Cultural Things to Do in Lausanne Switzerland
After hiking in the Jungfrau Switzerland, Mark Bibby Jackson discovers some of the cultural things to do in Lausanne Switzerland, including a most wonderful platform for the arts.
There is nothing new about creating a creative space out of the redundant industrial landscape – the Tate Modern or Germany’s Zeche Zollverein are just two examples of how industrial structures have been transformed into amazing art galleries. However, the city of Lausanne has taken a different track by choosing to destroy former goods yard buildings next to the station to create Plateforme 10, so called as there are nine platforms in the current station.
In so doing, it has created a quite magnificent modern art museum, that invites people to explore its space in the most imaginative manner.
Plateforme 10 : Fine Arts Museum
The 150-metre long building houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts Lausanne, (Museum of Fine Arts) which opened in October 2019. Although from the exterior it resembles an admittedly appealing concrete block, inside is where the treasures await.
Plateforme 10 will consist of a free-of-charge permanent collection and paid temporary collections. The first of which will focus on Vienna around the 1900s, and open in February 2020. For now, the magnificent space is filled with works of art generously donated to the museum, and which have been arranged in thematic order by its director Bernard Fibicher, rather than chronologically. Entrance for this is free.
This provides us with the opportunity to explore a room devoted to ‘The Map of Tenderness’ in which Rodin’s Kiss is on display next to a more contemporary collections of sketchings. Other rooms focus on The Forest, or Flux, with modern pieces placed besides centuries-old masters, such as the Massacre of Bartholomew.
The new pieces help us to explore the older works in a new way, while the more contemporary works benefit from the juxtaposition with the past.
Ultimately the museum’s curation will follow a more traditional chronological approach to its displays, including showcasing the largest collection of work by local artist Felix Vallotton in the world.
Plateforme 10 is just part of a new arts district being created in the area, with another building currently under construction, which will house both the Musée de l’Elysée (Cantonal Photography Museum), and Mudac (Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts). When completed in 2021, this will be one of the foremost art spaces not just in Switzerland but in Europe.
Wining and Dining in Lausanne
After the euphoria of Plateforme 10, we visit Art Brut, a collection of art uninfluenced by traditional art training. Created by inmates of asylums, prisoners, etc., the works remind me of the naïve art forms you often find in Southeast Asia, and I soon discover myself focussing on the mental state of the artists rather than their creations. We then explore Mudac, but I must admit to being slightly disappointed by this tired collection – hopefully it will benefit from its forthcoming relocation.
However, the things to do in Lausanne are not limited to art. After a day spent traipsing around the galleries, I find myself much in need of a little libation. For which I head straight for the Great Escape.
With images of that theme tune in my head, I sit outside on the terrace near the cathedral overlooking Place de la Riponne; a wonderful spot to let the world roll by as the sun starts to set and sample some of the local beer.
While The Great Escape is popular with Lausanne’s expatriate community – especially those wishing to catch up on the latest sports – Tacave, close to the station, has a much more local vibe. Standing room only – it is early Friday evening – as people cram in for that glass or bottle of wine before heading back home, we sample both some excellent red wine and a plate of local cheeses in order to prep ourselves for the evening ahead.
In retrospect perhaps cheese was not the best choice for our pre-prandial snack. For within an hour we are settled into La Pinte Besson. Established in 1780, this is the oldest restaurant in Lausanne. A raucous party celebrating someone’s birthday adds to the atmosphere in this narrow cavernous place, as we order fondue all round, just to top up our cholesterol levels. Surely there is nothing more Swiss than dipping your bread into the cheesy glue as the early winter’s night closes in around you? The local white wine accompanies it well and by the time we return to our hotel, the night has flown by.
Things to Do in Lausanne : City Tour
The fresh Swiss air clearly agreeing with me, I awake fresh for our city tour of Lausanne the following morning.
Taking the metro – the only system in Switzerland – a couple of stops we pass by the Lausanne Palace where Coco Chanel used to stay after becoming persona non grata in her native France following a wartime relationship with a German officer. A suite there still bears her name, although whether it is No. 5 I cannot say.
Lausanne was a walled city and we could see evidence of this by the Gothic Church of St François which dates back to around 1270, although the bell tower is more recent following a fire. The organ here is quite magnificent. Stalls for the Saturday market congregate around the proud church – there is also one on Wednesday mornings – although as we are before the opening of the Lausanne Christmas market, there is still plenty of space.
Crossing the Pont Bessieres, that passes over the now covered river Flon, we pass to Lausanne Cathedral (Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne). Like St François, the Cathedral is in the Gothic style and construction started on it in 1170, although it was not consecrated until 1275 by Pope Gregory X.
The original door was covered up and a more recent entrance placed opposite the altar. This is now decorated with statues created in the last century to a medieval design, the original counterparts can still be seen beside the original entrance which is now uncovered.
Fragments of colour on the walls have been preserved to indicate how ornate the cathedral must have been in its pomp. A modern organ, shaped like an angel, was placed here in 2003, while the wonderful rose window is some 700 years older, and has a more seasonal than religious motif; some of the panes have been replaced, but many are original.
Palais de Rumine
Just across from the Cathedral, the Palais de Rumine, was built in 1904, and is the only example of the Florentine Neo-Rennaissance architecture in the city. It used to house the library of the University of Lausanne, but when the university was relocated in the 1980s, the palace was turned into an eclectic collection of museums, including the archaeology and history, geology, money and zoology museums, as well as the Museum of Fine Arts, until it moved to Plateforme 10.
