Lausanne is Switzerland’s fourth-largest city and resides on Lake Geneva (or Lac Léman to the French and locals) across the French border from Évian-les-Bains. While most avid travellers will have heard about Geneva, the other major city on the shores of the lake, Lausanne is far less frequented by travellers. It’s a historic, picturesque and youthful city in Switzerland that has a lot to offer those looking for an exciting city break.
But if you have already heard of Lausanne (Lausanne pronunciation is simply ‘law-san’), that’s probably because this city is home to the International Olympic Committee HQ and it even has an Olympic museum. Around one-third of the citizens are students meaning Lausanne’s nightlife, especially around the Flon district, is the best in the country and there are always lots of events and things to do.
Ultimately, Lausanne is a fantastic city for an offbeat, exciting city break if you love lakeside and mountainous views, great food and wine and out of the ordinary activities.
This ultimate travel guide to Lausanne will show you all the most beautiful places in Lausanne, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Lausanne and things to do in Lausanne which will help you in planning a Lausanne Switzerland city break.
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How to get to Lausanne
Lausanne is reachable by plane via Geneva Airport. Geneva is an international airport accessible from all over Europe and the Middle East via airlines such as EasyJet, Jet2 and the country’s own airline SWISS. Direct trains between Geneva Airport and Lausanne travel up to four times per hour and take only 50 minutes. Zurich Airport is also an option with direct trains to Lausanne in under three hours.
Switzerland’s rail network runs like a dream and is efficient and easy to use. TGV services travel directly to Lausanne from cities like Paris in less than four hours and Milan in just over three hours. Passenger ferries cross Lake Geneva from the small, lakeside towns in France daily but note there aren’t any car ferries. Luckily, driving in Switzerland is almost as efficient as the rail network as highways between cities are well planned if you’re doing a Swiss road trip.
What to expect in Lausanne
Switzerland is a notoriously expensive country to most visitors so be prepared to budget for this trip. Although, since Lausanne is a student city, there are more deals to be had on drinks and meals out than there are in other Swiss cities.
The currency is the Swiss Franc and there are plenty of ATMs and money changers in Lausanne if you are travelling from one of the neighbouring countries of France, Germany or Italy. Normally, a service charge is automatically included on restaurant bills and no further tip is expected. Tipping is welcomed but not expected in Lausanne.
Italian, German and French are all official languages in Switzerland and Lausanne is in the French-speaking region, but English is widely spoken especially in the metropolitan areas. Switzerland is not a part of the EU but is part of the Schengen agreement and does have some EU privileges.
How to get around Lausanne
If there is one thing Switzerland does well, it’s public transport. Lausanne’s main city centre is very accessible on foot and Lausanne’s main train station is only a ten-minute walk into the heart of the city. But if you want to explore different neighbourhoods you will need to use public transport.
The main method of public transport in Lausanne is via electric bus. By booking a hotel in Lausanne, you receive a free public transport pass for the buses for the duration of your trip including some discounts on activities so that’s a great perk to take full advantage of while you’re in Lausanne.
The city also has metro lines that allow users to venture out into the wider areas like Prilly, Renens and Epalinges so if you’re staying further out of the city in an Airbnb to save on accommodation costs you can easily and affordably travel into Lausanne.
The best time to visit Lausanne
Like most countries in this part of Western Europe, the best time to visit Lausanne for great weather is the summer season June-September. This part of Switzerland experiences mild weather and the temperature is a moderate 25 degrees Celsius during summer. Although mild weather means changeable so don’t leave your umbrella at home! Prices for accommodation and flights will be the highest in the summer.
Winter in Lausanne is bitterly cold, though the snow on the mountains makes it a very picturesque city to visit. The shoulder months of May-June and September-October are the sweet spot of mild weather without the price hikes. July is a great time to visit Lausanne if you’re a music lover as the Montreux Jazz Festival is the second-largest jazz festival in the world (after Montreal in Canada) and one of the most prestigious, biggest festivals in Europe held on the banks of Lake Geneva.
Things to do in Lausanne
One of the more unusual and impressive things about Lausanne is that it’s home to the International Olympics Committee Headquarters. It was started in France but moved to Lausanne in WWI. Considering how popular and important the Olympic Games are to a lot of people, it’s no surprise that the museum is often the prime reason travellers want to visit Lausanne.
The museum and sculpture park hold over 10,000 items including equipment, torches, medals, video and interactive exhibitions where visitors can test their sports abilities. The exhibitions will teach you all about the history of the games, notable events and what being an Olympian is all about. Couples, solo travellers and families alike will all enjoy the Olympic museum.
Situated in Lausanne’s hilly and cobbled old town centre, Lausanne’s Cathedral dates back to the 12th-century and is a stunning example of European Gothic architecture. It’s known for having a beautiful rose glass window, a well-equipped belfry with seven bells and a unique organ.
Guided tours of the grand organ are available in French, German and English and the Cathedral is not to be missed on a trip to Lausanne.
Ouchy is a port neighbourhood in south Lausanne on the banks of Lake Geneva that used to be its own little fishing village. Ouchy promenade is a gorgeous place to go for a stroll and enjoy the views out onto the lake. This is where the Olympic museum is as well as all the best luxury hotels.
Ouchy boasts many pristine parks such as the Esplanade Emile-Henri-Jaques-Dalcroze and there are plenty of bars on the waterfront for you to sip a cocktail while watching the sunset over the lake with the alps in the background.
Of course, looking out onto the lake is great but one of the best things to do in Lausanne is to actually get out onto Lake Geneva itself and there are so many activities. If you’re feeling adventurous you might want to try wakeboarding, windsurfing or hiring a boat and rowing yourself.
