From the Pont Des Amours to the Annecy Castle - I created a list of top five things you absolutely must do while visiting Annecy! Going to France and wondering whether to include Annecy in your trip? I think you should because there's quite a lot to see and do in this gorgeous little historic town.
Here's what you have to see and do in Annecy -
- The Love Bridge - Pont des Amours
- Gardens Of Europe - Jardins de l'Europe
- Palais de l'Ile
- Wandering the streets of Old Town Annecy
- The Annecy castle - Chateau d'Annecy
I actually arranged these in the order in which you should be seeing them - as I'll share with your our own self-guided walking tour of Annecy too.
Our trip to the French Alps included a day spent in this lovely medieval town. We had a terrific time there. Everything aligned: The perfect weather, the beautiful lake and river and the vibrant town streets. Having a plan helped too, and so basically I'm sharing here the list and notes I had prepared in advance to answer my own questions about what to do in Annecy.
Annecy lies between lake and mountain in the most beautiful setting imaginable. It's the largest city in the Haute-Savoie region in France yet it's only 35 km (22 miles) south of Geneva. If you're coming in an international flight, you will actually be flying into Switzerland.
Annecy is sometimes called "Venice Of The Alps" because the river Thirou runs through the town center in two canals. The town is rich in history and has been the seat of regional powerful families for the past 600 years or so. Currently, about 50,000 people live in Annecy, so it's large enough to provide pretty much anything you may need. That said, the historic city center is surprisingly small and can be easily explored on foot.
So, What To Do In Annecy?
The items in our itinerary are organized as a route, so you can literally follow in our footsteps if you like. Here's the Google map I prepared.
And if you're having trouble viewing the Google map above, here's a screenshot that should be easier to follow -
First things first: Parking!
As I said, Annecy is small enough to be explored on foot. You can just park your car and leave it for the day. That's why the first item on my itinerary is the parking lot.
We parked our car in the Town Hall parking lot by the lake. The name in French is "Parking Hotel de Ville" and the address is: Quai Eustache Chappuis, 74000 Annecy. It only costs us a few Euros which we paid on our way back in. It's a huge parking lot that spirals down through five levels. We arrived at 10AM and the top four levels were already full. Try and get there earlier if you can.
Consider paying a visit to the Tourists Office
You can skip this one if you'd like and move on to the next spot. With the Annecy tourists information center being just a couple of minutes away from where we parked, I preferred popping over and grabbing a couple of local maps. The address is: 1 Rue Jean Jaurès, 74000 Annecy. The office is inside a large shopping center and once you enter you can't miss it.
And now, finally, to some actual sightseeing!
The Love Bridge - Pont des Amours
As you walk over to the park from the tourist information, you cross the famous Love Bridge. A stunning location for utterly romantic pictures with its delightful canal of crystal clear green water. If you need a place to propose on your day in Annecy, this is it.
Gardens Of Europe - Jardins de l'Europe
Crossing the Love Bridge gets you right into the Gardens Of Europe.
Don't let the formal name deter you, there was nothing "formal" about the gardens. Trees, some lawns, a promenade by the lakeside and that's it. The sunny weather drew out crowds of French families and they all seem to be enjoying picnics in the shade of the trees. We joined them for a leisurely half an hour spent on the grass eating our sandwiches.
I'd consider this one a small city park more than anything. Which isn't a bad thing at all - just look at the view!
Palais de l'Ile
Annecy town center is surprisingly small. Just cross the road from the gardens and you find yourself immersed in the old medieval town. Cafes are everywhere as are ice cream shops. We had our first ice cream of the day right across from the Palais de l'Ile.
The Palais de l'Ile is an old prison building located right in the middle of the river. Inside you can find a museum. It was closed when we were there and as you can see the palace was being renovated. It should be ok now and open for visitors.
Here's the exact address if you want to go there directly: 3 Passage de l'Ile, 74000, Annecy, France
I can't find their official website but according to TripAdvisor, their current opening horus are Wed - Mon 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM.
Wandering around the streets of Old Town Annecy
Narrow streets overflowing with tourists and colorful old buildings gave the area a nice vibrant feel. We had time before visiting the castle, so we basically wandered around aimlessly, soaking up the atmosphere and taking pictures -
The Annecy castle - Château d'Annecy
A short - but steep - walk from the old city gets you to the castle.
