Lausanne or Montreux: The Best Cities On Lake Geneva

lausanne or montreux

Lake Geneva is famous for its epic views and stunning towns. Lausanne and Montreux are both gorgeous places on the lakeshore but with very different vibes. One is a busy city with a metro and loads of museums, and the other is a quaint town famous for the monumental statue of Freddie Mercury, which serves as a good base for hiking in western Switzerland. 

The former is Lausanne, the latter is Montreux, and if you still have no idea which is better for you, that’s perfectly fine. This detailed comparison examines everything important about the two Swiss destinations – public transport, attractions, cost, etc. – so you can easily decide which is the better destination for you!

General Information

LausanneMontreux
Population137,810 (2017)24,520 (2008)
LocationVaud CantonVaud Canton
AttractionsParks, botanical garden, museums, hilltop old town, medieval architecture, Lake GenevaLake Geneva, Queen tours, panoramic train rides, Rochers de Naye, Chillon castle, Christmas market, day trip options
FoodSwiss, Italian, French, AsianSwiss, Italian, International
NightlifeNightclubs, Bars, Pubs, Restaurants with live music, Lounge barsBars, Pubs, Lounge bars, Casino, Live music at restaurants
CostFrom 100 CHF per dayFrom 100 CHF per day
Airport AccessGeneva AirportGeneva Airport
General information about Lausanne and Montreux

Location and Transportation

Lausanne at Lake Geneva
Lausanne at Lake Geneva

Lausanne and Montreux are both towns on the shore of Lake Geneva. The closest international airport to both towns is Geneva Airport with direct train connections to either town:

  • Geneva airport to Lausanne – 55 minutes (trains IR 90, IR15, RE); 27 CHF
  • Geneva airport to Montreux – 1 hour 25-30 minutes (trains IR 90, RE); 35 CHF

Discounts are available to passengers in possession of the Swiss Travel Pass, Interrail/Eurail Card, and Half-Fare Card.

Public Transport in Lausanne

Train station in Lausanne
Train station in Lausanne

Lausanne is bigger than Montreux, so naturally, it has more options for public transport. You can get around by:

  • Regional trains
  • Local trains
  • Buses
  • Metro
  • Ferries

A daily pass for public transport in the city is 9.3 CHF, but it’s important to note that you might not have to pay anything to get around the city.

Anyone who stays at a hotel or a private apartment registered with the Lausanne tourist board can use the public transport services in Lausanne for free! Travelers get the Lausanne Transport Card, which is valid for the entire duration of their stay.

Public Transport in Montreux

Train station in Montreux
Train station in Montreux

Montreux is a much smaller town so it has fewer options for public transport. There’s no metro in Montreux, only:

  • Buses
  • Regional/local trains
  • Ferries
  • Funicular

Guests in Montreux get a pass for public transport that lets them use the services for free during their stay.

Food

Cheese plate at a Lausanne restuarant
Cheese plate at a Lausanne restaurant

The food is spectacular in either town. Lake Geneva is in the French-speaking region of Switzerland, so most restaurants are French, Swiss, Italian, or a mixture of all three. Expect many delicious dishes with cheese and wine, but also other staples from the two dominant cuisines.

Lausanne is the bigger town, so it has more restaurants and a wider selection of international cuisines:

  • L’Evêché (Swiss)
  • L’Étoile (Italian)
  • Café du Grütli (Swiss)
  • New Red Sea (Eritrean)
  • Brasserie Saint-Laurent (French)
  • Chez Xu (Chinese)
  • Le Ticino (Italian)

Montreux is smaller and doesn’t have quite as many restaurants as Lausanne, but a compromise in quantity does not translate to a compromise in quality. The best restaurants in Montreux are:

  • Molino (Italian)
  • Rouvenaz (Italian)
  • Restaurant Le Museum (Swiss)
  • Palais Oriental (Persian)
  • 1820 Restaurant & Cocktails Bar (Italian)
  • Miyazaki (Japanese)
  • Caveau des Vignerons (Swiss)

In either town, you will pay 20-30 CHF for a main course, possibly even more at fancier restaurants. Standard drinks are up to 15 CHF, but cocktails are 10-20 CHF. Also, keep in mind that Gruyeres is only about an hour and a half from Montreux, and it’s the place to be if you’re in the mood for fondue.

