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Castles and canals: What to see and do in Annecy

Annecy in France

It turns out that I’m a fickle traveller – less than a year after I decided Strasbourg was my new favourite French spot, I’ve already defected and lost my heart to Annecy. It must be something about the canals as both places are set around a network of waterways. But as well as having a perfectly preserved old town with historic buildings and canalside cafés, Annecy also throws in a turquoise lake and stunning mountain scenery. It’s not somewhere with lots of famous sights to visit, but rather somewhere perfect for a bit of aimless wandering, eating and drinking. The town’s compact size means you can easily spend a few hours exploring then relax for the afternoon on the lakeside beach or in one of the restaurants along the water’s edge. So here are some of my favourite things to see and do in Annecy.

Boats on Lake Annecy

Boats lined up on the lake shore at dusk

Meander around the canals

Annecy’s old town – or Vieille Ville – has more waterways than it does roads, all surrounded by pretty, pastel-coloured buildings. The water comes from the River Thiou, which at only 3.5km long is one of Europe’s shortest rivers, connecting the River Fier to Lake Annecy. But what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in scenic surroundings. The river splits and rejoins around the old town, creating islands linked by arched bridges, which are draped in flowers over spring and summer. A network of narrow streets and passages take you past turreted castles, quirky shops and a seemingly endless number of gelateria to get your ice cream fix. There are also plenty of cafés and restaurants, most of which have tables lined up along the riverbank to soak up the sun. It’s somewhere to go wandering, get lost and see what you can discover.

Annecy canals

Pathways along the water’s edge in the old town

Climb up to the castle

Built on a hilltop, the Château d’Annecy towers over the town, so you’ll burn off that gelato on the climb up to the top. The castle was built as a residence for the Counts of Geneva from the 13th to 16th centuries, but was later damaged by fire and abandoned. Eventually it was turned into a barracks before being bought by the town after the Second World War and restored back to its former glory. Now it’s used as a museum with a couple of different sections – one with local furniture, sculptures and art, and the other with exhibits about the people and wildlife living around the lake (entry costs €5.50 for adults or €3 for under 25s). Don’t miss the castle’s terrace with a fantastic panoramic view down into the old town and out across the lake.

Annecy Castle

Inside Annecy’s Castle

Set sail on the lake

France’s third largest lake, Lake Annecy is known as the blue lake, and you can definitely see why when the sun hits its clear water. It’s Europe’s cleanest lake (though I wouldn’t advise drinking it) with the water coming from snow melting in the Alps. There are walking and cycling paths along the edge of the lake, as well as sandy beaches in the summer. But one of the best ways to see the lake is to get out on the water. Between February and December, a one-hour boat trip takes you on a circuit around the lake, past pretty lakeside villages and an island castle, backed with snowy mountain peaks (€14.20 for adults and €9.60 for children aged 5–12). From spring to autumn there are also longer two-hour cruises and a shuttle between the lakeside villages, as well as lunch and dinner cruises onboard the MS Libellule.

Boat trip on Lake Annecy

A boat cruise on Lake Annecy on board La Belle Etoile

Fill up at the market

There’s something about French markets, with their huge piles of colourful vegetables and pungent smelling cheeses. And Annecy’s has one of the best locations, along the bridges and narrow streets of the old town. Markets are held on Tuesdays, Fridays and weekends, selling fresh local produce from fish to flowers. You can check out the local specialities, and if you want to buy the stallholders will usually let you taste first. Well worth trying are the tasty salami-style sausages made with flavours like mushroom, goats’ cheese and hazelnut, as well as the creamy reblochon creamy cheese, used in mountain dishes like tartiflette. And if you’re in town on the last Saturday of the month, there’s also a big arts, crafts and flea market.

