Switzerland is a beautiful country with awesome mountains, lakes, towns, and landscapes. A trip to one of the Swiss cities with a lakeside would be the perfect way to see it. Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne, Lucerne, and Lugano are some of the options you have.
It’s hard to decide between Lucerne and Lausanne since both are beautiful cities on the lake. Lucerne is on Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee), and Lausanne is on Lake Geneva (Lac Léman). They’re both beautiful and worth visiting. But do you know which one’s right for you? Let’s find out.
In reality, the question might be more – would you be more interested in visiting the Lake Lucerne region or the Lake Geneva region? If you start with this question and have an answer for it, then the choice is clear.
Lucerne is in German-speaking Switzerland, and it’s a little charming town with a waterfront, shops, and mountains nearby. Likewise, French-speaking Lausanne has a lot to offer: beautiful buildings, modern museums, and a lakefront to relax on.
This article compares and contrasts Lucerne and Lausanne, two lakeside places to visit in Switzerland. Is it better to visit Lucerne or is it better to visit Lausanne?
Overview: Lucerne vs. Lausanne
The key differences are as follows:
|Population: approx. 80,000
|Population: approx. 140,000
|Location: Central Switzerland
|Location: Western Switzerland
|Elevation: 435 m
|Elevation: 526 m
|Area: 37.4 km²
|Area: 41 km²
|Highlights: Chapel Bridge,
Lion Monument, Glacier Garden, Transport Museum, Bourbaki Panorama
|Highlights: Lausanne Cathedral, Olympic Museum, Ouchy
Plateforme 10, Lausanne Old Town
|Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman)
Things To Do: Lucerne or Lausanne
Things To Do in Lucerne
- Chapel Bridge – The Chapel Bridge in Lucerne is the city’s most famous landmark. This wooden bridge over the Reuss River is one of the oldest in Europe. The bridge was built in 1300 as part of the city walls. Even though it burned down and got badly damaged, it was rebuilt in 1994.
- Old Town – You can wander around restaurants and boutiques in Lucerne’s Old Town. Apart from the Chapel Bridge, you have the Spreuer Bridge crossing the Reuss River. Nearby is a beautiful Jesuit church.
- Lion Monument – The Lion Monument was created by Danish artist Bertel Thorvaldsen in 1821 to honor the Swiss Guards who lost their lives during the revolutionary siege of Paris on August 10th, 1792. It was in vain that the Swiss Guards tried to keep King Louis XVI alive, and they paid the price by dying. In the monument, a dying lion lies across broken pieces of the French monarchy.
- Bourbaki Panorama – Featured in this 360-degree panorama is a scene depicting the retreat of General Bourbaki’s army in the Swiss Alps in 1871. This is one of the largest panorama paintings in the world.
- Glacier Garden – The Lucerne Glacier Garden has some impressive glacier potholes from the last ice age 20,000 years ago, proving that Lucerne was covered in glaciers then. Shell fossils and palm leaves show that there was a subtropical sea beach here 20 million years ago.
- Verkehrshaus – The Transport Museum in Switzerland is one of the most visited museums in the country. At Verkehrshaus, you’ll see cars, ships, submarines, planes, trains, trams, and cable cars. In addition to transport exhibits, there’s also a Planetarium, a Swiss Chocolate Adventure, a Communications area, and a 2D or 3D Film Theater.
Things To Do in Lausanne
Lausanne, with its charming old town and fantastic views of Lake Geneva, also has a lot of historical buildings and museums to visit. Here are some of the options in this city:
- Gothic Cathedral – one of Europe’s most magnificent Gothic Cathedrals. This 12-century cathedral attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year.
- Palais de Rumine – a lovely Florentine-style building you’ll find in Place de la Riponne that houses multiple museums inside.
- 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
- 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, the 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, now located 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.
Mountains Nearby: Lucerne vs. Lausanne
Both towns will have mountains nearby to visit. The panoramic views from the mountains near Lucerne and Lausanne will be both stunning.
Mountains Close to Lucerne
The closest panoramic views from Lucerne are less than 2,000 meters high – Bürgenstock, Stanserhorn, Eggberge, Rigi Scheidegg, and Rigi Kulm. Only Pilatus at 2,073 meters and Engelberg Titlis at 3,238 meters are a bit higher.
The following mountains are close to Lucerne:
- Bürgenstock Hammetschwand (1,115 meters) – famous for the exclusive Bürgenstock Resort and the Hammetschwand Lift which is the highest, free-standing outdoor lift in Europe. Overlooks Lake Lucerne and can be accessed with a ferry and funicular.
- Stanserhorn (1,849 meters) – has an open upper deck cable car leading guests up the mountain and amazing views of Lucerne
- Pilatus (2,073 meters) – has the steepest cogwheel railway in the world with a maximum gradient of 48% and a 30-minute ride
- Rigi Scheidegg (1,643 meters) and Rigi Kulm (1,752 meters) – popular mountain to visit due to the numerous ways you can reach it from Vitznau, Arth-Goldau, Weggis, Gersau, Goldau, and Küssnacht SZ.
- Eggberge (1,447 meters) – relatively quiet but still provides awesome views of the Reuss Valley, Urnersee, Rigi, and more.
Mountains Close to Lausanne
The closest panoramic views from Lausanne are much like those from Lucerne at a little less than 2,000 meters. If you’re into higher mountains, you’ve got to head to places like the Jungfrau Region, the Engadine, or the Valais.
The following mountains are close to Lausanne:
- Mont-Pèlerin (1,080 meters) – This mountain near Vevey goes through the Chardonne Vineyards. There’s a great view of Lake Geneva from Plein Ciel, its viewing platform.
