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Lausanne

Travel and Tourist Information

Aerial view of Lausanne and Lac Léman

ABOVE: A panoramic view of Lausanne, Lac Léman, and the French Alps.

Lausanne may be the capital of Vaud, but it isn't your typical cantonal seat. This picturesque, hilly city of 125,000 has vied with Geneva as the intellectual and cultural center of French-speaking Switzerland for centuries.

Lausanne is a convenient place to spend a few days while touring Switzerland, since its railroad station is a connecting point for trains between France, Geneva, Bern, and the skiing and mountaineering resorts of the Valais. And if you're tempted to skip Geneva because you don't have time to do that city properly, Lausanne is a practical (and manageable) alternative.

Something old, something new

The Cité, or old town, is uphill from the train station. It's packed with fine buildings--among them, Switzerland's largest cathedral, which has been Protestant since the 15th Century.

Other landmarks include the 17th Century Hôtel de Ville (city hall), the Palais du Rumine (occupied by several museums), the Château St-Maire (a former bishops' castle), and the Ancienne-Académie (the University of Lausanne's former home).

Heading in the opposite direction--i.e., downhill--you can walk or take public transport from the railroad station to the lakeside port-resort of Ouchy.

This former fishing village, now a part of Lausanne, is a great place to stroll along the shores of Lac Léman (a.k.a. Lake Geneva), catch an excursion boat to other towns along the lake, or spend a lively evening on the waterfront during the summer months.


Location

Lausanne Cathedral

ABOVE: Lausanne's 13th Century cathedral is on a hill above the Haute Ville or old town.

Lausanne is roughly midway along the northern shore of Lac Léman, as Lake Geneva is known outside the canton of Genève.

The elegant small resort cities of Montreux and Vevey are to the east, separated from Lausanne by the Lavaux Corniche coastal road with its vineyards and wine villages. France is just 35 minutes across the lake by boat, and the mountains of Haute Savoie are clearly visible on a sunny day.

The city of Lausanne is built on three hills. The climb from the lakeside resort area of Ouchy to the Haute Ville, or Upper Town, is steep enough that the original Métro connecting Ouchy to Lausanne's main railway station and the Flon nightlife district was was a funicular and, later, a cogwheel railroad.

History

Archaeologists report that Lausanne's Haute Ville was occupied in Neolithic times. The first Christian bishop showed up shortly before 700 AD, and a cathedral was built about 200 years later.

Today's old town dates back to medieval times. The Château St-Maire, or Castle, was built from 1397 to 1426, and another prominent feature of the old town--the Eglise St-François--is about the same age as Cathédrale, which was consecrated in 1275.

Gargoyle on Hotel de Ville, Lausanne, SwitzerlandThe Hôtel de Ville, or town hall, came later; the Renaissance building on the Place de la Palud was built in the 17th Century. (The inset photo shows a gargoyle from the Hôtel de Ville.)

Perhaps the most significant historical event in Lausanne was the Reformation, which arrived with a sermon by Guallaume Farel in 1529. By 1536, Lausanne had largely swapped Catholicism for Calvinism, and both the city and its canton have been Protestant ever since.


Sightseeing

CGN steamer on Lac Léman with Castle of Chillon 

ABOVE: The Rhone and other vessels of the Compagnie Générale de Navigation sur le Lac Léman connect Lausanne to sights along the lake--among them, the Castle of Chillon.

Lausanne has two main sightseeing areas:

The Upper Town, or Haute Ville, runs uphill from the main railroad station and includes the medieval old town. Bring your walking shoes and be prepared to climb hilly streets and steps if you want to visit the cathedral, the St-François church, and see other old-town attractions such as the Château Saint-Maire (a former episcopal palace) and the Tour de l'Ale (a watchtower dating to 1340 that was once part of the city walls).

Flon, a trendy warehouse district turned nightlife quarter, is just to the west of the old town and the Place de l'Europe.

The Lower Town, or Haute Basse, more commonly known as Ouchy (the name of the fishing village that once stood on the shoreline), is a district of parks, lakeside promenades, elegant 19th Century resort hotels such as the Beau-Rivage Palace, and a handful of museums such as the world-famous Olympic Museum Lausanne.

If you're ambitious, you can easily view Lausanne's main sights in a day, but you'll probably want to allow time to savor the city and to visit at least a few museums (including the ones described below).

Lausanne Tourism can arrange guided strolls for groups of 1-5 persons, using licensed tour guides.

Excursions

From the main railroad station, you can easily catch trains to Vevey, Montreux (with its Castle of Chillon), and the Lavaux wine villages.

