You can find the whole of Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva. Look forward to snowy mountains, bucolic wine-villages, city nightlife and the sound of cowbells in rolling pastureland. There are castles, cathedrals and the beautiful blue lake itself. Plan your trip to Lake Geneva with our guide to Lake Geneva, based on The Rough Guide to Switzerland, your travel guide for Switzerland.
What to expect when travelling to Lake Geneva
Much of the northern shore of Lake Geneva and its mountainous hinterland forms part of Canton Vaud. Economically and politically it's the strongest of the French-speaking cantons.
The area has a turbulent past. In 1798 a revolution backed by France returned control of the canton to the Vaudois after two centuries of rule by Bernese bailiffs. This struggle was commemorated by Napoleon, who formally created a new canton from the territory.
Vaud duly joined the Swiss Confederation in 1803. The green-and-white flag still flies in towns and villages to this day and bears the words “Liberté et Patrie”.
The ambience of the region is thoroughly Gallic. Historic animosity towards Catholic France has given way to a yearning to embrace the EU.
The short train ride from the Swiss-German cities of the Mittelland crosses more than just a linguistic boundary. It seems to span a whole continent of attitude.
For detail on the city of Geneva, read our travel guide to Geneva.
Best places to visit in Lake Geneva
Lausanne is a place that sparks strong reactions. In a country of spectacular natural beauty, it's a staggeringly beautiful city that's often called Switzerland’s San Francisco.
Much of the city is still wooded and the lakefront promenades spill over with beds of vibrantly colourful flowers. Attractive, interesting, worldly, and well aware of how to have a good time, it’s simply Switzerland’s sexiest city.
If Switzerland has a counterculture, it can be seen most strongely in the clubs and cafés of Lausanne. The city has a long tradition of fostering intellectual and cultural innovation.
For further detail on Lausanne, including where to stay and what to see, read our Lausanne travel guide.
La Gruyère region
Gruyères village is the best-known attraction of the region known as La Gruyère. The region takes in the market town and regional transport hub of Bulle, which isn’t lacking in charm, although there’s little reason to visit other than to switch transport.
From here, trains on the narrow-gauge GFM line will take you to Gruyères itself. They'll also take you to the cheese dairy at Pringy and the Cailler chocolate factory at Broc.
Gruyères itself is known for its fairy-tale castle that sits atop a single crag that rises above the rolling lowlands of Canton Fribourg.
This is one of Switzerland’s most photogenic sights, and within reach of Lake Geneva. Gruyères therefore attracts hordes of day-trippers. They come to stroll on the village’s only street and explore the impressive château.
Up in the village, the castle, with its rooms full of Flemish tapestries, heaves with visitors. The town's two adjacent museums are less busy, and devoted to somewhat contrasting art forms. Namely Buddhist Tibetan art and contemporary graphic design.
- Best for couples: Fleur de Lys. An excellent choice in the heart of Gruyères, with rooms that either overlook the square or the scenery that stretches south from the village.
- Best for cosy comfort: L’Hôtel de Gruyères. This homely, welcoming three-star hotel just outside the village offers fine views from the outdoor terrace and a small spa.
Where to stay in Gruyères
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The gently curving northwestern shore of the lake from Geneva to Lausanne (some 65km) is known as La Côte. It’s characterized by a succession of hamlets and small villages, almost without exception pretty and well-kept.
Dozens of châteaux scatter the landscape, most of which remain in private hands. Those that aren’t include the historic Château de Coppet, close to Geneva, and the Château de Prangins near Nyon. The latter houses an excellent museum devoted to Swiss history.
Other major stop-offs include the attractive harbour-town of Nyon, which has its own château and Roman museum. A major town under the Romans, this has mellowed into an attractive little port.
The town is spread out among fields and lawns that reach down to the water, and is backed by acres of vineyards. There’s a château and an excellent Roman museum. The nearby Château de Prangins houses the regional branch of the National Museum.
Elsewhere, the quiet, wine-growing lakeshore town of Morges is a pretty, peaceful place to stop-off.
