The Alpine city of Annecy is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful in France. Located in the Haute-Savoie region in the south east of France, this good-looking town sits at the tip of an aquamarine lake of the same name, Lake Annecy, surrounded by the snowcapped French Alps.
Truthfully, there are so many things to do in Annecy – from paragliding and learning to free dive to excellent restaurants and a charming old town – that it’s worth staying here at least a few days, if not longer.
But, if you’ve only got time for an Annecy day trip then this guide will at least give you a feel for the city – and persuade you that you have to come back! Annecy is a small city and easy to get around so you can easily see the main sights in one day. The two main areas are the Old Town and Lake Annecy.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Annecy Mountains for the day. All opinions are entirely my own. This post may contain affiliate links. I have been or could be if you click on a link in this post compensated via a cash payment, gift or something else of value for writing this post. See our full disclosure policy for more details.
Things to do in Annecy
Table of Contents
First things first, you can’t sightsee on an empty stomach so start your day trip to Annecy with a good breakfast. There are plenty of restaurants in the town of Annecy to choose from but some favourites include La Ramoneur Savoyard that serves delicious stacks of pancakes. It’s a particularly good option if you are visiting Annecy with kids.
La Buvette du Marché is a popular local option and the place to enjoy a traditional French breakfast basket of baguettes and croissants in Annecy’s Old Town.
Annecy Old Town
Breakfast done, it’s time to start your day tour of Annecy and where better to start than the Vieille Ville, the old town. Often called the ‘Venice of the Alps’ owing to its three canals, all lined with bright flowers, the town is unbelievably pretty.
Wandering the cobblestone streets is easily the best way to enjoy the old town. The narrow roads are lined with pastel-coloured houses many of which are now restaurants or souvenir shops, although don’t be fooled into thinking the neighbourhood is just for show, this is still very much a living and working community.
On Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays a market is held in the old town. Tuesdays is a food market with stalls filled with local meats, cheeses and produce.Fridays and Sundays sell local produce plus all manner of other goods including clothes and textiles.
If you’re keen to learn more about the history of Annecy then I can highly recommend a walking tour with Emmanuelle Roch, who is an excellent tour guide. Knowledgeable and entertaining she’s is also well skilled at telling you enough but not too much!
Shops in the Old Town
There are some lovely shops in Annecy Old Town. Le Tetras sells beautiful traditional Savoyard pottery, Rose des Neiges is a tea room and chocolaterie, and there are lots of brocante (antique) shops. You’ll also find lots of stores selling local Haute-Savoie cold meats and cheeses.
On the last Saturday of the month a flea market takes place in the Old Town where up to 200 stalls sell everything from ceramics and cheeses to antiques, paintings and even ski kit!
Palais de l’Île
The streets get busy from late morning so your best bet is to arrive early and avoid the crowds. The most recognisable building is Palais de l’Île, a 12th-century building that was once a courthouse and prison. It sits on on and island in the middle of the canal and is today a museum.
From here head up to Château d’Annecy, the former home of the counts of Geneva. It later became army barracks and during WWII provided shelter to homeless families. Today it’s an art museum but even if you don’t go inside, it’s worth a walk up to the castle for the views over the town’s terracotta rooftops. Although it’s worth noting that you’ll have to buy a ticket for the museum even if you just want to go to the terrace and snap panoramic pics.
Don’t miss a visit to Le Glacier des Alpes while here, this is the oldest ice cream store in town.
Pont des Amours
Once you’ve finished exploring the old town, walk to the Pont des Amours (Lover’s bridge) is a picture-perfect bridge by Lake Annecy. A wooden bridge stood here originally followed by a cast iron bridge and then the riveted steel arch bridge that you see today. Legend has it that if you kiss someone on this bridge you will be united for life, so choose wisely! Even if you don’t pucker up, however, it’s a great spot for snapping photos of the lake.
Jardins de l’Europe
The Pont des Amours connects Pâquier Esplanade and Jardins de l’Europe, the European Gardens.This grassy space on the edge of the lake is the ideal spot for a picnic lunch or simply a stroll. If you’re only spending the day in Annecy then skip the picnic as you’ll want to enjoy lunch on the lake instead. A sculpture exhibition was taking place when we visited.
Annecy’s star attraction is its beautiful lake. Le Lac d’Annecy is the third largest lake in France and is famous for its clear blue waters, the cleanest of any lake in Europe. This is where the majority of Annecy’s outdoor activities take place and there are myriad water-sports to choose from including swimming, stand up paddle boarding, sailing, water-skiing and diving (including free diving).
A cycle path runs for 50km alongside Lake Annecy, following the old railway track that connects the city to Albertville. Even if you don’t want to cycle the entire length of the track, a bike ride is another good way to enjoy the lake.
Bikes are available to hire near the lake (near the Pont des Amours) including tandem bikes, electric bikes, and cargo bikes for families. Bcyclet also have children’s bikes for hire; the require a minimum two-day hire unless you hire one of their guides for the day (or half-day). Cycle Classic Tours is another bike rental option and Roul’ Ma Poule is another. Although you will see plenty more bike rental options around.
There are also hiking, mountain biking, canyoning, ultra running trails and via-ferrata opportunities. Annecy is also one of the best places to learn paragliding – some 150,000 flights take place here every year. Try Flyeo.com, Airmax Parapente or Annecy Adventure.
Lunch on the lake
If you want to enjoy the lake but don’t want to exert yourself (you are on holiday after all) then taking a boat from Annecy to the other end of the lake, known as Petit Lac d’Annecy (Little Annecy Lake) where you’ll find a handful of restaurants including Chez Ma Cousine. We enjoyed a lovely lunch here watching the paragliders sail over the lake.
There are various ways to reach this end of Lake Annecy including driving but I really recommend travel by water. This is by far the best way to see and enjoy all that the lake has to offer. Public boats run the length of the lake or you can hire a private transfer (a water taxi).
As you glide along the turquoise waters you’ll pass enormous mansions and luxury villas lining the northeastern shore of the lake. This is Annecy-le-Vieux, a residential area and the 4th largest city in the Haute-Savoie department. You’ll also spy Château de Menthon-Saint-Bernard, a medieval castle overlooking the lake that’s said to be the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. You can visit on a guided tour.
Diagonally opposite the pontoons where water taxis pull up on the lake is the Imperial Palace, a four-star hotel. If you want to stay in Annecy, then this luxury hotel with views over the lake is the place to treat yourself.
Lake Annecy’s Beaches
There are a number of beaches dotted around Lake Annecy’s shoreline, some are free and some you pay for. The following are some of the best.
If you like you’re after a little bit of luxury then book a day at Moon Beach, near the Imperial Palace. You have to pay but there are slides, diving boards, sun loungers, a bar and more.
Saint Jorioz is a great option if you are visiting Annecy with kids. Located opposite the Dents de Lanfon and the Tournette mountain, there’s a diving board, children’s paddling pool, pontoons and games including volleyball and pétanque.
Talloires is another good option for families. With a large grassy area, a diving board and a slide there’s also a paddling pool for kids. It’s supervised by lifeguards during summer months too.
Menthon-Saint-Bernard offers plenty of shade plus showers, toilets and a snack bar. There’s also a swimming area for kids.
For more beach ideas see here.
Lake Annecy accommodation
Admittedly this is just supposed to be a guide to spending the day in Annecy but chances are you will want to come back and when you do, you’ll need somewhere to stay. The map below shows your best option for hotels and holiday rentals in Annecy.