Things to do in Annecy, France
Updated: Aug 13, 2020
There are so many gorgeous places to visit in Annecy in the French Alps and we found it a great place to travel with kids with plenty of open green spaces and fun things to do. The variety of activities will suit the needs of the whole family with the options to hike in the mountains, swim or tour the glistening lake by boat, discover castles or simply meander through the old medieval town or shop til you drop.
Annecy has all this to offer as well as amazing food and some pretty cool Chateaus dotting the lakes edge as well.
Annecy Accommodation - best place to stay
We had originally booked an Airbnb for our Annecy stay but unfortunately our host was a no show so we were left stranded and unable to get into our accommodation.
Whilst initially annoyed we did manage to find what turned out to be a better option and booked into the nearby Novotel Annecy Centre Atria for a very enjoyable family stay.
For families the Novotel Annecy offers double rooms with a fold out sofa bed for kids and the rooms are clean, modern and comfortable. Breakfast is included and was great quality and enjoyed by all. Take a look at the Novotel and search for dates via this direct link.
The Novotel is located directly behind the train station so an easy 5 minute walk away and although not in the old town is a super quick walk to everywhere you need to go - within 350 metres.
After spending a night in the old town on our last evening (after our host finally contacted us) we would actually recommend staying out as there was a lot of issues with loud music and noise in the old town which meant we didn't get a great nights sleep at all.
How long to spend in Annecy
I recommend spending at least three or four days in Annecy to really appreciate the beauty of the area. Allow a day for hiking and exploring in the mountains, a day discovering the villages and swimming spots around the lake and then a day in the old town as a good starting point for the key things to do.
Top Things To Do (with or without kids) in Annecy
1. Take a boat cruise on Lac du Annecy (Lake Annecy)
The jewel of the area is Lac du Annecy, a crystal clear glacial lake with tiny villages dotting the shoreline on both sides. A boat trip is the best way to take in the grandeur of the lake with the towering mountains and intriguing castles. Photos do a much better job at showing how pretty this place is.
The best way to see Annecy from the water is hopping on board the local ferry service that does either a short sightseeing tour or a longer ferry service that stops at all the small villages in the area. The boat trips also include commentary to give you some background info on all the historical aspects of Annecy so are great to gather some additional insight into the place.
We opted for the ferry so we could hop on and off for a day of sightseeing but you should be prepared to plan your itinerary and stick to your times. The service is fairly infrequent and may need to be combined with some local buses to get between points.
You may also decide to rent your own private boat to do some sightseeing. For a motorised version visit Nautilac Annecy where you can hire small motor boats.
Alternately take the slow paced option and hire a paddleboat for some family fun.
2. Stroll through the Old Town and Visit Annecy Monuments
Annecy’s old town is a compact and gorgeous collection of laneways and pretty coloured buildings all set on the canals feeding from the lake. The town is often referred to as the Venice of the Alps for obvious reasons.
The most prominent building in the old town is the Palais de I'lle, shaped like a boat and jutting out into the mouth of the river. This historic monument dates back to the 12th century and over the decades has been used as a prison, courthouse and administrative centre. You can visit the Palais de I'lle for a small entrance cost.
It will only take you a couple of hours to take in the main sights of the old town but you will want some extra time to stop and eat at some of the bars and restaurants or look through the art galleries and interesting shops.
If you would like to experience Annecy with the help of a knowledgeable guide to help understand the history consider booking a guided walking tour via this link.
Another place to visit in the old town via a short, steep walk (100m) is the Musee Chateau d'Annecy. With many different lives and transformations the Castle is now used as an art museum and has a lovely hilltop location behind the old town, overlooking the lake.
3. Visit the Annecy Produce Markets
Annecy old town hosts regular fresh produce markets which are a feast for the senses and a hive of activity for both tourists and locals. The markets are stocked full of beautiful fresh vegies and fruit as well as many French delicacies and meat products.
