Last Updated on 12th April 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
The Venice of the Alps is a beautiful and vibrant destination that will thrill sun seekers and winter sports lovers alike. Easy to visit and explore whatever the time of the year you choose to visit this eastern French destination, here’s your guide to the best things to do in Annecy, as well as some top travel tips to know before you go.
- Where is Annecy?
- What is Annecy known for?
- Getting to Annecy
- Best things to do in Annecy
- Where to stay in Annecy
Where is Annecy?
Annecy is located in eastern France, in a French region known as Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. This region was only formed in 2016 when the former regions of Auvergne and Rhône Alpes were combined following an administrative shakeup that saw smaller historic regions combined to create larger super regions.
Some of the closest towns and cities of note include Lyon and Geneva (in Switzerland). Annecy itself lies alongside the aquamarine Lake Annecy and acts as a gateway to the Savoie area, a speck of France well-known for its dormant volcanoes, hiking trails, and delicious cheeses (this is where Beaufort and Abondance both come from).
What is Annecy known for?
Annecy is best associated with its eponymous nearby lake, Lake Annecy. Around almost every turn in the town itself, visitors will soon discover a beautiful medley of medieval buildings, pastel hued houses, stunning landscapes, and plenty of greenery.
Conservation efforts over the past five decades mean that Lake Annecy boasts some of the purest lake water in Europe, making it a popular getaway for young families. During fall, the changing of the leaves alongside the blue lake make this one of the best fall destinations in France.
The town has garnered itself the nickname ‘Venice of the Alps’ thanks to its abuncance of waterways which course between its streets and add nothing but charm and intrigue come day or night. Indeed, the Vieille Ville (old town) has more waterways than it had roads!
Getting to Annecy
Annecy is well connected via a complex train network from the rest of France and so is served by direct trains from Paris, as well as a a few other French cities. The closest airport to Annecy is in Geneva and so it is most practical to fly to Geneva, Switzerland, before travelling to Annecy via train.
Best things to do in Annecy
Without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Annecy is simply to stroll around the town without a destination in mind and allow the picturesque settlement to reveal itself to you.
After all, Annecy does not have a lot of must-see attractions and instead functions as something of an open air museum, where the true sights to behold are the historic buildings and waterways.
Allow yourself at least two to three hours during your time in Annecy to simply wander around the little streets. True nature lovers will also want to set aside some time to go on a hike close to Lake Annecy where nature is tangibly close and the scenes are picturesque no matter what time of year you visit.
Like many historic European towns, Annecy is best explored on foot (much of it is pedestrian only) and so comfortable walking shoes are an absolute must.
Cobbled lanes are fairly common and so you’ll want to ditch the high heels and opt for flats instead! For a greater insight into Annecy, consider booking a walking tour like this one.
See the canals
While wandering around the town, you’ll soon be able to enjoy Annecy’s many waterways. The water in the canals of Annecy find their source from the waters of the River Thiou. At just 3.6 km in length, this is actually one of the shortest rivers in France!
Cathedral of Saint Pierre
Like most cities in France, Annecy boasts an impressive cathedral, and this one is dedicated to Saint Pierre (Saint Peter in English). Constructed in the 16th-century, this free to visit building (though donations are always welcome) is a fine example of Renaissance architecture.
Palais de l’Île
If you look up any photo of Annecy, then no doubt you’ll soon come across snaps of Palais de L’Île. This mesmerising building looks like it’s been plucked straight out of a storybook and is actually a former castle and prison that has since been transformed into a history museum.
Perched in the very middle of the Thiou Canal and shaped like a ship, this structure dates all the way back to the 12th-century. By the 14th-century the turreted edifice was in use as a prison, though it has also been used as an administrative centre and even as a mint during its eight centuries of history.
Today, the museum operates as a history museum showcasing the building’s many uses over the years. As of 2023, entrance to the museum costs €3.90 for a full-priced ticket and the museum is open from Wednesdays through to Mondays (it’s closed on Tuesdays).
