Located on Lake Geneva in the French-speaking part of the country, Lausanne espouses a more indulgent and artistic view of life than some of Switzerland’s business centers. Couples in particular will be wooed by its narrow winding streets, romantic restaurants and hip nightlife. And because of its central location on the lake, Lausanne is the perfect home base for exploring the area’s wine region and small resort towns.
Sightseeing in Lausanne
Although dominated by three hills, Lausanne is delightfully walkable. Begin by wandering up the Rue de Bourg, once a main thoroughfare into the city. Many of the building’s façades recall the homes of the wealthy, who once lived there; today they are mostly storefronts including some luxury shops.
Head north to the Hotel de Ville where Mozart performed at the age of 10, and then continue up the hill to the stunning Cathédrale whose rose window, dating to 1275, will take your breath away. Even if churches aren’t your thing, the neighboring lookout spot, over the city below, is worth the hike.
History buffs might also want to amble through the first century Roman ruins by the lake. Sports fans can check out the Olympic Museum (Lausanne is the seat of the IOC). But otherwise, the city can really be covered in a day. So if romance is what you seek, you’ll find it on a day trip into the beautiful Vaud region.
Several wineries in the steep-vineyards of Lavaux (a World UNESCO site), just a few miles away, offer tours and terrace tastings overlooking the lake and the Alps beyond.
Stop for lunch in the picturesque town of Saint-Saphorin where you’ll likely be the only people wandering the hairpin-turn streets dotted with windowboxes and adorned doors.
Vevey (adored by Victor Hugo and Charlie Chaplin) and Montreux (Stravinsky, Nabokov, Freddie Mercury) both have fantastic shopping and manicured lakeside walkways, but their ostentatious mansions are best viewed from the deck of a steamer, which can also take you back to Lausanne.
Shopping in Lausanne
Rue de Bourg is where you’ll find Hermès and Louis Vuitton, and also elegant boutiques such as Topox (women’s clothing) and Cardas (home décor). For a taste of local high-end watches and jewelry, stop by Junod, which also displays original clocks and time-keeping ephemera dating to its 1867 opening. For a picnic, load up on local meats, cheeses and brandies at La Ferme Vaudoise; and handmade truffles and pralines at Durig in Ouchy by the lake.
On the lanes winding down from the Cathédrale, bistros and bohemian boutiques dot one side of the steep incline, each doorway being several stairs up or down from its neighbor. Pop in and out of each to discover unique wares such as the experimental fashion designs, whimsical crafts, and handmade local grappa on sale at the 5 O’Clock Gallery.
Dining in Lausanne
For a town of only 150,000, Lausanne’s restaurant scene is quite diverse. In fact, it is considered the gastronomic capital of Switzerland.
Step back through time at A la Pomme de Pin and dine on the same traditional fare that Churchill once did. Or capture the present at the modern Mediterranean lounge L’AO by the Cathédrale.
Lausanne’s newest dining neighborhood, Le Flon, was once a collection of warehouses, but has recently been taken over by all manner of trendy eateries and bars. At the fusion restaurant and vinothèque Le Nomade, a garden salad was served in an oversized Mason jar; a dessert of thinly sliced pineapple carpaccio was topped with candied fruit slices and mint ice cream.
The most romantic restaurant in the city is, without a doubt, Anne-Sophie Pic inside the Beau-Rivage Palace in Ouchy. The Michelin star–rated chef’s French cuisine—marinated cubes of tuna paired with delicate slices of lard; turbot with coffee, butter and citrus; lamb flavored with onion, capers and olives—is paralleled only by the view, which sweeps across the hotel’s manicured garden, out onto Lake Geneva and into the Alps.
Wherever you dine, quaff local wines, such as the white varietal Chasselas and the red Garanoir. The Swiss don’t export their wines, so this is your shot.
Nightlife in Lausanne
Lausanne is also a university town; it skews young and hip, and the nightlife reflects that. Still, there is something for everyone.
Relax in overstuffed leather chairs at LP’s Bar, a cool and stylish respite inside the Lausanne Palace & Spa. Get even more comfortable at the homey, wood-paneled microbrewery Les Brasseurs where you can sample a variety of beers brewed on the spot.
The adventurous can ask a taxi to drop them off in Le Flon and then wander from bar to bar, in which case stop by Le Punk is suggested; when I was there, a lively jazz band played beneath red chandeliers and in front of comfy seating. Or do what I did the following night: ask someone attractive in a shop where the party is. There’s always something underground happening in Lausanne that you won’t discover any other way.