A Comprehensive Guide for Families Travelling to Switzerland
Ah, Switzerland! Where do we even begin? Cathedrals, old towns with chateaus, fresh mountain air, and the best chocolates in the world! It is the perfect destination for a vacation with the whole family. With a world-class rail system, you can forget about driving and just enjoy the spectacular vistas and the myriad of activities and attractions. This comprehensive guide is meant to help families make the best of their time in the country.
Top Places to Visit in Switzerland
Despite its size, Switzerland is one of the countries on top of people’s bucket lists. The country has numerous things to offer, aside from its scenic vistas. It’s a massive playground for kids of all ages, including adults! It’s always challenging to keep the whole family entertained when travelling but there’s no lack of activities in the country. We have rounded up some of the most interesting for you.
Chateau de Chillon
An exquisite medieval stricture, Chateau de Chillon is located on an island in Lake Geneva close to the well-known town of Montreux. The castle was used as a strategic water fort in the 10th century and is currently a summer for the affluent Counts of Savoy. One of the most visited historical monuments in the country today, it contains countless arts and treasures.
Admission cost for children is only half the admission cost of adults and guided tours that last between 50 and 80 minutes in various languages, including Spanish, Japanese, Russian, French, Chinese, and English are available. A trip to the chateau with children is an excellent living and hands-on approach to art, history, and architecture. The weapons room is something that kids and teenagers might particularly like.
Most children recognize Matterhorn from Toblerone’s packaging. The pyramid-shaped mountain is one of the most photographed in the world and stands 4,478 meters. It has been thrilling adventure seekers from all over the world and hundreds of people attempt to summit every year. Don’t worry if you’re not in excellent physical shape because you can still enjoy it with the children when you ride the cable car.
The stunning views of the mountain peaks are surreal. It doesn’t get more Swiss than a trip to the famous Matterhorn.
Located in Vevey, one of Switzerland’s most picturesque towns, this children’s museum takes the kids and the kids at heart on a magical journey through the life and art of one of the most recognizable comedians in the world, Charlie Chaplin. The former country estate was where the artist spent the last 25 years of his life. Perched on a plateau overlooking the Alps and Lake Leman, the property has a Hollywood-style studio and an exhibit wing.
You can walk through the scenes from Chaplin’s many movies and see wax replicas of the comedian’s iconic characters. Family photos and evocative memorabilia, such as Chaplin’s familiar hat and cane are on display too. Allow at least a couple of hours to do this place justice.
Swiss Vapeur Parc
A theme park for train lovers young and old, Swiss Vapeur Parc in Le Bouveret opened in 1989 and expanded in 2007. Kids and adults can ride all kinds of replica trains on a scale of 1:4, from steam to electric. The park has 3 different train routes and 3 stations where you can go on and off a train and change lines. Visitors can ride as many times as they want.
Trains run through detailed miniatures of Swiss monuments, bridges, viaducts, and a tunnel. The park also has a botanic garden that is home to more than a hundred and thirty species of plants and trees. At certain times of the year, the park hosts various themed events, do check the website for more information.
Rhine Falls Adventure Park
For the more daring kids and adults, Rhine Falls Adventure Park is the largest rope park in the country in terms of area. There are 170 obstacles open to visitors aged 4 and up, it’s the place to be for those who are looking for an adrenaline rush and adventure.
Balance from tree to tree, plunge in free fall from a platform or go on the Panorama Express, a 460-meter long stretch of cable car with unrivalled views of the falls, all while being secured to a safety harness system at all times. With a first of its kind in safety technology, visitors can enjoy their time without worries. Allow at least three hours to enjoy the activities. Non-climbers watching from the ground are given free access.
Verkehrshaus der Schweiz or Lucerne Transportation Museum
This interactive museum in Lucerne has thousands of displays that narrate the history of transport and mobility. This is where your children can explore the history of transportation, as well as have a glimpse of its future, not just on Earth but in outer space too. Aside from the galleries that are devoted to the sea, air, and land travel, the museum also houses an IMAX theatre and planetarium. Who wouldn’t be excited by that?
Children will be chuffed to bits when they take a closer look at engines, space capsules, and cars but one of the highlights of the museum is the chocolate-themed exhibit that’s designed to educate visitors about the origin, production, and transportation of one of the country’s most famous products! You can save time by purchasing tickets online.
Jungfraujoch: The Top of Europe
The train journey to Jungfraujoch is something that adults and children alike will relish. The scenic observatory and observation terrace perched at almost 3,500 meters gives visitors panoramic 360-degree views of the surrounding area. The Great Aletsch Glacier, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, starts at Jungfraujoch and Jungfraujoch is the location of the highest post office in Europe.
Play in the snow, walk through an ice cave and hike out, there are plenty of things to do. Get an early start by booking the first train of the day, leaving with more than enough time to enjoy the scenery, avoid the crowds, and do all sorts of activities.
Swiss Science Center Technorama
This must-see science museum is where you can immerse yourself in the enchanting world of chemistry, biology, and physics. Children can ignite their curiosity and fire up their imagination with a wide array of interactive activities. 500 exhibits are waiting to be discovered, including experiment stations where you can test famous scientific theories.
Without a doubt, one of the most popular sections in the museum is the toy train collection, considered to be the best in the world. Don’t forget to bring a picnic and enjoy it in one of the indoor picnic spots or at the museum park.
If there’s one thing Switzerland is synonymous with, it’s chocolate, and a visit to the country is incomplete without dropping by any of the chocolate factories and museums. Located in Toggenburgerstrasse, the chocolarium is about 2 hours from Bern and is open daily except on Mondays. Maestrani’s is one of the oldest factories in the German part of the country.
You can attend a chocolate-making workshop and craft your very own masterpieces that you can take home. The Master Chocolatier will give you valuable insights into the different techniques of chocolate making and teach you a few fascinating tricks too. After which, you will be taken to the factory and guided through the numerous rooms where you will see the processes that bring chocolate to life. The best part is you get to take bites of freshly made chocolate while you watch the production line.