Yet another former Palace turned museum is the Château d’Annecy, which towers above the rest of the town. Constructed between the 12th and 16th-centuries, the resulting complex is a beautiful blend of medieval architecture meets romantic Renaissance elegance.
Visit today and you’ll be able to discover more about the history of the town and the lake. There is also a contemporary art museum, as well as changing exhibitions throughout the year.
The view from the château is also worth mentioning and provides an interesting and unique vantage point of the town, Lake, and surroundings (so be sure to bring your camera along!)
Pont des Amours
Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque spots in Annecy, the Pont des Amours is literally translated into English as ‘Lover’s Bridge’. Local legends suggest that if two lovers kiss in the middle of the bridge then they will stay together for life!
Regardless of whether this is true or not, it’s worth noting the bridge connects the European Gardens to the Pâquier park. It is a particularly special place to head to if you want gorgeous views as one side offers vistas of the town, whereas the others showcases views of the lake.
Go for a sail on Lake Annecy
Even if you don’t feel like getting your feet wet by paddling or swimming, a great way to get another perspective of Lake Annecy is by going out for a sail. There are several options when it comes to cruising the lake.
Renting a pedal boat is one of the most fun ways to enjoy the water if you’re travelling with friends. For a little more money, you can rent a no permit boat or even take a sailing lesson. Another popular option is to join a boat tour like this one.
Beaches of Lake Annecy
There are several beaches scattered around the shoreline of Lake Annecy. The closest to the town is Plage d’Albigny which is situated a stone’s throw away from the casino.
Its proximity to Old Town Annecy means that it can become really crowded (particularly during the summer). On Bastille Day, this is a great spot to watch the fireworks from.
Another beach worth checking out is the Plage Des Marquisats, which boasts crystal clear water that’s perfect for a quick dip. This beach is best reached on foot from Annecy as there isn’t very much parking available close by.
Frequent the market
Though many cite dining out as the crown jewel of a visit to France, I would actually say that it’s the access to fresh and local produce such as freshly picked vegetables, ripe cheese, and locally sourced fruits.
Nowhere is this quite as apparent as at the French Market. In Annecy, Market day happens three times a week; on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, from 7 AM to 1 PM. So whether you’re staying in self-catering accommodation or simply want to pick up some supplies for a picnic, be sure to check out the market during your stay in the city.
If you’re looking for a special souvenir to remind you of your time in Annecy, then Rue Sainte-Claire is the place to head to. This busy shopping street is crammed with boutiques and restaurants and is the perfect spot to mooch around if you’re looking for chocolates, books, or other small gifts.
Jardins de l’Europe
As well as its great proximity to plenty of nature, Annecy also boasts a number of green spaces, and one of the most popular spots in the city is Jardins de l’Europe (the Gardens of Europe). This charming space boasts features such as statues, mountain views, and is a great spot for a picnic!
Where to stay in Annecy
Thanks to its year ’round popularity, there is no shortage of places to stay in Annecy for almost every taste and budget. Just be sure to book your accommodation well in advance so as to secure the best rates (especially in the high season, i.e. summer). Here are some of the best places to stay in Annecy based on web-reviews and location:
Budget: This hostel is located around a kilometre from the centre of town and is 2 kms from Annecy station. Amenities include Wi-Fi and parking. Check prices and availability here.
Mid-range: Clean and just what you want from a mid-range hotel, this no-frills three-star hotel is conveniently situated close to the Château d’Annecy. Rooms have air conditioning and baggage storage is available. Check prices and availability here.
Luxury: For the crème de la crème of accommodation during your time in Annecy, be sure to check yourself into this five-star hotel which is located in the residential Annecy-le-Vieux neighbourhood of the city. Amenities include a spa, pool, and parking onsite. Check prices and availability here.
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Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She currently splits her time between Paris and London. Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.