The kids loved the interaction with the local stall holders and checking out all the weird and wonderful foods on offer.
The markets are free to visit and are held every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday morning between 7am to 1pm in the main street of the old town. The Tuesday market is a lot quieter than the Friday and Sunday markets which include textiles and local manufactured goods as well as the produce.
4. Visit the Lakeside Villages of Talloires and Saint Bernard
My favourite village near Annecy was Saint Bernard which has a quaint little main street with some great bakeries and cafes, and pretty lanes of houses with farm animals in the side yards.
If you feel like stretching your legs there is an interesting walking trailing up behind the village, through pastures to the Chateau de Menthon Saint Bernard.
With some claiming this castle was the inspiration behind Disney’s Sleeping Beauty you will find an imposing and striking building especially if viewed with the looming mountains back dropped behind which is the view you get as you walk up to it!
From the walking trail you also get amazing views back over Lac du Annecy and towards the southern French alps as an added bonus. If you want to visit the inside of the castle you need to check out their website for opening times as a family does reside in the castle but opens its doors for set visiting hours and holds costumed events at certain times.
Another village well worth a day visit is Talloires which is a boutique high-end spot to visit but has a wonderful beach area with sprawling green lawns, a diving board and slippery slide into the lake. It’s a beautiful spot to laze away some hours in the sun taking in the surrounding scenery and when it’s time to leave you won't find a prettier lakeside jetty overflowing with spring flowers.
Keep in mind that if you head to any of the smaller villages many of the businesses will shut down through the middle of the day so it is best to take your own picnic and snacks as finding something around lunchtime proved a little tricky on a couple of occasions for us leaving us with hungry and worn out kids.
5. Hiking Annecy
On the western banks of Lake Annecy is Le Semnoz offering great hiking opportunities in summer. With lovely elevated views back over the lake and accessible trails that are perfect for hiking with kids this is a great option for things to do in Annecy.
Transportation over the summer (outside ski season) was very limiting during our stay. Your best bet if you dont have a car would be to organise a driver for the day as private transportation is best to this location.
6. Shopping in Annecy
For a small place Annecy offers some great shopping with a decent shopping mall and village promenades packed with clothing stores, gifts and homewares. The type of shops caters really well to high-end shoppers down to your bargain hunters.
Inside the old town you will also find some quirky and interesting souvenir shopping to remember your trip by.
7. Swimming in Lac Annecy
You wouldn't often associate the French alps with swimming but Annecy is a perfect spot for a summer holiday and there are so many swimming pools (as they are called in Europe) set up on the lake shore for the whole family to relax and splash out for some fun.
I have already mentioned Talloires which has a super pretty beachfront and grassy park area but another fun spot for a family swim is at Imperial Beach which can be walked to from the old town in about twenty minutes. Crystal clear waters and views to inspire the most jaded traveller best sum up this location on the lakeside. Also within the complex is a playground, table tennis and a large kids wading pool - perfect for littler kids.
Hire yourself some inflatable tubes and float away your worries whilst you soak in the alpine beauty….
8. Relax in Jardins de l'Europe
This waterfront garden overlooking the lake and mountains is really lovely and a great place for a stroll or a picnic. Let the kids run wild or play at the awesome playground and in summer time enjoy long, lazy afternoons under a shady tree.
To extend the walk a little wander over Pont des Amours and head clockwise around the lake.
Geneva to Annecy
A large number of travellers arrive to Annecy from Geneva as we did and the route is well serviced by public transport options if you prefer to not rent a car.
The fastest and most economical transport option is to catch one the FlixBus which provides direct transfers in under 1 hour.
You can also catch regular trains from Geneva but they go via Aix les Bains so can take double to triple the amount of time.
If you are short on time but want to squeeze Annecy into a day trip from Geneva, check out this tour option to experience the best of Annecy.
I hope you love taking your family to Annecy as much as we did.
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