Lausanne travel guide
Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Lausanne tends to inspire hyperbole. Often referred to as Switzerland’s San Francisco, it's a stunning place of steep hills tiered above a lake on south-facing terraces. Plan your trip to Lausanne with our guide to Lausanne — based on The Rough Guide to Switzerland, your travel guide for Switzerland.
Much of Lausanne is still wooded, and the lakefront promenades spill over with beds of vibrant flowers. Vistas of blue water, glittering sunlight and the white-capped Savoy Alps peep through between gaps in buildings, or at the ends of steeply dropping alleys.
Attractive, interesting, worldly, and well aware of how to have a good time, it’s Switzerland’s sexiest city. In fact, Lausanne was one of the reasons you voted Switzerland one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
The comparisons with San Francisco don’t stop at the gorgeous setting. If Switzerland has a counterculture, it lives in the clubs and cafés of Lausanne that uphold the city’s long tradition of fostering intellectual and cultural innovation.
For decades the municipality has subsidized all kinds of art and culture, resulting in a range of festivals, live music, clubs, theatre, opera and dance to rival a metropolis ten times bigger.
At the heart of the Old Town, the cobbled Place de la Palud is the perfect place for people-watching.
With shopping streets cascading through the square, plenty of pavement cafés, and the Fontaine de la Justice ringed with people, it’s a tempting spot, especially when the Wednesday and Saturday morning markets are in full swing.
On a par with the greatest of French Gothic architecture, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame is Switzerland’s finest Gothic building.
The foundations of the current building were probably laid in the mid-twelfth century. Despite extensive renovations and alterations just before the Reformation, the cathedral has lost none of its grace and poise.
Across from the cathedral is the Ancien Évêché, the old Bishop’s Palace, which has been converted into the Musée Historique.
Completely renovated in 2018, it's crammed with displays illustrating the history of Lausanne. A highlight is the giant scale model of the city, with an excellent commentary detailing its history since medieval times.
This unique collection is devoted to what’s been called “outsider art” — the creative output of people with no artistic training who create, according to the gallery, an “enigmatic universe, designed for their own purposes”.
What results is art entirely free from any conception of formal artistic rules or conventions, challenging our expectations of what art should be about.
If you're into art, you might want to take an expert-guided tour of Lausanne that's focussed on architecture, or a tour exploring Lausanne's art and culture.
As if Lausanne wasn't already relaxed enough, it has Ouchy as a lakeside terrace on which to stroll, chill out and enjoy the mountain views and fresh breezes.
Officially – and proudly – a separate commune from Lausanne, Ouchy survived as a fishing port for years. These days, it’s one of the most chic Swiss lakeside resorts, with lots of classy hotels and waterfront cafés.
Situated on a terrace overlooking the lake, Lausanne’s Musée Olympique is administered by the International Olympic Committee, whose headquarters is further along the lakeshore.
To go for gold and beat the crowds, book your tickets to the Olympic Museum in advance.
Something that comes as a surprise to most first-time visitors is that Lausanne’s city centre does not front the lake. Instead, it's situated well back from the water’s edge, and above it too, spread over hilltops linked by bridges spanning deep, riverless gorges.
Place St-François is the focus of the city centre — it's the hub of bus routes and heart of the shopping district known as the Bourg.
Gilt-edged Rue de Bourg entices shoppers uphill from St-François, while beside it Rue St-François drops down into the valley and up the other side to the cobbled Place de la Palud, an ancient, fountained square in the heart of the Old Town.
The elegant Gothic turrets of the cathedral rise loftily above, while the château stands even further up, at the most northerly tip of the Old Town.
Northwest of Place St-François, the Grand-Pont soars over the warehouse district of Le Flon, hotbed of Lausanne’s burgeoning club culture.
The steep slope south of St-François ends at the main train station, south of which residential districts trickle down to Place de la Navigation on the Ouchy waterfront.
Lakeside promenades lead in both directions from Ouchy, east to the villages of Pully and Lutry, and west to the parkland of Vidy — home to a small museum and archeological site that bear witness to Lausanne’s Roman past.
Lausanne has accommodation to suit all budgets and aspirations. There are only a couple of hotels within the Old Town, plus a few more in the heart of the city centre.
Those on the Ouchy lakefront have a more gracious ambience, although the lakefront road sees plenty of traffic.
Any number of luxury establishments capitalize on Lausanne’s topography to offer romantic lake views, but the best-value deals come at the business hotels, where you’ll find weekend discounts and special offers.
Discover more of the best places to stay in Lausanne.
If all you want is a reviving drink and somewhere to take the weight off your feet, the city centre and Old Town has dozens of cafés and café-bars — almost every corner has a local haunt serving affordable food.
Lausanne also isn't short of world-class restaurants, some of which have an international flavour, while others focus on regional Vaudois specialities.
