Lausanne, Switzerland Travel Guide
(Lausanne, Switzerland) – The elegant city of Lausanne, on the shore of Lake Geneva, is closely connected to the Olympics. Not only is it the seat of the International Olympic Committee but also of a futuristic and interactive Olympic Museum located in a vast park with bronze statues of Olympic winners.
With the Jura mountains to the Northeast, the nearby wine region of Lavaux and the French town of Evian les Bains just across the water, the French-speaking capital of the Swiss canton Vaud has a decidedly French flair and offers attractions and sights for all tastes practically all year around. Chic shopping alternates with museums, historical buildings, trips on Lake Geneva from leafy Ouchy and nights out in the thriving, refurbished district of Flon.
Lausanne is built on several hills, so bear in mind that, when exploring, you have a lot of climbing up and down and navigating stairs to do. The most famous one is the steep Escalier du Marche, a covered medieval wooden staircase which connects Flon with the cathedral.
How to get there
The nearest airport is Geneva. From there, trains run to Lausanne approx. 4 times per hour. The trip takes 45 minutes, sometimes a little more depending on the stops. It’s a very scenic route along Lake Geneva.
The train station is on the lower level of the airport. You don’t need to leave the building, just exit immigration, turn left and follow the signs. Motorways and other trains connect with the rest of Switzerland.
Best time to visit
May is the wettest month and in July and August temperatures can reach 30c or more, but it’s never unpleasant with a cool breeze from the lake and the mountains. Lausanne in the snow in winter is beautiful too, so you can visit practically year around.
Lausanne has a very fast and convenient 28 stop Metro system. The hub is in Flon with connections to metros to Ouchy. Taxis are not advisable because many streets are one way and the cabs often have to take a roundabout and most expensive route. Elevators connect Flon with the levels above. There is a bus system too but in the Old Town, your feet are the best means of transport.
Language and money
French is the official language, but English is widely spoken. The local currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF), restaurants often accept the EURO or have a menu showing prices in both currencies.
Where to stay
Lausanne has no shortage of luxury hotels.
I stayed at the fabulous Lausanne Palace Hotel (hotel info). Located in Rue du Grand Chene 7 high up on a hill overlooking Lake Geneva on one side and the mountains on the other. Apart from offering big, comfortable rooms with a small balcony to enjoy your breakfast, several restaurants from Asian to local Swiss cuisine, a spa with excellent treatments and very attentive and helpful staff, I loved the central location of the hotel.
The elevator which takes you down to the METRO station is just across the road. The cathedral, Flon, and the Old Town are all in walking distance as is Lausanne’s best shopping street Rue du Bourg. A fine Belle Epoque example, the hotel combines elegance with all modern amenities.
Another 5star hotel and even more historic than the Palace is the legendary Hotel Beau Rivage (hotel info) in Ouchy.
Set in 10 acres of lush gardens, the hotel offers even more luxury than the Lausanne Palace. Located in Ouchy on the shore of Lake Geneva, each room has a splendid view of the water as well as of the French Alps beyond. Many celebrities, among them Coco Chanel who is buried in Lausanne, have frequented the hotel.
Both of these are in a very high price range, so if you are looking for something more economical option, then the Hotel Swiss Wine by Fassbind (hotel info) is the right choice.
Located in Rue Caroline 5 in the center of Lausanne might be a good choice. The hotel has a rooftop and rooms that open on to it.
Where to eat
I liked the Hotel Palace so much, I ate in the Brasserie and had a very traditional Swiss dish: chopped veal in a mushroom/cream sauce with Roesti. (Potato pancakes). I had dinner in Le table d’Edgar which is one of the top Lausanne restaurants and delicious snacks in the garden restaurant and bar.
An alternative is Pinte Besson in Rue de l’Ale 4 because you might want to taste another Swiss specialty: Fondue.
Where to shop
Rue du Bourg, a pedestrian zone, is Lausanne’s chicest shopping street. Just steps from the Hotel Palace, you find designer boutiques, jewelers, and Lausanne’s award-winning patisserie: Blondel.
Or head to Flon, the district which is best described as ugly duck turned swan due to a massive refurbishment program which converted a once derelict industrial zone into the coolest part in town.
What to do and see
I only had two days in Lausanne, but I could easily have spent a week because there are so many things to see you will be hard pressed to decide what to do first.
First I took the METRO to Ouchy, the suburb right on the waterfront and walked along the beautiful promenade. My first stop was the Chateau Ouchy, a medieval castle which has been converted into yet another 5-star hotel with only a part of the original wall and the tower remaining.
Next came the Hotel Beau Rivage to walk in the ample gardens and then the park and Olympic museum. It’s an interactive museum and you are guided from exhibit to exhibit, learning about the history of the Olympic games from antiquity to modern times.
The quay of Ouchy is also where the many different boat trips start which run across and around Lake Geneva. You will see the offices and piers of CGN which is the company running all trips and ferries easily as soon as you leave the Metro stop Ouchy. I went on a 2 hour round trip to Vevey, and in the evening enjoyed a dinner/sunset cruise which lasts about 2 ½ hours. You can choose either a sit-down dinner in the glass-enclosed dining room on board or, much cheaper and I found far more entertaining, sitting on benches on the upper deck, having snacks and drinks from the bar, listening to music and watching your fellow passengers dance as the sun sets over the water.
The next day was spent exploring Lausanne proper with a visit to the Cathedral via the escalier du Marche. The cathedral is the only church in Europe which still has a professional town crier who calls out the hours plus a world-famous massive organ. I followed up with a stroll around Esplanade de Flon and a visit to an amazing museum: L’art brut. It’s a museum unique in the world dedicated to works of art produced by prisoners and people with mental health problems.
Walking along Rue du Bourg you come to St François Square and a church with a curious permanent art installation: charred ladders.
Follow further along to the Town Hall and watch the talking clock, then return to the Monbenon park for a different view of the lake.
I would have liked to go on more boat trips and to see more museums of which Lausanne has so many.
If you can try to stay a few days, you will never be short of interesting things to do and see.