Not sure whether you should choose Lausanne or Montreux for your short stay? Both are charming destinations on Lake Geneva (aka Lac Lemans) with beautiful lake and Alp views. Montreux is a small but charming resort of about 26K souls, while Lausanne is a bigger city of 150K. Montreux is much more touristy and international, feeling a bit like the Cote d’Azur. Lausanne is a university town with an interesting old town and cathedral, the Olympics museum, and some nightlife. Montreux has spectacular views, the Chillon Castle, and a scenic train to the Rochers de Naye summit.
Table of Contents
Lausanne or Montreux: what travelers say
- Lausanne is a nice city with an attractive old town sitting on a hill. It has relatively few tourist attractions. It has a city vibe and traffic. The nice lakefront at Ouchy is about 2km downhill from the center, accessible on foot or by metro.
- Lausanne is not easy to navigate for first-time visitors as the city is quite spread out along a long sloping hillside down to the lake. The public transport is efficient and takes you everywhere in the city, but walking is not so easy due to the different levels of the city.
- Staying in the Lausanne upper town, you can take the funicular down to the lakeside. You can take boat trips to visit other lakeside towns.
- Montreux is small, tourist-oriented, with a true resort town and international feel. The 11km lakeside promenade offers spectacular views, lined with flowers, benches and a few relaxing cafes. The old town is a small uphill walk from the lakeside, with the Church offering great views.
- In Montreux, the weather can put a grey wall across the lake, completely hiding the fabulous sights.
- Some travelers don’t find Lausanne the most charming city in Switzerland. Others find Montreux overly touristy.
- Travelers generally agree Montreux is a more convenient location for visiting Chateau Chillon and Rochers de Naye. On the other hand, Lausanne is a great base for day trips to Geneva, Gruyere/Broc, and even Lucerne, as it has better train connections to many places.
- Lausanne and Montreux are only 30 minutes apart by car, train, or ferry (a nice ride in good weather) so you could choose to stay in either one.
- Montreux is smaller than you might expect. Aside from the lakeshore strip for strolling, there’s not much to do there other than relaxing. The village is really quiet in the winter. The Jazz Festival, during which Montreux really comes to life, is an exception.
- Staying in Montreux during the Jazz Festival is not recommended as it gets extremely crowded and hotels get all booked up with very high prices.
- For a first stay, Montreux is probably a better option than Lausanne. From there you can easily visit the impressive Lavaux vineyards, several museums, the Chillon castle, and take day trips to many places in the area.
- Vevey is a good compromise between Lausanne and Montreux, also a nice town on Lake Leman. It is less of a resort and more residential, with a nicer old town closer to the lake. Vevey has more of an authentic Swiss feel compared to Montreux’s international vibe.
- Morges is another alternative for a quiet stay, a small town on the eastern end of the lake near Montreux with easy access to the latter by public transport.
Lausanne or Montreux: access & transportation
From the Geneva airport, it takes 50 minutes by train to get to Lausanne and 1 hour 15 to Montreux. Montreux is a 20-30 minute train ride from Lausanne, Vevey a 15-min ride.
From Montreux, Chateau de Chillon is only 3 km away by train, or you can take a scenic boat ride there. In the warm season, it’s also easily accessed by ferry from both Montreux and Lausanne – the ferry takes you to Villeneuve then there’s a 15-minute walk to the Castle.
In both Montreux and Lausanne, travelers recommend using public transport including train, ferry, and bus. You can do pleasant day trips mixing the different options, e.g. go somewhere by train and return by ferry. Buses are very convenient with frequent runs and stops everywhere.
Many hotels give you a Riviera Card which includes free buses – a good way to get around. The #1 bus runs from Vevey through Montreux, Chillon, and Villeneuve.
Although Switzerland can be visited comfortably without a car, some travelers often choose to rent one in Switzerland, as driving there is easy and people are very polite.
Biking around Lausanne and Montreux is also a great way to explore the area. There are nice lakeside paths to bike on e.g. around Lausanne. Bikes can be taken on ferries.
From Montreux, you can also take the Chocolate Train tour to visit Gruyeres.