Ballenberg Open Air Museum
Transporting families to the past amidst picturesque surroundings, Ballenberg allows families to have fun outdoors and learn at the same time. The museum was opened in 1978 and it now has a collection of 110 farm buildings and rural houses relocated from all over the country. Aside from the authentic, centuries-old buildings, there is a variety of live demonstrations and exhibitions of old Swiss crafts, giving visitors a glimpse into Swiss culture.
Expect basket-weaving, braiding, carving, spinning, and many more, but you can do more than just watch the experts; you can join them too! Rounding up the attractions are a house with historical toys, a petting zoo, medicinal herbs, a forest trail, and courses on culture and customs.
Dubbed as a leisure paradise for families with children, Atzmännig is a popular attraction in Zurich’s countryside. It boasts ropes courses, a giant alpine slide, a massive playground, and a variety of hiking choices that include a theme trail especially made for little ones. You’ll find young ones making a beeline for the ropes course that has a smaller course designed for kids aged 4 to 8.
Adults, as well as kids, who relish an adrenaline rush and fast descents, will find plenty of things to entertain them. Scream your hearts out at the tight bends of the toboggan run, try the bungee trampoline, or take a chance on bull riding. The chair lift also takes guests high up at almost 4,000 feet where they can feast their eyes on the spectacular vistas.
Also known as Valère Castle, Valère Basilica is located southwest of Switzerland in a town called Sion. Perched on a hill, it faces Château de Tourbillon. The fortified church was built between the early to the mid-12th century. Designed in Romanesque style, the building work took place over the next centuries and in the mid-15th century, the magnificent cathedral was finally installed.
The basilica’s organ still functions today and is believed to be one of the oldest functioning organs in the world. There is a free concert every Saturday afternoon during summer, with the 14th-century organ as the main attraction. Different musicians from all over the world come to interpret various musical pieces that are not so commonly heard.
After the cathedral was abandoned in 1798, part of it became a seminary while the remainder is still a museum today. You don’t need to pay anything to enter the cathedral, but for some spare change, you can learn more about the cathedral with a get a guided tour.
Château de Tourbillon
Also known as Tourbillon Castle, this imposing hilltop castle is something that will impress castle buffs, both young and old. Just a 20-minute walk from the station in Sion, it offers magnificent views of the Sion region and the canton of Valais. Built between 1290 and 1308, it was originally used as a residence of the bishop but was later expanded to include an exterior wall. The castle was badly damaged in a blaze in 1788 but was refurbished after the fire.
Yet another theme park near the Swiss-German border, Conny Land has 60 attractions that are more for little children. Easily walkable from one end to the other, kids aged between 4 to 10 will get the most of the day but there’s plenty of fun for younger kids too. Put your courage to the test on the Cobra, Europe’s largest linear roller coaster, or go on VooDoo Island, the interactive water playground.
Aside from the thrilling rides, there are live shows with dolphins, parrots, and sea lions, you can watch a play in the theatre too. The majority of the attractions have a roof so you can enjoy Conny Land no matter the weather. To make the most of your time, you should have at least half a day to spend in Conny Land.
Kindercity Children’s Museum
This children’s discovery ‘museum’ offers a variety of hands-on activities and has three play areas aimed at different age groups, from toddlers up to 10 years old. Very young visitors will find the Chäferliweg room quite the thrill with countless things to touch and climb on. More educational and not for pure fun, a few things kids will have a grand time with are the fun house mirrors, block room, and a water river with balls.
The roof of the building has an exterior play area where children can drive small go-karts, ride a train, and bungee jump, for an extra fee. In addition, various workshops such as making butter, chocolate, and bread are also available but you need to book these classes ahead of time.
Top Places to Eat Out in Switzerland
Exploring all the top attractions in the country can easily leave you not only knackered but famished too. Don’t worry, we have you covered. Here are the best places to eat out in Switzerland with the family.
Listed in the Guinness World Records as the first vegetarian restaurant in the world, Haus Hiltl is located in the heart of Zurich. Named after its founder Ambrosius Hiltl, the restaurant has been serving meat-free dishes to patrons since 1898. They have an ala carte restaurant with waiter service, but of course, nothing beats the popularity of their buffet where customers can choose from more than a hundred homemade delicacies, tasty lemonade, and freshly squeezed fruit juices. The Züri Geschnetzeltes and Mango-Mousse are two things not to be missed in the restaurant.
If you fancy preparing meals for the family in your rental apartment or Airbnb, you can get fresh produce from the vegetarian butcher store. Of course, they offer a children’s menu plus various activities such as making crafts or drawing so the parents can eat in peace too.
If you’re looking to pile on the cheese, Vieux Chalet, located in the town’s historic centre, has raclette as the star of their menu. The melted cheese is served on a plate with potatoes, bread, pearl onions, and gherkins. One of the highlights of dining there is watching the raclette being carved off a giant wheel of cheese. Indulge in a variety of cheese preparations and with more than 20 fondues on the menu, there’s always something for everyone. Book a table in advance to avoid waiting to be seated.
Santa Lucia by Bindella
People go to Santa Lucia for their delightful wood-fired pizzas. Located centrally in Barenplatz, Bern, it attracts all kinds of diners from busy office workers to families with little buttons in tow. The cosy terrace is perfect for al fresco dining, but regardless of where you sit, you’ll be pleased with the menu that includes fish, pasta, meat, and salads.
Because it is an Italian restaurant, much emphasis is also placed on young patrons, so for only nine francs, children aged 12 and below accompanied by an adult can pick whatever they like from the menu, minus the drinks, of course.
Le Chalet de Gruyères
If you want to have a taste of the best fondue in the country, you can never go wrong when you go straight to the source, and that is none other than Le Chalet de Gruyères. The cheese-making centre of Gruyères gives you nothing but all the cheesiness you have been looking for. The adults in the family can have the local wine or beer which goes well with raclette, fondue, and of course, the local dried meats. One dessert which is worth the travel is double Gruyères cream. Trust us, it’s decadent and it’s out of this world.
The restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating, welcomes pets, and offers vegan and meat-free dishes too. Book a table online to avoid standing in a queue as the restaurant is quite popular with both locals and tourists.
Restaurant Le Barocco
Serving French-style cuisine on the lower ground floor of Musée d’art et d’historie, all their dishes are made with local produce. When dining in the summer months, grab one of the tables in the inner courtyard and enjoy the cakes and pastries while the young ones play to their heart’s content in the MAH family area adjacent to the restaurant.
The family area features colouring materials, games, books, and puzzles which will keep the children entertained for hours on end. Keep in mind though, that they don’t accept cards, only cash, and they are closed on Mondays. Don’t forget to check out the museum and its fun workshops!
La Réserve Genève
If money is not an issue, you should splurge in this 5-star luxury hotel that has 5 sterling restaurants. In addition, they have a staffed playroom that’s open every day. The outdoor play area is perfect for warm summer days where children can go up and down treehouses and climb, as well as run around large wooden structures.
Take your pick from Tsé Fung, the first Chinese restaurant in the country awarded with a Michelin star; Summer Lodge, which offers all that’s good in the season, as well as a sushi bar; Café Lauren, which offers healthy options; Le Loti, where patrons can have a unique live cooking experience; and Le Bar. Where you can cap off the night with your favourite cocktails.
A favourite in Lucerne, Restaurant Libelle welcomes everyone from lone patrons who just want a cup of coffee to families looking for something to fill them up. Open, massive, and Industrial in décor and style, they have comfortable wooden tables in varying sizes, as well as seats both indoors and outdoors. With a terrace on the side.
Considering its popularity, it’s necessary to book a table ahead, especially when going during holidays and weekends. The play area comes with a dollhouse, toys, books, and hats. They even have a toilet especially for changing nappies.
Restaurant the Verandah
Highly rated and stylishly designed, The Verandah has excellent food and impeccable service. They offer typical Swiss food but are more popular for their delectable desserts and crepes, and we all know kids love both. Located in Hotel Royal St. Georges, the restaurant has mastered the art of blending contemporary cuisine with traditional Swiss flavours.
A few things on the menu worth the try are the fruit appetizer in three forms and the fondues served with local wines and a French baguette.
With an enviable location at the peak of Schilthorn, this rotating restaurant gives customers 360-degree views of the Alps. The distinct James Bond theme is because it appeared in the movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The sumptuous breakfast buffet, also called the James Bond Brunch, is a must and they serve small meals throughout the day too.
The cable car ride is usually included in the price. Reserve a table by the windows to enjoy the views. Children up to the age of 15 pay only 20 francs for the brunch and children under 6 travel and eat free of charge.
Restaurant Hotel Alpenhof
Located in Grindelwald, this traditional Swiss restaurant in a hotel has an elaborate menu and we particularly like the endless choice of rösti. Even cheese connoisseurs will be happy with their variety of raclette and fondue plus they will be more than delighted to serve extra potatoes with the fondue at no extra charge.
They have beef, veal, and pasta dishes, and their pasta-themed buffet on Mondays is worth the money too. Flavours are all on point, each dish carefully crafted, and their set meal offers good value.
Things to Do in Switzerland as a Family
While winter may be one of the best times to visit Switzerland, summer offers visitors verdant greens, flowering valleys, and excellent walking trails. On the other hand, winter brings you magical snow-covered villages, enchanting Christmas markets, and of course, outstanding skiing. Here are a few Swiss family-friendly activities you should not miss.
See and interact with the animals at Basel Zoo
A non-profit zoo, Basel Zoo’s official name is Zoologischer Garten Basel. It is the country’s largest and oldest zoo that welcomes more than a million visitors annually which makes it one of the most visited attractions in the country. It has a variety of animals from across the world that kids can get up close to. The zoo’s segregated categories and organized layouts promise to be one of the most fun and educative experiences for little ones.
The zoo has a reputation for being one of the best breeders and has one of the most beautiful botanical gardens with more than a hundred species of exotic animals and birds. It is open throughout the year but the best time to visit is summer when you can take a pleasant walk without worries of rain.
River rafting through the Swiss Grand Canyon
Just an easy day trip from Zurich, river rafting through the Swiss Grand Canyon is exhilarating and unforgettable, however, it’s only suitable for families with bigger kids or teenagers. The river is mild enough, however, a guide is still necessary to keep you safe as it does have class 3 rapids. Open from May to mid-October, rafters must be at least 10 years old and know how to swim.
Various companies have river rafting tours and they provide not only the guide but the equipment as well. All you need to bring is a swimsuit and a smile. River rafting is a great family activity if you’re in Switzerland during summer, or even during rainy days since you’re going to get wet anyway. The family will surely have loads of fun with this one.
Enjoy the alpine coasters
Quite a few mountains in the country have alpine coasters which allow you to ride down a track on individual cars. The hand brakes help you control the speed of the coasters. The longest one has a 3 km track and can be found in Prädischer, reaching speeds of up to 40 km/hr. Most coasters require you to sit on a sled with a machine dragging you up and down located either at the end or the start of your ride.
However, there are a few places where you have to ride a chair lift to reach the coaster’s top, such as Prädischer and Floomzer. This significantly adds up to the cost of the ride but you have an option to skip the lift and hike up the ride instead, provided that the children are up to it.
Skiing in Zermatt
Zermatt is truly a winter paradise for families, and unlike other resorts; the place has managed to retain a real holiday atmosphere, despite the ever-growing number of visitors. The mountains are consistently white and the streets snowy. The presence of horse-drawn sleighs and countless snowy playgrounds make it seem as if it’s Christmas every day. Private cars are banned so the place is devoid of congestion and traffic and there’s less pollution.
Children are welcome in restaurants across Zermatt that have kids’ menus and serve early dinners. Little ones need not miss out on the fun as they can go on the Leisee Wolli-park ski area for learners. With the best lift pass offers, children below 9 ski for free whilst those under 16 get half-price passes.
