Lausanne is a slow burn – it takes time to get to know it, but once you do you’ll realise exactly how many things to do there are here. Packed with history and culture, Lausanne has a pretty pedestrian centre which buzzes with restaurants and markets, and a number of neighbourhoods with a character all of their own, from the converted warehouses of Flon to the independent boutiques around Rue de Bourg and Rue Marterey and the stylish shops and cafés of Grancy. But best of all is Lausanne’s sporty, outdoor nature, ingrained thanks to its position next to Lake Geneva and its reputation as the ‘Olympic city’. When the city centre shuts down on Sundays, decamp to Ouchy to swim, run, paddleboard or soak up the sun in a café, head up high to bike around the leafy trails of Sauvebelin or bus it to Lutry for a stroll among the Lavaux vineyards.
1. Explore the city centre
You can give yourself a good workout walking round Lausanne’s city centre, which spreads down a hill from the medieval Cité at the top through the pedestrian Old Town to the trendy warehouse district of Flon and then down to the main train station. To help inhabitants deal with the hills, it’s all linked by bridges, escalators, steps and lifts – not to mention the handy Metro M2 line – which gives the city a rather haphazard feel at times, and it’s easy for newcomers to become disorientated. But getting lost is half the fun. Start at the top with a wander through the quiet Cité before taking in the best city centre view from the Cathédrale de Lausanne, the largest in Switzerland. From here the pretty Escaliers du Marché take you down to the Place de la Palud, the Old Town’s main square and home to the town hall, where you can stop for a coffee at Café de L’Hôtel de Ville. On Saturdays and Wednesdays the square and surrounding streets fill up with market stalls which are well worth a browse (but beware the often inflated prices). Elsewhere in town, window-shop the designer brands in Flon, or head away from the main drag to Rue Marterey for its independent boutiques and street food outlets.
2. Visit an offbeat museum
For a little place, Lausanne has more than its share of cultural attractions. The quirky Collection de l’Art Brut is an intriguing showcase of the alternative art created by untrained artists on the fringes of society, whose psychological issues have fuelled pieces of art that are offbeat and hugely inventive.
3. Hang out in Ouchy
Lausanne’s lakefront district is the city’s playground. It’s here where people come to while away a Sunday afternoon by strolling along the shore of Lake Geneva with an ice-cream, swimming in the lake or at the Bellerive Plage open-air pool, or hiring a SUP (stand-up paddleboard) or pedalo. You can also hop on a CGN boat to France, visit the rather flashy Olympic Museum or enjoy some quality people-watching in one of Ouchy’s numerous bars and cafés. Littered with posh hotels dating from the 19th century, there’s an extravagant air about the place, and you’re likely to see more than a few rich man’s cars cruising past, plus myriad well-groomed elderly ladies with handbag-sized dogs. For this alone (well, and the tasty crêpes), it’s worth joining the tourists for lunch at the Crêperie d’Ouchy, which sits right in the thick of it, while later in the day head along to MGM Café for a drink on the lovely upstairs terrace.
4. Take a walk with a view
Lausanne’s location overlooking beautiful Lake Geneva deserves to be marvelled at. Luckily, there are numerous places from which to do so. Combine a stunning view with a stroll in the park by heading to Lausanne’s Musée et Jardins Botaniques Cantonaux on the Montriond Ridge, a hillock formed by a long-gone glacial moraine sitting adjacent to the leafy Milan park. Wind your way up through the terraces to the top for a gorgeous view over the lake and mountains. Alternatively, head up to the protected forest of Sauvabelin for an even more far-reaching view from the summit of its wooden tower. Lastly, you’ll appreciate just how pretty the Swiss countryside is on a stroll through the Lavaux vineyards which sit on the sloped lakeside between Lausanne and Montreux.
5. Indulge in local food and drink
It’s hardly Switzerland’s best kept secret, but it’s true that the cheese and chocolate found here are among the highest quality in the world, and Lausanne has its share of places to indulge. For proper artisan chocolate, browse the heavily laden shelves at Blondel, which tempts you with chocolate ice cream before you’ve even entered the shop. There are numerous places in Lausanne for cheese dishes, but historic pub La Pinte Besson is one of the best, and possibly the most atmospheric place to have a fondue on a winter’s evening. More of a Swiss secret is the country’s homegrown wine. Be guided towards a top class tipple at Le Wine or Midi 20, where you can taste before you choose.