An Unforgettable Day in Annecy: how to get there and things to do
September 8, 2019
by Vinita Menon
While travelling on the forty-five-minute bus ride from Geneva to Annecy, I didn’t really know what to expect. It was a spontaneous half-day trip I’d booked for myself during a long holiday in Switzerland and all I knew was that I was crossing over the Swiss border into a tiny French city that was famous for its pretty landscape and medieval chateau. Little did I know that I would stumble upon a hidden gem that would be the highlight of my entire trip.
How to get to Annecy
A small alpine town in southeastern France, Annecy is easily accessible by road or rail from mainland France, and parts of Switzerland and Italy. The closest cities to travel from are Lyon (1 hour and 45 minutes), Geneva (1 hour) and Turin (around 3 hours).
I’d booked myself onto a guided half-day bus tour to Annecy (Viator has good ones with informative tour guides), leaving from Geneva at 1 in the afternoon. After walking around beautiful Geneva in the morning, I made my way to the pick-up point near the train station. A quick round of introductions and pleasantries between the tour guide and the small group of tourists later, we were on the road.
From Geneva, Annecy is less than an hour’s drive away along the picturesque A41. While it may look like it, Annecy is not just a pretty holiday town. Thousands of locals travel to Geneva and back every day for work, preferring the 2-hour drive time over leaving their hometown for the big Swiss city.
Once you cross over into France the landscape quickly changes from the wide 2-lane highway to narrow roads flanked by trees and beautiful stone buildings. For me, the most unforgettable part of the journey came a little after we entered the city and the bus took a turn to reveal the spectacular Lake Annecy. A large expanse of crystal clear blue-green water flanked by the peaks of the French Alps, it looks almost otherworldly. Like a utopian painting come to life.
Things to do in Annecy
You can go to Annecy with a set list of things to do or just get there and explore the town on foot, which is what I recommend. However, here is a list to get you started, and one you can comfortably cover in a day’s time:
A short hike to Château d’Annecy
Take a walk through the old town and up a moderately challenging steep cobblestone path to the beautiful château in the centre of the city. Originally a castle built between the 12th and 16th centuries for the Counts of Geneva, the château was acquired and restored by the city of Annecy as recently as 1953. Part of it houses the Museum of Alpine Popular Art and the Alpine Lakes Regional Observatory. Once you’ve explored the château, step out onto its terrace and take in the beautiful and unforgettable sight of the old town below – on one side, winding lanes and charming houses with sloping roofs and on the other, a glimpse of the azure Lake Annecy.
Entrance fees are €5.50 for adults and €3 for children. Check the opening hours before you visit as they change through the year.
A photo op at the Palais de l’Ile
‘The house in the shape of a ship’ as it’s most popularly known, the Palais de l’Ile – ‘Island Palace’ – is one of the most photographed sites not only in Annecy but all of France. This historic building, parts of which date back to the 12th century, was built on a natural rocky island in the middle of the Thiou Canal. The monument has had a long and interesting journey, from being a prison, a courthouse, a centre for administrative functions, a school and now finally an art and history museum. Surrounding the palace are some of the best restaurants and pubs in town. If you have the time, I strongly urge you to just walk along these lanes, dipping in and out of the smaller alleyways. It is the best way to discover the lesser-known cafés and stumble upon the cutest shopfronts you will ever see!
Entrance fees are €3.80 for adults and €2 for children. It’s open all year round, from 10:30 AM to 6 PM.
Kiss your love, or find a new one, at Pont des Amours
What’s the big deal about a footbridge you ask? The favoured meeting point of star-crossed lovers for decades, this is where you come to sneak in a lucky kiss against a glorious backdrop. If like me you’re travelling solo, the vistas alone will make you weak in the knees. The perfect spot to get a view of the canal, lake, mountains and the city all at the same time, a walk across the bridge is mandatory for the unmissable photo ops.
The magnificent Lake Annecy
The lake. Where do I even begin? To say it is beautiful is a gross understatement. Sparkling blue, against the backdrop of green Alpine slopes, and people swimming, paddling and floating around in the shallow water. The most memorable part of this trip for me was the hour I spent sitting on the edge of the lake, just staring at the view in front of me. There is a continuous walking path around it that starts from the edge of town and leads into the city centre. Along the way, there are wooden ladders leading straight into the water and you can just jump in and take a cool dip on a summer day. Or like me, just sit, ice cream in hand, grateful to just be there.
If you want a relaxed day in Annecy with a short list of things to do and still have time left over for a freewheeling saunter around this gorgeous city, this is a good itinerary to begin with. While it’s beautiful all year round, it really comes alive in the summer.
Thank you, Annecy. You have my heart.