Exploring Switzerland with kids is child’s play.
Tuck up on straw in a farmer’s hay barn for a night of sweet dreams. Devour ice-cream cones filled with devilishly thick cream. Craft a chocolate bar made in heaven. Walk on cloud nine with cuddly Saint Bernard dogs across craggy mountain passes. Don crampons to explore Europe’s longest glacier, flying from peak to peak, or simply head out to track dinosaurs.
Parents, swooning over picture-book farmsteads and villages in old-school-Heidi Switzerland is so last century: Europe’s long-time family favorite plunges you and your kids into a kaleidoscopic storyboard of adventure, exploration and festive celebration no child could even make up. Irrespective of age, this infamously pristine and orderly country is ironically the place to get your hands dirty, roll up your trouser legs and paddle, have a bash at blowing your own trumpet on an Alphorn and live out at least one of your zaniest dreams – on rivers and lakes, in mountains or cities.
Is Switzerland good for kids?
It’s actually inconceivable that a country with its own Chocolate Train could be anything other than top-drawer in accommodating families and pandering to their every off-the-charts whim. This is a multi-lingual, highly organized destination: Switzerland Tourism and local tourist offices on the ground stock mountains of information on family-friendly sights, activities, workshops and tours for all ages, museums, festivals and accommodation in English. Geneva and Zurich airports sport sizable indoor playgrounds with slides and climbing frames for tots and younger children – as do, rather brilliantly, dedicated family carriages on SBB’s intercity Swiss trains and practically every ski resort once the snow melts.
Seamless, easy-to-navigate public transport is reason alone to bring the kids along. An integrated ticketing system (download the SBB Mobile app before arrival) encourages families to juggle city trams, buses, trains and lake boats – creating constant fun, variety and action for quickly-bored children. (Watching the gigantic, highly polished wheels and cogs turn aboard one of Lake Geneva’s historic paddlewheel steamers from the belle époque-glam 1920s is a mesmerizing attraction in itself for all ages, parents included – the entire fleet sails in unison each May during CGN’s spectacular Naval Parade).
Nappy-changing facilities, playgrounds and stroller rental are reasonably widespread. In mountain towns and ski resorts, sports shops rent sledges and "off-road" pushchairs with big fat tires and sledge runners to make light work off snowy streets. Bring a baby carrier to navigate cobbled-street old towns in historic cities like Geneva, Zurich, Bern and Lucerne and steep climbs in mountain villages in the Bernese Oberland, Graubünden and the Valais.
The Swiss don’t tolerate noise particularly well. Cantons decide their own legal "quiet hours", but 10pm to 6am and all day Sunday is typically the time when excessive and/or relentless noise (vacuuming, washing machines, stomping around in stilettos) can incur a fine. Crying babies and screaming children are exempt, but at least trying to keep children quiet is advisable.
Where is best in Switzerland for kids
For outdoor fun and adventure in spades, consider a family holiday in the Valais or Graubünden – keep the budget in check by favoring lower-key destinations such as the Val d’Anniviers or quieter corners of the Engadine (including Switzerland’s only national park) over celebrity Zermatt, Verbier and Klosters. In summer or winter, both regions deliver mountains of outdoor action in the form of world-class skiing and other snow sports, walking and hiking, cycling, mountain biking, kayaking, rafting and adventure sports.
With exceptionally unique and hands-on museums like Chaplin’s World, Alimentarium and Lausanne’s Olympic Museum, the Lake Geneva region is ideal for families with teenagers. To expose children to a language and culture they’ve most likely never heard of, consider Romansh-speaking Surselva or Val Mustaïr in eastern Switzerland.
Best things to do in Switzerland with toddlers and little kids
Stay on a farm and sleep in a barn
Bunking down on a Swiss farm raises the curtain on instant adventure and a menagerie of farm animals to observe, occasionally pet and feed. Locate and book haylofts with Agrotourism Switzerland; bring sleeping bags, head torches and a thirst for crisp alpine air, starry skies and freshly laid eggs for breakfast.
