Smaller but livelier than its better-known neighbour Geneva, the French-Swiss town of Lausanne — or Lousanna, as this area was named in Roman times — is an old city kept young by its significant student population. Halfway along the north shore of Lake Geneva, it thrives in summer, when the lakefront throngs with sunbathers and outdoor terraces spring up all over town. From now until the end of September, Lausanne Estivale (lausanne.ch/lausanneestivale) presents 450 free concerts and events all over the city. On 1 August, Lausanne celebrated Switzerland's national day with various festivities including a fireworks display by the lake.
Get your bearings
Lausanne cascades down a hill from the medieval Cité at the top to the shores of Lake Geneva at the bottom. The centre is a muddle of cobbled streets, pretty squares and 17th-century houses, while just below sits the busy thoroughfare of Rue Centrale and the regenerated warehouse quarter Le Flon, once a riverbed, (it was filled in 1874) and now packed with bars, shops and restaurants. Residential streets tumble south towards the pretty lakefront district of Ouchy, housing Lausanne's marina and the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee.
The m2 metro line gets you swiftly from top to bottom, with the train station halfway down. All hotel guests receive a free Lausanne Transport Card valid for free travel on metro, bus and train services. The city has two tourist offices (lausanne-tourisme.ch; 9am-7pm daily), one in the train station and the other by the Ouchy metro station.
Take a hike
Start your walk in the oldest part of Lausanne, the Cité, a fourth-century hilltop refuge which, by the Middle Ages, had grown into a highly prosperous town. From the cathedral, walk down the Escaliers du Marché, a 13th-century covered wooden walkway built to link the town's two markets.
On the lower half of the walkway (it's divided by Rue Pierre-Viret), the 16th-century buildings to the right are some of the prettiest in town. Occupying one is Le Barbare, a café/restaurant serving Lausanne's best hot chocolate. From here, take Rue Mercerie into Place de la Palud, a pretty cobbled square with the 17th-century Town Hall distinguished by its steeply sloping roof and gargoyles, plus the town's oldest fountain, Fontaine de la Justice. Time your visit to watch the mechanical clock by the fountain whir into life for its hourly animation describing the history of Canton Vaud. On Saturday mornings, the square and surrounding streets host a colourful market.
Walk down Rue du Pont, across Rue Centrale and up the hill into Place Saint François, with its medieval church. To the left is Rue du Bourg, where the city's well-heeled lived during the 17th and 18th centuries. Its elegant buildings are now filled with designer boutiques and high-street shops.
Lunch on the run
The popular Bleu Lezard at Rue Enning 10 (bleu-lezard.ch) serves contemporary Swiss-French dishes including beef tartar and perch filet. At Sfr19 (£12), its lunchtime dish of the day isn't bad value for Switzerland.
Big brands, modern art and vintage goods are found in the renovated warehouses of lively Le Flon, while the pedestrian streets around the Town Hall and Place Saint François house high-street names and independent shops. Find local edible specialities at La Ferme Vaudoise at Place de la Palud 5 (lafer mevaudoise.ch) and fine chocolate at Blondel at Rue de Bourg 3 (chocolatsblondel.ch), which also does extremely good chocolate ice cream. Note that most shops are closed on Sundays.
Dining with the locals
A Lausanne institution on Place Saint François, Café Romand serves Swiss specialities including fondue, rösti and choucroute in a traditional brasserie setting. For more summery fare, grab an outside table at Le Nomade at Place de L'Europe 9 (restaurantnomade.ch), which offers light, contemporary dishes such as duck breast, pan fried with strawberries (Sfr40/£26) and avocado ice cream (Sfr8/£5).
Go to church
Lausanne's 13th-century Gothic cathedral (Monday to Friday 7am-7pm, Saturday & Sunday 8am-7pm, closes 5.30pm in winter) is the largest in Switzerland. Sitting on a plateau in the medieval Cité, it overlooks the town centre and the lake beyond. Improve the view by climbing the 225 steps of the belfry. Sunday morning service starts at 10am.
Out to brunch
Below the train station in Grancy, Café de Grancy on Avenue du Rond-Point 1 (open from 10am on weekends) is a popular meeting spot. Brunch (set menus from £10) includes Swiss Bircher muesli, pancakes, salmon tartar and cooked breakfasts.
A walk in the park
West of Grancy, the Montriond Ridge is a landscaped hill formed by a glacial moraine. The botanical gardens are here (botanique.vd.ch; daily 10am-6.30pm May to October, free) with 6,000 plants. Walk to the top of the hill for views of Lake Geneva and the Alps.
Take a ride
Take the No 2 bus from Place Saint François or via the m2 metro line (one-hour ticket Sfr3.50/£2.30, day pass Sfr8.80/£6) to Ouchy station. Ouchy, a former fishing village, is the place to stroll along the shore or sunbathe. Ferry services run by the Compagnie Générale de Navigation (cgn.ch) depart from Place du Vieux Port to various destinations around the lake.
Home to the IOC and myriad international sporting associations, Lausanne proclaims itself the "Olympic capital". The Olympic Museum at Quai d'Ouchy 1 was built by the IOC in 1993. It was renovated last year for £36m and is now a slick exhibition space reached through a landscaped "Olympic park". Its permanent exhibition mixes memorabilia, archive footage and video interviews.
Icing on the cake
Take the No 9 bus from Place Saint François to the village of Lutry. From here, it's a short (but steep) stroll into the vineyards of Lavaux (lavaux.ch), one of Switzerland's oldest wine-making regions and a Unesco World Heritage Site. A scenic path extends as far as Montreux, with wine cellars often open for tastings on the way. Caroline Bishop/The Independent