The waterside boasts a sturdy castle (the Château de Morges) that’s home to four military museums. Just beyond is the Parc de l’Indépendence, home to an annual tulip festival (mid-April to mid-May).
- Best for town centre charm: Hostellerie du XVIe Siècle, Nyon. Occupying an arcaded building in the cobbled Old Town, the rooms are basic but clean, the staff are friendly, and the location is very convenient.
- Best for lakeside luxury: Le Rive, Nyon. This opulent four-star offers a choice of rooms in a quiet but central location by the lake.
- Best for couples: Romantik Hotel Mont-Blanc au Lac, Morges. An historic waterside hotel with elegantly furnished rooms, many of which have lake views.
Where to stay in La Côte
Vevey and around
Whereas brassy Montreux has freely embraced all that glitters, its old-fashioned neighbour Vevey is more discriminating.
Vevey quietly cleans its streets, tends its flowerbeds, makes sure it has enough, but not too many, hotels. It then waits for visitors to find the town for themselves.
Generations of tourists return to Vevey to stroll the flowered promenades, muse on the Dent d’Oche, venture across the water on the belle-époque ships, and take high tea in grand hotels.
That said, there’s more to do than this suggests. Vevey’s shops, museums and local life mean you could easily use it as a comfortable base from which to explore the whole lake region.
- Best for big occsaions: Grand Hôtel du Lac. This palatial five-star hotel blends understated grandeur with literary associations.
- Best for romantics: Hôtel des Trois Couronnes. Period grandeur remains in this utterly charming, luxurious lakeside pile, with a stunning terrace for dining.
- Best for city centre buzz: Les Négociants. A reliable family-run hotel just steps away from the main square.
- Best for campers: La Pichette Corseaux. 3km west of town, this campsite is situated on a curving neck of land that stretches out into the lake.
- Best for budget travellers: Vevey House. A spotless, modern hostel right on the main square, with spacious, welcoming communal living areas.
Where to stay in Vevey
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Montreux and around
Upmarket Montreux is spectacularly located, drenched in sunshine and protected from chill northerlies by a wall of mountains.
Apart from big-spender shopping, the main reasons to visit are to absorb the panorama of the Dents du Midi peaks across the lake. They also love to visit the unmissable Château de Chillon, and to catch the stellar annual Montreux Jazz Festival.
Most visitors make their way to the town’s most popular photo-op. It's a flamboyant bronze statue of Freddie Mercury who recorded much of his music here, and whose association with the town is explored in the Queen Studio Experience.
- Best for palatial luxury: Le Montreux Palace. This legendary luxury hotel is set in its own gardens on the lake. Rooms retain their original character, and links with Nabokov (he occupied a penthouse apartment) resonate.
- Best for couples: Grand Hôtel Suisse-Majestic. Right in town, this old belle époque establishment has much of the style and atmosphere of Le Montreux Palace at around half the price.
- Best for good-value elegance: Villa Toscane. A fabulous Art Nouveau creation on the Montreux waterfront, with balconies, meticulous service, and style.
- Best for budget travellers: Auberge de Jeunesse. This good hostel with dorms and private rooms is located 1.5km east of Montreux centre, beside Territet train station.
Where to stay in Montreux
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Top attractions around Lake Geneva
1. Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Lausanne
Definitely up there with the greatest of French Gothic architecture, Lausanne's Cathédrale Notre-Dame is Switzerland’s finest Gothic building.
The foundations of the current building were probably laid in the mid-twelfth century, with construction continuing from 1190 through to the cathedral’s consecration in 1275.
2. Château de Gruyères
Fairy-tale charmer Château de Gruyères was occupied from 1080 to 1554 by the nineteen counts of Gruyères. Later it was home to the Savoyards and a rich Geneva dynasty, the Bovy and Balland families.
The approach to the castle is almost as enchanting as the building itself. You must walk the length of Gruyères’ impossibly picturesque main street with its central fountain and quaint houses bedecked with hanging signs.
Gourmands visiting Gruyères might want to make the most of exploring the medieval village on a cheese and chocolate tour.
