatre, a purpose-built venue where Crist and other performers put on always-changing illusionist show all year round. It sounds hokey, but once you’ve experienced his upbeat performance and witnessed his improbable illusions, you’ll understand what the hype is about.

Stay at a former Playboy Club resort

The first-ever Playboy Club was launched in nearby Chicago and when its famous founder Hugh Hefner was looking for ways to expand his empire, he turned his eyes to Lake Geneva where he built a lavish resort. It worked for a while, but eventually it changed hands and was a recording studio for a period before it was rescued by another corporation which has since transformed it into one of the area’s most esteemed resorts, the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa.

Play Dungeons & Dragons in the house where it was invented

The hugely-popular game of Dungeons & Dragons was invented in Lake Geneva by Gary Gygax and Dale Arneson. Gygax invented it while still living at home with his parents. That unassuming house was later used for the many years as another family’s summer home. They have since rebranded it as The Birthplace of D&D and make it available for fans from around the world to come and play the game in the very spot where it all started. There’s even a loft next door where you can stay the night.

Fly over Lake Geneva in a hot air balloon

Everyone who comes to Lake Geneva eventually takes a boat tour, but only a few ever get to see it with a bird’s-eye view in a hot air balloon. You can book a private flight for two with the Lake Geneva Hot Air Balloon Company or take the less expensive option of flying with a group of four to 10 others. Unlike the boats which go out just about every day, hot air balloon rides can only go when the conditions are perfect to ensure everyone’s safety, so leave yourself some room for a backup flight in case your original one gets postponed.

Make a visit to the Geneva Lake Museum of History

Long before the well-to-do started buying up properties along Geneva Lake, this land was inhabited by Indigenous people. That’s where the story of the lake begins at this delightful local museum that traces the history of the region from its humble beginnings to today. Chock-a-block with exhibits, artefacts and surprising stories about Geneva Lake, the museum should not be missed.

DON’T MISS: Dungeons & Dragons’s unlikely Wisconsin birthplace is gearing up to celebrate the game’s 50th anniversary

Hotels in Lake Geneva, WI

Mark Stachiew

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