Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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A real family town, Lausanne with kids is a fun way to experience true Swiss hospitality with French flair. Known as the Olympic Capital, Lausanne is a city by the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland with a thriving university and hilly pedestrian old center. My great-grand-father lived in Lausanne and I visited him quite regularly with my family at his Swiss cottage house. I now visit Lausanne with my girls and I’ve shared with them my favorite childhood activities, as well as new things that fit my interests.
With a great public transit system to get around, you will find that Lausanne is very easy to explore on foot and you can go most anywhere with a bus, a metro or a train.
Top honors go to the Olympic Museum Lausanne, the clame to fame of the city. Indeed, Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, lived most of life in Lausanne and created the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne in 1915. He even purchased a large plot of land by the shores of Lake Geneva to house a permanent site for the Olympic Games. This is where you find the stunning Olympic Museum, surrounded by landscaped and terraced gardens, with killer views on the French Alps beyond the lake.
Featuring multimedia presentations (archive opening ceremonies are a hoot), Olympic outfits, Olympic figures and interactive exhibits, this museum is a great place to spend half a day with children. The Olympic Museum Lausanne compound also includes an Olympic-themed playground in the gardens (yes, an Olympic rings jungle gym), a cafe and public restrooms.
From the Olympic Museum, you are very well positioned to enjoy the second most popular sight of Lausanne–Ouchy.
Ouchy (pronounced “ooshee”) is the busy port of Lausanne and a vibrant lakeside area complete with hotels, cafes, public parks and the ferry terminal. Kids will be much more interested in the awesome wooden climbing structure next to the Chateau d’Ouchy. It’s best for older children and offers a full workout for energetic kids. A few steps away, the merry-go-round is another crowd-pleaser open in the summer and for a full Ouchy experience, you should explore the nearby fountains and the boat marina.
To skateboarders, Lausanne is the European San Francisco where you metro up and skate down steep streets but if you want to avoid foot traffic, Vidy is the place to be. All skate lovers end up at Vidy’s skatepark and even legend Tony Hawk visited a few years back. Bring the kids and watch the acrobatics performed there or if the kids want to have a go, set them loose at Vidy or at nearby Vallee de la Jeunesse (longboard favorite).
Vidy has a lot more to offer besides skateboarding, including a great lake path (stroller/bicycle friendly), grassy lawns to picnic or play ball, lovely beaches, the amazing Bellerive swimming pool complex (summer), roman ruins and even a miniature train that you can ride on.
What would a Swiss trip be without chocolate? When I was a kid visiting my great-grand-father, I always knew that we would walk up to the Place Saint-Francois and push the door of Blondel, the famous chocolate shop, for chocolate treats. Blondel still ranks as the best chocolate maker in Lausanne and when I take my girls to the old-fashioned shop (it’s really quaint and small), they spend “hours” looking at chocolate slabs (they call them “hammer”) with various ingredients, truffles and pralines, and the heavenly fruit pastes.
Another outstanding chocolate maker is Chocolatier Durig (Ouchy) which serves fair trade organic chocolates. You will find delicious chocolate usual suspects as well as ice cream.
Note that if you opted for Blondel, you are minutes away from the next stop–the old town mechanical clock.
Clocks are such a huge part of Swiss heritage that they are everywhere. However, this one is a special treat for kids as it rings every hour (9am to 7pm) with a procession of figurines set the musical chimes. You will find it Place de la Palud in the pedestrian Old Town, by the 17th century city hall. The cobbled square is a picturesque spot to sit down and enjoy the musical show and the dark wood miniature city on the wall is a fun sight for kids. If you understand French, you can listen to the narrator tell the story of the canton de Vaud while the figures go by.
From here, climb a few streets and cross a bridge to reach the cathedral.
Dominating the city, the Lausanne Cathedral is a 12th century Gothic cathedral that’s well worth a tour when you’re in the Old Town. The largest cathedral of all Switzerland, it is free to visit, houses the largest organ of Switzerland (it’s a beautiful musical instrument) and is decorated by amazing stained glass windows. Walking down the ailes is a serene and humbling experience and kind of a throwback in time, as you would easily picture medieval crowds on a spiritual day.
Fun fact: every day, a town crier yells the time from the top of the highest tower between 10pm and 2am, a tradition that dates back to 1405. “C’est le guet, il a sonné dix, il a sonné dix…”, goes the town crier in the night.
Lausanne’s version of a science museum is a small but fun building in the Vallee de la Jeunesse called Espace des Inventions. It features science-themed exhibits with explanations in French, English and German, as well as hands-on experiments and live demonstrations. Note that most of the text is in French so you may have to rely on watching other kids to complete the experiments. The photo above is from the Medieval Inventions exhibit, where my girls (and interested adults) got to try their hand at a printing press and a trebuchet as tall as they were.
The basement level houses workshops and restrooms.
Move over, old paddleboats! Paddleboat slides are one of the best ways to enjoy Lake Geneva if you have a swimsuit. Very simply put, you can rent boats from a fleet of paddleboats with slides on top and a ladder at the back.
Every year, my girls look forward to renting a paddleboat slide at the port of Ouchy, to spend an hour sliding in the lake every which way. They start feet first, because it feels safe, and venture hands first, then on their backs, etc. I always swim around the paddleboat to be in front and help them (if needed) after plunging in the lake.
You can rent such paddleboats at Ouchy and Vidy, as well as in numerous lakeside cities in Switzerland.
It takes barely more than half an hour to reach France from Lausanne by ferry boat. How about that? From the port of Ouchy, you can board ferries that cross the lake to either Evian (of mineral water fame) or Thonon. In Evian, take the kids for a free ride up up the mountain on a cablecar, visit the Palais Lumiere or explore the Source Cachat (the one and only spring where the famous Eau d’Evian comes from). Once you’re done, hop on the ferry back to Lausanne and enjoy the views on both coasts from the boat.
Mon-Repos is an 18th-century public park built around a mansion in a residential part of Lausanne. The mansion used to be the home of Pierre de Coubertin and was the first location of the International Olympic Committee. Mon-Repos is now largely a recreational park and features a Gothic revival tower and grotto, an indoor swimming pool complex, exotic bird collections in cages and play areas scattered around the grassy lawns. It’s a green haven in the city and offers a quiet respite to enjoy a green escape under majestic trees.
What would your kids like to do in Lausanne? Let me know in the comments.