Located in the beautiful, mountainous region of southeastern France, Annecy is found in the heart of the French Alps. The charming city lies on the shores of Lake Annecy, where verdant water stretches out towards high, snow-capped peaks. Few other places in France can match Annecy for beauty, but more than just looking good, there is a lot to explore in the city too.
As well as being the perfect base for outdoor activities, the Old Town, the canals and the markets of Annecy are full of history and culture. Hit the lake for watersports, hike into the countryside or day trip across the border to Switzerland.
There are plenty of great things to do in Annecy France, and here’s our guide to the best of them.
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Things to do in Annecy
Walk Through Annecy Old Town
The best way to begin any Annecy sightseeing tour is to simply walk through the Old Town. Annecy has a long history, dating far back to Roman settlement in the east of France, and much of the historic centre dates back to medieval times. The Old Town is still the touristic heart of the city, and you can enjoy strolling through ramshackle, cobbled streets, narrow alleyways and past buildings that have stood proudly for hundreds of years.
It’s a charming and undeniably photogenic place, but you’ll also find great restaurants, cafes and museums to call in at as you wander through the streets of the Old Town.
Château d’Annecy (Annecy Castle-museum)
The ever imposing shape of Château d’Annecy dominates the skyline of the Old Town, with its impressive defences and historic aura. Annecy castle dates back to the 12th century, but in recent decades was masterfully restored by the city to act as a centrepiece.
The castle is home to an informative museum that will give you an insight into the history of Château d’Annecy and the wider history of human habitation around the lake.
Stroll Along the Canals
Annecy is often referred to by tourists and locals as Little Venice, and when you see the network of canals and waterways that the Old Town is built around, you’ll quickly understand why.
The Annecy canals are one of the best attractions, and the best way to experience them is to stroll along the authentic pathways that run alongside.
Markets in Annecy
Annecy is a great place to visit if you love a good market, and the markets in the city provide a great opportunity to throw yourself into local life, to practice your French and to pick up a few souvenirs too.
Every day of the week, you can find a market somewhere in Annecy, but the real highlight is the colourful Sunday Market, which takes over much of the Old Town as locals from across the lake bring their goods and fresh produce to sell in the city.
Kiss on the Pont des Amours bridge
Annecy is home to some picturesque bridges, and with so many canals that need crossing, that’s no surprise. One of the most legendary bridges in the city though is the Pont des Amours. As well as making for a good photo opportunity, Lover’s Bridge as its name translates to in English, has a rather intriguing legend attached to it.
If you are in a relationship, then bring your partner to the bridge. Local lore will have you believe that two lovers who kiss in the middle while overlooking the mountains will never break up.
Notre-Dame de Liesse
Notre-Dame de Liesse is the most impressive church in the city and it makes for one of the best places to visit in Annecy. There has been a church in the same location in the Old Town for centuries, but the elegant building you see today dates back only to the 19th century.
Its predecessor was destroyed during the violent French Revolution, and only rebuilt decades later when things in the city had calmed down again.
Church of St. Maurice
Also found in the Old Town, the Church of St Maurice is another elegant example of French religious architecture. The huge structure dates back to the early 15th century, and this long history has ensured that it can now claim to be the oldest church in Annecy.
The outside is impressive, but make sure you head inside too, to explore the intricate religious sculptures and artwork found within the main hall.
Walk or Bike Around Lac d’Annecy (Lake Annecy)
The city is built around the northern edge of Lake Annecy, which is large enough to be classified as the third largest lake in France. Annecy Lake stretches for just under 15 kilometres on its longest side, making it perfect for hiking or biking around.
From the city, you can easily head out walking, and to enjoy the many Lake Annecy activities waiting to be experienced. A cycle path runs around the entire circumference, making it easy to follow the lake from village to village, stopping off in small rural locations along the route and at the many spectacular viewpoints.
Paragliding Over Lake Annecy
If you are feeling adventurous and would like to see Lake Annecy from above, then you can even paraglide over the water. Being part of the Alps region and being surrounded by mountains, there are many great launching points for paragliding, and many great local companies looking to take out everyone from beginners to experienced enthusiasts.
Pedal Boat Hire (and other water sports)
A great way to experience the real beauty and tranquillity of the lake is to head out onto the water. Around Lake Annecy, you will find plenty of operators hiring out pedal boats to visitors, allowing you to gently cruise across the calm lake at your leisure.
Of course, if you don’t fancy peddling across the lake, you can also join boat tours, or take part in many other water sports too.
Visit the Palais de l’Isle
The Palais de I’lsle is one of Annecy’s most important historical attractions. Located on an island in the Old Town’s Thiou Canal, cross over on the bridge to explore the palace that has served many different roles through history.
Today, the Palais de I’lsle is home to a museum, but in previous centuries it was the location of a castle, an imperial palace, then a prison and then a mint. The views from the Palais de I’lsle are some of the best in Annecy, as you can see along the length of the canal, and across the Old Town.
