Lausanne

Lausanne, (pronounced low-ZANNE) the capital of the Swiss canton of Vaud, is a medium sized city (around two thirds the size of Geneva) which sits at the northernmost point of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman). The city is the host to the International Olympic Committee and two major universities. It is also the public transport hub of Vaud, and a gateway to the alpine Canton of the Valais, home to some of the best known ski slopes in the world.

As you might expect the large student population makes for a lively nightlife and arts community, revolving around the Flon district. You'll also find a number of quality restaurants and two dozen museums of note, including the Olympic Museum and the offbeat Collection de l'Art Brut. Architecture buffs should note that at the top of the old town you'll find the best preserved Gothic cathedral in Switzerland.

Despite being a very international city (42% of its population being foreign nationals) Lausanne is a French speaking city. English is not as commonly spoken as in Geneva and you will probably have trouble communicating with an average person on the street. Most service-sector employees speak a little English however, and the level of English amongst young Swiss tends to be high (amongst the older generation it is German that tends to be far stronger). A visitor will have little trouble getting around with just English.

Lausanne's Cathedral as seen from the Grand Pont

Understand

There has been a settlement on the hill of Lausanne since at least the stone age, but most histories of the city trace its origin to the Roman camp Lausanna which occupied a position just down the hill toward the lake in what is now the village of Vidy.

Relocated to a more defensible hilltop in the Middle Ages, Lausanne's increasing wealth and importance were largely derived from its placement on the primary north-south routes between Italy and the north sea. It was the first major town north of the Saint Bernard pass, at least until the establishment of the bishopric of Valais.

In 1536 the Bernese took the city from the Dukes of Savoy as part of their drive to secure their southwestern frontier. The Bernese held the territory until Lausanne gained its independence from Berne after the invasion of a French army under Napoléon Bonaparte in 1798. The city was later, in 1803, admitted to Switzerland as the capital of Vaud.

Lavaux, the mini region of the northwestern shore of Lake Geneva from Lausanne to Montreux (sometimes called the Swiss Riviera) has been a second home to writers, artists and musicians for about 150 years starting with the Shelleys and Lord Byron, who partied and wrote in Lausanne (Frankenstein is rumoured to have been composed here). Other famous residents include Ernest Hemingway, who wintered here with his young family around the time related in A Movable Feast and Charlie Chaplin who lived in Vevey from the mid-1930s on.

Get in

By train

Lausanne is served by one of the most efficient passenger rail services in the world, the Swiss Federal Rail system. Trains run daily roughly each half-hour between 04:45 and 01:30 to and from Geneva, Zurich, Berne, Lucerne, Neuchatel, St. Gallen, Brig, Biel, and points in between. All trains from elsewhere in Switzerland to Geneva passes through Lausanne and there are also frequent local trains, so on average there's a train to or from Geneva each 15 minutes in the daytime. The fast direct IC trains take just over half an hour from Geneva while the local trains stopping at small stations can take up to almost an hour. There are four trains daily from Paris Gare de Lyon via the SNCF's TGV "High Speed Train", and four trains per day to Venice via Milan. The Italian rail service also provides night trains to and from Rome and Venice.

By plane

The closest airport, Geneva airport is served by almost all European carriers, and by four daily trans-Atlantic flights, one from Washington-Dulles on Continental, one from New York, JFK on Swiss, one from Newark on Continental and one from Montreal on Air Canada; otherwise when flying from the US you will have to change planes at your airline's hub airport. Trains between Geneva Airport and the Lausanne CFF station take about 45 min and run at least twice each hour, except for the wee hours of the morning. A full fare from Geneva-Airport to Lausanne is currently CHF25. Zurich airport provides an alternative, with more frequent trans-Atlantic service mainly via Swiss.

By bus

International buses arrive daily from Spain, France, as well as major cities in Central Europe. Many buses pass through Geneva or Basel before stopping in Lausanne.

By boat

Boats ply both the Swiss and French shores of Lake Geneva with several daily ferries to Evian, Montreux, Geneva and many smaller lake shore towns. See the boat company website for timetables and prices. Lunch and dinner cruises are also popular with tourists. Most of the ferries are meant as scenic trips and not the fastest way to get around. If travelling from Geneva to Lausanne, a boat trip is worth the time on a clear day.