Zermatt offers more than just skiing, there’s a massive open-air skating rink, a toboggan run from Rotenboden to Riffelalp, indoor climbing walls, and an endless number of playgrounds. If you need any more proof that Zermatt is family-friendly, it has the distinction of being awarded the ‘Family Destination’ quality label.
Visit Schweizerischer National Park
Recognized as a country with stunning sights at every turn, sometimes it can be a bit of a challenge where to go in Switzerland. However, one thing is certain, a trip to the country is incomplete if you miss Schweizerischer National Park or the Swiss National Park. it is the country’s sole national park and in it, you will see verdant meadows and snow-crusted glaciers. Hiking trails abound, each more beautiful than the last.
Some visitors have plenty of luck when they visit and they see some of the park’s residents such as red deer, ibexes, and red squirrels. Who knows, the whole family might get lucky too? Don’t forget to check out the skies and you might see golden eagles.
Explore Lake Geneva
Also known as Europe’s largest alpine lake, Lake Geneva is the European seat of the United Nations, it’s a unique place that exemplifies the strict precision of the Swiss and joie de vivre of the French. Lake Geneva is famous for the beautiful lake, of course, chocolate, and banks. The fountain, also called Jet d’Eau, shoots more than a hundred meters into the air and is one of the area’s most famous landmarks.
Saunter through the old town and see the most beautiful historic buildings. Go to the top of St. Peter’s Cathedral through the tower, which kids will undoubtedly love, and get the most spectacular views in town. Head to Bastion Park, the home of the famous Geneva monument – the Reformation Wall. Sure, kids, especially young ones will get bored with history but there are other things to do at the park, such as play a game of giant chess.
A few other things worth checking out are the Art History Museum, Le Boir de la Batie Park & Zoo, and the Franz Carl Weber Toy Store. The massive toy store has a wide array of toys that it’s going to be a challenge to leave without buying anything. Be ready to spend at least an hour in Franz Carl alone.
Lounge in luxury at St. Moritz
One of the world’s top mountain destinations that boast palatial hotels and restaurants with prices that will leave you gobsmacked, St. Moritz is a chic resort town that you need to see if you have the budget. It has hosted two winter Olympics to date and sits 1,800 meters above sea level. The town has two parts, St. Moritz Bad, a health resort with less expensive lodging, and St. Moritz Dorf, the sunny terrace overlooking the lake.
Winter sports abound, such as tobogganing, snowboarding, skiing, bobsledding, and skating. If you come in the summer, you can try your hand at biking, hiking, and water sports. Don’t worry if the family only speaks English, the area is a cultural crossroads with locals speaking French, Italian, German, Romansch, and English. There is also a sizable expat community in the area.
Hop on the Albula/Bernina Railway line
The Albula/Bernina Railway Line holds the distinction of being a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. It offers one of the most magnificent rides which should not be missed. The route covers 122 kilometres and winds through 200 bridges, a few tunnels, some viaducts, and the Graubünden mountains. The train works all year long so get on it. You’ll get magical views in summer and winter.
Take a tour of the cheese factory in Gruyères
This small mediaeval town might be known for its hard, yellow cheese, but it has so much more to offer. But of course, you should start your visit with a tour of the cheese factory, taste the local specialities and say hi to the cows that call the verdant hills their home. They deserve some attention too, they produce the cheese, after all.
Gruyères might be tiny but there are plenty of things to do in the area. After your cheese tour, you can go to the Maison Cailler Chocolate Factory, the castle of Gruyères, Saint-Germain Castle which now houses a museum, and The Tiber Museum which is inside an old church. If the family loves the outdoors, Gorges de la Jogne is a favourite of hikers and Mont Moléson is quite popular with climbers during the warmer season.
Relax in a thermal bath
Switzerland has a long history of thermal spas and for centuries even royalty relished the opportunity to soak in the healing water of local springs. Take your pick from massive health resorts or smaller wellness centres, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of relaxing in a 40-degree pool while the snowflakes gently fall on your face.
Mineralbad & Spa Rigi Kaltbad is one of the most popular thermal baths in the country and it’s located on top of Mt. Rigi. Aside from outdoor and indoor pools, they also have an outdoor lounging area and herbal steam baths. However, the largest spa resort in the country is Leukerbad-Therme. They have a private mineral-rich spring with enough water to fill 10 thermal baths.
Spend the night in an igloo
For something completely different, why not spend the night in an igloo? A few Alpine ski resorts in the area have but igloos to double as room rentals during winter. They each have packages so pick one suitable for your needs, but most igloo rooms come with welcome hot drinks, sleeping bags, and battery-charged lights or lamps.
Husky runs are another popular activity in Switzerland. Most of these husky runs start from ski resorts and are part of their offerings for non-skiers. However, there are various options all over the country and a few of the most popular ones are at the Les Rosées-Dessous, the Lake Geneva region, and Jungfraujoch near Interlaken. If you’re not particularly keen on dogsledding, you can head to Barry Foundation which has guided walks on the snow during winter and animal-assisted therapy.
Have a winter walk with St. Bernards in Champex-Lac
Who wouldn’t want to pass up the opportunity to spend time with St. Bernards? Children will jump at the chance! First bred for rescue by monks in the 1600s at the Great St. Bernard Hospice on the Swiss border, St. Bernards are a common sight in the country.
The Barry Foundation has kept the tradition alive and to date, there are still breeding kennels for St. Bernards. Aside from their centre for animal-assisted education and therapy, they have a few other activities and the most popular is the winter walks. Lasting 45 minutes, these walks are in the Champex-Lac with one of the dogs pulling a sled that a small child can ride.
Get some adrenaline rush at the Titlis Cliff Walk
Sitting more than 3,000 metres above sea level and 500 metres above the beautiful snow-covered cliffs, Titlis is regarded as the highest suspension bridge in Europe. Barely a meter wide, it is certainly not for those who are scared by heights. You ride a gondola up Mount Titlis to get to the bridge with the otherworldly 360-degree views of the stunning glaciers. After your gondola ride, you walk to the glacier cave that ends on a viewing platform. On the other side of the 100-metre-long bridge is the Ice flyer glacier chairlift station.
