There are plenty of things to do in Annecy, the capital of the Haute-Savoie department in Eastern France. The city is blessed not only with a charming old town but also with some of the most extraordinary scenery in all of France. A delightful combination of medieval France and Alpine heritage.
Occupying a position between the crystal clear waters of Lake Annecy and the snow-capped mountains of the Alps, Annecy immediately reinvigorates the senses. The crisp fresh air and glorious panoramas capture the true essence of life.
Floral-lined banks and idyllic bridges add to the allure of Annecy all while overlooked by majestic scenery. After just a couple of hours walking these streets, it is clear why Annecy is often referred to as the “Pearl” or “Venice of the Alps”.
In addition to being beautiful, Annecy bills itself as the European capital of outdoor sports. With such a splendid environment, the cleanest lake waters of Europe and the surrounding mountains their claim is fully justified. Enjoying one or more of the countless outdoor activities on offer must be top of the list of things to do in Annecy. It surely must be one of the healthiest and active towns throughout France.
Boasting natural riches and a strategic location, the shores of Lake Annecy were originally occupied by Gallic tribes such as the Allobroges until their defeat by the Romans in 62 BC. It remained a Roman colony until the 10th century.
In the 10th century, Annecy became the home of the Counts of Geneva before passing to Savoy in 1401. In 1434 Annecy became the capital of Savoy, which at the time was an independent duchy.
Annexation by France
During the French Revolution of the 18th century, Savoy was conquered by neighboring France, but later returned to the King of Sardinia just a couple of decades later in 1815.
After ping-ponging back and forth, in 1860 under the terms of the Treaty of Turin, the Duchy of Savoy was fully annexed by France. The last Duke of Savoy, Victor Emmanuel II, in return became King of Italy.
On its return to French rule, Annecy became the capital of the Haute-Savoie in the French region of Rhone-Alps. With the advent of industrial development during the 19th century, Annecy became a center for silk manufacturing.
Following the opening of a railway line in 1866 and its proximity to winter ski resorts, Annecy’s reputation as a center for tourism grew considerably. With the opening of the Fine Art Museum in 1956 and the introduction of the Animated Film Festival first held in 1960 Annecy became a cultural center as well as a major tourist attraction.
Things to do in the area
1. Wander through the Old Town
Walking the narrow cobbled streets of the old town of Annecy (possibly with an icecream) is a must. The charming streets make the perfect destination for a mid-afternoon stroll shopping in the many boutiques and sampling the many products of the Haute Savoie region.
The medieval center of Annecy boasts colorful facades, charming houses, and narrow pedestrian cobbled streets similar to the nearby historic centers of Colmar and Strasbourg. The Thiou river crosses the city creating riverside vistas and pleasant quays home to quaint cafes and restaurants.
2. Cycle around Lake Annecy
Boasting over 25km of cycle paths principally along its western shore a cycle around the Lake is a hugely popular activity. Just watch out for steep climbs to the roads on the eastern side around the villages of Veyrier du Lac and Les Champs.
3. Stand on the Pont des Amours
As charismatic and seductive as this old town is, the true wonder of Annecy is the lake itself. Standing on the Pont des Amours (bridge of lovers) looking south, the beauty of the lake envelops you as it stretches miles into the distance. The pristine waters of Europe’s purest lake shimmer with the reflections of mountains and verdant hillsides.
4. Try Water sports
Unsurprisingly, Annecy is a hugely popular water sports destination with sailing, rowing, wakeboarding, and water skiing all prominent activities.
This region is one of the world’s leading locations for paragliding. The views over the lake and mountains together with those provided by nearby Aiguille du Midi must be the best in France.
Annecy is also home to an annual swimming gala attracting several hundred participants each August offering races over 500m, 1,000m, 2.4km, 5km, and 10km distances.
5. Visit the Palais de l’Ile
Look out for the photogenic Palais de l’Ile 12th century castle standing on its own island in the river Thiou. Serving as prison and courthouse until the French Revolution and classified as a Historical Monument in 1900 the Palais de I’Ile today is home to a local history museum and open all year round.
