Geneva vs. Lausanne: Which is better?

Lausanne and Geneva are the largest cities along Lake Geneva and in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Geneva is slightly larger in terms of population, with Lausanne following closely behind.

Whether you’re coming from France or staying in the French Alps and want to stop in one of these two Swiss cities in Romandy, you might be wondering which is better. Is it better to visit Geneva or is it better to visit Lausanne?

This article compares and contrasts Geneva and Lausanne, two French-speaking cities on Lake Geneva. 

Overview: Geneva vs. Lausanne

The key differences between Geneva and Lausanne are as follows:

GenevaLausanne
Population: approx. 200,000Population: approx. 140,000
Switzerland’s second-most populous citySwitzerland’s fourth-most populous city
Elevation: 375 mElevation: 526 m
Area: 15 km²Area: 41 km²
Highlights: Cathedral St-Pierre, Notre-Dame Church, Ariana Museum, Bains des Paquis, Maison Tavel
Highlights: Lausanne Cathedral, Olympic Museum, Ouchy
Plateforme 10, Lausanne Old Town
Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman) Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman)
Canton: GenevaCanton: Vaud

Cities: Geneva vs. Lausanne

Geneva – The International City

Image of UN Geneva by TouringSwitzerland.com

Geneva is a global city in every sense, and soon after arriving here, you’ll hear people speaking languages from all over the world. On the shores of Lake Geneva, it is the second-most populous city in Switzerland and the most populous in the French-speaking part. 

Thanks to its many international organizations, Geneva is a global city, a financial center, and a diplomatic hub. As home to the United Nations, Red Cross, World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, and many more, Geneva truly is an important city for diplomacy, international cooperation, and humanitarian engagement.

As a major financial center, Geneva ranks fifth in Europe after London, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Luxembourg. The Pictet Group, Bank Lombard Odier & Co., Union Bancaire Privée, Mirabaud Group, Bordier & Cie, Edmond de Rothschild Group, and One Swiss Bank are just a few banks with headquarters in Geneva.

Lausanne – The Olympic Capital

Image of Lausanne by TouringSwitzerland.com

Lausanne has a pretty old town and cathedral, an Olympic Museum, and a beautiful lake promenade. There are also lots of interesting, historic buildings, an aquarium, and access to the lake. The city is full of history; it was ruled then by the Celts and the Romans.

Lausanne is the second most populous city in French-speaking Switzerland after Geneva. It’s also the capital of Vaud, its canton.

Lausanne also has a major student population along with restaurants, bars, and hotels all over the city. Due to its young residents, this city built on three hills has a young, international, and busy vibe. 


Things to Do: Geneva vs. Lausanne

Things to Do in Geneva

While there are many things to do and places to visit in Geneva, we have provided some of the highlights of this city below:

  • Geneva’s Old Town – Geneva’s Old Town is its historic center. In addition to Saint Peter’s Cathedral, you’ll find Bastion Park, the Reformation Wall, the Place du Bourg-de-Four, the Treille Promenade, and more.
  • United Nations Building – If you want to see one of the world’s most important diplomatic centers, the Palace of Nations is a must. There are tours available upon request. 
  • Jet d’Eau – Check out Geneva’s water jet, the Jet d’Eau. Bains des Pâquis is also nearby.
  • St. Pierre Cathedral – The Cathedral was built between 1160 and 1252. It was used by John Calvin, one of the key figures of the Protestant Reformation. St. Pierre Cathedral is one of the most important landmarks in Geneva.
  • Visit the museums – Geneva also has its fair share of museums. 
    • A standout is the Maison Tavel, which is an example of medieval civil architecture. 
    • You can also see ancient artifacts, glass, and ceramics at the Ariana Museum. You can also check out nearby Ariana Park.
    • If you’re into watches, you can visit the Patek Philippe Museum.  
  • Lake Geneva – On top of all of that, you can stroll along Lake Geneva or cruise on it – the largest lake in Switzerland is indeed a place where you can swim in summer, cruise in a boat, or just stroll around. 
  • Enjoy a walk in one of the parks – The two parks worth mentioning are Parc de la Grange and Parc des Eaux-Vives. These parks have well-tended flower beds, and it’s always a pleasure to walk through them. Come see the flowers when they are blooming.