Safety and Security in Switzerland
Switzerland is considered one of the safest countries to live in and visit. For years, it has ranked high in the list of the most secured places in the world. In 2019, it landed on the 11th spot and in 2022 it landed on the 10th spot of the safest places on Earth according to the Global Peace Index, great news for families visiting the country.
Historically, the country has its neutrality, designed to promote the country’s safety and security. Four factors give the country its reputation for being one of the safest places, and they are the following:
- Low crime rate
- Gun regulations
- Equal rights
- Law-abiding citizens
Even though Switzerland is a safe country, you still need to be careful. Be responsible and take these precautions.
Keep purses and wallets secure
As mentioned earlier, pickpocketing is common in tourist zones so to avoid becoming a victim of such crimes, men should put their wallets in their front pockets instead of in the back and women should put their purse straps over their necks. Always pay attention when in large crowds. Most pickpockets often operate in large crowds so that victims don’t even realize what has happened.
Always bring sun cream
The mountains account for 60% of the area of Switzerland, so make it a point to always bring sun cream as the sun can be extreme at high altitudes. The last thing you want is for the family to have a terrible sunburn while on vacation.
Be cautious in high altitudes
Don’t be in a hurry to ascend high altitudes, so that your body has time to adjust when traversing mountainous areas. A few symptoms that might spell trouble are nose bleeds, dizziness, headaches, and difficulty breathing. Persons who have a history of lung or heart disease should consult their physicians before heading to places with high altitudes. The same goes for families with little kids.
Families with children aged 2 and younger should check with their doctor before visiting the mountains as it may not be advisable for the little ones to stay at extremely high elevations. Rapid ascents and descents may also be uncomfortable for them.
Stay on marked paths
Hiking is one of the must-do things when in Switzerland and if you decide to go hiking, make sure that you stay on marked paths. Refrain from taking shortcuts no matter how safe they may appear. Switzerland has its fair share of poisonous snakes, mostly found in the mountains, and although they are rarely fatal, they can still cause injury.
Check the weather
Keep yourself updated on weather conditions by checking with your hotel or the tourist office. Switzerland has mountainous regions which often come with constantly changing weather patterns.
Obey traffic rules
The Swiss have stringent traffic laws that they make sure to enforce. Cameras are everywhere and traffic fines apply to everyone, locals and visitors alike. Travellers caught speeding often return home to find tickets waiting for them in the mail and those found travelling with invalid bus or train tickets often pay steep fines.
Take only what you need
Don’t take all your belongings when roaming the city. Granted, you’ll need more with kids in tow but keep in mind that it’s safer to leave valuables in the hotel room safe so you don’t lose them accidentally.
Update your insurance
Travel insurance is a must, whether you are trying to Switzerland or other countries. If you and the family are planning to ski or hike, purchase mountain search and rescue insurance. Keep in mind that without insurance, sending out a search and rescue team can cost as much as $25,000.
Comply with warnings and signs
The Swiss are hardly the type of people who would spend their time and money on meaningless litigation. So, always comply with warnings and signs. To the uninitiated, the no swimming signs in delightful little streams in the Alpine regions may be a bit over the top. However, the reason for these signs is the existence of hydroelectric power plants nearby which release massive amounts of water without prior warning.
Always carry your identity card or passport
To avoid having problems with immigration and the police, it is best to always carry your passport or identity card, especially when you’re travelling alone. The police have the right to ask for anyone’s identity card anytime. Failure to show your identity card gives police the right to take you to the station.
Do not be afraid to render assistance
One conspicuous difference in Switzerland is that they have stringent Good Samaritan laws that make it a person’s civic duty to help people in need without putting oneself at risk. People are more willing to help in emergencies. However, travellers must be aware that the same applies to them if they see someone in danger.
Denying assistance to anyone in trouble is punishable under criminal law. Whereas most Americans don’t want to get involved with others to avoid getting any civil liability, in Switzerland it’s virtually impossible to take any action against someone who renders assistance, be it civil or otherwise.
Consumption of alcohol
The minimum age for consumption of alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer in Switzerland is 16 years old. However, in Ticino it is 18 years old. In Switzerland, it is legal to consume alcohol in public and there is nothing unusual in a handful of teenagers drinking a six-pack on public transport.
Health and Medical, Emergencies, & Insurance in Switzerland
Switzerland’s medical care facilities are among the best in the world and the country has no particular health risks. However, the authorities require immunization against contagious diseases for travellers who have been in an infected area during the 14 days immediately preceding arrival.
When travelling to Switzerland, you need to ensure that you have an adequate supply of prescription medicines, as well as a written prescription with the generic name of the brand. Generally, German and French drugs are available in the country. You should also carry vital drugs in your carry-on baggage and update your travel insurance to cover medical emergencies.
According to the World Health Organization, Switzerland is number 20 worldwide in terms of healthcare. The country has one of the most expensive healthcare systems which is about 12% of the gross domestic product, but it is also of the highest standard. Every person living in the country must have an accident and basic health insurance.
Unlike other members of the European Union, the country’s healthcare system is neither financed by employers nor tax-based. It is paid for by individual contributions to the Swiss health insurance schemes. Most choose to pay an additional fee to enjoy the basic cover that comes with supplementary private health insurance.
The country has one of the biggest private health sectors worldwide that offers excellent choices but the healthcare expenditure as GDP percentage is also the highest in Europe.
Staying healthy in Switzerland
Generally, there is no problem with the food and water in the country and strict rules govern restaurants. Water everywhere is drinkable unless you see a sign that says Non-potable.
Dial 117 for police emergencies, 144 for an ambulance, and 118 to report a fire. Call 140 for roadside emergencies and for accidents in mountains, call the air rescue service at 1414.