6. Try some chocolate
Annecy is also known for its chocolatiers. If it wasn’t for its status as Europe’s capital of outdoor sports visitors would no doubt leave with an expanded waistline!
The most famous local variety being ‘Roseau’, a glittery dark chocolate finger filled with fruit liquor.
☞ READ MORE: French desserts that are too blissful for words
7. Relax by the Water
Annecy also offers one of life’s simple joys – the opportunity to relax and kick back on a beach, soaking in the sun as well as crisp, fresh lake air.
There are many beaches or grass areas on the lakeshore to find your spot and take a well-earned break. Coupled with the opportunity for a boat tour of the lake or options to rent a pedalo or small motorboat and you have the recipe for an ideal few hours.
8. Eat some cheese
Raclette can be ordered at a restaurant. Typically, a large wheel of cheese is placed in front of a bespoke heater and the melted cheese periodically scraped on to diners plates. This heavenly French winter meal is traditionally enjoyed with family and friends over potatoes, dried meats, gherkins, and pickled onions.
☞ READ MORE: All about French Cheeses
9. Enjoy the local wine
Wash it all down with local white wines such as Apremont and Roussette. Made predominantly from the local Jacquere grape these wines are typically light and dry with floral overtones.
☞ READ MORE: Easy Guide to the French Wines
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Annecy?
At an altitude of 446 meters, Annecy sits proudly on the northern tip of Lake Annecy in the east of France.
Overlooked from the east by snow-capped mountain ranges of the Alps the Swiss city of Geneva is just 35 km to the north. Lyon, France’s 3rd largest city 150 km west.
How to get to there?
With its eastern location and proximity to Switzerland and the Alps, Annecy is somewhat detached from the remainder of France. (You can read more about visiting the French Alps here.)
By train: Gare d’Annecy does offer a high-speed TGV service reaching Paris in around 4 hours and other direct lines to major cities of Lyon and Grenoble.
By plane: International visitors are able to reach Annecy via the nearby Geneva, Lyon, and Chambery airports.
By car: Annecy lies near the A41 linking Geneva to Grenoble in the south.
How many days should you spend here?
As active as Annecy is, the principal joy of this town is to absorb its nature, incredible scenery, and reinvigorate. This is not a town or area you want to rush in to or around. In order to fully appreciate the history and unique natural qualities spend at least 2 days.
How easy is it getting around?
Annecy is not a town that requires a car to enjoy. If anything, relying on a car will cause more frustration as you find yourself in one of many jams, particularly to the western shore and access to the A41 highway. See here for more about driving in France.
Cycle paths make it simple and pleasurable to explore lake side destinations and small neighbouring villages.
When is a good time to visit?
Annecy is undoubtedly at its best during the spring and summer months when the natural riches are at their most abundant. This is when outdoor sports are most prevalent and the lake is awash with activities.
However, Annecy has a full calendar of events that help make this an all year round destination:
● January: Stand up Paddle Boarding gala
● March: Carnival of Annecy
● June: Lake Annecy triathlon
● August: Lake festival celebration of Annecy including one of Europe’s biggest firework displays attracts 200,000 spectators. In addition, there is the Nordic Festival with roller skiing for biathletes and cross country skiers.
● September: Lake Annecy half-marathon.
● December: Fair of Saint Andre dating back over 5 centuries 1,100 traders covering over 5km attracts tens of thousands.
☞ READ MORE: The Best Carnivals in France (including Annecy)
Annecy is one of the most photogenic towns in France and so attracts large numbers during peak periods. To make the most of your visit do book accommodation and some activities as far as possible in advance or consider shoulder season such as late spring or early Autumn.
Avoid driving as much as possible as the one-lane lakeshore roads do fill very easily. Make the most of the cycle paths and walkways. You will be far more relaxed out in Annecy’s undeniably fresh and clean air. And don’t forget to look out for the famous markets held in the center of Annecy on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday mornings.
Bon voyage and à bientôt !
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