Things to Do in Lausanne

While there are many things to do and places to visit in Lausanne, we have provided some of the highlights of this city below:

  • Old Town – to visit the old town and possibly do a bit of shopping, go to Rue de Bourg, St-François, Flon and Place de la Palud
  • Gothic Cathedral – one of Europe’s most magnificent Gothic Cathedrals. This 12-century cathedral attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year
  • Market – Every Wednesday and Saturday morning from 8:00 am to 2:30 pm, there is a local farmer’s market around Rue de Bourg to Place de la Riponne
  • Ouchy – the relaxing, lakeside Ouchy can be a destination for walks and in summer can be combined with a swim in Bellerive
  • Bellerive Plage – the swimming pool in Bellerive near the lake has 3 large swimming pools including an Olympic-sized pool. It also has a supervised lake beach, beach volleyball courts, basketball courts, tennis tables, and an aquatic park on the lake.
  • Olympic Museum Lausanne – the Olympic Museum guides visitors through the history of the Olympics, sports equipment of various athletes, interactive multimedia and games, and more. The TOM café is also perfect for hanging out as it gives a magnificent view of the lake and the Alps from its terrace.
  • MCBA Art Museum – the MCBA at Plateforme 10 showcases thousands of works of art. It covers visual arts and works such as those by Degas, Cézanne, Denis, Rodin, Giovanni Giacometti, and many more.
  • Aquatis Lausanne – Aquatis is not just an aquarium. It also features a komodo dragon, a poisonous snake, and other terrestrial animals.

Day Trips Nearby: Geneva and Lausanne

Geneva and Lausanne are close to a lot of beautiful towns and mountains. You can actually visit a lot of these other places from either city.

Lausanne is generally closer to the rest of Switzerland. You can get to most of the mountains and towns in Vaud and Valais faster from Lausanne than from Geneva. And Geneva has better access to France than Lausanne. Here are some nearby towns.

Image of Prangins Castle from wikimedia
  • Nyon – this lovely lakeside town is about 25 kilometers northeast of Geneva; it’s actually part of the bigger Geneva metro area. This lovely town has a castle and the entire town itself is on the Swiss Heritage Inventory.
  • Prangins – in this town, Château de Prangins is a great place to learn about the history of the country and its heritage. The town of Prangins recently received the Wakker Prize in 2020  for preserving and treasuring its architectural heritage.
  • Vevey – is a beautiful town near Lausanne that has lots of interesting museums such as the Alimentarium, Chaplin’s World, Museum of Fine Arts and Prints, the Swiss Museum of Games, and more.
  • Montreux – Montreux is a charming town on the northeastern shore of Lake Geneva. Montreux is famous for its spa facilities, mild climate, and Montreux Jazz Festival. It is also near Chillon Castle.
  • Lutry – The Lutry Castle or Rôdeurs Castle, the Roman Catholic Church of Saint-Martin, the Swiss Reformed Church of Saint-Martin, and a Gothic facade house are just some of the historic places you can visit in Lutry. This whole region is also famous for being part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site: Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces. 

If you would like to learn more about the beautiful towns and mountains near Geneva and Lausanne, check out the following articles below:


Hotels: Geneva vs. Lausanne

Whether you’re looking for luxury or budget hotels, Geneva & Lausanne have them all. Check out our Geneva and Lausanne hotel recommendations below.

Image of Beau Rivage in Geneva by TouringSwitzerland.com

Hotels in Geneva

  • Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva (5-star) – Set in a historic building from 1834, Four Seasons is one of the best hotels in Geneva. You can’t go wrong with this hotel with its elegant interiors, fine dining restaurant, indoor infinity pool, spa, business services, and a multilingual concierge.
  • Beau-Rivage Genève (5-star) – With its panoramic views of the lake and Mont Blanc, this elegant 5-star hotel is right on Lake Geneva. Cornavin Train Station is just a five-minute walk away. This hotel has a highly rated French restaurant called Le Chat Botté.  There is a 24-hour front desk, fitness center, concierge service, a business center, and more.
  • Hotel Bristol (4-star superior) – Between Geneva’s train station and the lake, this 4-star superior hotel Hotel Bristol makes a great choice for tourists. This hotel has a wonderful spa area with saunas, a hot tub, and a hammam. Besides that, it’s got a great restaurant called Côté Square.
  • citizenM Geneva (4-star) – citizenM Geneva is close to some main attractions, including St. Pierre Cathedral, Jet d’Eau, the Flower Clock, and Geneva Town Hall. The hotel has air-conditioned rooms, a restaurant, and a bar, too. 
  • Hotel Bernina Geneva (3-star) – Located opposite Geneva’s train station, the Hotel Bernina Geneva is a convenient 3-star superior hotel with clean, modern rooms. 
  • MEININGER Geneve Centre Charmilles (Hostel) – Although this hostel isn’t in the center of the city, it’s well connected, so you can easily get to all the sights. With a 24-hour reception, free WiFi, luggage storage, a washing machine, a dryer, a kitchen, a bar, and a game zone, you’ve got everything you need for your stay in Geneva. 

