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One day in Lausanne: the top things to do

Lausanne old town with the lake and mountains in the background

Lausanne is Switzerland’s fourth largest city, situated in the French-speaking western part of the country. It’s a beautiful city that is split between an old town on a hill and a picturesque lakeside resort on the shores of Lake Geneva.

When considering a trip to Switzerland, you might be tempted to visit the main cities – Zurich, Geneva, or Bern – or to take a trip to the mountains. However, I suggest you do not overlook Lausanne.

As I found out on a short break, a trip here is definitely worth it – and even if you only get to spend a day here, it’s possible to see Lausanne’s main sights. It’s a charming, picturesque city set in beautiful surroundings and the perfect place for a day out.

Here is my summary of the top things to do in one day in Lausanne.

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Where is Lausanne?

The city of Lausanne is in the Swiss canton of Vaud in western Switzerland. It is located on the north shore of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman), around 60 kilometres to the north east of Geneva.

The city is about 80 kilometres from the capital, Bern. Zurich, in the north of the country, is further away.

One day in Lausanne: the top things to see and do

I have listed below some top tourist attractions that you could consider for your one day in Lausanne.

However, you’re unlikely to be able to cram everything in if you only have a day, so I have also provided an itinerary of top sights that you should try to see if you have time.

One day in Lausanne

– Morning: Start in the old town. Head to Le Château St-Maire; work your way down past the Palais de Rumine, Notre-Dame Cathedral (pop in and see the beautiful rose window), to the Place de la Palud and the Town Hall. Wander along the Esplanade de Montbenon and see the Palais de Justice.

– Lunch: Head back to the old town for an early lunch or grab a bite to eat in the brasserie outside Lausanne’s casino in the Promenade de Montbenon park.

– Afternoon: Catch the metro from Lausanne-Flon metro station to Ouchy-Olympique. For stunning lake views, walk along the Quais d’Ouchy to the Parc du Denantou to the Thai Pavilion, and then back to the Olympic Museum. Spend some time in the museum or boat ride along the lake.

Alternatively, hop back on the metro and explore one of the other city museums (for art lovers, there are several to choose from). Or head out to Sauvabelin and climb the tower for more stunning views of the area.

The Olympic Museum

The Olympic Museum is a reminder of Lausanne’s role as the world’s Olympic capital and the fact that it houses the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee.

A visit here is a must, even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of the Olympic Games or have any sporting prowess (i.e. me!). I think it’s one of the best things to do in Lausanne.

The museum is in a stunning location overlooking the lake, so head to the Ouchy area (for particularly incredible panoramic views of the lake and French Alps, go up to the cafe when you visit).

There are also some interesting exhibits dotted around the front of the museum. These include a sculpture of three Olympic cyclists.

The statue of cyclists by the Olympic Museum
The statue of cyclists by the Olympic Museum

What to see in the Olympic museum

Laid out over three floors, the museum traces the history of the ancient Games up to the modern day in painstaking detail with impressive displays, artefacts, archive footage, and interactive games.

You can learn how the modern Games were resurrected in 1896 and read about the history and design of the Olympic villages and stadiums and the importance of volunteers in staging the Games. This was something I knew had been crucial to the success of London 2012 – but I hadn’t realised that volunteering had always been such an integral part of the Games.

The building is packed full of little-known facts about the Olympics and Paralympics. There’s also information about less well-publicised stories and the politics associated with them.

This includes the boycotting of various Games throughout the 20th century and the entry of a united German team in 1956.

The museum has been designed to appeal to both adults and children. It is also highly interactive and educational.

On one floor, you can test your hand-eye coordination by smashing lights that appear across a body-length board with your hand against a countdown clock. I managed 34 successful hits in 2 minutes (when we visited, the highest score recorded was 172 hits in 1 minute!).

You can buy tickets to the museum here.