Lausanne or Montreux: vibe & people
The great Lake Lemans and the Alp views can be seen from Lausanne, Montreux, or the Chillon Castle.
Lausanne is much larger than Montreux (and Vevey). The city hosts one of the largest universities in Europe and hence has a significant student population. It has many restaurants, bars, and hotels around the center. The latter is away from the lake, but the Ouchy port is easily accessed by funicular.
Montreux is squashed between the lake and the highway above it. It’s often called the Swiss Riviera due to its palm trees and microclimate. The lakeside is a very pleasant place for sitting on a bench and people watching, or for strolling along the shore enjoying the flowers and leave sculptures made by the city gardeners.
Though the palms are green all year, in the winter, there are no flowers and the hillside vineyards are brown or frost-covered.
Montreux is a resort town where you’ll typically see more visitors from all over the world than residents, such as Italian jet-setters, Australian families, US backpackers, Middle-East businessmen, East European rockers, or traditional upper-class Swiss ladies with their dog.
Besides the pretty 11 km flowered lakeshore promenade, however, Montreux also has some less sightly modern buildings such as the Forum, the Casino, and some high-rise hotels.
Dead in the winter, the town gets very crowded during the Jazz Festival when people flow in and around the lakeside parks, and street food and craft vendors pop up everywhere.
Vevey is less touristy than Montreux, yet still a much smaller town than Lausanne. The old town has little streets with many bookstores, antique stores, boutiques, restaurants, and hotels, right by the lake. Vevey has more activity than Montreux, although not real city life like Lausanne.
Lausanne or Montreux: sights & culture
The main attraction in Montreux is the lakeside promenade. Relatively few visitors hike uphill to the old town. The latter, nevertheless, has a few shops and restaurants, the small Montreux Museum, and some attractive old buildings including a church offering great views over the lake and nearby towns.
The Casino Barrière has slot machines and also hosts the Queen Studio Experience, an exhibit related to the Queen rock band who recorded several albums in Montreux.
The Montreux marina has steamer and modern boats that take visitors to other villages on Lake Geneva.
The Chillon Castle, a lakeside island stone fortress with underground vaults and cultural events, is worth a 2 or 3-hour visit. It’s a pleasant 45-60 minute walk on the lakeshore or 5-minute train ride from Montreux. It’s quite isolated and cold in the winter (not heated).
The grand Montreux Jazz Festival takes place each year in the Montreux-Vevey area starting June 28th.
Montreux and Vevey have nice open-air markets – Friday in Montreux and Saturday in Vevey – where locals go shopping for fruits, vegetables, flowers, baked foods (e.g. warm salle), dairy, etc
In Vevey nearby, visitors can se the nice Charlie Chaplin statue and burial place.
Lausanne’s old town has beautiful medieval streets, uphill from the train station, with many shops and a beautiful 12th-century cathedral with gothic style. The city also boasts fine art and science museum located in the Palais de Rumine 19th-century house.
Lausanne also houses the International Olympic HQ. The indoor Olympic museum is a good place to visit when the weather is cold or rainy, while the Olympic Park is located near the lake. Ouchy, the historic marina and port area, also offers pleasant parks and cafes.
One suggested tour is to see the Olympic museum in the morning, then take the 7-minute walk to Ouchy pier, and catch the 12:25 boat to Chillon (2-hour ride) to visit the castle – see boat schedule here.
Lausanne or Montreux: nature & outdoors
From Montreux, taking the cogwheel train trip to the summit Rochers de Naye (about 1500 meter high) to enjoy unforgettable views of the Lac Lemans, the flower fields with cows, the Dents du Midi peak, Jura mountains etc. In the winter though, the probability of dense clouds hiding the sights is high.
From there you can walk down the mountain to a train stop and then catch a ferry to Chateau Chillon.
Lausanne or Montreux: going out
While Montreux doesn’t have much going on outside of the festival, Lausanne, being a student city, offers a fair number of historic pubs, sports bars, wine bars, and breweries.
Many of the happening places concentrate around Place Benjamin Constant and the Flon quarter, an old warehouse area now a fashionable and lively district.
