No Car? No Problem! There’s a Better Way to Explore the Olympic Capital

By Samuel Miller
English Museumwine

Nothing makes you appreciate punctuality and efficiency like the absence of it.


Landing bleary eyed in Geneva on an overcrowded and very much delayed flight I was really not looking forward to yet more travel. Despite having lived in Switzerland for several years, it had been a while since I had used the SBB CFF FFS the respective German, French, and Italian acronyms for the Federal Rail Service matching the 3 primary Swiss languages. I was also new to the area; I had never spent much time in Switzerland’s French speaking region, had never flown into Geneva airport, and didn’t speak French. All in all, it seemed that my trip was off to a bad start.

Thankfully, I could not have been more wrong. For those of us that live in countries that are not Switzerland, and therefore not blessed with one of the most convenient, safe, and punctual public transport systems on earth, it’s a bit of a revelation. Exiting the plane, the SBB app identified my location as Geneva airport and told me that my next train to Lausanne was in 15 minutes. In any other city that might make me worry, but like Zurich’s airport, Geneva’s rail station is directly under the terminal, just past the baggage claim. Clear signage guides you there, and escalators take you directly to each track. Without any hurry, I was comfortably settled into a plush 1st class seat with precisely seven minutes to spare.

The 1st class cabin was quiet and cozy and with a big comfy seat I was expecting to spend the hour-long journey to Lausanne taking a nap. The scenery, however, had other plans. Pulling away from Geneva’s main station, vineyards surrounding impeccably maintained chateaus rolled past on my left, while on the right Lake Geneva sparkled in the soft hazy light. It felt a bit surreal floating through it all on the silent train.

Le Lavaux / © Samuel Miller
Despite the hazy day, the view over the Lavaux terraces was breathtaking. / © Samuel Miller

The journey passed far too quickly, and in no time we were pulling into Lausanne. Due to a delayed plane, I was already running late for a scheduled lunch and wine tasting at a vineyard in the heart of the Lavaux, UNESCO world heritage wine country, a short ride from the Lausanne station. Fortunately, the Grandvaux train station is just a few meters from the Croix Duplex winery and 15 minutes after first arriving in Lausanne I was looking at a breathtaking view over Lake Geneva and the Lavaux terraces with a glass of wine in my hand. I just had to laugh at how absolutely amazing my day had been so far. Where else can you go from Airport terminal to a vineyard terrace 80km away, in just over an hour using only trains?

After a lovely chat with Maude Vogel, the third generation winery owner, and several glasses of her excellent wine, I headed back towards the city, excited to get to my hotel because it would mean a ride on Switzerland’s only metro system. This might not sound too exciting, but when was the last time you went into a metro that Despite the hazy day, the view over the Lavaux terraces was breathtaking had a sloping floor? That’s right, Lausanne is so hilly that some of the metro stations are inclined! It was a short ride to my hotel which was right at the end of one of Lausanne’s beautiful bridges, overlooking part of the old city and the cathedral. The metro stop was beneath the bridge, so elevators carried us up to the street level and voilá; I was checking into the Swiss Wine Hotel and picking up my free city transport card.

Lausanne, Place de l'Europe / © Samuel Miller
Many of the city’s metro stations have green roofs (and great views!) / © Samuel MillerLe Lavaux

Even though you could walk everywhere if you wanted to, the Lausanne Transport Card is super helpful because those hills can get quite tiring. Lausanne, like the rest of Switzerland, is a city that is very much dedicated to being clean and green. Many of the metro stations feature living roofs planted with flowers and much of the city’s above ground transport network are the characteristic blue and white electric trolleybuses. They even came up with an ingenious plan to keep the pigeon population under control by having official city roosts. With plenty of food and shelter high above the city, the pigeons don’t need to make a mess in cafes or all over the beautiful bridges like in other cities.

In addition to the free Lausanne Transport Card, I also had my Swiss Travel Pass which gave me free access to over 500 museums in Switzerland, and dozens in Lausanne. With such an amazing opportunity in my hand, I spent the next two days of my trip exploring as many of the city’s amazing museums as I could. In fact, while I had wanted to end my last day with a boat cruise on the lake (also included in the Swiss Travel Pass), the weather wasn’t particularly nice, so I instead headed back to MUDAC, Lausanne’s art and design museum, a second time to see one of the coolest exhibitions I’ve ever seen on perfume! Each room has a different method of communicating complex scents and teaching you Many of the city’s metro stations have green roofs (and great views!) how to identify individual elements of a perfume. This special exhibit runs until June 16th, and since it’s an interactive experience it can be enjoyed by kids as well. 