The Quais d’Ouchy

The Quais d’Ouchy, the city’s lakeside promenade, is one of the most popular attractions for visitors to Lausanne and one of the best places to go if you want to appreciate the city’s superb location.

It is located on the banks of Lake Geneva, and offers stunning views across the water and plenty of activities for all ages.

The quay stretches for a kilometre along the shoreline. You can wander along it, admire the boats, and stop at restaurants and cafes.

The harbour area also has the pretty Château d’Ouchy – now a hotel.

Ouchy harbour with the Chateau D'Ouchy
Ouchy harbour with the Chateau D’Ouchy

There are also three parks along the quay. The Olympic Park has the Olympic Museum within it. The Jardin de L’Elysee is behind, with the photography museum, the Musee de L’Elysee.

At the far end is the Parc Du Denantou. This has the Pavillon Thailandais (the Thai Royal Pavilion), a 2005 gift from the King of Thailand.

The Thai Pavilion in Lausanne
The Thai Pavilion in Lausanne

The Quais D’Ouchy is a great place to stretch your legs, get some fresh air and take in the stunning views of the lake. In summer, the walkway is pedestrianised over the weekend, so it can be a really pleasant walk along here, and this is a good time to visit. 

Boat trips from Ouchy

If you have time, you can hop on a boat in Lausanne. You can catch public ferries across the lake to France or take an organised tour that will take you past some of the beautiful sights around the lake.

A vintage steam boat on Lake Geneva

This two-hour boat trip takes you along the lake and down to Vevey. You can try one of the local wines while you take in the views of the nearby Alps and pass by the Lavoux vineyards.

This slightly longer trip allows you to admire the local sights from the delights of an old paddle steamer boat.

Its route also takes you past the steep slopes of the Lavaux vineyards (a UNESCO World Heritage Site that you can visit for wine tasting), then down to Chillon Castle. It also goes to other lakeside towns such as Montreux (famous for its jazz festival) and Vevey.

The Esplanade de Montbenon and the Palais de Justice

The Esplanade de Montbenon is another beautiful public park in Lausanne, situated between the old city centre and Ouchy. It is a large grassy area that stretches for half a kilometre with a long walkway lined with trees and flowers.

The Esplanade offers superb views of Lake Geneva and is a perfect place to stroll in the clean lakeside air. On warm days, you could stop off for a picnic in the sun or sit with an ice cream looking at the amazing scenery.

The park is also home to the Palais de Justice de Montbenon, the Montbenon district courthouse.

This impressive building, built towards the end of the 19th century in neo-renaissance style, is one of the most attractive structures in the city. There are breathtaking lake views from here.

The Palais de Justice in Lausanne
The Palais de Justice in Lausanne

Nearby is the Casino de Montebenin, another striking building with a brasserie and a gorgeous outside terrace.

Other parks and green areas in Lausanne

Other parks in Lausanne that you could visit include the Parc de Mon-Repos near the old town and the Parc de Milan between the old town and the lake. The Parc de Milan also has the city’s botanical gardens, which are free to enter.

There is also the aforementioned Parc du Denantou alongside the Quai d’Ouchy by the side of Lake Geneva.

A short distance from the main centre is Sauvabelin (take the number 16 bus), another lake surrounded by trees. The Sauvabelin Tower is also here.

The Sauvabelin Tower
The Sauvabelin Tower

The wooden tower is 35 metres high, with a platform standing over 30 metres above the treetops. If you’re prepared to climb the 302 steps to the top, you’re treated to incredible views. It is free to enter the tower.

Lausanne’s old town

Lausanne’s old town is the other area of the city that offers visitors a wealth of activities and sights.

It has winding medieval streets with small shops, historic buildings, and centuries-old monuments, and is definitely worth wandering around.

You can either do this independently or book an organised tour with a guide who will provide information on the area’s history.

Lausanne Cathedral

The Cathedral of Notre Dame is also in the old town in the Place de la Cathedrale. It is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture with its ornate spires, intricate stonework, and excellent art and sculptures.