Private boat tours and transfers from Lausanne to any port on the lake by Léman Transfers. Groups of up to 6 passengers can be privately chauffeured around the lake.

Get around

Districts

The districts of Lausanne which are of primary concern to a visitor are the Cité, the Ville Marché, and the port of Ouchy. In between you'll find the Flon which is mainly a nightclub and shopping district these days, and the otherwise sleepy Sous Gare district just under the train station which boasts some of the best cafés in town. If you feel up for a hike it's also probably worth while to spend a few hours climbing around in the woods of Sauvebelin which is above and north of the Hermitage.

Walk

Walking is a great way to get around Lausanne. There are a number of sites within a short walk of the main railway station with the largely car-free streets beginning right across the street with Rue du Petit-Chêne, which leads up to Place St. François in the old town. Like many streets in Lausanne it is a bit steep though, so if that's a problem consider taking the Metro M2.

Metro

Vigie metro station on the M1

Lausanne is the smallest city in the world to have a metro system. There are two Metro lines provided by Transports publics de la région lausannoise which have their hub at the Flon Metro station. The new M2 is a fully automated subway system connecting Ouchy to the northern suburb of Epalinges via the central station, Flon, and multiple stops in the old town. M2 can be a little surprising to new arrivals, as both the route and even some stations are really steep: for instance at the Gare, the platform is tilted about 30 degrees, so do please hold on tight. The Bessieres station near the cathedral is situated at a steep section of one of the old town's hills and the elevator ride from the station up to the bridge (you can see the city below through the windows of the elevator) is not something you get to experience in most other subway systems. The M1 serves points west, including the University of Lausanne (UNIL) and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).

There is also a local railway operated by the private LEB company, with trains connecting with the other two metro lines at Flon which run out to the far northern suburbs of Echallens and Bercher, but with increasing frequencies it has started to function as a third Metro line.

A free metro and bus pass valid for two weeks is provided to all Lausanne hotel guests.

Metro (and bus) tickets are sold from vending machines at all stops, and at the main train station and the Flon. Normal tickets are sold by distance, as determined by a zone system. You can determine the number of zones your ticket needs to cover by inspecting the diagram on the ticket machines, or on the free map available at all ticket-sales points. Tickets are available for single rides, return, and in day and week passes. Most ticket machines at Metro and bus stops do not issue change. The CFF Abonnement General rail passes are good for unlimited travel throughout the TL and LEB system.

If you have a CFF pass for non-Swiss travellers you should ask at the main station if your pass covers the local transit system, since some passes do and others don't.

As of Jul 2013 a "short ride" ticket costs (3 stops max, valid 30min) CHF1.90, a one-hour ticket, CHF3.50 and a day ticket CHF8.80. As in Geneva, there are ticket vending machines at the stations.

By bus

Clean and fast buses, also provided by TL, are very frequent and form a dense enough network that you will rarely find yourself more than a few hundred feet from one bus stop or the other. Some trolleybuses look like a train with two wagons where the actual bus is towing a "motorless" wagon.

By bike

Bicycles can be borrowed for CHF6/day with a CHF90 deposit at Lausanne Roule, who has one location in the city centre (just outside the Lausanne Flon Metro station—the address on their web site is wrong) and one in the west-side suburbs in Renens. They are adding additional locations, including one in Ouchy. It's possible to take a bike in one location and give it back at the other one. A third location also exists in Vevey, but one-way rentals cost CHF10. The bike ride from Lausanne to Vevey is beautiful. On your left are endless vineyards and to your right is Lake Geneva and the Alps. Get a booklet on this ride from Lausanne Roule for free.

Beware that the city is pretty steep, but the lakefront is very nice. There is a handy 1:10,000 'Carte Velo' printed in 2006 but still downloadable from the city website. This map helps those new to the city find the preferred bicycling routes in the area. Throughout the city is an excellent network of paths, marked bicycle lanes, and bypass tunnels that will help get you through the most busy intersections. The routes by the lake are simply beautiful but can get quite busy with strollers, roller bladers, and cyclists at peak times during the summer.