Annecy market stall

Annecy market stall

Get sent to prison

Right at the heart of Annecy’s old city is the Palais de l’Île – the town’s most famous and photographed building. It was built back in the 12th century on a triangular island between two forks of the river. It looks like a miniature castle but has actually been used as a mint, a courthouse and a prison over the years. Today it’s home to a small museum about local history and architecture, but is best appreciated from the outside. Take a walk through the old town at night too and you’ll see it all lit up. Lights in the canals shine upwards and the turrets at the front of the Palais are lit from inside so the whole place glows in the dark.

Annecy's Bastille by night

Annecy’s Palais de l’Île by night

Have you ever been to Annecy? Do you have any other must-sees to add?

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What to see and do in the pretty French lakeside town of Annecy – including old town walks, castles, lake cruises, beaches and markets.

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43 Comments

  • Reply
    Wilbur's Travels
    April 3, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Looks wonderful Luce. I have put it on my list on the strength of your post. When you went to Strasbourg did you do the Alsace Wine Route? All fab, but Riquewir was our fave village. Wilbur

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 3, 2015 at 4:12 pm

      Thanks Wilbur, that’s great to hear – and sure you won’t be disappointed! I didn’t have chance to do the Alsace Wine Route last year in Strasbourg but am hoping to go and visit that area soon (next year if not this one), looks beautiful and I can’t resist a good drop of wine.

  • Reply
    raastha
    April 3, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Very nice Luce. I am fond of the canals lined up with cafes. Your post also reminds me of the flee market in Luton. Now, I know know another place. Tnx.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 5, 2015 at 7:15 pm

      I love the canalside cafes too, so nice to sit and have a drink in the sunshine and listen to the water flowing by.

  • Reply
    Rachel A Davis (@vagabondbaker)
    April 3, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    Gorgeous Lucy! Great photos, I’ve had friends rave about Annecy and this post supports everything I’ve heard! I love a good hike up a hill to a castle or fort and then a mooch around a market: yes, Annecy is the place for me!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 5, 2015 at 7:17 pm

      Thanks Rachel, it definitely sounds like your sort of place then! I really loved that it had a few things to do but not so much that you felt like you had to be sightseeing all the time and could relax and be lazy too!

  • Reply
    revoche
    April 4, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    I was lucky to pass through Annecy once and always meant to go back. You have reminded me.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 5, 2015 at 7:18 pm

      Hope you do get to make the return trip one day!

  • Reply
    Vlad
    April 5, 2015 at 8:02 am

    Well who could blame you, Lucy? Annecy looks gorgeous and your photos really make me want me to go, I love towns with canals 😀

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 5, 2015 at 7:21 pm

      Me too, I think it’s partly as they usually have less cars and more outdoor space to sit in. Hope you get to visit one day!

  • Reply
    Bama
    April 5, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    The lakes seems so magical, with the snow-covered Alps in the background. Oh and how pretty the pathway in Annecy’s old town looks — I really love that dead tree, strangling all the iron railing of those waterfront houses.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 5, 2015 at 7:20 pm

      Funnily enough there were guys up on ladders trimming that tree back the day before I took the photo! It is such a lovely setting having the lake and mountains all around you as well as the prettiness of the town.

  • Reply
    aroundtheworldin80pairsofshoes
    April 5, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    haha I’m super fickle traveller as well…am truly hoping that I will get to Strasbourg and Annecy this year thanks to reading your blog posts as they both look super beautiful and I’m a sucker for a good castle!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 5, 2015 at 7:23 pm

      Glad it’s not just me! Did love both Strasbourg and Annecy though, such a nice relaxed feel to both of them and so pretty.

  • Reply
    Laura
    April 5, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    Love Annecy – such an adorable town! I didn’t make it up to the castle when I was there though; I guess it’s a good reason to return!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 7, 2015 at 12:49 pm

      Definitely, the views from up there are great and the exhibition was actually pretty interesting (though a bit of a weird mixture!).

  • Reply
    Rebeca Briceño
    April 6, 2015 at 5:10 am

    Beautiful! I didn’t know about this town. Strasbourg is really pretty but now I have to check this out!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 7, 2015 at 12:53 pm

      It’s not as well known as Strasbourg but just as beautiful, and really good in summer as you have the lake to cool off in!

