With its rich and diverse tourism offering, its privileged position within the heart of Europe and its incredible location on the northern shore of Lake Geneva, the Olympic capital of Lausanne is not just a famous sporting city but also a cultural one that springs to life during the Summer months.
The Summer is also a great time to visit for cultural events such as Festival de La Cité and the Winegrowers Festival (Fête des Vignerons) and, with the city being so accessible (just 40 minutes from Geneva International Airport, and two and a half hours from Zurich Airport) and easy to get around once you’re there, there are so many exciting things to enjoy, along with numerous architectural highlights and plenty of green spaces. Here we share a handful of our own experiences from our recent family stay in the welcoming capital of Vaud.
Take a tour of the city
A great way to get to know any city is through a local guide, and Lausanne is no exception. We took a private walking tour with a local guide, allowing us to discover the magic of Lausanne, its evolution around the Cité hill sculpted by the Flon and Louvre rivers, to explore both the ancient and modern architecture of the city centre, and learn all about the different districts.
We learnt how Lausanne had been an important commercial passage between France and Italy since Mediaeval times and visited Lausanne Cathedral, consecrated in 1275 and today one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in the whole of Switzerland.
The interior is equally impressive with its stunning rose window, great organs, painted portal, 13th Century choir stalls and ancient and modern stained glass windows. This is also a place where, if you happen to be following the Camino de Santiago within Switzerland, you can get your pilgrim passport stamped.
It is from the cathedral that each night, between the hours of 10pm and 2am, that a night watch (le guet de la cathédrale) calls out from the top of the belfry; you can learn more about this 600-year-old tradition in the video below.
Our tour also took us to Lausanne Castle which has been completely renewed and, once the bishop’s residence, now serves as the seat of the state of Vaud. Outside it stands the statue of Abraham Davel, resposible for liberating Vaud from the power of Berne, but later betrayed by military colleagues and beheaded. However, it was because of his efforts that Lausanne became independent.
Our tour also took us past the present parliament building, a modern edifice sandwiched between two older bhildings, and the nearby Ancient Academy, built by the Bernese in the 16th Century in a Swiss-German style making it different from most other buildngs in the city.
From that point we ambled along the escaliers du marché – a direct wooden stairway descent from the cathedral to the town centre – which dates back to the 13th Century but was updated to something more akin to its present form in the 18th Century. We finished, having learnt a lot about Lausanne, at the Place de la Palud – a hive of activity day or night, where ancient buildings merge with trendy new districts. It is also here that a there’s a polychrome statue symbolising justice and tourists and children gather every hour on the hour from 9am to 7pm to see a display of animated figures perform to the sound of the carillon.
Have lunch by the lake
Take the tram or a taxi down to Ouchy and you’ll be on the shores of Lake Geneva. There you can walk along the shoreline, take in the atmosphere of the lake, marvel at the majectic mountains and watch the world go by. Head upstairs from the boat house for the informal and relaxed Lacustre restaurant for a lunch overlooking the lake.
They do a number of brunch dishes such as corn fritters with bacon, avocado and salsa, or the avocado smash on toast with feta, pomegranate, chilli, coriander and rocket and an optional poached egg on toast, as well as a range of pizzas.
After lunch, Ouhcy – with its richly flowered and tree-lined quays – is also a lovely spot to have a carefree, lakeside stroll with the family and take in the relaxed atmosphere of Lausanne.
Visit the Aquatis Aquarium-Vivarium at Vennes
Discover the most surprising freshwater environments on the planet at the Aquatis Aquarium-Vivarium – the largest aquarium-vivarium in Europe. Easily reached from the metro, here you can travel from one continent to another with immersive and unique scenography and amazing species: a universe at your fingertips in one place.
The attraction takes you through a discovery trail that includes 50 tanks and around 20 different aquatic ecosystems from across five continents. You can learn about different ecosystems, as well as about Lake Geneva’s history. There are also holograms on the floor that cleverly reflect various scenes from the ceiling, and an app that you can use to complement your visit and learn more about the different species on display.
Just as we were nearing the end of the exhibits, a member of staff passed us in the other direction and notified us that it was feeding time for the crocodiles. This was interesting to watch and he stayed around afterwards to answer questions.
Towards the end of the attraction trail, you emerge from the relative darkness of the tank displays into a lighter, humid area where you can admire stingray, small frogs, various snakes and a number of interesting tropical plants. Finish your visit at Piranha, the attraction’s fast food restaurant, where you can dine alongside a large tank of piranhas.
Savour some sushi
Lausanne has a thriving food scene with plenty of Swiss classics on offer, but also specialty cuisine from all corners of the globe. One such example of the latter is Sushi Zen Palace, housed within Lausanne Palace but accessible to both the public and staying guests, where four exceptional Japanese cooks ply their trade.