3. H.R. Giger Museum, Gruyères
Hans Rudolf Giger is a Swiss graphic artist, best known for designing the special effects for the movie Alien as well as Poltergeist II, Alien 3 and others.
He has turned one of Gruyères’ old houses into a showcase for his unique brand of grotesque art – sexualized surrealist visions of machine-like humanoids, and nightmarish cityscapes. Find out more the H.R. Giger Musuem.
4. Cailler chocolate factory
On the edge of the village of Broc, you’ll detect luscious scents emanating from the Cailler chocolate factory. Founded in 1898, this is the sole production facility for Nestlé’s Cailler brand. It's named after one of the nineteenth-century pioneers of chocolate-making.
On arrival you’re led through a series of dioramas showing the history of chocolate. Learn about everything from its exploitation by Aztec rulers to its arrival in the fashionable drawing-rooms of Europe.
The climax comes in the Tasting Room. Here you’re let loose on tables piled with bite-sized chunks of every Cailler product in unlimited quantities.
The most refined and alluring of lakeside towns, Vevey’s visitors gravitate towards its lakefront. Here the main square opens right onto the water, with the toothy peaks of the Dents du Midi shimmering in the distance.
A great way to soak up the scenery is to book a cruise aboard a paddle steamer.
In August the square is the focus of the annual Street Artists’ Festival, when the town is taken over by jugglers, acrobats and mime artists. Visit on a Tuesday or Saturday and you’ll find it packed with stalls selling food, craft and wine.
Vevey is also home to a museum devoted to former resident Charlie Chaplin. Save time by booking your ticket to Chaplin's World ahead of your trip.
6. Vevey-Corseaux Plage
On hot days locals and visitors alike flock to this beach complex next to the Nestlé HQ. Hemmed in as it is between the lakeshore and a main road, it can get rather busy.
Facilities include open-air swimming pools, lake access (weather permitting) and volleyball.
7. Les Pléiades
The vantage point of Les Pléiades (1364m) can be reached from Vevey Gare by a narrow-gauge train. It trundles up through suburbs before becoming rack-and-pinion operated to cope with the climb into classic chalets-and-cowbells country.
From the top, views yawn out in all directions. From the summit proper, Mont Blanc and the massif of the Savoy Alps can clearly be seen. Hiking trails abound from this and other stations on the line.
8. Château de Chillon, Montreux
This is of the best-preserved medieval castles in Europe. The thirteenth-century Château de Chillon was once an inspiration for the poet Byron.
Best approached via a 45-minute marked shoreline walk, your first glimpse of it is unforgettable. Behold an elegant, turreted pile jutting out into the water, framed by trees and craggy mountains.
To beat peak season queues, book your ticket to Château de Chillon in advance.
Great day tours and excursions in Lake Geneva
One of the best excursions from Lausanne is the short but scenic voyage across the lake to the French spa town of Evian, opposite Ouchy.
Little Evian has been gentrified, but it still has sights worthy of attention. Start with the modern spa complex that exploits the famous mineral springs.
The town centre is to the right as you disembark and is centred on busy Rue Nationale. One of the grand Art Nouveau edifices on this street houses the Espace evian, which has an exhibition on the town’s watery past.
Ten minutes on the bus from Gruyères-gare is Moléson-Sur-Gruyères village. It's a small resort giving access to the heights of Le Moléson mountain via a funicular to Plan-Francey, and a cable car to the summit.
Panoramic views from the summit take in Lake Geneva, the Pre-Alps and even Mont Blanc. Relatively easy walking tracks rise from Moléson to Plan-Francey, but become more challenging above that.
Rail lines and minor roads between Lausanne and Fribourg pass by Romont. This medieval town is perched atop an isolated round hill, with lofty 360-degree views.
The Old Town is marked by two round towers, which are linked by a single street.Rue du Château becomes Rue de l’Église where it runs past the Collegiate Church.
The Castle, the town’s other main sight, is home to a fine museum of stained glass. Its shady courtyard, which is surrounded by elevated wooden galleries, gives access to the Vitromusée with its displays of stained glass.
