Lausanne travel guide

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What to expect when visiting Lausanne — your Lausanne travel guide

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.

Our Lausanne travel guide will show why this city is known as Switzerland's San Francisco © Shutterstock

Top attractions and things to do in Lausanne

Place de la Palud

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.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame

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.

Notre-Dame Cathedral, Lausanne © Vasin Lee/Shutterstock

Musée Historique

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.

Collection de l’Art Brut

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.

Ouchy waterfront

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.

Lausanne's Ouchy waterfront © shyshak roman/Shutterstock

Musée Olympique

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.

If you want to learn about Lausanne from a local, take a guided walking tour. And, if you're travelling with kids, booking a self-guided scavenger hunt city tour might go down well.

Which areas should I visit in Lausanne?

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 Town Hall in Place de la Palud © Mihai-Bogdan Lazar/Shutterstock

Best places to stay in Lausanne

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.

Best hotels in Lausanne

  • Best for couples: Angleterre & Residence. This classy hotel occupies four eighteenth-century mansions on the Ouchy waterfront, including the one in which Byron is reputed to have written The Prisoner of Chillon.
  • Best for luxury-lovers: Beau-Rivage Palace. Lausanne’s top hotel and one of Switzerland’s finest, set in ten-acre waterside gardens and sparklingly restored to its original 1861 grandeur. Think sumptuous decor, huge, balconied rooms, a grand spa, and award-winning food.
  • Best for families: Elite. Extremely pleasant and well-run, this is situated on a quiet, centrally located street. Top-floor balconied rooms perch you above the roofs for views over the lake, making this Lausanne's best mid-price hotel.

Best hostels and camping in Lausanne

  • Best for nature-lovers: Camping Vidy. Right beside the lake, and close to the Roman museum, this good-value site also offers bungalows.
  • Best for budget travellers: Lausanne Jeunotel. A huge place right beside the Vidy campsite and Roman museum, with good four-bed dorms plus a range of private rooms.

Discover more of the best places to stay in Lausanne.

Eating and Drinking in Lausanne - best restaurants, cafés and bars

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.

Sampling Swiss fondue is a top thing to do in Lausanne © Shulevskyy Volodymyr/Shutterstock

Best restaurants in Lausanne

  • Hôtel de Ville: this three-star Michelin restaurant once topped La Liste, the French Foreign Ministry sanctioned ranking of the best restaurants in the world. Reserve two months ahead for dinner, two weeks ahead for lunch.
  • Laxmi: an excellent north Indian restaurant, with well-prepared meat, fish and veg. The all-you-can-eat buffet lunches are highly recommended.
  • Manora: a lovely cafeteria near the atmospheric Place de la Palud in the Old Town offering fresh sandwiches, delicatessen meats, and pastries.

Best cafés in Lausanne

  • À La Bossette: a friendly local café on a patch of green beneath the château serving a range of speciality beers and excellent food.
  • Café de l’Évêché: this atmospheric haunt of talkative students and local old-timers is perfect for morning coffee, or beer and dominoes.
  • Café Roman: a much-loved city-centre retreat with a sociable atmosphere and good range of heavy Swiss fare — meat and cheese are a feature.

Best bars in Lausanne

  • Captain Cook: a crammed pub in the heart of the action, where the focus is on screening sports on the big TV – especially English football.
  • White Horse: this popular spot in Ouchy has the atmosphere of an English pub, and serves good beer, regional wines, cocktails, burgers and artisanal fries.
  • Bleu Lézard: this trendy cellar venue beneath the lively bar of the same name stages DJ nights, live music, jam sessions, and dance nights.

Nightlife and entertainment in 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.

Best nightlife venues in Lausanne

  • D!: a highly respected Flon basement club playing house and jungle, and pulling in some international DJs.
  • MAD (Moulin à Danse): this infamous and hugely popular club hosts local and international DJs playing anything from trance to retro crowd-pleasers.

Best entertainment venues in Lausanne

  • Opéra de Lausanne: Lausanne’s world-renowned opera house presents classic operas, ballet, contemporary work, and events for children.
  • Salle Métropole: Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne stages concerts at this stunning space, which is also the venue for Ballet Béjart productions, plays and recitals, plus occasional children’s shows, comedy and magic.
  • Sévelin 36 Théâtre: the home of contemporary dance, with year-round productions showcasing up-and-coming dancers and choreographers.
  • Théâtre de Beaulieu: Lausanne's main venue for classical music — the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande performs here when not in Geneva.

View over Lausanne's Old Town to St Francis church, Lake Geneva and the Alps © Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock

How to get around Lausanne

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.

Travel passes

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.

Getting around Lausanne by metro

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.

Getting around Lausanne by boat

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.

Getting around Lausanne by bike

Bikes can be rented at the station, or via the Publibike bike-sharing scheme.

Excursions and day-trips from Lausanne

Gruyères

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.

Gruyères castle — one of the best day-trips from Lausanne © lsantek/Shutterstock

Vevey

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.

Montreux

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.

Montreux panorama © Swiss Tourism

Château de Chillon

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.

GoldenPass

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.

Switzerland isn't short of scenic train trips, including riding the Glacier Express © Swiss Tourism

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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updated 7/4/2022
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