The complex itself could be viewed as a museum of museums, with some resembling the dust-covered exhibits of my childhood, while others adopt a much more modern interactive approach. There is an excellent selection of dinosaurs as well as a re-created dodo, with some actual dodo bones.
David Bowie and Lausanne
Outside in the fresh air by Place de la Riponne, we navigate our way past the market stalls now in full flow, where a large teddy bear is playing an accordion, and past the city hall where David Bowie married Iman in 1992.
The most interesting and intriguing Lausanne city tour concluded in the river Flon, or at least in the area created above the river after it was covered.
Children take their initial slightly tentative steps on the temporary ice-skating rink, next to the night club Flon, while an installation of a band, minus musicians, stands in some water. Buzzing at night, by day the Flon Quarter has a fun feel to it, much in keeping with my initial impression of the rest of the city.
Lake Geneva and Lord Byron
Fortunately, as our tour through the things to do in Lausanne comes to a close and we bid adieu to our excellent guide Hilary, the clouds that have enveloped the city since our arrival, drift away to reveal the majestic Alps on the opposite side of Lake Geneva. The invitation to visit the banks of the magnificent lake proves too great.
It is no coincidence that the city’s finest hotels such as the Beau Rivage are based around the lake. Lausanne tourism only really took off after it was discovered by the romantic poets Shelley and Byron. It was here that Byron scribed The Prisoner of Chillon in 1826. The building where he stayed is now called the Hotel Angleterre et Residence, and is part of the same group that own the Beau Rivage.
I spend the rest of the afternoon strolling beside the lake, admiring the incredible views of the Alps beside Evian on the French side, and watching the light catch both water and skies to marvellous effect. No wonder Turner was so beguiled by its beauty. Even to someone quite tired of sunsets through a surfeit of travelling I find this one, with the swans bobbing up and down in the water with the occasional dive-bombing seagull entering the fray, quite spectacular.
Olympic Museum Lausanne
It is to the lake we return on our final morning, having had a quite wonderful meal at the magnificent Brasserie de Montbenon. Lausanne is due to open the Winter Youth Olympics in January 2020, and the whole Olympic Movement and its history is commemorated at the Olympic Museum and Park.
As a child I used to glory in the Olympics, before the games became befuddled in drugs. So, entering the museum was like returning to the lost innocence of childhood. Outside I can hardly touch the bar set at 2.45 metres (8’ 0.25’’) over which Javier Sotomayer hurled himself in 1993 to claim the World Record – and I measure 1.92 metres (6’ 3’’) myself. The shot Randy Barnes propelled over 23 metres in 1990 I can hardly lift. As for the outside track, well let’s just say that Usain Bolt’s record is still safe.
Inside the museum is dynamic. There are lots of interactive exhibitions, as well as interesting documentaries on each of the games, which pull no punches on the politics, at least if Berlin 1936 and Mexico 1968 are anything to judge. One documentary details the efforts of the Refugee Olympic Team to join the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, while another six-minute video places you Inside the Race. Both are excellent.
Reinvigorated, we walk down to the lake where our final meal, a late brunch at The Lacustre awaits.
By now the clouds have well and truly lifted and the Alps appear in their full glory, as we regret that our table is booked inside. One last bottle of white wine ensures our final train ride back to Geneva airport is seamless in typical Swiss fashion.
Lausanne is a wonderful cultural destination, with a laidback atmosphere and magnificent air. It’s no wonder that Byron and Shelley stayed here. The spectacular lakeside and Alpine scenery might almost bring the poet out of me. Almost but thankfully not quite.
Things to Do in Lausanne Photo Gallery
Lausanne Travel Guides
If you need guidance on the things to do in Lausanne, book a guide through the Association Lausannoise des Guides Touristiques (ALGT), through www.visitelausanne.ch. If you ask for Hilary you can’t go far wrong, although beware her right hook.
Olympic Museum Lausanne
Olympic Museum opening hours are from 9am to 6pm (1 May to 20 October) and from 10am at other times, closed Mondays, 25 December and 1 January.
Swiss International Air Lines
SWISS operates up to 150 weekly flights to Switzerland from London Heathrow, London City, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh (seasonal during summer) and Dublin. The all-inclusive fares start from £83 one-way (London-Geneva classic fare). For more information visit swiss.com or call 0345 601 0956.
Swiss Travel System
The Swiss Travel Pass (from £185, second class) offers unlimited travel across Switzerland’s rail, bus and boat network. This pass covers scenic routes, as well as local trams and buses in 90 towns and cities, and includes a Swiss Museum Pass that allows you free entrance to 500 museums and exhibitions. Call Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or visit: www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk. Most Lausanne hotels will give you a pass that allows you free travel on the Lausanne Metro.
Geneva to Lausanne Train
Taking the train from Lausanne to Geneva is simple and easy. The journey takes around 45 minutes and runs every 15 to 20 minutes. There is a direct service from Lausanne to Geneva airport.
We stayed at the four-star Agora Swiss Night by Fassbind which is comfortable and convenient right next to the station, as well as making a great base for discovering the things to do in Lausanne. If your budget allows you could stay at the Beau Rivage, often considered one of the best hotels in the world, or join Byron at the Hotel Angleterre. Whatever you do perhaps you could consider using our hotel booking form below.
For more things to do in Lausanne Switzerland
Visit www.MySwitzerland.com or call the Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 (freephone) for further inspiration on things to do in Lausanne.