  • Reply
    bevchen
    April 7, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Aaaah, gorgeous! The canals and buildings remind me of Colmar, but there’s no lake in Colmar!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 7, 2015 at 12:51 pm

      Colmar is one I must go and visit soon – sure I’m going to love it too!

  • Reply
    Shikha (whywasteannualleave)
    April 7, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Annecy looks SO pretty. I don’t go on nearly enough trips where the idea is just to wander around and eat and drink but it really does sound like a wonderful way to spend a few days! The views on that boat trip look so peaceful and serene 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 8, 2015 at 9:35 am

      It was gorgeous. I’m a big fan of the half lazing/half exploring trip, though you’ve got to pick a pretty small destination so you don’t feel like you’re missing out!

  • Reply
    http://theenglishprofessoratlarge.com
    April 7, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    Thank you for this gorgeous tour. Annecy looks and sounds like a slice of Paradise.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 8, 2015 at 9:36 am

      Thanks, I think the time of year really helped too – it was so pretty in spring and not too many crowds yet!

  • Reply
    skates1418
    April 7, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    Wow it’s beautiful! It’s on my bucket list for sure! Thanks for the post

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 8, 2015 at 9:36 am

      You’re welcome, hope you get to make the trip there one day!

  • Reply
    madventures1
    April 8, 2015 at 12:46 am

    I love Annecy, this is so wonderful to see! Love the photos!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 8, 2015 at 9:37 am

      Thanks, it’s such a photogenic spot, I went totally mad with the camera!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    April 8, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    Such a pretty town – I’ve not been for 26 years so this post was perfect for reminding me how lovely it is. Must re-visit soon 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 9, 2015 at 7:16 pm

      I don’t imagine it’s changed too much in 26 years! Still so pretty, and definitely doable for a weekend from the UK.

  • Reply
    Packing my Suitcase
    April 9, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!! I can totally understand why you lost your heart to Annecy <3
    I want to visit it soon, looks the exact kind of town I love to explore!
    Stunning photos as always!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 9, 2015 at 7:15 pm

      Thank you – yes it definitely captured my heart! Would love to see it in winter, covered in snow sometime too.

      • Reply
        Packing my Suitcase
        April 13, 2015 at 8:27 am

        You’re welcome!
        It must certainly be beautiful during the winter! I can’t believe I lived so close to Annecy and never went there!

  • Reply
    Diana
    April 9, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Love this!!!!! Annecy is one of my favorite towns…..beautiful photos!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 9, 2015 at 7:14 pm

      I can definitely see why, I loved it out there and will be back for sure!

  • Reply
    leallou
    July 9, 2015 at 8:55 am

    I discovered Annecy last year and I love this city. The lake and the landscape are so peacefull !

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 9, 2015 at 11:03 am

      Such a beautiful place isn’t it!

  • Reply
    Wendy
    March 29, 2016 at 10:19 am

    I’m new to your blog and loving it. Photos are beautiful too. As an Aussi travel tragic I envy you having such diversity on your doorstep that is so accessible.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 29, 2016 at 12:21 pm

      Thanks so much. Yes we are so lucky to have such a range of places so close to the UK – though I spent a year in Australia and you have some stunning spots too!

  • Reply
    Ella
    July 1, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    Definitely one of the best posts about Annecy that I’ve come across. I’m considering going there in the near future and I’ve been looking for helpful information. Thank you very much for sharing this! 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      July 3, 2016 at 12:27 am

      Thanks so much, really glad you found it useful and hope you enjoy Annecy, it’s still one of my favourite places in France!

  • Reply
    travelmoreorless
    December 15, 2016 at 10:26 am

    Annecy is one of my favorite places to visit! I will also add parasailing to the list, it’s beautiful sailing above the shimmering waters of the lake !

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 17, 2016 at 9:25 pm

      Sounds amazing – one to try next time!

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