Built among three steep slopes rising out of the north shore of Lake Geneva, the Swiss city of Lausanne is one of the country’s more understated jewels in the crown.
Lausanne does not immediately jump to mind at the mention of Switzerland, but the capital of Suisse romande boasts all the scenic charm of Bern, Zurich, Lucerne, and Jungfraujoch. Indeed, the city’s combination of medieval history – evidenced in its Romanesque and Gothic architecture – and natural scenery are a match for anything the nation has to offer. Whether you want to be enjoying the great outdoors or exploring its myriad cultural attractions, you’ll find something unique to do in Lausanne. Here’s your starter for 12.
Visit an art museum with a difference
When it comes to creativity, there was no bigger believer in the idea that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity than Jean Dubuffet. The late French artist recognised that madness could serve as a source of creative genius and began collecting artistic creations made by people relegated to the fringes of society: inmates of psychiatric hospitals, prisoners, outcasts, and so on. He called this work, untouched by artistic conventions, “Art Brut” (Naïve art). Today, the Collection de l’Art Brut boasts more than 70,000 pieces by 1,000 artists, and is the world’s first museum of its kind.
Beaulieu Estate / Mon-Sun 11am-6pm
Follow the ‘wine’ding roads of Lavaux
Switzerland is more than cuckoo clocks and cheese – in fact, the country has been producing wine since the Roman era, and has the terraced vineyards to prove it. With 95 per cent of Switzerland’s wine production destined for local consumption, a trip to the Lavaux vineyards offers an opportunity to sample some of the home produce before it gets marked up in price at the region’s restaurants . The vineyards are nestled in the steep hillsides between Lausanne and Montreux, and exploring them is a scenic delight.
Check out a 12th-century cathedral
The imposing Gothic-style Cathedral of Notre-Dame sits high atop the city, overlooking the town and lake below. While the cathedral was only consecrated in 1275, its construction began in 1170, making the oldest parts nearly 850 years old. The cathedral is unique because it’s one of the few structures remaining in Europe that was built during the Golden Years of growth from the 12th to the 14th centuries. Other points of interest include the cathedral’s very own Night Watchman – one of just seven in Europe continuously employed since the Middle Ages.
Place de la Cathédrale / Mon–Sun 9am-7pm
Discover Lausanne’s most iconic architecture
Lausanne is packed full of architectural masterpieces and visitors can discover many of them for themselves on a 1.5-hour private walking tour. Over the course of the trip, you’ll be immersed in the city’s rich architectural scene, visiting notable landmarks such as the Grand-Pont and Maison du Sport as well as a selection of your guide’s favourite off-the-beaten-track gems. Along the way, your guide will also regale you with fascinating tales and stories about the buildings and monuments that you pass.
Dine at a historic restaurant
Mr. Besson, a wine merchant, opened Pinte Besson in 1780, making it the oldest restaurant in Lausanne. The Old World charm of wood beams and stained glass windows have been beautifully preserved – as has the traditional Swiss menu. It’s no secret that this restaurant serves up the city’s best fondue – a rich moitié-moitié made of Gruyère and Vacherin (apparently sourced from the happiest cows in the world) and served with potatoes and bread for dipping. Beyond fondue, the restaurant delivers high-quality local wines and seasonal dishes at affordable (relatively speaking, for Switzerland) prices.
Rue de l’Ale 4 / Mon–Fri 9.30am-Midnight Sat 8.30am-Midnight Closed Sun
Explore five museums within a single building
From the outside, the Palais de Rumine appears to have fallen into disrepair but its former opulence is still perceptible. In 1871, Russian aristocrat Gabriel de Rumine bequeathed money to build this Florentine Renaissance-style palace for the enjoyment of the public – and that purpose has certainly been achieved. Today, the building serves as a museum, library, government building, study area, meeting place, and conference centre. Though ‘BIBLIOTHEQUE’ (library) is engraved on its facade, the palace now houses a network of museums, including the Cantonal Museums of Fine Art and the Cantonal Money Museum.
Place de la Riponne / Tue-Sun 10am-5pm Closed Mon
Take a stroll along the Port of Ouchy
Once an autonomous community, while taking a walk around the Port of Ouchy it strikes you as no surprise that locals wanted to keep it to themselves. The lakefront promenade provides striking views of Lausanne’s pastoral beauty, France across the lake, and the city rising from the shore. A walk from Ouchy station to Vidy will take you to Lausanne’s fitness park where the city’s Olympic spirit is made real with tennis courts, a skate park, outdoor track, and plaques with facts about the Olympic Games. Sit down for a crepe at the Creperie d’Ouchy or on a grass patch by the lake to feel the inspiration luminaries like Charles Dickens, Mary Chelley, Coco Chanel, and Josephine Baker flocked to Lausanne to admire.
Embark on a scenic boat cruise
Breath-taking views of the Lavaux vineyards, the Riviera region and the Swiss Alps all await you on this 3-hour scenic boat cruise. Aboard a classic steamboat, you’ll depart Lausanne and traverse the pristine waters in the direction of the Vaudois Riviera, skirting the vineyards of Lavaux before moving on to St Gingolph, perched at the end of Lake Geneva. On your return to Lausanne, you’ll cruise via Le Bouveret, Villeneuve, the Château de Chillon, Montreux and Vevey, with opportunities to buy food and beverages on board.
Escape the city heat by heading lakeside
Lausanne gets seriously hot in the summer and that’s when you’ll find many locals fleeing to cool off in the crystal blue waters of Lake Geneva. The municipality of Lutry, a short bus ride from the centre of Lausanne, lays claim to having the clearest water in the area, with direct sight lines to the Lavaux vineyards and the little French towns across the lake. Hire a paddleboard or kayak and relax in the middle of the lake, or for intrepid types you can even see how close to France you can get.
Take a stroll around the main square
The main square of Lausanne’s charming Old Town, Place de la Palud dates all the way back to the 9th century. The former bog land is now the home of the city’s Town Hall and the entrance to the ancient wooden steps of the Escaliers du Marché. The earliest recorded mention of this distinctive covered stairway dates to the 13th century, while the adjacent cobblestone street was built in 1717, all of which demonstrates how Lausanne is a living museum of urban evolution.
Get your groove on in Flon
The vibrant district of Flon is today at the epicentre of Lausanne’s nightlife – but it was not always that way. During the industrial revolution, the nearby river became lined with tanneries which emitted a smell that repelled locals. In the 20th century, Flon became a warehousing district and eventually fell into disrepair. Later, attempts were made to bring life back into the area and as a result Flon is now brimming with hip clubs, trendy bars, cool shops, and modern restaurants.
Ready, set, go to the Olympic Museum
Unless you’re an avid sports fan, visiting an Olympic Museum doesn’t sound particularly enthralling, but this place has more than just your average artifacts and exhibits. The museum’s rich collection has pieces that span the ancient period through to the present day, telling the story of how the modern Olympic Games were born and continue to progress. Not only will you learn about the evolution of sporting technology and the inspiration behind the Olympic movement, but you can also challenge your friends to races on the 100-metre track and re-live some of the most inspiring opening Olympic ceremonies in history.
Quai d’Ouchy 1 / Tues-Sun 9am-6pm Closed Mon
You can book entry tickets to the Olympic Museum at GetYourGuide