Our visit to the French Alps in May included a day spent in the medieval town of Annecy. 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 today I’m sharing here the list I had prepared in advance to answer my own questions about what to do in Annecy.
Annecy, France: Some Background
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 so 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.
What To Do In Annecy
These are the items I had on my Annecy itinerary. I’m going to provide you with an overview, some practical details and our own impressions as well. Hopefully, this will help you plan your own trip to this magnificent town. 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. Click here to open the map in Google Maps.
1. First Stop: 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.
2. The Tourist 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!
3. The Love Bridge – Pont des Amours
As you walk over to the park from the tourist infomation, you cross the famous Love Bridge. A stunning location for utterly romantic pictures with this delightful canal of crystal clear green water. If you need a place to propose on your day in Annecy, this is it. 😉
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Wandering 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 at leisure, soaking up the atmosphere and taking pictures –
7. The Annecy castle – Chateau d’Annecy
A short – but steep – walk from the old city gets you to the castle.
They were just waking up from their lunch break or something. 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 in 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 fairly 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.
You may notice that I added CITIA to our map. I had seen recommendations for visiting it and 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.
So, what should you do in Annecy?
Just go there. It’s a lovely town and the views are incredible. I think visiting this town is less about going through a “What to do in Annecy” checklist and more about soaking in the atmosphere and syncing with the town’s relaxed yet vibrant rhythm.
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, eating out 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!