Even in a country as over-the-top picturesque as Switzerland, some destinations stand out, not only for their beauty but also for the charm and wide-ranging appeal of their attractions.
The city of Lausanne, located in what locals call the Vaudois Riviera in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, sits squarely on that list. This is a destination that at first glance might seem to just get by on its looks. In fact, there is so much to do here your clan, including culture-loving grandparents, young children, high-octane teens and adults looking for nightlife, might just get hooked.
For one thing, even though this is Switzerland’s second-largest city, the destination exudes an intimate resort ambience thanks to its location along the shores of Lake Geneva. It’s not unusual to see fishing, sailing and pleasure boats bobbing on the water against the backdrop of the snow-capped Alps and the distant French shores. And many of the city’s most interesting sites lie along or overlook the lake, where cyclists and walkers share space with visitors and locals who come just for the views.
Since the Olympic Games were front and center in the news this year, a great place to start your exploration of the city is arguably its most blockbuster attraction, The Olympic Museum. Overlooking the lake, it is accessible via a grand, wide staircase that culminates in a panoramic viewing platform and an art installation garden featuring a particularly arresting kinetic sculpture that moves apart and back together every few minutes.
Near the entrance find an athletic running track — perfect for little Olympic wannabes to test their sprints — as well as walking paths that wend through the beautifully designed landscaping.
The museum interior occupies three levels, each showcasing the Games via a different theme. Life-sized statues dressed in Olympic gear decorate one level, for example, and interactive screens combine with films and exhibits of artifacts to tell the story of the Games through the ages on another. Finally, the top floor offers indoor and outdoor dining and snacks, served with a side order of lakefront views at the TOM Café.
Lausanne is a city of parks, and one of the most family-friendly is Mon-Repos, offering all the pretty scenery one would expect including an aviary, a restored temple and even an orange grove. But little ones more likely will appreciate the on-site playground, while family and friends of all ages can cool off or work off steam at the 82-foot-long indoor pool. A paddle pool for little kids, a relaxing solarium and a poolside restaurant complete the amenities.
Adrenaline addicts among your group might want to tackle the 30-plus-mile Heart Route, a cycling trail that wends its way through picturesque scenery from Lausanne to the medieval village of Romont. Of course, you can also bike only portions of the trail, and e-bike rentals are available for those who would like a little help along the fairly challenging route.
Cyclists with time constraints can simply explore the city by bike, although keep in mind much of the terrain will be uphill. Again, think e-bike as an option for those who love cycling but prefer a less strenuous experience. Lausanne offers numerous bike rental options, including rental outlets right at the train station.
Hikers will find beautiful walks to choose from, including a half-day, shoreline hike from the waterfront walkway in Lausanne’s Ouchy area to Morges. The route takes walkers along the water, through gardens and even past a beautiful beach along the way. The easiest way to approach the hike, which features easy terrain, is to take the metro to the Lausanne Ouchy stop, then return on the train from the Morges station.
Families trying to humor moody teens can let them burn off energy and mingle with locals at the city’s outdoor skate park, which offers a bowl, half pipe and a mini pipe for the younger set.
Of course, Lausanne offers a wealth of calmer activities for those who prefer culture, fine dining and wine over outdoor pursuits.
Spend a day at the 10,000-acre Lavaux vineyards, for example, a UNESCO World Heritage site that runs nearly 20 miles along the lakeshore. Some say these terraced vineyards date back to Roman times, and they offer plenty of tasting opportunities for wine lovers as well as serious scenery for shutterbugs.
You can explore the vineyards by car, but it’s easier and more fun to hop aboard one of the little Lavaux Express tourist trains that navigate several different loops through the area. Trains run hourly and can include wine tastings at various wineries.
No self-respecting European city would dream of not having a beautifully historic Old Town, and Lausanne is no exception.
The 13th-century Gothic masterpiece, the Lausanne Cathedral, reigns as the jewel in the crown of the city’s center, and thanks to its hilltop location, it also offers some of the city’s best views.
Step inside for a look at the rose window, uniquely adorned with surprisingly secular images including signs of the zodiac and the four seasons, and check out the massive organ, said to have 7,000 pipes.
The Lausanne Historical Museum, dating from the 11th century, displays more than a half-million exhibits showcasing the city’s history. Don’t miss the model of Lausanne as it looked in the 17th century, complete with hundreds of tiny buildings and even its vineyards.
Switzerland doesn’t always get the respect it deserves with regard to nightlife, which is actually more abundant than people realize. A highlight in Lausanne, the Flon area in recent years morphed from an uninspiring industrial center to an appealing district brimming with wine bars, microbreweries and restaurants. The night owls among you won’t have any trouble finding the hottest bars because, especially on weekends, the action spills out onto the sidewalks, especially around Place Benjamin-Constant. By day, Flon also offers appealing shops and cool architecture that ranges from ultra-modern to Arab-inspired.
Like much of Switzerland, Lausanne is LGBTQ-friendly, especially along Avenue de Tivoli. It not only boasts welcoming bars and adult entertainment but also features a sauna club called Pink Beach.
If your visit happens to fall during the summer months, be prepared to be inundated with festivals. The Festival de la Cité, for example, runs for five days in July at the Place de la Cathédrale and offers international music and dance, circus acts and fine arts exhibitions. In all, some 400 free events take place in Old Town all summer, allowing visitors to mingle with locals in venues around the city.
Perhaps one of the best things about Lausanne is that it doesn’t go into hibernation in winter. Typically, the city doesn’t get as much snow as you might think — although with recent changes in weather patterns here and abroad, all bets are off when making predictions — and some argue the scenery is even more beautiful against the snow-capped Savoy Alps in the cold-weather months. Either way, cafés and restaurants bustle, locals stroll the pedestrian streets, and outdoor enthusiasts swap out cycling for skiing at some 30 resorts — a whopping 300 miles of downhill runs — some located only an hour away.