Day off in Lausanne – what to do?

Lausanne successfully merges the relaxed holiday resort vibe with being a dynamic business and commercial hub. It’s the second largest city on the Lake Geneva shore. Lausanne is situated on three hills. The steep rise from the shore, combined with high French Alps on the opposing side of the lake, give the city a beautiful, scenic look. However, the picturesque surroundings are not the only thing to admire if you have a day off in Lausanne.

A day off in Lausanne

A day off in Lausanne

The history of Lausanne started with a Roman military camp, founded in 1st century BC. It quickly grew into a prosperous commercial port. The Roman presence in Lausanne and surrounding areas is documented in the Lausanne-Vidy Roman Museum and the nearby archeological park.

Since 1914, Lausanne is also home to the International Olympic Committee, the Court of Arbitration for Sport and dozens of other international sport organizations and associations. In 1994, Lausanne was named the “Olympic Capital”. The Olympic museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions and sport is a very important part of living in Lausanne. Geneva Lake is great for watersports, nearby vineyards and hills – for cycling, and the Jura Mountains – for hiking and skiing.

If you prefer something less strenuous, you can take a stroll down the Ouchy promenade, along the shore of Lake Geneva. The impressive historical buildings, including Château d’Ouchy, Beau-Rivage Palace and Angleterre were converted into (or already built as) luxury hotels, benefiting from the scenic views of the lake and Savoy Alps.

Deeper inland, you can visit the monumental Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne. Works on the gothic church began in the 12th century. Main tourist attractions that should draw your attention there are: the collection of 13th century stained-glass windows and the biggest musical instrument in Switzerland – organ weighting 40 metric tons. The cathedral is a popular venue for concerts and other events.

Lausanne has a great offer for art connoisseurs too. The Hermitage Foundation Museum is housed in a beautiful 19th century mansion overlooking the city. They usually open up to 3 exhibitions a year, mostly on local, Swiss artists and Impressionist painters. Musée de l’Élysée focuses on photography, while Collection de l’Art Brut – on outsider, naïve art.

Day trips from Lausanne

If you’ve already seen it all and want to travel a bit further, you are in luck. Lausanne is surrounded by fascinating, vibrant cities and wonders of nature. Most of them – just like Lausanne – lie along the Lake Geneva shore, but for some it’s worth to move away from the coast.

Day trips from Lausanne – city life

Geneva (~40 mins by train, ~1h by car)

Arriving in Geneva, you will probably notice the symbol of the city: the Jet d’Eau, one of the tallest fountains in the world, pumping water 140 meters up. Geneva also boasts of the biggest old town in Switzerland, dominated by the St. Pierre Cathedral, an important landmark of Swiss Reformation movement. If you want to learn more about Swiss watchmaking history, you should visit the Patek Museum. Geneva is also home to many international organizations, including agencies of the United Nations and the Red Cross. You can thus tour the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum and – if you like science – visit the CERN labs.

The nearby town of Cologny is the “birthplace” of the Frankenstein Monster.  Mary Shelley and Lord Byron spent a summer there, amusing themselves with scary stories. One of these stories later became “Frankenstein”.

Vevey (~15 mins by train, ~30 mins by car)

The chic city has attracted artists and intellectuals for years. Among notable Vevey residents are Charlie Chaplin and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Vevey is also known by its passion for gourmet food. Milk chocolate was first created in Vevey. It is also home to the global corporation Nestlé, and two museums associated with the company. The Alimentarium has an interactive food and nutrition exhibition and The Nest is a Nestlé company museum. If you are interested in local products and handiwork, you should visit the city on Tuesday or Saturday morning – when traditional folk markets are held.

Montreux (~25 mins by train, ~35 mins by car)

The neighboring Montreux has a similar profile to Vevey. Artists like Freddie Mercury, David Bowie and Vladimir Nabokov lived in the city or visited it frequently. It’s a favorite place of many musicians. Queen, Deep Purple and The Rolling Stones recorded their songs in the famous Montreux’s Mountain Studios. The fire in Montreux Casino, started during a Frank Zappa concert, was an inspiration for Deep Purple’s iconic song – “Smoke on the Water”. In addition, every July, Montreux holds the second biggest jazz festival in the world. But Montreux history is much longer. Another popular place to go is the nearby medieval castle, Château de Chillon. It was already a tourist destination in the 19th century. Lord Byron visited it in 1816 and left his name carved in on a pillar in the dungeon.