If you’d rather relax and enjoy the views, there are plenty of boat trips and tours you can find in Ouchy that will sail you around the lake. Not all of it however as Lake Geneva is quite big!
Lausanne has a fantastic mix of old buildings, squares and epic views as well as up-and-coming trendy neighbourhoods like Flon thanks to its young, student population. It was an undesirable neighbourhood filled with abandoned warehouses until the end of the 1990s when those warehouses were turned into cool, industrial nightclubs and bars like MAD, Switzerland’s biggest club which attracts partygoers from all over the country.
A true hipster neighbourhood, Flon is also the place to go if you’re into vintage fashion and modern, innovative art and it’s not far from Old Town, either.
Musée de l’Élysée
If you’re into quirky museums like the Olympic museum then Lausanne has plenty to offer. Another specialist museum is Musée de l’Élysée which is entirely dedicated to photography in a stunningly grand 18th-century mansion.
The gallery is largely accessible to visitors with reduced mobility and even has a permanent exhibition named ‘Art for All’ which features photographs in other exhibitions that have been adapted so people with reduced visibility can feel the photographs.
Everyone loves a good viewpoint and if you also like getting back to nature, even on a city break, then visiting the Sauvabelin Tower in Sauvabelin park in the north part of Lausanne is the perfect activity. Easily accessible by metro, you’ll have to climb all 300 steps to the top of the wooden tower to reach the viewing platform where you can overlook the entire city of Lausanne and over the lake to the Alps. Absolutely stunning views and don’t forget to bring your camera!
What to eat in Lausanne
Switzerland’s traditional cuisine is all about cheese, chocolate, fresh fish and farm-to-table seasonal ingredients and Lausanne has all of this and more. Café du Grütlí has been serving classic Swiss cheese fondue since the end of the 1800s and it’s still the restaurant in Lausanne that all the locals head to for a classic Swiss meal.
With Lausanne being on a lake, a lake fish called féra is hyper-local to the area and can be found on the menu at Brasserie de Montbenon in the Ouchy area of Lausanne. It’s a great restaurant to visit in summer because they have a beautiful outdoor terrace where you can enjoy great food with a view of the lake.
And if you’re a chocolate lover then you need to check out La Chocolatiere which is well-known for being the best Swiss chocolate shop in the city.
Where to stay in Lausanne
Budget – Even if you wouldn’t normally stay in hostels when you travel, due to Switzerland’s much higher prices you may need to consider staying in cheaper accommodation to stay within your budget. Luckily, the Lausanne Guesthouse Centre is extremely well located only a 7-minute walk from Lausanne Cathedral. They offer both dorms and affordable private rooms and a cosy outdoor terrace for guests.
Mid-range – Mövenpick Hotel Lausanne is an ideal option for a mid-range hotel in the Ouchy neighbourhood as it has some luxe touches like modern bathrooms and huge, light windows with views over the lake without the hefty price tag. Hotel du Boulevard is a good alternative near Lausanne central station. If you’re travelling into Lausanne via car, there are some great apartments on Airbnb on the outskirts of the city.
Luxury – There is no shortage of unbelievably glamorous 5-star hotels in Lausanne if you have a bit more to spend and all the best ones are on the banks of Lake Geneva in the Ouchy neighbourhood. Hotel Beau-Rivage Palace’s rooms are skilfully decorated, so you have all the modern amenities you need with classic country house furnishings. Hotel Royal Savoy Lausanne is equally luxurious if you prefer more modern, minimalist hotels.
Tours to do in Lausanne
Lausanne has a long and epic history dating back to the Roman Empire and there are still lots of fascinating buildings, statues and parts of the city that you can explore way back as far as the Iron Age to learn more about Lausanne’s diverse past. A must-do tour for history lovers!
A walking tour is a great way to learn more about a city like Lausanne which is fairly compact and easily explored on foot, despite some big hills. Check out all Lausanne’s top attractions and learn more about the city’s history from a knowledgeable, local guide.
Hiring a local photographer for a holiday photoshoot is becoming more popular amongst travellers because they’re a fantastic way to not only get professional portraits but also capture the memories from an enjoyable holiday. And where better to have proper photographs taken than somewhere as beautiful as Lausanne with Lake Geneva as a backdrop?
Day trips from Lausanne
Lausanne is very scenic and charming but the countryside around the city is equally breath-taking. This day trip to Montreux, which is only around 30-minutes’ drive from Lausanne, will allow you to explore lots of different places in this beautiful wine region including Chillon Castle and the Charlie Chaplin World museum. The famous silent actor died in this region of Switzerland and this museum is dedicated to his life’s work.
The Lavaux vineyards are a UNESCO World Heritage site and are situated just outside of Lausanne so it would be such a shame not to see the vineyards and sample some of the region’s delicious wine during your trip. Visit several wineries in the area and learn all about the local grapes while enjoying the stunning Swiss Alps in the background.
Don’t like the idea of just being able to see the Swiss Alps from your hotel room window in Lausanne and want to visit them for yourself? To make the most of your trip, why not book a hassle-free day tour to the mountainous town of Interlaken and experience them for yourself. Take the cable car up Jungfrau mountain, explore the Ice Palace in Aletsch Glacier and experience what it’s like being at the ‘Top of Europe.’
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
- Interlaken and Paragliding Experience from Lausanne
- Interlaken and Jungfrau day trip from Lausanne
- UNESCO Panoramic Wine Tour
- Riviera tour with long cruise in Montreux and Lavaux Unesco Tour from Lausanne
- Winter Gruyères, chocolate and cheese tour from Lausanne
- Winter Swiss Riviera Day Including Montreux and Chaplin’s World from Lausanne