Despite its best efforts at marketing itself as a family destination, Switzerland flies under the radar as a place to take your kids in the Northern Hemisphere during the summer months. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, in many minds the very name Switzerland is synonymous with snow or skiing, and getting your head round visiting the Alps in summer can be hard. Secondly, the rumours are true: it can be costly to dine out, accommodate yourselves and keep the family in daily ice cream.
However, if you budget and plan well, a trip to Switzerland in summer can be a truly memorable and special experience for all the family.
It’s not all spend spend spend
Yes, groceries and meals out are probably more expensive than at home and yes, unless you camp in a less popular area, you will be paying more than you might in neighbouring European countries for your accommodation. But look closely, and think of your total outlay rather than the ticket price.
Kids (up to 16 no less) get major discounts or even go free on a lot of attractions and public transport, such as the incredible mountain railways and cable cars. Not having to pay for the little darlings as well as yourselves can obviously reduce your overall spend.
And this being the land of mountains and lakes, there is one sure fire way to get the kids out and active without spending a penny: hiking. There are plenty of family-friendly hikes available, such as the Dwarf trail in Meiringen-Hasliberg and the Liselotte trail to Mäennlichen, both in the Bernese Oberland region.
Embrace the humble cheese and bread packed lunch, get to know the cheaper lines in the supermarkets and take the opportunity to change your kids’ snack mentality - and before you know it you’ll be seeing your Swiss experience as an opportunity and not a cost.
You will find something for everyone
Whether you are parenting a small toddling person or a semi-reluctant teenager or both, the Swiss know how to ensure every family member will have a good experience. It starts with the fact that in most places the parents get to enjoy incredible awe-inspiring views, the kind that are good for the soul and remind you why it’s important to get away with your kids.
Then there’s the huge number of playgrounds (often conveniently located at the top of a mountain), stroller-friendly paths and tiny trains and funiculars to chug around on – your younger children will be in seventh heaven. With older children there are plenty of activities to try, ranging from toboggan runs, cycle tours and zip wires to more skilled adventures for older teenagers such as paragliding, via ferrata and mountain biking.
Try the First cable car at Grindelwald for Alpine hikes, a playground with a view and the chance to descend via the scooter-like Trotti-bike.
It’s a water baby’s paradise
You would be forgiven for not really thinking of swimming opportunities as a key reason to visit Switzerland, but if you and your children love water then you will find plenty of ways to get wet. Each major town has a decent indoor pool, and of the outdoor pools many have baby pools, slides or diving boards – and those all important mountain views.
If you like swimming in natural water, there are plenty of Alpine lakes to get a short, sharp shock (make sure your kids are ready for cold water) and for the strong swimmers in your group there is the chance to float down the River Aare in Bern or the Rhine in Basel. Lake Geneva also offers beaches, complexes with swimming both in the lake and in chlorinated pools, and fun stuff such as paddle boards, water slides and grassy areas to picnic on. In fact urban swimming in Switzerland is quite a thing and if your holiday is more city-based you will still be able to spend plenty of time jumping in and out of natural water in Zurich, Bern or Geneva and many small towns too.
Related content: Ambling down the Aare: wild swimming in Bern, Switzerland
Riding the rails in Switzerland
The museums really are child-friendly
Speaking of a city-based trip, there are a number of attractions in Switzerland that focus on making learning as fun as possible for children – or simply just focus on a fun subject. For the football enthusiast, there’s the Fifa Museum in Zurich which has plenty of interactive exhibits. Or if you and your kids are into cooking and the provenance of food, Nestle’s Alimentarium in Vevey has an academy specifically for children. And those of us with a sweet tooth can get involved in chocolate-making workshops at the Funky Chocolate Club in Interlaken. Walk back in time at the Swiss Open-Air Museum in Ballenberg and take a scavenger hunt or learn all about transport (we are in Switzerland after all) in Lucerne’s Swiss Museum of Transport.
There are many more child-friendly museums listed on the Swiss Family Fun site.
You can breathe deep and be eco-friendly
If, like us, your children are city dwellers there is something incredibly refreshing (literally) about hanging out in the pure clean air of Switzerland in summer. You can feel the pollution being forced out of your bodies, the Vitamin D soaking into the skin and the general sense of well being that comes from a holiday spent constantly outdoors.
Not for nothing did we once send convalescents to the mountains to get properly well. But as well as looking after yourselves, visiting Switzerland is also a chance to travel in a way that looks after the planet. Public transport is so extensive and well integrated that there really is no reason to hire a car and there are family-friendly resorts to base yourself in, such as Bettmeralp and Riederalp, which are completely car free.