They're closed between noon and 2PM which fortunately I read about ahead of time. Not sure I would have enjoyed climbing up the hill twice...
We got there on time, just past two, and stood at the ticket window for a good ten minutes watching someone in the office sorting brochures at the back. Maybe they were trying to make a point about not being as punctual as the Swiss? Finally, someone decided to acknowledge the queue of tourists outside and sold us entrance tickets.
There were two displays inside the castle. The first was a rather interesting exhibition about local nature and culture. Four floors of varied exhibits, from live lake fish in aquariums to local prehistoric relics. Almost all of it was in French with no version in English which was a bit of a disappointment as it seemed very interesting.
Next, we visited the art galleries in a separate building within the castle yard. It was an eclectic art collection with quite a lot of modern art. All in all, the castle did not provide a medieval experience which was what we had hoped to gain. It is a nice place to visit if you know French and are interested in local fauna and natural history or modern art.
Overall, it was a good visit. If you go there, make sure you get as high up as you can in the castle building for a great view of the rooftops of Annecy -
You may notice that I added CITIA to our map. I had seen recommendations for visiting this place yet I confess, it took me awhile to figure out what CITIA actually was.
Now that I know what it is, I'll try and explain.
Annecy is - among other things - the location of an annual international festival for animated movies. CITIA is the home of the festival and overall a project promoting animated movies. They have a visitors center there where you can learn about movie animations and I thought this might be a nice place for us to visit.
We ended up not going there. It was a surprisingly hot day and by the time we finished visiting the castle we didn't feel like walking another mile to get to the CITIA or anywhere else. We opted instead to spend more time in the old town, this time sitting down in a cafe for delicious ice coffees and chocolate milkshakes.
How much time should you spend in Annecy?
The above list pretty much sums up Annecy for most visitors. It can take you anything between an hour to a day to go through everything, depending on whether or not you go inside museums and how fast you are. A well-balanced itinerary would look something like this -
- The Love Bridge - Pont des Amours - 15 minutes
- Gardens Of Europe - Jardins de l'Europe - 1 leisurely hour (including a small picnic on the lawn)
- Palais de l'Ile - 1-2 hours
- Wandering the streets of Old Town Annecy - 1 hour + 1 hour for lunch
- The Annecy castle - Chateau d'Annecy - 2-3 hours
In total, if you arrive at 9AM, you'll probably be on your way again by 4Pm which could work well if this is part of a trip exploring the French Alps.
What else can you do in the area?
The above list sums up what you can do within the town of Annecy itself. If you have a car, the one place you really shouldn't miss out on that's very near Annecy itself is Gorge Du Fier.
Gorges du Fier
Don't miss out on this stunning walk inside a fierce canyon. Drive for 15 minutes from Annecy and you'll reach this family-friendly easy walk on a hanging trail along the sides of the canyon that gets you close to roaring streams and waterfalls. I'll let our photos do the rest of the talking.
It's easy to get to Gorge Du Fier. You buy your tickets at the entrance at a reasonable 5.70 Euro for an adult (3 euro for children aged 7-15 and free for those under 7) and enter to walk along the canyon. There's even a lovely little kiosk at the entrance where you can get a cold drink or ice cream after your tour. The entire visit should take between an hour to an hour and a half, so this is a perfect activity to combine with a day of sightseeing in Annecy itself.
Want to explore even further around Annecy?
Annecy is located in a fabulous region. Half an hour to the north, you'll find Geneva and several attractive Swiss towns. About a hour's drive to the east and you'll get to the Mont Blanc, the heart of the French Alps. Go south and you'll find three stunning French National Parks within an hour of driving time. Or perhaps head west and visit the historic city of Lyons. The possibilities are endless.
There are great options literally in every direction, within any driving range. You can absolutely find a nice little country hotel or villa to stay at in the Annecy area and use that as a base to explore the regions for several days.
Just go there. It's such a picturesque historic town and the views are incredible in every direction. Our favorite thing to do was neither the castle nor any other specific point. It was just the sense of "being", strolling the streets and blending in the happy crowd, getting an ice cream, enjoying a cold drink in the park and admiring the turquoise river and lake.
Have you visited Annecy? Would you be adding it to your list of places to go to? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below! And please help me spread the word and inspire others by sharing this post. Here are a few Pinterest images you can use for that -