See

The Palais de Rumine, home to a number of worthy museums

Do

Old town roofs and Lake Geneva as seen from Place de la Cathédral

Concerts and theatre

Buy

Lausanne's Cathedral as seen from Place de l'Ours

The usual Swiss trinkets are available in a couple of places around town, although they are not nearly as ubiquitous as in Geneva or Berne. The real draw here is a colourful farmers market on Saturdays and Wednesdays in the steep, winding streets of Old Town. There are plenty of boutiques and department stores as well. Note that pretty much everything is closed on Sunday, except in Ouchy, part of which is on federal land.

Mixed in with the expected and the posh are a couple of things which might surprise you:

Eat

Budget

The usual tricks for budget travel dining work in Lausanne as well. There's a grocery store ("Aperto") inside the train station which is open every day until midnight (a bit expensive), Coop Pronto is in the station below the railways, near track 9, and it represents a good alternative. There are plenty of great places to take your picnic: for instance, you might try the Crêt de Montriond. To get there go below the railways, take the stairs and go to the main avenue, then turn to the left. After the turn you should see a green hill around the size of a five-storey building directly in front of you. If you are closer to the port of Ouchy, there are two groceries open every day: "Migros" which is near the Mövenpick Hotel and another "Coop Pronto", which is just uphill from the Chateâu d'Ouchy.

If you have a valid student ID, many budget and even some mid-range restaurants offer a student menu for a reduced price.

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

The sheer number of nightlife spots makes it hard to choose which ones to list. As a general rule they tend to be clustered into nightlife districts, like the Flon, Place du Tunnel, Place de la Gare, Rue Marterey, etc. This list tries to present one or two individual establishments from each of those clusters, plus a few which are a bit more off the beaten path.

The city's own official website has surprisingly good music listings, so if you would like to see what's going on during your visit give it a try.

Bars

To perhaps a surprising degree for visitors from outside of Swiss Romande gay nightlife is very well integrated into nightlife at large. Most Lausanne nightspots are definitely gay-friendly, and many have a mixed straight-gay bar staff. There are a couple of places though which either advertise themselves as gay, or just have a majority gay crowd rather than just being gay-friendly. If that's what you are looking for there are a number of such bars along the avenue de Tivoli.

Clubs

Sleep

Most of the hotels in Lausanne are in the mid-price range, though there are also a number of luxury hotels as you would expect in the city which hosts the International Olympic Committee. There are also a few cheapies.

Budget

Mid-range

Eglise St-Laurent

Splurge

Stay safe

Lausanne by day is quite safe for a city of its size. By night however, it does take on a bit of an edge. Due to the number of migrants in the city there are a few bad apples amongst them.

Places to avoid at night are Rue du Geneve (a prostitution centre in the area) and the park by the Tribunal d'Arrondissement.

There are also several areas such as the train station and Chauderon where you may find yourself hassled by drug dealers. However, their business is not usually mugging and these areas tend to be very busy and under police observation.

Place du Ripponne can be a fairly scary area as it is the city-assigned congregation area for drug addicts. It, however, tends to have constant foot traffic and regular police patrols. Locals vastly overstate how dangerous it actually is due to its previously far worse state.

Lone women should be particularly aware when walking about after dark. Though attacks are rare, it is far from unheard of for bored asylum seekers to decide to follow a woman through town.

Additionally be aware on the train between Lausanne and Geneva airport; it's a well known target for bag snatchers.

Stay healthy

Connect

The city-owned power company, SIL, has now added high speed Internet by cable to its C.V., and along with that has been installing totally free Wi-Fi access points around town, notably in Place Palud, Place St. François, the Flon valley, and on the hill of Montbenon near the casino. It's rare now to find a café in Lausanne which doesn't have access to one of these. As an aside SIL also provides a range of wines to those same cafés including a nice little Chardonnay, and a fairly bold Gamay. Neat huh?

Java and Bleu Lézard, both listed above, offer time-limited but fully supported and thus very reliable Wi-Fi. Just ask your server for a ticket.

Go next

One of the nicest ways to spend an afternoon anywhere is to take a boat from the port of Ouchy on the Lakefront of Lausanne to either Vevey or Montreux. The Steamboats of the CGN offer you an amazing view of one of the most gorgeous corners of our planet. On the left side of the boat you can take in the beautiful vineyards of Lavaux, and on the right side the Masif of Chablais, and the Franco-Swiss alpine giants, the Dents de Midi.

Here's a partial list of selected daytrips, in order of distance:

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 10, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.