Public hospitals and clinics
The country has numerous hospitals and clinics and public hospitals will admit anyone in the case of an emergency. There are also clinics referred to as permanent which open 24 hours a day that are located near major stations, such as Basel, Zurich, and Lucerne.
They are allowed to treat non-urgent cases and medical issues without the need for an appointment. However, medical costs can easily add up, so it’s advisable to take out travel insurance with excellent coverage to avoid paying costs out of pocket.
Weather in Switzerland
Switzerland has different regional climates and each season is different. Here is what you can expect to help you better prepare for that trip of a lifetime.
Spring runs from the middle of March to the middle of June and the average temperature is from 8°C to 15°C. The temperature is excellent for exploring the country’s exceptional natural scenery. However, it can get cold at night and temperatures can drop to as low as 5°C. it’s advisable to pack winter wear even when travelling during spring. Remember to take your umbrella with you as occasional showers are to be expected.
The hiking trails come alive during spring. Flowering trees juxtaposed with the snowy mountains in the distance are a sight to behold. A few festivals to look forward to in spring are Ascension Day, locally known as Auffahrt and Zurich’s Spring Festival.
The generally dry summer season begins in the middle of June and lasts until the middle of September. Humidity is expected during summer but it varies greatly depending on the altitude. Temperatures range from 18°C to 28°C and the days are the longest between July and August. There is a variety of activities during summer and the hiking trails are often packed with people.
There is a huge number of festivals and events but without a doubt, the most important is Swiss National Day celebrated on the first of August. If you’re into music, you’ll be delighted and perhaps overwhelmed with the sheer number of performances and artists who participate in the two-week-long event that is the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Be comfortable when out and about during summer by wearing cotton and other light fabrics. Just remember that it tends to cool down at night so you might need a sweater or a cardigan. Since hiking is one of the most popular activities in the summer, it’s essential to wear the right hiking shoes so you can tackle the Alpine trails in comfort and avoid injuries. Finally, it’s not unusual to have afternoon thunderstorms during summer.
Autumn is from September to November and is the start of the low season, so if you’re planning to avoid the crowds but still enjoy the beauty of nature in Switzerland, you might want to consider autumn. Even the cows choose to return to the valleys after spending most of their summer grazing on the pastures at the mountainside. The procession of cows back to the valleys is special to locals and is locally known as Alpabfahrt.
The cows pass through the villages and you can see them wearing flowers on their heads and large noisy cowbells. Brass bands, yodelers, and of course, the crowd, also join the festivities. It’s quite a spectacle!
Elsewhere in the country, the leaves change their colours and temperatures drop to as low as 8°C. the days also begin to get shorter come October. This is the time when you should have light jackets handy so you can keep yourself warm if it starts to get particularly chilly.
Autumn is the foggiest time of the year and just like other areas in northern Europe, rainy days are to be expected so make sure you’re prepared for showers. However, the Swiss don’t let the weather dampen their spirits and as a testament to that, you can head to Lugano for the three-day Autumn Festival.
Ah, winter, the season most people associate with Switzerland! Popular winter sports abound from January when the Swiss snow season officially starts. The temperatures rarely exceed 2°C during winter and the days are shorter with the sun setting as early as 5 in the afternoon. So, if you aim to make the most of the day, you should hit the ground running as early as 6 in the morning. This can be a bit of a challenge for small children though.
When February comes around there’s a bit more sunshine and the skiing conditions remain excellent. However, by the middle of March spring makes itself felt again. Don’t worry if you are into skiing as there are plenty of other things to do in winter such as going on a toboggan run and hopping on a cable car to enjoy the dramatic views. A few hiking trails remain open during winter too.
It is necessary to have the right winter gear to avoid hypothermia. You certainly need a heavy coat, a scarf, gloves, and a hat to keep snug. Wear only shoes with good traction to avoid slipping on icy pavements. Pack some quality sunglasses too if you plan on skiing as the glare makes visibility difficult and may even damage your eyes.
Tip: Winter is the perfect time to indulge in hearty Swiss cuisine and a few you should try is the iconic cheese fondue and raclette. They are going to make frigid winter nights much more bearable.
Best Time to Visit Switzerland
One of the most important things to consider when planning your vacation is the season and the best time to visit so you can do the activities you want to do the most. After all, this tiny European nation has so much more to offer than just world-class skiing.
The best time to visit depends on the reason you’re going there. If you’re after skiing, then it goes without saying that you should go in winter. If you would like to do mountain hiking, then summer is best as it is warm and there is less rain. You need not worry about a sudden change of weather ruining your plans.
If only things were as simple as that but we all know that with kids along for the trip, it’s never one or the other. The more reason that you should plan your trip well.
For a little bit of everything
If you want a little bit of everything, then you should travel between April and June. If you arrive early, you’ll still find some snow and in a few weeks, warm days will be arriving.
Temperatures can be anywhere from 15°C to 22°C. There is only a bit of rain and plenty of sunshine so you can hike to your heart’s content and explore the outdoors as much as you like. However, May can be unpredictable and the month can bring with it rain, as well as cold evenings.
Summer travellers won’t arrive until July and those who travelled to enjoy winter are long gone, so there won’t be long queues and you’ll get more privacy. You also stand a chance to get better deals on flights and accommodations.
Best seasons for travelling
In Switzerland, the seasons are well-defined as demonstrated by warm and sunny summers and cold and snowy winters.
Meadows covered in a blanket of wildflowers are a spectacular sight and only a few things compare to it. Even in March, resorts in higher elevations still see a lot of snow. With temperatures going up as much as 11°C and sunshine aplenty, it is an excellent time to put your plan of conquering the slopes into action.
The prices are just starting to go down, the crowd is thin, and you have more than 10 hours of daylight. By March, hikers are starting to replace skiers but you still need to wear waterproof clothing and a few layers to keep yourself toasty and warm. As mentioned previously, May is a rainy month and precipitation is not unusual.
June is the time when mountain cable cars start plying their route and this coincides with the hiking season too. If you’re planning to tackle the trails with the family, you should come in June. Yes, it’s a little early but if you don’t like sharing your space with hundreds of hikers, it’s the best time.