Inside, the restaurant is small enough to make an experience here feel intimate – the décor is pristine; tables and chairs all aligned with absolute precision and with a decidedly Eastern flair.
Although a whole range of Japanese dishes are served, we had a selection of sushi and sashimi – all excellent, but we particularly enjoyed the grilled shiitake and unagi (eel).
The toro (fatty tuna) was just melt-in the mouth delicious and wagyu-tataki (wagyu beef with candied radish) mouth-wateringly good. Because we had sharing plates, the meal was also a really fun and engaging family experience, too.
Walk across the winelands
We took the short train journey (just 10 minutes) from Lausanne Gare to Grandvaux and took a leisurely stroll down the hill to Cully. The panorama of terraced vineyards against the backdrop of the lake and the Alps beyond is certainly a sight to behold.
It is an easy walk with wonderful views that can be enjoyed as you amble among the terraced winelands of Lavaux – one of Switzerland’s premier wine appellations and classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nowadays the vines are trained along metal trellises usually running parallel to the hillside, with the main grape variety being Chasselas that is typically vinified to a full, dry and fruity white wine.
Midway along the walk is a lovely spot where the views are stunning and the ambience is very relaxed. Here you’ll find two places to eat – the informally laid out Café de la Place and, occupying a 13th Century church, the Michelin Guide listed Tout un Monde. Regrettably, we opted to eat at the former. The setting was lovely, the food fine but the service proved to be unnecessarily rude. We didn’t let that spoil our day, however, and continued our walk to Cully where there was a bustling local market not far from the lake edge.
Famous Italian artist, cartoonist and writer Hugo Pratt was so taken by the area that he lived the last decade of his life in Grandvaux and a statue of his most famous creation, Corto Maltese, admires the view whilst the offices of Cong SA, the company Pratt founded in 1984 to manage the rights of his work, lies just a stone’s throw away.
Take a boat trip on Lake Geneva
You can’t really visit Lausanne with having sailed on Lake Geneva. Once you’ve walked from Grandvaux to Cully, there’s no need to head back up the hill to take the train back to Lausanne! Cully is one of various locations on Lake Geneva, both in Switzerland and France, where the reasonably frequent Campagnie Générale de Navigation (CGN) cruise boats stop to pick up and drop off passengers.
This is a great way to see the area in comfort. From the lake, we were able to get a better appreciation of the extent of the vineyards which stretch for around 30 kilometres of the south-facing slopes on the northern shores of Lake Geneva. Apparently there’s close to 450 kilometres of terrace walls, too!
These terraces date back to the 11th Century when Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries controlled the Vaud region.
From Cully, it is just three stops on the boat until you reach Ouchy, the port region of Lausanne with its green oases and elegant Belle Eopque dwellings bordered by broad avenues. Once a fishing village, this place merged with Lausanne as the city expanded. It’s popular with tourists and offers stunning views across the lake to the commune of Évian-les-Bains and the French Alps beyond.
Visit The Olympic Museum
Renovated in 2013, The Olympic Museum offers 3,000 square metres of exhibition space, along with the latest technological innovations, set in 8,000 square metres of parkland. This unique museum is not just a collection of artefacts; it is much more than that, celebrating not only sport sporting accomplishments, but also touching on history, culture, design, sociology and technology.
You can learn about aspects of the Olympic Games – the origin of the Olympic rings which represent the five inhabited continents of the world, the different host nations, the different Olympic torches, logos, mascots and medals over different Olympic Games, etc. as well as gain interesting insights into the various opening ceremonies and specific athletes such as Michael Phelps who has battled with mental health issues.
Did you know that, since 1912, gold medals haven’t been made out of gold? They are in fact made out of silver and copper. Did you also know that only four athletes have won medals in both the Winter and the Summer Olympics? Kudos to anyone who can tell me who some of these people are in the comments below!
There are also interactive exhibits such as this biathlon simulation where you have to run on the spot for a period of time (to get your heart rate going) and then try to maintain a steady shot with the rifle afterwards. Not as easy as it sounds!
On the uppermost floor of the museum (+2) is TOM Café (The Olympic Museum) where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the lake and the Alps while enjoyhing dishes created by Chef Pascal Beaud’huin, with names inspired by Olympic vocabulary.
In the surrounding parkland there are also sculptures to admire or you can test your speed on a proper running track. There is so much to see and do that really you need to visit more than once to do the museum justice!
Where to stay
During our time in Lausanne, we stayed at the fabulous Lausanne Palace in the central Le Flon district of the city – a sister hotel to the Beau-Rivage Palace in Ouchy. Read the full review from our stay here.