It is the “largest and arguably most important early Gothic church in Switzerland”.

Lausanne Cathedral
Lausanne Cathedral

The cathedral dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries, but has had various modifications, including in the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation.

Its interior is particularly impressive, with a beautiful 13th-century rose window.

Le Château St-Maire

Just a short walk north of the cathedral is Lausanne’s medieval castle, the Chateau St-Maire.

This was built in the 13th and 14th centuries and named after the city’s first bishop. It has been used as a home for bishops, an armory and is currently home to the local government.

Although you can’t go inside the castle, the area is nice to look around. The views from the castle across the city are definitely worth seeing.

The Place de la Palud

A popular place in the old town is Place de la Palud, a beautiful square surrounded by neoclassical buildings.

It has shops and cafes, as well as market stalls on selected days (there is a country market on a Wednesday and Saturday morning and a craft market once a month).

Lausanne’s oldest fountain is located in the centre of the square – the 16th-century Fontaine de la Justice (Fountain of Justice). The city’s 17th-century Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville) with its bell tower is also in the Place de la Palud.

The Hotel de  Ville in the Place de la Palud
The Hotel de Ville in the Place de la Palud

The Palais de Rumine

The Palais de Rumine is another impressive building located in the heart of Lausanne. It is near the cathedral, so it’s easy to combine a visit to both on your day in Lausanne.

The Palais was built in 1906 after a generous donation from Gabriel de Rumine, a civil engineer who was born here.

It has since become an important landmark in the city and is home to five museums: the museums of history, geology, zoology, archaeology, and the Cantonal Money Museum.

The Palais de Rumine
The Palais de Rumine

The Palais is worth a visit if you have time, not least to admire the incredible architecture and the building’s interior. 

Other museums

There are also other museums in Lausanne that you could consider visiting.

These include the MUDAC Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts.

The museum boasts an outstanding collection of applied arts from around the world, with objects ranging from ceramics and jewellery to graphic art. It is “the one and only institution that is entirely dedicated to design in western Switzerland”.

If you’re an art lover, you may also be interested in visiting the Fondation de L’Hermitage. The museum houses and showcases art primarily from the 19th and 20th centuries. There is also a photography museum in the Jardin de L’Elysee.

And if you’re a cinema lover and don’t mind a short excursion outside the main centre, check out Chaplin’s World. This museum is dedicated to the actor/director who wrote, directed, and starred in some of the most iconic films in history.

The Rue de Bourg

The Rue de Bourg is one of Lausanne’s most historic streets, located in the heart of its old town. It is now a pedestrianised shopping street, so if you need anything on your day out, you may well find it here.

There are also some pretty and historical buildings lining the street.

How to get around Lausanne

The city is divided into two main parts: the old town and Ouchy-Olympique. The old town is in the north of the city perched on a steep incline, whereas Ouchy is on the banks of Lake Geneva.

Lausanne’s old town is easily walkable. However, there are parts with steep hills so you may want to take public transportation at times.

This is covered when you purchase a Swiss Travel Pass (although this is pricey, if you’re visiting Lausanne for a day as part of a more extended trip in Switzerland, it can provide good value for money).

For sightseeing between the old town and Ouchy, take the metro (interestingly, it is the only Swiss city with one).

Line 2 (the Ouchy-Olympique to Croisettes line) takes you from the lakeshore up to the more historic sights. The Lausanne-Flon stop is near the Rue de Bourg, and the Riponne M. Bejart stop is near the cathedral.

The Lausanne-Gare stop connects you with the main train station.

For a tourist map of the city, click here.

Other ideas for short breaks and days out in Europe

I hope my Lausanne itinerary helps you plan your day out here.

My website provides information on other destinations and places you can visit for a day, including in Switzerland. Check out my recent posts on:

If you like visiting places with lakes and mountains, you might also be interested in a trip to Lake Como in Italy.

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