One of the best things about the Swiss city of Lausanne is its brilliant location. Located in the heart of Europe, on the shore of beautiful Lake Geneva, and within spitting distance of both the Alps and the Jura, it’s the ideal base for numerous day trips, whether cultural, physical or simply peaceful.
Exploring Charlie Chaplin’s house, witnessing traditional cheesemaking, hiking up a mountain, sailing to France or spending the day relaxing in thermal waters – these are some of the best excursions within 90 minutes of Lausanne.
1. See Lake Geneva from on high at Rochers-de-Naye
Travel time: 1 hour 17 minutes
There are plenty of mountain excursions within easy reach of Lausanne, but the 2042m (6700ft) Rochers-de-Naye above Montreux is an impressive introduction. From the summit train station, it’s a short walk to the communications tower at the highest point, from where you’ll see the vast puddle of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) stretching out far below. A restaurant, chirping marmots and an alpine flower garden offer enough entertainment for a couple of hours, but if you’d rather a more energetic day out, get off the train two stops below the summit at Jaman and hike up along one of the marked trails. Alternatively, the path to neighboring peak Dent de Jaman offers a slightly different but no less impressive panorama, while Rochers-de-Naye’s challenging via ferrata rewards experienced climbers with a cliff-edge perspective.
How to get to Rochers-de-Naye from Lausanne: Sitting about 40km (24 miles) from Lausanne, Rochers-de-Naye is best reached by train. Change at Montreux for the Golden Pass cogwheel railway, which winds up to the summit station. If you have a car, you can park at Col de Jaman.
2. Follow in Charlie Chaplin’s footsteps in Vevey
Travel time: 30 minutes
British silent film star Charlie Chaplin spent the last 25 years of his life living in Manoir de Ban, an expansive home in manicured grounds above the appealing town of Vevey – quite a transformation from his poverty-stricken early life in London. The site now hosts Chaplin’s World, an entertaining museum dedicated to his life and work. Here, you can rub shoulders with Chaplin, his fourth wife Oona and his celebrity visitors (Einstein was a buddy) thanks to lifelike wax figures dotted throughout the restored rooms of the house, and view clips from his most famous movies in the purpose-built film studio. Afterwards, visit Chaplin’s grave in the cemetery of Corsier-sur-Vevey before heading into Vevey to see the statue of Chaplin on the beautiful lakeshore. Here, bars, restaurants and swimming spots will fill the rest of your day. The Italian restaurant Filumé is a good option for dinner.
How to get to Chaplin’s World from Lausanne: Located 18km (11 miles) away, Vevey is an easy 15-minute train journey or scenic one-hour boat ride from Lausanne. From Vevey train station, catch bus 212 to the ‘Chaplin’ stop in Corsier-sur-Vevey. If driving, take the A9 motorway and exit at Vevey. The museum has a car park (charges apply).
3. Taste the culinary specialities of Gruyères
Travel time: 50 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes
Officially one of the prettiest villages in Switzerland, Gruyères is best known for its eponymous cheese, Le Gruyère AOP. You can see it being made at the Maison du Gruyère cheese factory just outside the village, or head to the alpine dairy in nearby Moléson to witness more traditional cheesemaking methods. Fancy a cheese lunch? Most restaurants here offer fondue (the moitié-moitié, a mix of Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourgeois, is a classic choice) along with another local specialty, meringues with Gruyère cream, a decadently unctuous product a little like British clotted cream.
After all that, it’s probably best to take a stroll. Head up through the cobbled main square to explore the medieval Château de Gruyères, and stop by the bar of the HR Giger Museum, whose surreal décor reflects the extraordinary vision of the Swiss designer who won an Oscar for his work on the film Alien.
How to get to Gruyères from Lausanne: Some 57km (35 miles) from Lausanne, Gruyères is most quickly reached by car, though the train is easy too, with one change at Palézieux. The station is right next to the Maison du Gruyère, but it’s a short, steep walk into the village, so catch bus 260 instead.
4. Relax in the mountain village of Villars-sur-Ollon
Travel time: 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes
In the Vaud Alps, the mountain village of Villars-sur-Ollon (or just Villars) is popular with Lausanne residents in winter thanks to its family-friendly ski runs, meandering snowshoe trails and lively-but-not-crazy après-ski. In summer, it’s lovely for hiking, with various routes linking to Solalex, Les Diablerets, Derborence and further afield. For an easy day trip, walk from Col-de-Bretaye train station, above Villars, to Lac des Chavonnes. From here, the trail loops up and around the lake before returning you to the waterside hotel restaurant, where you can reward yourself with a hearty meal and even stay overnight.
Getting to Villars from Lausanne: At 59km (37 miles) from Lausanne, Villars is easily reached by car, with parking available in an underground carpark in the town center. Alternatively, catch the train to Aigle and a bus to Villars. From Villars train station, take the mountain railway to Col-de-Bretaye (20 minutes) to access the hiking and skiing trails.
5. Sail to France for lunch in Yvoire
Travel time: 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes
Such is Lausanne’s location on the shore of Lake Geneva, it’s easy to hop on a ferry across to France. Closest is Evian-les-Bains, a 30-minute scoot south, but the flower-strewn medieval village of Yvoire is far prettier (and more touristy, so expect Swiss – not French – prices). Explore the cobbled streets, eat filets de perches in Le Bateau Ivre and head to the small beach for a dip in waters so clear and turquoise that you’ll feel you’re in the Caribbean.
Getting to Yvoire from Lausanne: In the summer season ferries sail from Lausanne-Ouchy to Yvoire in about 1 hour 30 minutes. Alternatively, get the train to Nyon, where a ferry to Yvoire (20 minutes) operates year-round.
6. Hang out in a spa with a view at Les Bains de Lavey
Travel time: 45 minutes to 1 hour
Switzerland is good at spas, and many of them aren’t as exclusive or expensive as you might think. Les Bains de Lavey is a good example. This large complex in the Rhône valley near St Maurice features several indoor and outdoor thermal pools with massage jets, whirlpools and a lazy river, along with saunas, hammams and relaxation spaces. A three-hour ticket (which is ample if you don’t want to shrivel too much) is Sfr30. Best of all is the view of the mountains. Sit in the warm water at dusk (it’s open late) as steam rises from the illuminated pools with the surrounding peaks looming dark overhead – it's a magical experience. Le Chalet des Bains next door is a convenient choice for lunch or dinner.
Getting to Les Bains de Lavey: The spa is located in the village of Lavey-les-Bains, 58km (36 miles) from Lausanne. Get the train to St Maurice and then pick up bus 192, which stops right outside. The buses aren’t very frequent, however, so plan your day carefully or drive instead.