The inside guide to Lausanne, Switzerland's newest cultural centre

Set on the shores of Lake Geneva, the Swiss city is a tour de force of Alpine backdrops, Olympic legends and cultural clout.

By Kerry Walker
Published 27 Oct 2020, 09:43 GMT

Lausanne can rightfully be billed as one of Switzerland’s most exciting cities.

Photograph by Getty Images

Culturally speaking, Lausanne is a city on the move, with a creative buzz and party-loving vibe courtesy of the students that drift between galleries, cafes, coffee shops and post-industrial bars. Add a medieval centre, Olympic heritage and a beautiful lakeside setting, and the result is what can rightfully be billed as one of Switzerland’s most exciting cities.

On the site of the city’s former train sheds, Plateforme 10 is an innovative arts district set to single-handedly revolutionise Lausanne’s cultural scene by bringing together the city’s three flagship museums: the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts (MCBA), the Musée de l’Élysée and the Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts (MUDAC). You’ll find restaurants, a bookshop, a library and event spaces in the mix, too.

The first of the three to open at Plateforme 10 is the MCBA, with its geometric, light-drenched interiors. The museum houses a collection strong on 18th- and 19th-century Swiss art, including works by Louis Ducros, Félix Vallotton and Alice Bailly. The rotating exhibitions swing from Viennese modernism to Giovanni Giacometti’s watercolours. Entry is free, although temporary exhibitions may have an admission fee. 

Over in the post-industrial Flon district, a raft of new-wave cafes, bars, boutiques and galleries occupy former warehouses. With its mishmash of Victorian frippery and exotic blooms, the fabulously eccentric Le Perroquet is a popular go-to spot for a weekend brunch and spot-on G&Ts. Head to nearby Eat Me for international cuisines and expertly mixed cocktails that whisk you around the globe. Afterwards, bed down at Hôtel des Voyageurs, a boutique retreat combining art deco architecture with chic style.

Lausanne’s third-wave cafe scene is going from strength to strength in this hip corner of town, with the likes of speciality coffeeshops The Coffee Project and Ça Passe Crème! plus roastery-cafe Sleepy Bear Coffee providing a first-class caffeine fix thanks to baristas who seriously know their stuff.

Slightly west of Flon, Docks is Lausanne’s cultural livewire, with a gallery that zooms in on the rising stars of Swiss art and an always-stellar lineup of gigs (Nick Cave, Foals and Sigur Ros have all played here).

Visitors gather around the ‘Luce e ombra’ artwork at the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts (MCBA).

Photograph by Arnaud Du Jardin

There’s also the historic La Cité district, topped off by the gothic giant that is Lausanne Cathedral. Clamber up to the belfry for spectacular views over the city’s rooftops to Lake Geneva and the Alps beyond. While in the area, stop by MUDAC before it ups sticks to Plateforme 10 in 2022.

Head down to the waterfront Ouchy neighbourhood for even more views of the lake and mountains. When the sun is out, it seems the entire city decamps to the Promenade to walk, run, cycle or rollerblade. You can also rent out pedalos and kayaks, or simply hang out at the pop-up bars that appear here in summer.

One of Lausanne’s top lakefront attractions is the Olympic Museum, which has displays of medals, torches and other memorabilia, as well as an array of interactive exhibits. The museum is the prelude to the Olympic Park, where sculpture-studded landscaped gardens lead down to the lake. The other standout here is the Musée de L'Elysée, showcasing an ever-changing roster of contemporary photography in an 18th-century mansion (also moving to Plateforme 10 in 2021).

Ouchy is blow-the-budget territory in Lausanne, and the icing on the cake is Château D'Ouchy, where medieval castle meets modern hotel. Around the corner is two-Michelin-starred Anne Sophie Pic, where the eponymous chef walks the culinary high-wire with punchy, season-driven, too-pretty-to-eat dishes at the Beau-Rivage Palace.

Published in the Sept/Oct 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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