Go skiing at family-friendly resorts
Little beats a ski holiday with cuddly, life-sized mascot Snowli in the car-free village of Bettmeralp in the Aletsch Arena ski area. Baby-juggling parents share a single ski pass and the Prinzenland snow garden takes mini princes and princesses from aged 3 years. Val d’Arolla, Champéry, Arosa and Scuol are other lovely, less-known family resorts.
Parents and little kids (from 3 to 8 years with an adult/alone) can let rip on well-maintained toboggan runs and alpine coasters on snow and rails – those in Davos, Les Diablerets, Interlaken and Grindelwald (at 12.5km/7.7 miles, Big Pintenfritz is the world’s longest sled run) are legendary. Tearing down the mountainside by go-kart, jumbo scooter or fat bike in almost every ski resort in summer is equally fun for all. High-altitude cable cars – some up to fairytale ice palaces and high-octane snow-tubing runs – are not recommended for children under 3 years old.
Have a hands-on experience at a chocolate factory
Willy Wonka, eat your heart out. Tour a chocolate factory to learn how some of the world’s silkiest chocolate is made, then taste and even decorate your own freshly-minted chocolate bar at Zurich’s Lindt Home of Chocolate, Chocolarium near St Gallen and Broc’s Maison Cailler – accessible as a day trip by the celebrity Train du Chocolat from Montreux.
Follow a themed trail
Inject fun and frolics into an otherwise "boring" walk in the mountains with a kid-friendly themed trail peppered with playful educational and sporting activity stations: whistling marmots, bears, butterflies, storybook dwarfs and giant marble runs get this mum-of-three’s vote.
Best things to do in Switzerland tweens and teenagers
Go wild swimming
Leaping off bridges and floating downstream through town, clothes in a fish-shaped swim bag, in Bern and Basel casts a whimsical Swiss perspective on city exploration; confident swimmers only. In the Swiss Alps in summer, dive into gin-clear, emerald lakes.
Get tickets to one of Switzerland's festivals
Pig racing in Klosters, cow wrestling in Martigny or whacking sun-dried cow pats with a golf club in Reideralp: festivals in Switzerland are madly entertaining. For older teens, bag tickets online months in advance for the country’s headline music festivals (among them, Zermatt Unplugged, Openair St Gallen, Paléo, Festi’neuch and Caprices Festival).
Have an adrenaline rush on mountain zip wires
Zipping above Grindelwald on the First Flyer zip wire (from 10 years), speeding between peaks at 80mph with Verbier’s Mont Fort zip line (from 8 years), bungee jumping in Grindelwald’s glacier gorge Gletscherschlucht (from 14 years) and cycling across a cable suspended in mid-air (from 10 years) at Pradaschier Adventure Mountain the near Chur are standouts in Switzerland’s flush of madcap, adrenalin-pumping aerial activities.
Unforgettable journeys up to Europe’s highest train station, Jungfraujoch (3454m/11,332ft), and the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (3883m/12,740ft) reward with spectacularly snowy panoramas and unsettling but vital first-hand insight into the world’s melting glaciers. Move slowly at high altitude – even teens risk dizziness and nausea if they charge around.
Catch a wave
It’s hardly the world’s best surfing, but it’s certainly among the most unexpected – and when you have grumpy teenagers to cheer up, who cares! Let them rip on artificial waves at Alaïa Bay in Sion or Oana in Lucerne. May to August, ride the Reuss with hipster river surfers in the medieval village of Bremgarten west of Zurich.
Planning tips for traveling with children
- Favor travel by train, boat and cable car, and slash costs dramatically with an annual Swiss Half Fare Card (50% discount on all fares) or a 3-to-15-day Swiss Pass for parents. For kids aged 6–16 years, depending on your own ticket, get a complimentary Swiss Family Card or Junior Card (Sfr30) – either way, they travel with you for free. See SBB's website for more information.
- When skiing, kit out fast-growing kids sustainably: rent ski clothing in advance from Cirkel Supply Co. and get it delivered to your accommodations in Switzerland.
- Make walking around a Swiss city fun for all the family by tracking down clues and solving riddles and enigmas with a Foxtrails "treasure hunt".
- Surf Switzerland Mobility and/or download the app to find perfectly signposted hiking, biking, inline-skating and canoeing trails countrywide; traffic-free routes flagged "obstacle-free" are pushchair-perfect.