Look out for tommes — a round soft cheese baked to melting point within its white Brie-like rind, and often served on a bed of leafy salad.
Saucisson vaudois is another local speciality — smoked pork and beef sausage usually accompanied with papet vaudois, a purée of leek and potato — along with Malakoffs, little gastronomic curiosities consisting of a rich, fried cheese-and-egg mixture served hot on a round bread base.
All that considered, gourmands might want to book a self-guided food tour of Lausanne.
Nightlife abounds in Lausanne, and the first place to look is Le Flon, a low-lying warehouse district bounded by Bel-Air, Grand-Pont and the metro station, where following your ears after dark will lead you to the best hangouts.
Otherwise, there’s a good concentration of bars around Rue Enning, Le Tunnel, Place du Tunnel, and, on a more sedate note, the streets immediately behind the château.
Lausanne also has a rich and diverse cultural scene, with a vast range of music and performance to check out, as well as numerous festivals.
Although the Old Town is compact, maps can only give half the story — you’ll soon find that negotiating Lausanne’s mountainous gradients and cat’s cradle of valleys and bridges can be wearying.
You can travel free on Lausanne’s excellent public transport after purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass, or a transport card, which is given free when you check in to any of the city’s hotels or hostels. This remains valid for the duration of your stay.
The easiest way to move around is on the smart, modern metro. Most useful for visitors is the steep M2 line (known as la Ficelle, “the string”), which runs from the Ouchy waterfront north to the train station (Gare CFF) and city centre, terminating at Croisettes in the suburbs.
Rowing boats, pedalos and motorboats are available to rent from opposite the Hôtel d’Angleterre on the Ouchy waterfront. You could also soak up the scenery on a cruise that explores the stunning Riviera region.
Bikes can be rented at the station, or via the Publibike bike-sharing scheme.
Visiting ths magical, medieval castle-village in the heart of cheese-, chocolate- and wine-making country is sure to be a highlight of your Lausanne vacation.
Some 50km northeast of Lausanne, the walls and turrets of Gruyères’ fairy-tale castle bristle atop a single crag rising above the rolling lowlands of Canton Fribourg, framed by the toothy peaks rising to the south.
Gourmands would to well to visit Gruyère on a food tour with tastings of the famous cheese and world-class chocolate.
Another option is to experience Gruyères' breathaking beauty aboard the Golden Express train before visiting a chocolate and cheese factory, and a medieval village.
With an ambience of tasteful, restrained gentility, Vevey is enchanting. In fact, it could be said to be the most refined and alluring of lakeside towns.
Vevey also has a number of literary connections, with the novelists Henry James and Anita Brookner choosing the town as the setting for, respectively, Daisy Miller and Hotel du Lac.
It also has a museum devoted to former resident Charlie Chaplin. Beat the crowds by booking your Chaplin's World ticket in advance.
Meanwhile, wine-lovers might want to visit Vevey as part of a cruise along the Lavaux vineyards.
Lake Geneva’s most upmarket destination, Montreux is spectacularly located, bathed in afternoon sunshine and protected by a wall of mountains.
Aside from window-shopping and strolling beneath the palm trees, you'll want to absorb the panorama of the Dents du Midi peaks across the lake. Music-lovers might also want to check-out the exhibition that recalls the days Queen recorded their albums here.
While in town, keen photographers could consider taking a private walking tour of Montreux's many Insta-worthy highlights.
Visiting the thirteenth-century Château de Chillon is a top Lausanne travel experience. It's located in Veytaux, about 3km south of Montreux, and most memorably approached via a 45-minute shoreline walk.
Your first glimpse of it is unforgettable – an elegant, turreted pile jutting out into the water, framed by trees and craggy mountains. It also happens to be one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Europe, and provided inspiration for Byron.
Save time by booking your ticket to Château de Chillon in advance.
One of the showcase journeys of Swiss railways, this superbly scenic train route from Montreux will whisk you into the surrounding mountains. Get your golden ticket in advance, or else ride it for free with your Swiss Pass.
Beyond Chamby, jumping-off place for the Chemin de Fer-Musée, trains continue on a spectacular route to Montbovon, junction point for trains into the countryside around Gruyères.
If the sound of that has left you longing to take to the tracks, read up on the best scenic train rides in Europe — it'll come as no surprise that Switzlerand gets a few mentions.
If you're into exhilarating activities, you might to to discover the best outdoor experiences in Switzerland.
Intrepid female travellers might also want to explore women only outdoor activities in Switzerland — all created by and for women.
If you feel inspired by this Lausanne travel guide, The Rough Guide to Switzerland and our run-down of things not to miss in Switzerland will help you plan. Think of them as your personal travel guide to Switzerland, whatever kind of trip you're looking for.
Not a fan of planning? You could book a hassle-free tailor-made trip to Switzerland, with customisable itineraries curated by local experts covering everything from unforgettable highlights of Switzerland, to touring the Grand Circle.
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