MUDAC Museum / © Samuel Miller
Each room in MUDAC Museum has a different method of putting perfume on display-litterally ! / © Samuel Miller

It was truly a masterpiece of curatorship, and just one example of a city that has clearly put considerable effort and investment into the arts and culture. There is no better example of this than the new Platform 10 initiative to create a new arts district near the beautiful art-nouveau train station. The opening is scheduled for October of this year, and I’m already looking forward to coming back for it.

But of course no trip to Lausanne is complete without a visit to the Olympic museum. As the Olympic capital, the city is full of references to the games and to the spirit of ‘Olympism’ they promote. The 2020 Youth Olympic games will even be hosted here. The Olympic museum itself is much more than a place to see memorabilia; it’s almost a pilgrimage site, a monument dedicated to the Olympic ideals of combining sport with culture, education, and international co-operation.

Musee Olympique / © Samuel Miller
Mobile of Olympic virtues / © Samuel MillerLausanne

I arrived by bus, stopping first by the neighboring Musée de l’Elysée, a former chateau converted into an excellent photography museum, before walking across to the Olympic museum. The top floor Each room in MUDAC has a different method of putting perfume on display—literally! TOM Cafe serves an excellent buffet brunch with a panoramic view of the lake. Families and friends from all over the world were enjoying the food, and the atmosphere was lively, congenial, and international, a small microcosm of the Olympic values.

Musee olympique / © Samuel Miller
© Samuel Miller

The modern museum has interactive multimedia exhibits taking visitors through the history of the ancient Olympics, the 19th century revival by Pierre de Coubertin, and many of the individual elements of the modern games, such as the torch, the opening ceremony, and the Olympic Village. It’s an impressive museum that truly manages to convey the spirit and ideals of ‘Olympism,’ rather than just the history of the games, in an interactive way that people of all ages can enjoy.

Musée Olympique / © Samuel Miller
Interactive exhibit on the Olympic toch / ©Samuel Miller

The modern museum has interactive multimedia exhibits taking visitors through the history of the ancient Olympics, the 19th century revival by Pierre de Coubertin, and many of the individual elements of the modern games, such as the torch, the opening ceremony, and the Olympic Village.

It’s an impressive museum that truly manages to convey the spirit and ideals of ‘Olympism,’ rather than just the history of the games, in an interactive way that people of all ages can enjoy.

Parc du musée olympique / © Samuel Miller
The Olympic Museum parl was full of families enjoying the early bloom of tulips. / © Samuel Miller

The Olympic Museum parl was full of families enjoying the early bloom of tulips. / © Samuel MillThis was perfectly illustrated by the new special exhibit ‘We are Olympians, and you?,’which dives into the emotional and ethical side of being an Olympian in a very real and genuine way that is often overlooked because of their ‘hero’ status.

It was really something special to hear Michael Phelps talk about his struggle with depression, or see examples of paralympians overcoming incredible physical battles. The exhibit also dealt directly, and non-judgmentally, with issues of doping and cheating, letting athletes who are trying to come back from such scandals tell their stories. It was a refreshing and well curated exhibit that did an excellent job cutting through the image and media storms that surround these international figures, portraying them as real people with real struggles.

Walking towards the metro through the Olympic museum’s beautiful park, itself an artwork full of famous sculptures and blossoming tulips, I thought a bit about some of the things that make Lausanne such a wonderful city, and such a great destination. It’s a bit of a cliche, but the city really does have something for everyone, whether you like design, nature, viticulture, history, gastronomy, sports, architecture… the list goes on. And the best part of all this is that’s it’s so incredibly easy to access, even for families!

If Lausanne is your final destination, then you can get along fine with the Lausanne Transport card, free at most hotels, which will give you 30-50% discounts at almost all of the city’s major museums along with free access to all the metros and buses. It’s also a great choice for families with children, since you can exchange the card for a ‘Travel Diary’ at any of the official info points around the city. This gives kids a didactic, educational, and fun course through Lausanne with different places to visit, questions about what they have seen or read, drawings to do, etc. It’s definitely a way to help alleviate some of the stress of family vacations, and keep everyone learning, entertained, and happy.

But if your travels will take you further into Switzerland, then adding a Swiss Travel Pass is frankly a no brainer. Being able to just hop aboard any train, bus, cablecar, or boat simply takes all the worry and hassle out of your journey. Get on the wrong bus? No worries, just enjoy the scenery and the chance to explore, then hop out at the next stop. The addition of the Museum Pass is icing on the cake; just walk into over 500 museums, flash the pass, and go enjoy. It’s as easy as that.

Gare de Lausanne
©Samuel Miller

Continuing your journey into Switzerland? Look forward to breathtaking views along the lake, especially at sunset.