Lake Geneva, or Lac Léman, is Switzerland’s largest lake, and it curves along the border of France. A trip there is guaranteed to come with dramatic scenery. On the Swiss side, you have the Jura Mountains, and across the border in France, the glistening, snow-capped peak of Mont Blanc is visible on clear days. Here are the best things to see and do around Lake Geneva.
For some of the most spectacular views of Lake Geneva, you should head to France and Mont Salève. A short bus or car ride away from Geneva takes you to the foot of the Salève, and you can either hike up or take a short journey on a cable car. Once at the top, you’ll have unrivalled views of Lake Geneva and Geneva itself. While traversing the mountaintop, you may be able to catch a glimpse of Mont Blanc on sunny days.
The vineyards of Lavaux are one of the most spectacular spots around Lake Geneva. The vineyards stretch for nearly 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) along the banks of the lake, and they’ve been in use since the Roman times, an illustrious history that’s earned them recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To this day, the vineyards still produce some of Switzerland’s best wine. You can visit the vineyards easily from any of the cities and towns along Lake Geneva.
Wine lover or not, you’ll fall for the caves ouvertes, a wonderful tradition that welcomes the coming of spring around Lake Geneva. Every year, all of the wine producers, most of them small, family-run businesses, open their doors to sell their wares at discount prices. Buy a glass, and you can ‘sample’ as many different Swiss wines as you like. Most of the small villages around Lake Geneva host their own events, including traditional Swiss food stalls offering up dishes such as raclette.
Most visitors to Lake Geneva head to Geneva or Montreux, but missing out on Lausanne would be a mistake. This beautiful city is vibrant and has a charm of its own, particularly in the old town district. Climbing through its hilly streets, you’ll come across historic buildings – such as the Lausanne Cathedral – that are among the most spectacular in the entire country. On top of this, Lausanne is known for its great nightlife and local culinary experiences.
While exploring Geneva, you’ll inevitably glimpse the towering cascade of water which is the Jet d’Eau (literally, the water jet). The fountain started its life as a safety valve for a hydroelectric plant; now it’s a steadfast landmark of the city. Take a tour around the city’s lakefront from the Jardin Anglais to the Jardin Botanique on the opposite bank, crossing the Pont du Mont-Blanc, to take in the best sights that Geneva has to offer you.
Chillon Castle is one of the jewels of Lake Geneva – and the entire country. It’s renowned as the most beautiful castle, not least because of its perfect setting on the shores of Lake Geneva, with enviable overlooks of the distant mountains. The castle dates back to the 13th century and has been a fortress, summer home and a prison during its long life. Learn more about its fascinating history here.
Chillon Castle, Avenue de Chillon 21, Veytaux / Montreux, Switzerland, +41 21 966 89 10
Fans of Queen will want to mark a trip to Montreux as a must-do. The rock legends recorded the bulk of their hit albums here, and with good reason. The resort town, nestled on the eastern bank of Lake Geneva, has an illustrious history as a place for poets and musicians. If music isn’t your thing, then there is plenty more to do here, including peaceful hikes into the surrounding countryside or a walk along the flower-lined promenade.
Visit local markets
Some of Switzerland’s best local markets take place in the towns around Lake Geneva. At the Puces de Nyon, all manner of second-hand and vintage items are for sale along the waterfront. During summertime, the town of Vevey plays host to a Swiss folklore market, complete with traditional dress, tankards of beer and plenty of trinkets and local crafts. Weekly markets also occur in Geneva, Lausanne, Montreux and most other towns.