The Cité is Lausanne’s historical quarter, and the location of small typical bars, craft shops and the town monuments where mediaeval alleys take you on a discovery of Lausanne’s history. Shall we?
The mediaeval town of Lausanne was built around the Cité Hill, bordered by the Flon and Louve rivers. When you explore the small mediaeval streets of this area laden with history, you’re bound to encounter one or another of the town’s emblematic monuments. The Château St-Maire (St-Maire Castle), headquarters of the Cantonal Council, is located on the north side of the hill and has recently been renovated. It cannot be visited, but its architecture is worth a detour. A few hundred metres from there, you can’t miss Lausanne’s most famous monument: the Cathedral. Considered one of the most beautiful monuments of Gothic art in Europe, it overlooks the town. Inside, you can admire the Rose, a magnificent stained-glass window representing the seasons, signs of the zodiac and other symbols we’ll let you discover. You can also climb to the top of the Cathedral’s belfry and enjoy the 360° view over the whole of Lausanne.
Right by the Cathedral, stop to contemplate the Ancienne Académie (Old Academy), first graduate school for Protestant and French-speaking theology in Europe. This imposing building now houses classrooms. And finally, going up (for the more energetic) or down the Escaliers du Marché, a wooden covered stairway, is a must-do for all visitors. It allows you reach the Place de la Palud from the Cathedral Esplanade.
Looking for a museum? The Cité is also the ideal spot. Around the Cathedral, you will find the Mudac – Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts – a unique museum that rethinks modern art. A few hundreds of metres away, the famous Rumine Palace houses the cantonal museums of archaeology, fine arts, geology, zoology and the medals’ cabinet.
An idea to entertain your children during the holidays or the afternoons? The Petit Théâtre, located just next to the Cathedral, offers a varied programme of theatre and shows tailored to the young.
The alleys of the historical centre are also a great area to discover small boutiques. La Sonnette, for instance, transports you into its universe thanks to a selection of objects and works by contemporary creators, but also its gallery and boutique offering vintage books and pieces of furniture. Enter the small world of the Attribut d’Iris at the Rue Mercerie: decorations, plants and objects of all sorts. You won’t walk out empty-handed, that’s for sure! In the same street, take a look at the Laboratoire fashion design, a small fashion laboratory that sells creators’ clothing and accessories, and la Marelle, a mecca of children’s toys. At the foot of the Cathedral, the Ecritoire design is a small design stationery shop where you’re sure to unearth some pretty findings.
For book lovers, the Gasterea bookshop, at the Rue Cité-Devant, offers books on gastronomy, oenology and gourmet literature. And if you venture in the area of the Escaliers du Marché, stop for a while at the famous bookshop La Proue.
Hungry after all that legwork? Head towards the Café de l’Evêché to eat a delicious cheese fondue or taste their famous hot chocolate. The crêperie La Chandeleur, Rue Mercerie, is the place to go for a wide choice of pancakes, and the restaurant Le Vieux-Lausanne offers Scandinavian and French cuisine. If you’re tempted by Italian food, Il Ghiotto awaits you a stone throw from the Cathedral, and for a typical brasserie, Lausanne people meet up at the Pomme de pin.
Fossils are hidden at the foot of a building on Rue Cité-Devant, just behind the old fountain. Would you like to go and search for them?
The Festival de la Cité, an outdoors festival that takes possession of the neighbourhood every summer for a few days, offers concerts, food stalls and many other activities. Not to be missed!
And, especially, the Cathedral’s Watch, who calls out the time to Lausanne inhabitants from 10 pm to 2 am from the belfry. This 600-year-old tradition lives on to this day. For night owls, know that it is possible to make an appointment with the watch, so that you can meet him and discover Lausanne’s panorama by night.
Stepping down the Escaliers du Marché, do take a look at the façade on your right. At the bottom of the stairway, next to the Restaurant le Grütli, is the oldest privately owned house in Switzerland. It is said to be there since 1340-1341.
The Cité also offers many hidden corners, squares or parks where you can enjoy a break. Whether at the Rue Cité-Devant, on the Esplanade in front of the Mudac or on the left going down the last fleet of stairs of the Escaliers du Marché, small green areas allow you to relax and rest your legs, so you’re ready for the remainder of your day.