Popular areas in Lake Lucerne and Canton Valais have the perfect weather in June. Don’t worry even if you start late because daylight lasts until after 9 in the evening. Summer is considered peak season and July and August can be crowded. The cost of flights and accommodations are significantly higher too.
August is the best month for open-air events such as festivals and outdoor concerts and some of the most popular are Paleo Rock Festival in Nyon and the Lake Thun Music Fest. It’s the perfect month for hiking and lake swimming in high altitudes too.
Autumn is from September and November but the most magical time is between September and October because it’s when the fog starts. There’s little to no rain, the trees are splendid in their varying shades of red and orange colours, and the air is crisp. Ask any hiker and they will tell you that they prefer hiking during this time.
Take note that funiculars stop operating before the end of October so don’t wait too late if you plan on mountain trekking. When November comes temperatures can drop to single digits even in the daytime and it can be freezing at night. Although it doesn’t rain that much in November, there is a chance of seeing snow so make sure you pack a thicker jacket and waterproof boots.
Just like summer, winter is also considered peak season as ski resorts open. If you plan on enjoying snow sports to the max, December to February are the best months, but it’s also the busiest.
Prices can be exorbitant near the resorts, the mountainside, and even in the cities. Throngs of people start arriving in December looking forward to a snowy holiday and exploring the many Christmas markets. There is a plethora of things to do in winter, so you’ll have fun even if you’re not into sports.
The climate can be unpredictable though and temperatures hover just above 0°C from December to January. It is common to have precipitation for most of December but by February, the weather will have significantly improved with lots of sunshine.
What to Wear and Pack
Beyond figuring out your itinerary and the best places to visit in Switzerland, you also need to know what the whole family should wear and pack for your trip. Remember that this is just the general packing list. What you wear is still highly dependent on the activities you wish to engage in.
Spring packing list
The first half of soring can be a tad chilly while April and May have a slight increase in temperatures. The weather can be unpredictable and layering is essential. Start with your base clothing that includes a good pair of trousers in a darker shade or jeans. Generally, dark blue denim is versatile and is considered fashionably timeless in Europe.
Opt for tops and t-shirts in light colours to reflect spring. Don’t forget a lightweight jacket or cardigan to protect you from evenings that can abruptly become cold.
Sandals are great footwear for spring, especially during warmer days but for colder days, you should consider sneakers or ankle boots. Ballet flats are dressier options for warmer days or evenings.
Summer packing list
The evenings in summer can still be quite cold so you should still include a lightweight jacket. In addition, a raincoat is beneficial to protect you from the occasional showers. During the summer months, it is alright to wear shirts and tops without sleeves, as well as shorts. Light linen and cotton are the fabric of choice for summer to allow breathability.
Any packing list is incomplete without the right footwear and in summer you want comfort and style. Summer follows the same rules as spring when it comes to footwear. Furthermore, it is the perfect season for the whole family to wear sneakers and sandals.
Autumn packing list
Autumn weather can be unpredictable too and it can encompass sunny days to rain and sometimes, even snow. It can be a difficult season in terms of what to pack and wear because the outdoors is cold and the central heating in public transport, as well as inside the buildings can leave you hot.
Layering is perfect for this season which comes with short and a noticeable drop in temperature. Scarves are a must, as well as tops and shirts with long sleeves, sweaters, and warm coats. Pack a few pairs of jeans or trousers, as well as waterproof and warm boots. Leather boots are a great choice for the season too.
Winter packing list
During winter it can be a challenge to find a good balance between cold outdoor temperatures and indoor heating. Rain, snow, and days with few light hours are to be expected too and all these things will have an impact on your winter packing list. Opt for waterproof, lined boots to keep your feet warm and dry at all times.
Layering is again a must during winter. It makes you well-equipped in coping with the difference in temperatures from the outside to the inside. Ear muffs for the little ones, gloves, wool scarves, and thermals that can be worn underneath your clothing are a must for bitterly cold days. A good tip to keep in mind is to bring along a packet of tissues as the cold can wreak havoc on your sinuses, so it’s best to be prepared. Of course, you can’t forget your warm winter coats.
Lastly, regardless of the weather, you need the following items when travelling with family and toddlers:
- Sun cream
- Warm clothing
- Light clothing
- Wet wipes
- Books and games
- First-aid kit
- Charging cable and power bank
The Country and the People
Approximately 8 million people call Switzerland home and the country embraces multilingualism and a high proportion of foreigners who call the country home. Almost a quarter of the country’s population does not have a Swiss passport and the country’s average age is increasing as people are living longer but are having fewer children.
Four languages are spoken in the country and a wealth of other dialects. German is by far the most widely spoken with more than half of the country’s population speaking it. 19 of the country’s cantons are predominantly German-speaking.
French is mostly spoken in the country’s western part, also known as the Suisse Romande. There are four French-speaking cantons. Italian is widely spoken in the southern valleys and Rhaeto-Rumantsch is spoken in the sole trilingual canton, with German and Italian being the other two languages. The foreigners who live in the country have brought their native languages to the land.
The majority of the people in the country are Christians and the two most predominant religions are Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, accounting for almost 70% of the population. Other religions represented in Switzerland are Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism.
The country’s economy relies on highly-qualified labour performing highly-skilled work. The main industries include pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, banking, and insurance. Most workers in the country are employed by small and medium enterprises which have a vital role in the country’s economy.
Switzerland has an area of 41, 285 square kilometres and the three main geographical regions of the country are the Alps, the Jura, and the Plateau. The Alps cover more than 50% of the country, followed by the Central Plateau with a little over 30%, and the Jura with 11%.
Switzerland has approximately 1,500 lakes and together with different bodies of water, they make up 4% of the country’s surface area. The country holds 6% of Europe’s freshwater reserves too.
Switzerland is a country known for neutrality, sophisticated tools, and excellent culinary fare, but let’s get to know the people better.