Hotels in Lausanne

  • Beau-Rivage Palace (5-star) – The Beau-Rivage Palace is a luxury hotel located in Switzerland and one of the best hotels in Europe. Since 1861, it has been a popular address for celebrities and politicians, such as Charlie Chaplin, Coco Chanel, and Nelson Mandela. This beautiful hotel features not only gorgeous architecture and antiques, but also excellent service, two swimming pools, a spa, and a fitness center. 
  • Lausanne Palace (5-star) – Located in Lausanne, this elegant 5-star hotel is a historic landmark. Located near the Montbenon Esplanade, it features views of Le Flon or Lake Geneva.  The hotel features an indoor pool, spa, fitness center, and Michelin-starred gourmet restaurant.
  • Château d’Ouchy (4-star) – Located in Ouchy, Lausanne, this renovated medieval castle near the lake has an original donjon. In addition to an outdoor pool, there is a restaurant and bar at the hotel. 
  • Alpha-Palmiers by Fassbind (4-star) – Our favorite hotel in Lausanne, we have stayed here at least three times. It is located near Lausanne’s train station and offers clean rooms at a reasonable price. There is a Thai restaurant, a classic Swiss restaurant, and a bar. The hotel has a tropical garden in the middle. 
  • Hotel Angleterre & Résidence (4-star) – On the shore of Lake Geneva, the Hotel Angleterre & Résidence is 12 minutes away from the lake. This unique hotel is spread over 6 historical pavilions dating from the 18th, 19th, and 21st centuries. The hotel features a swimming pool, a beachfront, and a fitness center. Here you can enjoy a good breakfast or a fine dining meal at the Italian restaurant.
  • Hôtel du Port (3-star) – Located near the lake and harbor in Lausanne, this small hotel is family-run. The hotel offers cozy rooms, fine cuisine, and beautiful views of Lake Geneva and the Alps. 

Should you visit Geneva or Lausanne?

Let’s get back to the question: should you visit Geneva or Lausanne? Visiting either place will be great, as they both have lots of hotels, restaurants, museums, and things to do. Moreover, both have picturesque old towns, promenades along lakes, gardens, cathedrals, and shopping areas. 

In my opinion, if you’re visiting Switzerland and want to see other Swiss places, Lausanne is the better choice, either as a base or a day trip.

I would only recommend going to Geneva if you were going to France before or after or if you were visiting with an international group. Lausanne is the better choice for everyone else, whether you’re a couple on their honeymoon, a family with young children, or an older couple who just wants to relax.

The two cities are comparable in price, so I wouldn’t really use this as a comparison point.

Advantages of Visiting Geneva

  • Ideal for an international group looking to visit museums and restaurants. Geneva is a compact city with more cosmopolitan things to do.
  • Ideal for those who wish to visit France before or after Geneva. Closer to the French Alps.
  • Ideal for those who come in via Geneva Airport for practical reasons.

Advantages of Visiting Lausanne

  • Ideal for couples looking to relax. Nearby Montreux is a well-known spa resort and the Lavaux Vineyards are always pleasant to visit.
  • Ideal for those who will proceed to Valais later (Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Crans-Montana, Grimentz-Zinal).
  • Ideal for those who wish to visit Switzerland before or after Lausanne. Closer to the Swiss Alps.
  • Ideal for families with young children. You can visit Aquatis or the Charlie Chaplin Museum among others.

Summary: Geneva vs. Lausanne

How you choose a city depends on your wants and needs. The train ride between Geneva and Lausanne takes about an hour, so it is possible to visit both cities in one day. As a consequence, your time will be extremely limited, which might be fine if you just want to see one or two spots. I still recommend spending at least a day in either city.

The city of Geneva may seem more international and cosmopolitan, but Lausanne is amazing too. It’s a beautiful, historic city with lots to do for all ages.

My personal preference is Lausanne. I think that it is the perfect place in Switzerland. It combines both old and new, lake and hilltop panoramic views, a busy city, and relaxed lakeside.


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