Évian-les-Bains – France (~35 mins by ferry, ~1h 10 mins by car)

On the other side of Lake Geneve lies the French city of Évian-les-Bains. Popular bottled water comes from springs near the city. Évian-les-Bains is a popular hydrotherapy destination, considered one of the top European spas, visited by artists and monarchs. The city also sports a famous casino.

Broc (~45 mins by car, ~2h by train)

The small town of Broc is famous for Maison Cailler, its huge chocolate factory. It’s not Willy Wonka’s, but it lets you experience the whole history of chocolate – from Central American rituals to the newest chocolate inventions.

Bern (~1h 20 mins by car, ~1h 45 mins by train)

The Swiss capital has a lot to offer. Bernese Old Town, with characteristic sandstone buildings has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The most famous sights are: the Zytglogge, a medieval clock tower with moving figurines, and the gothic cathedral dominating the cityscape – Berner Münster. In the Old Town you can also find 11 public fountains with Renaissance statues, with the most popular being the Kindlifresserbrunnen – the child-eating ogre.

If you are an art enthusiast, Kunstmuseum has a huge collection of Italian and Swiss art, as well as internationally famous, early 20th century artists like Klee, Kandinsky and Picasso. The Einstein Museum honors the scientist, who lived in Bern in the early 1900s – one of the most prolific periods in his life. If you want some peace and nature, you might want to visit the Botanical Garden, Rosengarten (rose garden) or the Bear Park (a big enclosure in the middle of the city).

Day trips from Lausanne

Day trips from Lausanne – relax and nature

If you prefer to get away from the hustle and bustle of the cities, you just have to move a little bit away from the Geneva Lake. Due to the steep slopes, lakeside cities quickly give way to vineyard-covered hills and untouched mountain scenery. If long walks aren’t your thing, you can use one of the many funiculars or relax in the hot springs.

Vineyards of Lavaux

The unique terraced vineyards of Lavaux are listed as UNESCO World Heritage site. The steep slopes between Lausanne and Montreux are one of the most recognized wine-producing regions in Switzerland. Terraces are generally parallel to the Lake Geneva shore and there are many roads that connect different levels. You can use one of the pre-planned routes or have a walk on your own. With the lake visible from almost every place, you can’t get lost. The hills look great during spring and summer, but they are most beautiful in autumn.

Mont Tendre 

Mont Tendre is the highest mountain (1,679 meters) of the Swiss Jura, overlooking the city of Lausanne. It’s known for the panoramic view from Lake Neuchatel to Lake Geneva and Savoy Alps. On a good day, you can even see the Mont Blanc massif. You can take the 5-hour, 16.6 km long trail from Mollendruz to Col du Marchairuz. There is also an option for those less sporty. You can drive a car up to the Buvette du Mont Tendre café. A walk from there to the summit takes about 15 minutes.

Rochers-de-Naye Railway

If you are not an experienced hiker but still want to enjoy the beauty of the Swiss Mountains, try the Rochers-de-Naye train. It departs from Montreux every hour and climbs to the top of a 2,042 meters high mountain. The train goes through scenic hills, villages and mountain passes. It operates all year long, and there are a lot of things to do at the top. From hikes and walks of different difficulty, through visiting the Mamrot Paradise, to restaurants with local dishes, snacks and panoramic views.

Hot springs

Lakeside resorts and scenic mountains do not end the list of attractions near Lausanne. The region is also known for its hot springs. If you start from Lausanne, you can go north, to the Neuchatel Lake and visit Yverdon-les-Baines. Thermal pools there are filled with warm, high-sulfur water. If you don’t like the smell of rotten eggs, you should go south-east instead – to Lavey-les-Bains. Both places have indoor and outdoor pools, with a stable temperature around 30 °C, available all year long.


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