One of the largest cities in Switzerland and the second largest on Lake Geneva, Lausanne is situated on the northern shores of the scenic lake and near to the Jura mountain range. Lausanne’s long and eventful history goes back to the Stone Age and then much later, the Roman settlers made their settlement lower down the hill than the current site and called it Lausanna; an area now known as Vidy. Lausanne then became a diocesan town for well over a thousand years and the old town is still dominated by the cathedral which is regarded as the most impressive early Gothic architecture in Switzerland.
Thanks to the north-south trade routes between Italy and the North Sea as well as the positioning of the town, Lausanne quickly became increasingly wealthy and of great importance to the region. Today Lausanne has a dynamic commercial industry as well as being a holiday resort. This university town also has a popular convention centre and hosts a number of international business conventions throughout the year for global corporations. With Lausanne’s economic and business success, the town has become a much sought after place for locals, business and pleasure.
Besides Lausanne being a commercial centre the town has a very high regard for both culture and sports. It is here that the International Olympic Committee has had its headquarters since 1914.
The town is built over three hills with vineyards covering the slopes. With the Lake Geneva in front and the rising Swiss Alps behind the town, it is no wonder that Lausanne has become a favorite destination for its picturesque scene.
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Best time to go to Lausanne
The weather can be very unpredictable not only in Lausanne but in Switzerland as a whole however generally, the climate is very comfortable and does experience extremes of temperature. The best time to visit Lausanne is during summer because of the warmer temperatures where on average it is around 20°C (68°F) although in mid-summer it can get to a balmier 25°C (77°F). The winter temperatures tend to hover around 4°C (39°) but can get down to 0°C (32°F) in mid-winter. Snow can be expected at any time on the mountains and even on the lower slopes but at the beginning of the season the snow is not at all deep and if it is deep snow that is required then it is advisable to go to the higher elevations and much further into the Alps.
Lausanne is an exceptionally clean city and a pleasure to walk around. It is easy and a great way to see the city on foot especially as many of the main streets in the old town centre have become pedestrian zones such as Rue du Petit-Chêne which runs from opposite the railway station and leads up to Place St François in the old town. In some parts of Lausanne the streets can become quite steep the further up the hill you go, but no need to struggle – just hop on the Metro.
There are two Metro lines running through the town provided by the Transports Publics de la Région Lausannoise with the hub being at the Flon Metro station. The new M2 metro travels to the northern suburbs via the Flon station, while the M1metro travels to the western suburbs. Besides the metro trains there is also a local railway owned by private company LEB and their trains connect to the two metro trains at Flon and travels further north of the town.
Tickets can be bought at vending machines from any of the stops and the main station of Flon. There are various options you can buy depending on the number of zones you travel, whether a single or return ticket, or if weekly passes are required. The majority of these vending machines do not issue change.
Lausanne, as well as all Switzerland in general, has a great public transport system as passengers can go virtually anywhere in the country using a combination of the federal train system and their famous postbuses. General rail passes can be used for unlimited travel on the rail system, however for non-Swiss visitors, confirmation of a CCF pass should be sought beforehand to see whether the ticket covers the local train system as some do and some do not.
Buses are clean, fast and regular. They cover virtually every part of the town so passengers are rarely more than a few hundred feet from a bus stop.
To visit the various other towns around the lake on both the Swiss and French shores there are several regular ferries operating each day. Bear in mind that passports will be required if visiting the French side. Alternatively, private boat tours and transfers from Lausanne to any port on the lake are also available.
Major Attractions and Sights
There are many fine architectural buildings in and around Lausanne. The Gothic Cathédrale de Notre Dame is one of the finest in Switzerland. The church was consecrated by Pope Gregory X in 1275 and is situated in the Old Town (Vieille Ville).The beautiful Town Hall is another fine example, as is the Château St. Marie, an imposing 15th-century castle where the Canton of Vau’s Swiss government is based and is connected by a convenient passageway to the Lausanne Cathedral. The Vieille Ville area of the town is where the majority of the main historical landmarks stand. At the end of Rue de La Tour is the Tour de l’Ale which is the only surviving trace of the medieval defensive walls surrounding Lausanne. This tower was built in 1340 and an outcry was made in 1903 when the locals opposed plans to demolish it. Take advantage of the many guided walking tours on offer which take in this historic area of the town
As Lausanne is the headquarters of the Olympic Committee it would be well worth a visit to the Olympic Museum which gives a thorough history and memorabilia right from the first summer games in 1896 in Athens through the Olympic years of today. Most even – even non-sports fan – are surprised by how interesting this museum is.
Another museum of note and uniqueness is the Musee de l’Art, an establishment with a collection of artwork produced by people from prisons and psychiatric institutions from around the world.