Picnic in the Jardins de l’Europe
The Jardins de l’Europe – or the Gardens of Europe – is a lovely open space that’s found on the edge of the city, directly overlooking the lake. As well as being incredibly picturesque, it’s also incredibly relaxing, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by greenery, flowers and trees with one of the best views of Lake Annecy ahead of you.
Bring a picnic, a good book, or some friends, and just enjoy the pleasant Gardens of Europe.
Basilique de la Visitation
Located on the outskirts of the city itself, the Basilique de la Visitation is an iconic church and basilica that offers visitors some of the best views over the city. Found in the rising hills above the lake and the city, the basilica has a huge tower that can be climbed, for magnificent panoramics.
The church itself is not that historic, dating back only to the early 20th century, but its dramatic location has ensured that it is still a firm part of the tourist trail around and about Annecy.
Places to visit close to Annecy
Annecy makes the perfect base for exploring the surrounding region too, and once you have seen all the sights in the Old Town and visited the lake, there are plenty of great opportunities to day trip, even across the border to Switzerland in the north.
Chateau de Menthon-Saint-Bernard
Just a few miles away, a visit to Chateau de Menthon-Saint-Bernard makes for a great escape from Annecy, without having to travel too far either. This medieval castle looks dramatically similar to the type of castle that you might just find in a fairytale or a Disney movie and is one of the most breathtaking chateaus in the region.
The castle has long guarded the mountain passes through the Alps, but today is home to a museum and historical exhibits.
Gorge du Fier
Gorge du Fier is a natural attraction that few other destinations close to Annecy can beat. The River Fier, crashing down through the Alps, has carved a spectacular gorge straight through the mountains over millions of years.
It’s not far from Annecy, found in the mountains that rise from the lake, and it makes for a great day out. You can follow the winding, rustic pathways that have been built above the flowing, alpine water below, and that takes visitors along large sections of this dramatic canyon.
Col des Aravis
Being surrounded by mountain peaks, it would be a shame not to venture further out into the Alps when visiting Annecy. One of the most breathtaking places to visit is the Col des Aravis, a high mountain pass that’s an hour away by car.
The road trip could be the most scenic in the region, but it’s not for the faint-hearted, as you drive along winding mountain roads in the shadow of snow-capped peaks. The Col des Aravis is somewhat infamous amongst cyclists too, and if you think you can handle the twisting turns and high ascent, then you could even try biking from Annecy. Rising to a height of 1487 metres though, it’s not an easy climb, and is frequently featured in the Tour de France if the cycling event passes through the region.
Located less than an hour’s drive away to the north of Annecy, a day trip to Geneva is a must for anyone visiting the region. Switzerland’s second largest city is the centre of the French-speaking region of the country and is found on the shores of Lake Geneva.
There’s a lot to do in Geneva, and one day there might not be enough to do everything complete justice, but you can certainly make a start. Explore the modern streets, eat at the fine dining restaurants or enjoy some upmarket shopping. Take a boat across the lake, photograph the huge fountain and tackle the winding, cobbled streets of the old city.
Semnoz is one of the many mountain peaks that you can see from Annecy. Found to the south of the city, winding roads can take you to the pass over the summit, offering spectacular vistas over the lake and the other mountains on the way.
Like many of the mountains in the area, this is a favourite amongst hardened cyclists, who like to tackle the climb to the top.
Standing at just over 1500 metres in height, La Tournette is the highest mountain peak found around Lake Annecy. You can’t drive all the way to the summit, but you can drive most of the way up, and technical climbers can ascend to the very top with the right gear.
The views over Lake Annecy, are unparalleled.
The Chateau de Montrottier
Chateau de Montrottier is another of the many fairy tale castles waiting to be discovered in the mountain passes surrounding Lake Annecy. You can find this beautifully well preserved medieval chateau, with its dramatic turrets and walls, just a short drive away from Annecy.
Along the northeastern shore of Lake Annecy, is the small village of Veyrier du Lac. This little, lakeside community is close enough to Annecy for you to easily hike or bike out to, making for a great little escape from the city.
Just a half hour car ride or a few hours of lakeside hiking away from Annecy is the popular resort town of Talloires. It’s one of Lake Annecy’s most picturesque towns, and you can find plenty of charming cafes, restaurants and bars to enjoy, alongside lots of opportunities to take to the lake for some water sports.
On the other side of the lake, opposite Talloires, you can find the equally charming community of Duingt. This is one of the most ancient settlements around the lake, and many prehistoric finds have been unearthed at Duingt.
The striking local castle juts out prominently over the water of the lake, while the vistas will certainly take your breath away.
Recommend budget tours in Annecy
- Annecy Segway Tour – 2h
- Annecy Half-Day Independent Tour from Geneva
- Private Market Tour and Modern French Cooking Demo and Meal with a Local
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