Examples of popular places for a drink include the Great Escape (an English pub with many expats), Happy Days (many other bars around it), Cafe Restaurant l’Etoile Blanche (a classic Lausanne hangout), and Brasserie Artisanale du Chateau (self brewed beer),
Lausanne or Montreux: lodging
If traveling in the off-season, including in May, you can easily find lodging in the Lausanne/Montreux/Vevey area without having to make reservations ahead of time. The tourist information booth can help you find a place to stay, including special season discount.
The following are a few hotels travelers frequently recommend in Montreux:
- Hotel Suisse-Majestic: 4-star hotel located across the street from the train station. The lake-facing rooms offer nice views since the building sits on a small hill.
- Hotel Splendid: 3-star hotel, also close to the train station, and also with good lake views. Rooms not facing the lake overlook the busiest street in Montreux though.
- The Eden au Lac: a highly-praised 4-star hotel with Art Deco design, located right on the lakeside promenade. A 10-minute walk from the train station. Great balcony with an incredible view over the lake, large bathroom, very comfortable bedding, friendly and helpful staff.
- The Rene Capt: directly on the promenade but further along the lake towards Chillon than the Eden. Not as well situated than the Eden for walking to restaurants etc.
- The Royal Plaza: 5-star hotel. With the Eden and the Splendid,, the most central in town. The decor is more modern and business-like.
- Hotel Helvetie: affordable, located on the main street within walking distance of the train station, great rooftop patio.
- Hostellerie Bon Rivage: 3-star hotel in La Tour-de-Peilz between Vevey & Montreux. Right on the lake, bus stop in front, 15-min walk to the train station. Offers the Riviera Card for free buses.
- The Majestic: convenient as it’s opposite the train station, but not directly on the promenade like the Eden or Rene Capt., with a busy road separating it from the lake.
- Hotel Masson: in Montreux-Veytaux close to castle Chillon. Highly recommended.
- Hotel des Trois Couronees: in Vevey, lovely and affordably priced
- Villa Toscane: 5-minute uphill walk from the train station, across the street from Lac Leman. Great superior rooms
- Villeneuve campground: great option during the festival, clean, peaceful, good location, cycle path around the lake to Chillon and further. Easy public transport to Montreux up the lake.
The following are a few recommended places in Lausanne:
- Beau Rivage Palace: in Ouchy on the lakefront. Easy metro ride to and from the town center. Metro Pass offered by the hotel.
- Lausanne Palace: 5-star hotel with nice spa, central location near Place Saint-François
- Ibis Lausanne: quite affordable for the area. Simple but clean, functional. Free Metro Pass provided. 10-min ride by tram to the lake, 5-min walk to the city center, restaurants, and shops.
- Alpha Palmiers: 4-star, easily accessed on foot from the train station (though partly uphill)
- Mirabeau: slightly further than the Alpha from the train station but a flatter walk, great restaurant.
Lausanne or Montreux: day trips
Lavaux, a beautiful vineyard area between Lausanne et Vevey, is a very popular day trip from either Montreux or Lausanne. There are very nice villages to visit including Lutry, Cully, St-Saphorin, Rivaz. You can catch a train to Vevey, then change to Chexbres. You can also take the Lavaux Express or the Lavaux Panoramic.
From Montreux, the Chocolate Train takes you to the Gruyeres cheese factory and the Cailler chocolate factory in Broc.
From Montreux, visitors often take the 1h 45 min scenic train ride to Gstaad in the Berner Oberland green Prealps, stopping in one or more charming smaller towns like Chateau d’Oex, Rougemont, and Saanen.
(1) Featured: “Lausanne” (CC BY 2.0) by kewl
(2) “Montreux 2009” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Edsel L
(3) “Lausanne” (CC BY 2.0) by Carl M
(4) “Maceo Parker concert” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Olivier Bruchez
(5) “Montreux” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by IMBiblio
(6) “Lausanne-10” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by BrentOzar
(7) “Lausanne” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by IMBiblio
(8) “Montreux” (CC BY 2.0) by Rolander23
(9) “Lausanne” (CC BY 2.0) by Christine und Hagen Graf
(10) “Lausanne – Jardin” (CC BY 2.0) by rodpedja