- Rochers-de-Naye (1,968 meters) – This mountain is easy to reach from Montreux and you can take a cogwheel train up through Glion and Caux. At the summit, you can see Lausanne, Lake Geneva, Jura, and the Savoy Alps.
- Le Moléson (2,002 meters) – A mountain in the Swiss Prealps, Moléson is near picturesque Gruyères village. You can see the famous peaks of the Bernese Oberland, Mont Blanc, and the Jura Mountains from here. Additionally, it has an awesome view of Lake Geneva and the Three Lakes region.
When you’re heading for the mountains, there’s no big difference between the two. Lausanne and Lucerne have similar altitudes, and the mountains around them aren’t as high as those in mountain resorts like Wengen and St. Moritz.
Places To Visit Nearby: Lucerne vs. Lausanne
Places To Visit Near Lucerne
Both towns will have plenty of pretty places to visit nearby. So it really boils down to your preference if you would rather see the Lake Lucerne region or the Lake Geneva region.
From Lucerne, you can take the train or boat to visit nearby places such as Bürgenstock, Weggis, and Vitznau. These are all located along Lake Lucerne. Further away, accessible by trains in an hour or so, are the pretty towns of Einsiedeln, Bremgarten, and Solothurn. Of course, Zurich and Bern are also popular cities to visit from Lucerne. So you have a lot of choices in and around Lucerne. Its central location in the country definitely helps.
Places To Visit Near Lausanne
Near Lausanne are some cool places to visit: Montreux, Vevey, the international city of Geneva, Nyon, Prangins, and Lutry. UNESCO World Heritage Site Lavaux Wine region has a mild, almost Mediterranean climate where grapevines grow on terraces. Terraced vineyards produce white wine and red wine on 830 hectares of land.
Hotels: Lucerne vs. Lausanne
There is a wide range of accommodation options in Lucerne and Lausanne to suit a variety of budgets and needs.
Hotels in Lucerne
- Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern (5-star) – Directly on the lake, this refined hotel is located in the old town of Lucerne. You’ll also find a gym, a spa, and modern furniture amid elegant interiors. A 10-minute walk gets you to the train station.
- Grand Hotel National Luzern (5-star) – A luxurious hotel built in the 1870s. Close to the train station and the historic old town, this hotel has elegant interiors, fantastic lake views, and a swimming pool.
- Hermitage Lake Lucerne (4-star) – Set on the shores of Lake Lucerne, this tranquil hotel is a great place to relax. While it’s a little outside of the city, it has stunning views and refined restaurants. There’s also a beach club with daybeds, lounges, drinks, snacks, and cool music. Party boats are available to rent or you can take public boats that stop right outside the hotel. My family has stayed here and has loved it. I highly recommend it.
- AMERON Luzern Hotel Flora (4-star) – Near the train station and the Chapel Bridge, this hotel has chic rooms and a great breakfast.
- Hotel Rebstock (4-star) – A historic, half-timbered hotel dating from the late Middle Ages, Hotel Rebstock is one of the 16 Unique and Historical Hotels in Switzerland. It is ideally located near the Hof Church, the Lion Monument, and the Glacier Garden.
- Hotel Central Luzern (3-star) – In a central location near the train station, the chapel bridge, the old town, and the Rosengart Collection, Hotel Central Luzern offers bright, clean, recently renovated rooms, as well as a delicious breakfast. The rooms are reasonably priced. As a result of the hotel’s central location, you might hear some noise at night.
- Backpackers Luzern (Hostel) – The Backpackers Luzern is on the shores of Lake Lucerne, in a quiet area. Besides free kitchen facilities and WiFi, this charming hostel has a common lounge area with table tennis and table soccer. Each room has comfortable beds and a balcony. Walking to Lucerne’s train station takes less than 15 minutes.
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.
Final Thoughts: Lucerne vs. Lausanne
In Switzerland, Lucerne and Lausanne are pretty comparable. It’s hard to recommend one over the other. You can visit either place any time of the year, but if you want a refreshing dip in the lake you might want to visit either one of them in summer.
If you’re choosing based on the two lakes, you might want to think about whether you want to go to Lake Lucerne, which looks like a Norwegian Fjord, or Lake Geneva, which has views of the French Alps on the other side and acres of vineyards in Lavaux.
In case you’re coming from France and don’t have much time, I’d suggest Lucerne. Lausanne might be too similar to France. Lucerne captures the essence of Switzerland as a whole in a compact, picturesque, and tourist-friendly way.
If you’ve been to Lucerne and loved it, yet you’re looking for something new, then you should check out Lausanne. Visit Lausanne with its beautiful old town, views of the French Alps, wine terraces nearby, the Cathedral, Ouchy, and numerous museums.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you compare Lucerne and Lausanne:
- Lausanne is hilly, while Lucerne is flatter. Visit Lucerne if you’d rather walk on flat pavement.
- Lake Lucerne looks more like a Norwegian Fjord. On the other hand, Lake Geneva has a beautiful view of the French Alps on the other side.
- The Swiss Museum of Transport is a good place for kids to visit in Lucerne, but Lausanne has more museums to choose from.
- Lausanne has an aquarium, Lucerne doesn’t have a zoo or an aquarium.
- Lausanne has a large, historic Cathedral, Lucerne has a smaller Jesuit Church.
- Both Lucerne and Lausanne have lots of pretty towns and places nearby.
- Both Lucerne and Lausanne have plenty of hotels and apartments on a range of budgets.
- Both Lucerne and Lausanne have lots of restaurant choices.
Personal note: Though I think Lucerne might be better for first-time visitors because it’s a good representation of Switzerland and is incredibly beautiful, I love Lausanne more (vibe, beauty, history, choices) and would highly recommend it as an alternative.
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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.