One of the highlights of the lake is to take a cruise on one of the steamboats leaving from the lake side port of Ouchy. The boats provide spectacular views of the region from a different angle with the alpine mountain ranges on the one side, and the beautiful scenic vineyards of Lavaux on another side. A trip to Montreux, regarded as the jewel of the Swiss Riviera is a must, as is a trip to the lovely town of Vevey where a visit to the Nestle chocolate headquarters to watch the production of chocolate is of definite interest to anyone with a sweet tooth.
Off the main streets there are many small alleyways tucked away and filled to capacity with boutique shops and cafes.
Summer time is a great time of the year to go cycling or hiking. So for a bit of activity, hire a bike and choose from a map one of the numerous trails and paths in the region. Discover the countryside with its beautiful views around Lake Geneva and the vineyards with the clean crisp air whistling past your ears and get lost in your thoughts with the magnificence of this region.
Shopping in Lausanne
Shopping in Switzerland is an experience, and Lausanne is no exception. Products ‘made in Switzerland’ always invoke a symbol of quality, especially from its famous clock and watch making industry, jewelry, and of course, their famous Swiss army knives, often bought as souvenirs.
The best shopping streets are the Rue de Bourg, Place de la Plaud and Place de La Riponnse. A range of high end shops and sophisticated styles make shopping such a pleasurable experience in Lausanne. Explore the streets and admire the frontages and displays in unique little boutiques tucked inside lanes and the large and elegant department stores – there will be no disappointment when it comes to retail therapy.
As an interlude to shopping there are plenty of cafes seducing visitors and tourists to a temptingly array of their finest cakes on display. Inside, enjoy the quiet and intimate ambience of these cafes while sipping excellent quality coffee or a hot chocolate specialty and munching through one of their exquisite gateau slices.
Every Wednesday and Friday morning markets are held where many of the central streets are filled with stalls offering fresh fruit and vegetables as well as many other products and souvenirs.
Eating Out in Lausanne
Of course, one meal that is a must in Switzerland is the national dish of cheese fondue. One of the most charmingly simple venues to share this meal is the Café du Vieil Ouchy. It’s a good idea to order the moitie/moitie which is half Gruyere and half Vacherin cheeses for a nicely balanced cheese fondue. Another great restaurant is the Tour de Gourze although this is out of town but is very authentic and not a ‘touristy’ venue.
The Lausanne region has many regional specialties and one is their cabbage filled sausage with leek gratin called Papet Vaudois which is serviced at the Hotel de Ville. Another local specialty is the filet de perche – this fish is not from the sea but from the lake – and one good restaurant for this dish is the Café de la Poste in Lutry.
Hardened meat eaters should look no further than the Brasserie Grand Chene which is a great place for steaks.
Nightlife in Lausanne
Although Lausanne remains a very conservative city it is still very cosmopolitan in its outlook, and night life is therefore very much alive with Gallic influence. It is one of the most popular cities in Switzerland for its night time entertainments as well as being a gay friendly city. For many the first part of the evening starts off at one of the numerous cafes or bars for intimate drinks and low music. One of the most appealing is the Le Grand Café inside the Lausanne Casino, full of American glitz and glamour and where a good cross-section of the local society often meet. Alternatively, try the Ouchy White Horse Pub for a traditional feel, especially in summer when views of the lake can be enjoyed sitting outside on the terrace and where a range of tapas and burgers are served.
Discos and night clubs are extremely popular. One in particular is Le Mad on Rue de Genève and attracts many of the under 30’s. Its five storey exterior is covered in arty street graffiti making it a draw card and instantly recognizable.
Away from the nightclubs, a cultural evening at the opera, ballet and theatre is extremely high on the agenda with the locals. World famous productions are staged at the Théâtre-Municipal Lausanne, Avenue du Theatre. The famous Bejart Ballet performs to its home city during June, November and December. Tickets for the various performances held throughout the city can be bought at the Ticket Corner which has locations dotted around as well as a site in the railway station.
Of local interest
Festivals and events are an important part of Lausanne’s social calendar. One example if the Prix de Lausanne held in January which is an international ballet competition for the world’s young talents to perform. Then during April and May the Tour de Romandie, a cycling race through western Switzerland prepares the riders for the Giro d’Italia. During July, the city really comes to life with the Festival de la Cité which sees well over a hundred free cultural events in and around the streets of Lausanne’s Old Town. Then in October, the popular Lausanne Jazz Festival takes place.
Art exhibitions are also of great cultural importance to the local people and the Fondation de l’Hermitage which is situated in beautiful surroundings holds art displays and exhibitions of the highest quality.