The Swiss are known to respect orderliness and rules. They are serious about cleanliness and as much as possible, they avoid pollution. They respect neighbours so it’s uncommon to hear of activities that disrupt other people’s rest. The Swiss are also not afraid to call out people who deviate from social norms and guidelines.
The Swiss value their time and for them being late for appointments mean disrespect. Apart from the people, the country’s trains are never late. It is not acceptable to be more than 5 minutes late for an appointment and if you are running late, you should notify the other party.
The Swiss usually keep to themselves because they respect privacy and they can come off as stand-offish and cold to foreigners. Those who live in the big cities are usually in a hurry and are more business-oriented so they hardly have time for chats. However, the difference is noticeable when it comes to people from the countryside as they tend to be more welcoming and amiable.
Generally, it takes time to break barriers and become good friends with the Swiss. It is considered rude to stand too close to someone. During a conversation, aim to stand at least an arm’s length apart.
As mentioned previously, Switzerland is a diverse nation, so it follows that most of the country’s citizens speak more than a single language.
The Swiss education system is considered one of the best in the world and it ranks among the top ten in educational standards. Switzerland has some of the best and also most expensive private schools in the world. As such, the country’s citizens are highly-educated and the majority of students complete 11 years of mandatory education.
Finally, a few tips to keep in mind when interacting with the Swiss is that professional and academic titles are frequently used so remember to address them in this way. Refrain from talking too loudly on your mobile phone when queuing, in public transportation, or restaurants.
Getting Around Switzerland
The best way to travel to Switzerland is by train. With trains that are perpetually on time, easy-to-follow routes and postcard-perfect views, you can never go wrong when you travel by train. However, we all know that Switzerland can be an incredibly expensive country to visit, and costly prices apply to trains too. Nevertheless, there are countless ways to make off-peak fares and discounts work for the family.
Swiss Travel Pass
An excellent choice for travellers who wish to cover considerable ground, the Swiss Travel Pass gives you bang for the buck. You can plan longer train rides, as well as visits to a few attractions that the pass covers. Good for a predetermined number of consecutive days, either 3, 4, 8, or 15.
Swiss Travel Pass Flex
This is a variation of the Swiss Travel Pass that lets you travel and use discounts within the same month.
Swiss Half Fare Card
This gives travellers a 50% discount on boat, bus, and train travel, as well as most mountain railways. A good option if you’re planning to go on shorter trips, it can also be used on local and regional public transportations in various cities and towns for a whole month.
Swiss Family Card
Free of charge and for children between the ages of 6 and 15 who are accompanied by parents holding a Swiss Half Fare Card or Swiss Travel Pass.
Swiss Regional Rail Pass
This is excellent for families that want to spend days exploring one particular area. There are passes for Lake Geneva and its Alpine Region. Priced for a fixed number of days, you select how many days you want from the list of options. One of the most popular Rail Pass is the Bernese Oberland Regional Pass which is available from the middle of April until October. You get access to most buses, cable cars, federal SBB trains, ferryboats, and most cog railways for 3, 4, 6, 8, or 20 days.
Although Eurail Pass does not provide a single-country pass for Switzerland, you can use the Eurail Global Pass in the country.
Most people don’t see the need to rent a car when in Switzerland because of the exemplary public transport, but it does present a few advantages. You can save precious time reaching smaller villages and stop for photos for as much and as long as you like. You can take your car and hitch a ride on the SBB to travel through the mountainous regions. The Autoverlad service is available for Lotschberg, Simplon, Furka, and Vereina.
The roads are generally in excellent condition with clear signs. Additionally, they are seldom pockmarked with holes, so you’ll have a pleasant journey, even if it is a long one. However, if there’s any chance of snow, you should only drive into the mountains if your car has chains or proper winter tires. You’ll see a blue road sign in areas where chains are required and the same sign with a red slash across it means that you are about to exit said zone.
The iconic yellow Swiss portal buses navigate their way through the mountains and cover most rural places that trains don’t. A few routes, however, require reservations. Tickets can be bought from the driver using cash or at vending machines, service counters at post offices, and the app. Bus routes are available on the SBB app and website.
The Eurobus is the best for long-distance travel. It operates city-to-city routes in cooperation with Flixbus which sells the tickets through their booking systems. Book in advance so you can enjoy reduced fares. Tickets can also be purchased through the SBB, however, doing so won’t make you eligible for discounts. Bus journeys are longer compared to the train but you get to enjoy cheaper fares.
Switzerland has magnificent scenery that’s best enjoyed when you travel slow and make necessary stops to take in all the beauty of the surroundings. The country’s terrific roads and miles and miles of bike paths make exploration by bicycle safe, comfortable, and quick.
A variety of companies rent bikes with helmets such as Rent a Bike, and you can take your pick from standard bikes, electric bikes, or mountain bikes. They also offer children’s bike seats, trailers, and tandem bikes to ensure that no one is left out.
Reserve your preferred bicycle online. Take note that there are bikes that have to be returned to the same station from which they were taken. However, other companies allow you to return the bike at a different location for a small fee. Bike rental prices vary, depending on the duration and model.
A Few More Tips for Your Trip to Switzerland
Here we have a few more tips for your trip to Switzerland that will make your time in the country comfortable and something that you will remember with fond memories.
Request for a special menu for children
If you’re travelling on Swiss Airlines, you should ask for a special children’s menu at least 24 hours before your flight. You can bring baby food and just ask the staff to help warm it to the appropriate temperature.
In addition, you should arrange for a few necessities such as a bottle warmer, crib, and a car seat. Note that car seats are mandatory for children who are 7 years old and younger.
Take a pram with you
Prams are especially helpful for families with toddlers who can’t or don’t have the energy for very long walks. The majority of places and attractions in the cities have wheelchair access, so they are pram-friendly too. Make sure that you look for the wheelchair/differently abled sign in trains, coaches, and attractions and follow directions.
Family services area
Zurich airport has an excellent family services area. There’s a playroom for children as well as other facilities including restrooms for families, changing tables, and even a microwave oven for heating food!