Nightlife

Millesime Club in Montreux
Millesime Club in Montreux, image courtesy of Facebook

Lausanne and Montreux both have a bustling nightlife with plenty of bars and clubs. Lausanne has a larger quantity of places to go out at night, but that’s expected considering it’s significantly larger than Montreux.

The best places to go out in Lausanne are:

  • King Size Pub
  • The Great Escape Bar
  • MAD Club
  • Le Punk Bar
  • Bleu Lézard
  • Jagger’s

And there are more. Most of these locales are situated in or very close to Lausanne Old Town.

The nightlife in Montreux mostly happens in these locales:

  • Millésime Club
  • Funky Claude’s Bar
  • Le Taboo
  • Black Pearl
  • Li Lo
  • Barrel Oak Pub

One thing to note is that Montreux has many seasonal nightlife activities. In the summer there are parties at the beach clubs especially during the Montreux Jazz Festival, while winter sees multiple open-air bars and restaurants as part of the Christmas Market.

Accommodation

Fairmont Palace Hotel in Montreux
Fairmont Palace Hotel in Montreux

Because Lausanne is much bigger than Montreux, the city has more hotels. There’s a wide variety of options whether you’re looking for budget, mid-range, or luxury accommodation. The best hotels in Lausanne are (from budget to luxury):

Montreux might have fewer hotels, but that doesn’t mean they’re any worse than those in Lausanne. One thing I will say is that Montreux hotels are slightly more expensive than Lausanne hotels, with fewer options for travelers on a tighter budget.

The best hotels in Montreux are (from budget to luxury):

Hotel Fairmont is the only 5-star hotel in Montreux proper. Additionally, both destinations have a variety of private apartments and AirBnBs for tourists.

Cost

Lausanne and Montreux are equally costly, but Lausanne is a little bit better for backpackers and travelers on a tight budget. That’s because Lausanne has cheaper hotels, with options that are around 100 CHF per night for two adults. Montreux hotels are more expensive, and even the budget hotels are in the 120-150 CHF price range.

Other than that, the prices in the two destinations are very similar. Restaurants, taxis, and shops have very similar prices, with the usual budget/mid-range/luxury distinctions. The average daily budgets for both towns are (per person, including accommodation):

  • Budget – 100-120 CHF
  • Mid-range – 150-250 CHF
  • Luxury – 300+ CHF

Both destinations are equally adequate for travelers on a budget, those who want to revel in luxury, and everyone in between.

Things to Do in Lausanne

Lausanne Old Town
Lausanne Old Town

Lausanne is best known for its hilltop old town with medieval architecture. The city has many museums, as well as a variety of attractions with free entrance.

Parc de Mon Repos

A bird at Lausanne park
A bird at Lausanne park

Parc de Mon Repos is a vast public park in Lausanne that dates back to the 19th century. It is gorgeous with beautiful landscaping, countless plants, and a villa that is very rarely accessible to the public.

The park boasts statues and fountains, but for me, the highlight is the small aviary. The birds were a pleasant surprise because I didn’t expect to see so many of them! The entire experience was humbling as well because on the day I visited Parc de Mon Repos, I learned that parrots speak French better than me.

Sauvabelin Tower

sauvabelin tower lausanne
The Sauvabelin Tower in Lausanne

Sauvabelin Tower has the best panoramic views in Lausanne. Even Mt. Blanc is visible from the tower on clear days, as well as the Jura Mountains and Lac Leman. Entrance to the tower is free, so anyone can visit as long as they’re willing to climb up 302 steps.

The observation platform is 30 meters above the ground, which is higher than the surrounding treetops. Sauvabelin Tower also hosts temporary art exhibits, showcasing unique and stunning pieces on the observation platform.

Lausanne Botanical Garden

Lausanne Botanical Garden is just a few minutes south of the main train station in the city, and it could be the first attraction you tour upon arrival. The entrance to the botanical garden is free, so it’s a great destination even for travelers on a very tight budget.

