Lausanne is an elegant city in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and the second-largest city on the picturesque shores of Lake Geneva. The medieval streets of the Old Town are lined with charming shopfronts and inviting cafes, while the chic lakeside neighbourhoods like Ouchy and Flon offer a more urban and scenic perspective of Lausanne.
Despite the abundance of historic architecture, the city has a youthful feel thanks to its sizeable university population. Easily accessible via train from larger Swiss cities like Geneva and Zurich, Lausanne makes for a wonderful getaway no matter the season. With a walkable central area and a simple two-line metro system, this relatively small city is a breeze to get around and explore on your own.
If you’re interested in visiting this breathtaking city in the future, keep reading to find out what you can expect to get up to here. Here are 16 things to do in Lausanne, Switzerland throughout the year.
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One of the most defining structures in the city is the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne. While construction of this magnificent Gothic wonder began in 1170, it was consecrated over 100 years later in 1275.
The central spire of the cathedral comes to a height of almost 80 metres. A highlight is the mesmerizing rose window designed by Medieval architect Villard de Honnecourt, with three other colourful stained glass window panels below.
The Lausanne Cathedral is open from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (or until 7 p.m. from April to the end of September). Climbing up to the belfry tower costs 5 Swiss francs (CHF), a small price to pay for such incredible views across the city.
The Olympic Museum
Since the International Olympic Committee is based in Lausanne, this city is the perfect place to learn about the history of the Olympic Games.
The permanent exhibition at the Olympic Museum contains over 10,000 artifacts across three floors, each representing a different theme. Olympic World on the first floor details the history of the ancient Olympics, dating all the way back to 776 BC. The second floor showcases various sporting equipment and screens video footage of the most memorable Olympics moments. Finally, the Olympic Spirit exhibit on the third floor shows you what it takes to be an Olympic athlete, as well as some insights into living in an Olympic Village.
This one-of-a-kind museum is open between 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday. Full price entry for adults costs CHF 18, with many reduced rates available as well.
The Sauvabelin Tower is one of the most charming and unique-looking viewing platforms in the world. The 35-metre-high tower was sustainably constructed out of wood in 2003 and provides an incredible view of the surrounding mountains and countryside, including Lake Léman.
There’s no cost to enter and climb the tower, so it’s a wonderful free activity when you’re in the area. You’ll walk through the Sauvabelin Forest to get here, a small yet luscious green park with small walking trails to guide you. This is a must-do when the weather is nice, especially if you’re visiting during autumn or summer.
Along the waterfront to the south of central Lausanne is a kilometre-stretch known as the Ouchy promenade. This port area is built along the banks of Lake Geneva and is a popular spot for roller skating and skateboarding. From here, you can see the French towns of Évian-les-Bains and Thonon across the lake.
There are a group of upscale hotels lining the promenade, making Ouchy the ultimate place to stay during a luxurious weekend away. On beautiful days, you’ll see locals wandering by too or sitting on a bench reading.
Place de la Palud
Another gorgeous slice of the city is the Place de la Palud, a pedestrian-only square in the middle of the Old Town. This square is considered the heart of Lausanne and is centrally located, so you’ll likely find yourself here without even intending to visit!
If you’re here on the first Friday of the month, however, you should definitely plan to stop by and visit the craft market. You might also wander into the farmer’s market held every Wednesday and Saturday morning.
Within the square is the Fontaine de la Justice, featuring a statue of a sword-bearing blindfolded woman built in the 1580s. After taking a look up close, sit and relax at one of the many cosy cafes and soak up the charm of the area.
Collection de l’Art Brut
Your first stop for art in Lausanne is Collection de l’Art Brut. Gathered by founder Jean Dubuffet, the space displays completely unique “outsider art” collections. The artwork on display was made by self-taught individuals undergoing therapy, serving a prison sentence, or otherwise marginalized from society in some way. Each piece is therefore very raw and does not follow the conventions of mainstream art. The permanent collection holds over 700 pieces, while the remainder of the space has held over 100 temporary exhibitions covering different themes.
Collection de l’Art Brut is open daily from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Entry costs CHF 10 per adult, with free admission for all on the first Saturday of each month.
Fondation de l’Hermitage
Another superb art museum is Fondation de l’Hermitage, or the Hermitage Foundation. This museum is set inside a gorgeous lakeside manor from the 1850s and is surrounded by a grassy landscaped park.
There are no permanent exhibitions here, so you’ll need to check online in advance to find out what temporary exhibitions may be on during your visit. Some past displays have included works by iconic painters and sculptors like Monet and Giacometti, and the thematic exhibitions have covered movements such as impressionism, pointillism and futurism.
When exhibitions are held, the museum is open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday, and until 9 p.m. on Thursdays. Standard admission for adults costs CHF 22. If you’re with a group, guided tours in English can be booked in advance for CHF 160.
Palais de Rumine
For more beautiful architecture, head to Palais de Rumine. This stunning Florentine Renaissance-style building was built in the late 19th century and previously served as the library for the University of Lausanne.