Better yet, head for the waterfront in Ouchy, where you can take a CGN lake steamer to your destination on Lac Léman or enjoy a roundtrip cruise. (The mineral-water spa of Evian-les-Bains is directly across from Lausanne on the French shore of the lake; you can get there by boat in 35 minutes.)

  • Tip: Consider yourself lucky if you're touring Switzerland with the Swiss Pass: It lets you travel free on CGN lake steamers, Lausanne's transit system, and trains of the Swiss Federal Railways, which means you'll spend little or nothing extra to get around Lausanne and the shore of Lac Léman.


Museums

Olympic Museum, Lausanne Ouchy

ABOVE: The Olympic Museum is in Ouchy, facing the lake. (Photo copyright IOC.)

Lausanne's Plan Officiel lists two dozen museums, a number of which have international reputations.

Close to the lake in Ouchy, the Olympic Museum is a "must see" attraction for sports fans and Olympic TV watchers. The modern museum has permanent displays, rotating exhibits, and computer terminals where you can watch performances from yesteryear. (The displays of medals and torches alone are worth the price of admission.) Not far away, the Musée du Vieil Ouchy (Museum of Old Ouchy) has historical exhibits about the fishing-village-turned-resort.

MUDAC, Lausanne, SwitzerlandIn the Upper Town, the Museum of Design and Applied Contemporary Art, or MUDAC, is easy to visit: It's directly across the street from the cathedral, where its modern exhibits and rooms are built behind the façads of four connected medieval houses.

Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne, SwitzerlandUphill from the city center (but well worth the walk or bus ride) is the Collection de l'Art Brut, where you'll find amazing works by the mentally ill, prisoners, and other artists on the fringes of society. The museum owes its existence to the French artist Jean Dubuffet, who donated his collection of "outsider art" to the city of Lausanne in 1971.

Another museum above the city center, the Fondation de l'Hermitage, hosts important visiting exhibitions in an old manor house.

Walk a little farther up the hill (or take the #16 bus), and you'll reach the forest of Sauvabelin with an animal park and the Tour de Sauvebelin, a tower where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city and Lac Léman.


Beau-Rivage Palace Hotel, Lausanne Ouchy, Switzerland

ABOVE: Le Château de l'Ouchy (background) and the Beau-Rivage Palace are two of Lausanne's classic lakefront hotels.

Where to stay

Hotels

When picking a hotel in Lausanne, your first challenge is to decide where to stay.

Ouchy is convenient to the lake, the Olympic Museum, and steamers that run to other towns along Lac Léman.

 The Haute-Ville, or Upper Town, is more convenient to the railroad station, sightseeing, and the Flon nightlife district. (Still, location isn't as important as you might think, since Lausanne's newly-renovated Métro makes it easy to shuttle between the lake and higher elevations.)

In Ouchy, the Beau-Rivage Palace is the crème de la crème of the city's 5-star luxury hotels, with a private 10-acre park facing the lake. Nearby are the Angleterre & Residence (4 stars), which is spread out over six pavilions, and Le Château d'Ouchy (4 stars) at the Place du Pu Port, which resembles a French castle.

Uphill from Ouchy is the modern Continental (4 stars), which lies directly opposite the railroad station. It's a practical choice if you've got heavy luggage or an early train. The Elite (3 stars) occupies a refurbished building between the station and the old town.

Alpha-Palmiers Hotel, Lausanne, SwitzerlandIn the Haute-Ville above the railroad station, the Alpha-Palmiers (4 stars) is an ultramodern glass structure whose rooms overlook a landscaped courtyard. The hotel, which was built in 2002 at a cost of CHF 40 million, is mostly hidden behind traditional façades on the Rue du Petit-Chiène.

The reception staff were friendly during my stay, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover a jar of peanut butter at the breakfast buffet, but my glass-walled room was a bit stuffy on a sunny day in late October when the air conditioning was off for the season. The management of the Alpha-Palmiers also run the stylish Swiss Wine hotel and bar (3 stars).

Farther up the hill on the rue du Grand-Chène (slightly west of the Place Saint-François) is the Edwardian-era Lausanne Palace & Spa (5 stars), which is the place to stay if you need quasi-royal accommodation in the city center.

For simplicity in a romantic setting, consider the Du Raisin, which has seven rooms (including studios with kitchenettes) above a café on the Place de la Palud in the pedestrian zone. The hotel was renovated in 2013, and its amenities include free Wi-Fi.