The garden boasts beautifully landscaped paths, ponds, and a large greenhouse with climate-sensitive plants. The orchids and cacti are wonderful to see, but for me, the carnivorous plants were the highlight of this botanical garden. I loved seeing them but kept my distance because we all know what happens if you get too close to the Cowplant in The Sims.

Lausanne Cathedral & Old Town

Lausanne Cathedral
Lausanne Cathedral

The Lausanne Cathedral is the centerpiece of the city’s Old Town. Dating back to the early 12th century, the Gothic church is famous for its tall spires, stained glass windows, and gorgeous statues. Entrance to the cathedral is free and guided tours are available for a small fee.

The cathedral is the most imposing building in Lausanne Old Town, but it’s certainly not the only notable landmark. Other important attractions in this part of the city are:

  • Palais de Rumine
  • Château St-Maire
  • Place de la Palud

One thing to note is that the Old Town of Lausanne is situated atop a hill. Bring a bottle of water if you’re going to walk there because it will be quite an exercise.

AQUATIS Aquarium

AQUATIS Aquarium
AQUATIS aquarium in Lausanne, image courtesy of their Facebook page

You can’t go to Lausanne and miss out on AQUATIS. It’s the largest freshwater aquarium in Europe, with more than 10,000 fish from all over the world. See Komodo dragons, swordfish, crocodiles, and so many more fascinating fish and amphibians that have no business being on the European continent, let alone near Lake Geneva.

The aquarium is easily accessible by the Lausanne metro. It’s near the Vennes station, which is just a 12-minute ride from Lausanne-Gare, the largest railway and metro station in town. Tickets for the aquarium are from 15 CHF (entry after 5 PM) to 29 CHF (full-price entrance fee for adults).

Museums

Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts in Lausanne
Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts in Lausanne

Lausanne has quite a few museums, ranging from traditional museums you see in most cities, to some truly unique places:

  • The Olympic Museum (permanent exhibits on various Olympic athletes)
  • Palais de Rumine museums (archaeology, fine art, and zoology museum exhibits)
  • Roman Museum Lausanne-Vidy (archaeological museum exploring the Roman history of Lausanne)
  • Lausanne History Museum (the museum is more than a century old, and exhibits on the city’s history and culture)
  • Collection de l’Art Brut (art museum with an avant-garde collection)
  • Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts Lausanne (extensive collection of artworks from the 19th and 20th centuries)
  • Space of Inventions (science museum)

If I had to pick a favorite museum, it would be the Olympic Museum because it’s so different. But they’re all great and worth visiting if you want to discover the culture of Lausanne.

Things to Do in Montreux

Montreux is a small town without too many landmarks and museums. But the landmarks the town is known for are world famous, plus there are several iconic attractions less than an hour outside the town.

Chillon Castle

Chillon Castle Switzerland
Chillon Castle

Chillon Castle is one of the most famous in Switzerland and for good reason. Its surroundings are idyllic, with stunning views of the lake on one side, and tall mountain summits on the other.

The castle has a permanent collection that explores its history, surroundings, and local art. Chateau Chillon often hosts temporary exhibits, which usually promote local artists from Switzerland.

In addition to the exhibits, visitors can also tour underground vaults, the various castle rooms with period furniture, and the rooftop terrace which offers a spectacular view of Lake Geneva.

Queen Studio Experience

A statue of Freddie Mercury in Montreux
A statue of Freddie Mercury in Montreux

Montreux is a pretty small town, and it’s reasonable to wonder why it’s so famous when it doesn’t even have that many tourist attractions. The town owes its fame to Queen, the iconic rock band that recorded no less than six albums at a studio in Montreux.

The former studio eventually opened to the public and it was renamed the Queen Studio Experience. The show must go on after all, and nowadays anyone can tour the studio and see the various memorabilia of the band’s members. It’s an iconic experience that might just be the highlight of your trip to Montreux (it was for me!), especially if you’re a fan of the band.

The studio is at the Casino Barrière Montreux, and if you’re feeling lucky you can put everything on red on your way out.