Stop by and have a look around between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. from Tuesday to Thursday, or 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. from Friday to Sunday.
Not sure where or what to eat while in Lausanne? Treat yourself to some authentic Swiss-French cuisine at Pinte Besson, a cosy hole in the wall bistro in the west of the Old Town. Open since 1780, this place is perhaps the oldest restaurant in the city.
The rustic dining area with vaulted wooden ceilings gives off a medieval atmosphere, while the upstairs level is more roomy and elegant. Share the memorable cheese fondue (fondue fromage) and load up on bread and potatoes before indulging in a liqueur sorbet.
Pinte Besson is open from Monday to Sunday from 9:30 a.m. until midnight, though you should make a reservation to avoid disappointment.
From April until October, round-trip cruises on Lake Geneva depart from Lausanne multiple times per day. If you’re visiting during the wintertime, cruises run only on Sundays and national holidays. On a two or three-hour circuit cruise, you’ll pass the beautiful vineyards of Lavaux and the towns of Montreux and Vevey. You’ll get to see the Chateau de Chillon too, a tiny yet impressive island castle.
First and second class tickets are typically available, so you can make your choice according to your budget. Dinner cruises are available too if you want a delicious meal with a view, though you should expect to pay high prices.
Inside a former train shed next to the central Lausanne train station is the city’s newest and most exciting cultural attraction. Platform 10 is a planned 22-square-metre arts district linking three main museums together in one location.
The Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts (MCBA) opened here in October 2019, while the Musée de l’Elysée and the Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts (mudac) are expected to be integrated in 2021. Until then, you can visit the MCBA here, a fine arts museum which houses the Toms Pauli and Félix Vallotton Foundations.
There are over 300 works in the permanent collection, and up to nine temporary exhibitions are expected to run per year. It’s open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday and is completely free to visit.
Built and opened in 1871, the Lausanne Opera has offered concerts, ballet and opera performances to the public for almost 150 years. The building was renovated in 2012 to add a mirrored facade and update the technical equipment while preserving the original interiors. As a valued cultural institution in Lausanne, it is known for introducing the younger generations to the world of opera and organising regular youth opera programs.
If you’d like to see a show while you’re in town, you can check the season calendar on their website and purchase tickets at the online box office.
While in Lausanne, you can’t miss a trip to the UNESCO region of Lavaux. An incredible way to explore the terraced Lavaux Vineyards is on the Lavaux Panoramic Wine Tour. This four-hour-long guided experience by bus combines the best local wineries in the Vaud canton with the picturesque natural scenery of the region.
These terraces stretch for almost 30 kilometres along the shores of Lake Geneva. You’ll stop and taste delicious locally-produced wines from Domaine du Daley while enjoying a cheese platter, cold cuts and fresh fruit.
Musée et Jardins Botaniques Cantonaux
On a sunny day, spend some time wandering around the Cantonal Botanical Museum and Gardens. The current botanical garden in Lausanne was carefully designed and created in the 1940s. The garden contains over 6,000 local and international plants divided into different sectors, and the greenhouses and arboretum grow and display tropical, succulent and carnivorous species. The alpine rock garden also features a large rock strata used as a cliff for a waterfall to cascade into the pool below.
The museum has further information on botany and includes a large herbarium collection with mosses, algae and fungi. Although all information is unfortunately in French only, there are some nice botanical illustrations and painted herbariums from the 18th century.
Both the museum and gardens are open daily between 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. with no cost of admission. While only a few minutes away from the centre of Lausanne, you’ll instantly feel like you’ve escaped the city and entered an oasis.
Musée Romain de Lausanne-Vidy
This modern, industrial-looking building showcases ancient Roman artifacts found in the Vaud canton, including stonework, ceramics and blown glass. You can also get to know the Mesolithic-era Celtic settlement of Lousonna (present-day Lausanne) and learn about the food, language, technologies, and other aspects of daily life. There are always fascinating temporary cultural exhibitions here too.
The museum is open daily from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Regular admission costs CHF 8, although you can visit for free on the first Saturday of each month.
Solar Boat Ride
One of the best things to do in Ouchy is to board an Aquarel solar boat for some sightseeing around the shore of Lausanne. Tours typically last about 45 minutes, so you can easily fit this quiet, peaceful trip into your schedule. Since the small boats are powered by the sun, you can take comfort in the fact that this adventure is environmentally friendly!
Recommended tours in Lausanne
- Chillon Castle Day Tour from Lausanne
- Lavaux Panoramic Wine Tour
- Gruyere Day Trip with Chocolate Factory and visit of a Medieval Village
- Hot Baths in the Mountains
- Interlaken & Schilthorn Cable car from Lausanne
- Winter Gruyères, chocolate and cheese tour from Lausanne
- Riviera line to Vevey, Chaplin, Montreux, Lavaux tour and optional cruise from Lausanne
- Historical Walk of Lausanne – Discover the city with a Local
- Day trip – Lauterbrunnen
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