For more hotel options, see the Lausanne hotel listings from our booking partner, Booking.com, which is the No. 1 secure hotel reservations service in Europe:


Restaurants

La Grappe d'Or restaurant, Lausanne, Switzerland

ABOVE: La Grappe d'Or is in the lakeside neighborhood of Ouchy.

Lausanne is a prosperous city with a large tourist and student population, so you'll find plenty of restaurants and cafés in all price categories.

Café du Grütli, Lausanne, SwitzerlandIn the old town, Café du Grütli on rue Mercerie, just east of the Place de la Palud, is a cozy, old-fashioned restaurant where you can order wine by the glass or enjoy traditional Swiss specialties at prices that are moderate (though hardly cheap) by Swiss standards.

Another classic restaurant in the city center, Café Romand on Place St-François, serves drinks, sandwiches, and hot meals six days a week (closed Sundays).

Flon warehouse district, Lausanne, SwitzerlandThe lively warehouse district of Flon has a good selection of restaurants and bars. I had an excellent dinner in a lively, modern vinothèque facing the Place de l'Europe, where most of the diners were as trendy as the decor.

In Ouchy, two upper-end restaurants worth noting are La Rotonde at the" Beau-Rivage Palace, which has a Michelin star and just 60 seats, and La Grappe d'Or (photo at top of page), where the highly-regarded French kitchen is commanded by a Bavarian chef.

For more advice on restaurants, see Wikitravel's "Eat" and Lausanne Tourism's Restaurants listings.


Transportation

LEB Lausanne-Flon train station, Switzerland

ABOVE: Railroad workers give directions at the Lausanne-Flon station of LEB, a railway that serves commuters from towns north of Lausanne.

Arriving by plane. Geneva International Airport (GVA) is the closest major airport to Lausanne. Trains depart from a railroad station in the airport at frequent intervals, reaching Lausanne in 48 to 62 minutes.

Arriving by train. International and domestic trains arrive at Lausanne CFF (the main railroad station), which is uphill from Ouchy at the lower end of the Haute Ville or city center. For schedules, see the Swiss Federal Railways electronic journey planner.

Arriving by boat. Vintage steamers and modern sightseeing boats of the Compagnie Générale de Navigation sur le lac Léman (CGN) serve Lausanne-Ouchy's Place du Port from Geneva, Montreux, Vevey, Evian-les-Bains (France), the Lavaux vineyards, and other points along the lake.

Arriving by car. Lausanne is on the northern shore of Lac Léman, at the junction of the A1 and A9 autoroutes. Plan your driving trip with ViaMichelin.

Lausanne public transportation. Tranports publics de la région lausannoisse, or "TL," operates a network of buses, trains, and trams in and around Lausanne. Its Web site is in French, but the maps and timetables don't require translation. (Also see the Lausanne Metro Map at Mapsof.net.)


Schools and universities

Old Town, Lausanne, Switzerland

ABOVE: Many university students commute from the city center, where they can enjoy the café life between lectures and exams.

Lausanne is popular with foreign students, whose higher-education choices include the University of Lausanne and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the Business School Lausanne, and the MBA/EMBA programs at IMD.

The Lausanne Hotel School is internationally renowned. The school, which offers a Bachelor of Science degree, has been grooming professionals for the hospitality industry since 1893.

Younger foreign pupils can study at the International School of Lausanne (a non-profit, English-language day school with some 580 students of ages 3-18 from 50 countries) and the Gan Shlomo and Marx School, which caters to Jewish children from ages 2 through 10.

Another private school, Lemania College, offers Swiss Maturité, French Baccalauréat, and IB diplomas. The school also has a range of employment-focused courses and summer camps. Boarding is available for students aged 15 and older.


Tourist information

Lausanne Ouchy Métro station, Switzerland

ABOVE: Lausanne Tourisme's headquarters is on the avenue de Rhodanie, a block west of the Ouchy Métro station (shown above).

Lausanne Tourisme, also known as the Lausanne Tourism and Convention Bureau, has a multilingual Web site with all the usual tourist information, including listings of events, festivals, and exhibitions.

When you're in Lausanne, you can pick up maps and brochures, get answers to questions, or request help in finding a last-minute hotel booking at the Lausanne Tourisme offices in the main railway station and on the Avenue de Rhodanie in Ouchy.

The Office du Tourisme du Canton de Vaud, or Vaud Lake Geneva Region Tourist Office, is another valuable resource.

Next page: More Lausanne Photos


In this guide:
Lausanne, Switzerland
Lausanne photos

Cities and attractions near Lausanne:
Montreux
Castle of Chillon
Vevey
Lavaux Vineyards