Montreux Christmas Market

montreux christmas
Montreux at Christmas

Montreux has hands down one of the best Christmas Markets in Switzerland. If you are planning a trip in December, it’s absolutely worth it to choose Montreux because of the Christmas Market alone, especially if you’re traveling with kids. 

The locals put so much effort into transforming the town into a winter wonderland and there’s even Santa’s Village atop Rochers-de-Naye, where children get to meet Santa. Mulled wine, fairy lights, and wooden stalls are staples of Montreux at Christmas, and they truly bring the magic of winter festivities to the town’s lakefront promenade.

Chaplin’s World

Chaplin's World in Vevey
Chaplin’s World in Vevey

Chaplin’s World is a museum about Charlie Chaplin, situated in the famous actor’s former home. It’s located in Corsier-sur-Vevey, a town less than half an hour from Montreux. Take a train to the main station in Vevey (5 minutes) and then switch to the 212 bus (10 minutes). The bus stops in front of the entrance to Chaplin’s World, and the entire journey takes 20-25 minutes.

The museum offers insight into 25 years of Chaplin’s life, with original furnishing and many of the actor’s personal belongings scattered throughout the house. It’s such a unique experience that it’s without a doubt worth visiting, especially from Montreux which is so close. The tickets are 20-29 CHF – buying dated tickets online is cheaper.

Gruyeres

Gruyeres
Gruyères

A stay in Montreux is the perfect opportunity for a quick day trip to Gruyeres. It’s an hour from the train station in Montreux to the one in Gruyeres, and then a 20-minute walk (or 10-minute bus ride) to the center of one of the most impressive villages in Switzerland, 

The namesake cheese is made in this village, so a trip to Gruyeres is the perfect opportunity to have the best fondue in Switzerland. Gruyeres is also home to a museum dedicated to Hans Rudi Giger.

The Swiss artist is best known for his work on the Alien film franchise, and the museum exhibits are fabulous examples of his best works. Visit the Giger Bar opposite the museum for drinks and fondue in the most bizarre surroundings imaginable.

Finally, don’t miss out on the Gruyeres Castle. The medieval fortress is one of the most famous in the country, with gorgeous artworks, period furnishings, and stunning landscape views.

Rochers de Naye

Rochers de Naye
Rochers de Naye

Rochers de Naye is a summit in the Swiss Alps, easily accessible by cogwheel train from Montreux. The journey from the lakeshore to the 2,000+ meter summit is picturesque and takes approximately 50 minutes. From the summit, you can see Lake Geneva, the Jura Mountains, and even Mont Blanc in France on clear days.

The summit is popular for hiking and climbing, with countless trails that are waiting to be discovered. La Rambertia botanical garden is close to the top station of the cogwheel train, and it has more than 1,000 Alpine plants that epitomize the flora of the Swiss Alps.

Bonus: Lavaux Vineyard Terraces

Lavaux Vineyards on lake Geneva
Lavaux Vineyard Terraces at Lake Geneva

The vineyard terraces of Lavaux are a UNESCO World Heritage site and an iconic landmark between Montreux and Lausanne. They can explored on a train ride or by various hiking trails and are easily accessible from both destinations on the shore of Lake Geneva.

The Lavaux Express is the panoramic train that runs between Cully and Lutry, offering splendid views of the vineyards. It’s the quicker way of discovering the landscape, although hiking is better for really taking in the views of the lakeshore.

Map of Lausanne and Montreux Attractions and More

Lausanne or Montreux: Which Is Better?

So, should you spend your vacation in Switzerland in Lausanne or Montreux? That depends on what you want to do during the trip.

Lausanne is the bigger town with more things to do. It’s got more attractions and museums, and you could easily spend 2-3 days discovering the top sights in the town. However, it’s more difficult to navigate, especially for first-time visitors.

Montreux is a proper resort town and it’s oriented towards tourists. The town is easy to navigate on foot and in public transport, plus it’s only 20 minutes outside Lausanne. I would personally stay in Montreux but travel to Lausanne on a day trip.

Written by Ashley Faulkes
As a twenty-year resident of Switzerland, I am passionate about exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, I spend my days deep in the great Swiss outdoors, and love to share these experiences and insights with fellow travel enthusiasts.

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