The lakeshore east from Lausanne
The compact stretch of Lake Geneva shore east from Lausanne to Vevey – known as the Lavaux – is one of the most alluring of all Swiss regions, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Its floral waterside promenades are flanked on one side by wide expanses of vines. On the other they are surrounded by vistas across to the Savoy Alps that rise rise behind the Dents-du-Midi on the far shore.
This is perfect country for gentle walks and bike rides punctuated by samplings of the local nectar. Cafés and pintes abound, set in the cobbled streets of picturesque villages.
This superbly scenic train journey travels from Montreux into the surrounding mountains.
The longer of the two narrow-gauge lines terminating at Montreux Gare is the MOB line. It climbs northwest through the steep hills into Canton Bern.
Sports and activities in Lake Geneva
Hiking, rambling and skiing around St-Cergue
The unassuming town of St-Cergue is set in some wild countryside, with hiking trails that see few ramblers. Enjoy a short and satisfying walk up to the Vieux Château, where the view back over the lake more than compensates for the fact that there is no actual castle here.
In winter, St-Cergue provides easy downhill skiing for families, and plenty of excellent cross-country routes.
Into hiking? Read up on hiking the Via Alpina in Switzerland.
A few kilometres around the lakeshore from Chillon, Le Bouveret is a family-friendly holiday village. Its Swiss Vapeur Parc is a miniature railway complex featuring replica locomotives pulling passengers around 1.5km of track.
Aquaparc is just a stroll away — a heated, indoor waterpark complete with multiple flumes, slides, rides and eateries.
Travelling with kids? Combine visiting Glacier 3000 with a trip to the Glacier Fun Park.
If outdoor adventuring is your thing, read up on the best outdoor experiences in Switzerland. Many of their locations reveal why you voted Switzerland one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Female travellers might also want to read up on exhilarating women-only outdoor activities in Switzerland.
Best festivals and events in Lake Geneva
It can seem like there’s always some celebration or other happening in Lausanne. All summer long, the Ouchy waterfront hosts informal music events – from techno to chamber music to African dance – just about every weekend, and always free.
Lausanne’s biggest party is the Festival de la Cité. Held in early July, it's more spontaneous and cutting-edge than the Montreux Jazz Festival happening at the same time just down the road. Not least because everything is free and out in the streets.
Hosting world-famous artists from R.E.M. to B.B. King, the Montreux Jazz Festival takes place over two weeks in early July. It's mainly held at the two stages within the Congress Centre, plus at the casino.
It covers the gamut of music from around the world. These days it's only very loosely committed to formal jazz. Over the decades, some sixty live albums have been recorded on its stages. Everything from jazz legends Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis and Quincy Jones to prog rock bands Yes and Jethro Tull.
How to get around Lake Geneva
The excellent regional pass (Passeport Régional Leman-Alpes) is available online (buy the regional pass here) at train stations and tourist offices.
Coverage is wide. It takes in buses, trains and boats across the whole lake from Geneva airport to Montreux. It also includes routes into the Vaud Alps, and to Gruyères and Gstaad.
You get either five consecutive days of validity — any two days of free travel, plus three days at half-price — or seven days, including three days’ free travel.
Mainline CFF trains trace an arc around the northern lakeshore, from Geneva to Lausanne and Montreux. Smaller lines branch off at various points — into the Jura foothills in the west and the Prealps in the east.
Into travelling by train? Read up on the most scenic train rides in Europe. Unsurprisingly, Switzerland gets a few mentions.
Don’t miss the chance to take to the water. CGN boats link all points on the Swiss and French shores, most hopping between villages. Some also cross the lake to Yvoire, Thonon and Evian in France (don’t forget your passport).
Swiss Travel Pass holders travel free — to save time, book your Swiss Travel Pass in advance.
Not a fan of planning? Consider booking a hassle-free tailor-made trip to Switzerland, with customisable itineraries covering everything from unforgettable highlights of Switzerland, to touring the Grand Circle.
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