Whether you head to the Alps for some of Europe’s best skiing and hiking or explore the fantastic cities and great museums, Switzerland can be a magical country – if not a cheap one – for family holidays and breaks, especially with children who love the great outdoors.
|Flying Time||1.75 hours|
|Carbon Footprint||0.72 tonnes CO2|
|Local Currency||Swiss Franc|
Follow the example of other families heading for the fantastic winter and summer activities in the resorts of Bernese Oberland and the Swiss Alps. The ski resort of Interlaken between the lakes of Thun and Brienz, a fantastic base for exploring the snowcapped mountains, pristine lakes and waterfalls of the Bernese Oberland, offers endless winter sports, plus lots of water-based activities in summer. For family holidays or breaks with keen skiers, Grindelwald, another great base in the Bernese Oberland, is of the most well-established skiing and hiking centres in the region, with slopes for beginners, intermediates and advanced skiers. It's also the capital of summer walking in the Swiss Alps. And don’t leave Switzerland without visiting the Matterhorn, Switzerland’s most recognisable landmark. This great, craggy peak has superb visitor facilities including year-round snowboarding, and you can go on any number of tours around it, on foot or by other means.
Discover the capital Bern: ride the Gurten Funicular to the top of its local mountain for 360° views of the city and the Alps, and in summer let the kids run off some steam in the Gurten playground or enjoy one of the mountain’s many hiking trails. In winter the Gurten Park also offers great tobogganing. Back on lower ground, explore the interactive exhibits at the Bern Museum of Communication or take your kids to create their own work of art at the Kindermuseum Creaviva. See the animals at the Tierpark Bern or discover the world of tropical birds, insects and butterflies at Papilorama in Kerzers outside the city.
Explore Switzerland’s largest city, Zürich, where little visitors can get hands-on with pigs, ponies and pygmy goats at Zürich Zoo, see more than 1,200 antique toys from all over Europe at the Zürich Toy Museum or ogle the prehistoric exhibits at the city’s Dinosaur Museum. In winter, get your skates on at the Dolder Open-Air Ice Rink, the largest of its kind in Europe, or travel 55mins journey out of the city to Atzmännig for fantastic skiing and winter sports. Thirty-five minutes outside Zurich, Connyland offers great rides plus sealion and dolphin shows in the warmer months.
In Basel, watch the iron figures at work in the Tinguely Fountain or make your own paper at the Basel Paper Museum. Little animal-lovers enjoy Basel Zoo, and there are teddy bears and toys on display at the Basel Doll Museum.
Visit Lake Geneva, also known as Lac Léman and home to some of Switzerland’s best activities for families. Base yourself in Lausanne, a dynamic and interesting city that is much more more attractive than the rather po-faced Geneva. Ride the steamboats on the lake and then hire a car to take advantage of activities around the lake. On the northeastern shore, pay a visit to the Swiss Museum of Games at La Tour-de-Peilz, then head northeast to the Maison Cailler, a chocolate museum dedicated to the man who brought the first chocolate recipe to Switzerland in 1819.
On the southern shores of Lake Geneva, head to Aqua Parc in the southeast corner for year-round watery fun, or take a picnic to the 3km adventure maze at Labyrinthe Aventure d'Evionnaz. Also southeast of the lake is Happyland, the largest themepark in Switzerland, easily accessible from Geneva and Lausanne.
Head due north of Lausanne, to the capital of Swiss musicboxes, Sainte-Croix – little visitors will enjoy its Museum of Music Boxes and Automatons. The area north of Lausanne is also home to the Aubonne Arboretum, offering fantastic woodland walks, and Juraparc, a great animal park with wolves, bears and bison.
Venture west of Lake Geneva for more fun for little animal-lovers at Zoo La Garenne, as well as getting the chance to swing from the trees at the Forestland adventure circuit.
International cuisine including the usual child-friendly suspects is easy to come by in Switzerland, making family holidays and breaks a doddle. But most kids will be thrilled by cheese-based Swiss specialities such as fondues, raclette (melted cheese to scoop) and rösti (fried grated potato with cheese or ham).
Restaurants are expensive, but you can keep costs down by frequenting some of the many snack bars selling mainly German and Italian snacks such as bratwurst and pizza. Desserts (often Austrian) are excellent, as is the coffee.By Zannah Ingraham
Dec–March is peak ski season in Switzerland, while July and August are ideal for hiking. There can be more rain in August and September, which is worth bearing in mind when planning family holidays and breaks.
In the higher Alpine regions, temperatures tend to be low, while the lower land of the northern area has higher temperatures and warm summers. Expect summer temperatures of around 24°C and winter temperatures from -2°C to 3 or 4°C.
Outside the ski season, May sees the three-day Lausanne Carnival with live street theatre and music and an annual parade.
The scenic train journey to Switzerland (London–Paris by Eurostar, then a high-speed TGV to Geneva in 3hrs 20mins, or also to Lausanne, Bern, Basel or Zürich) takes you through the French Alps. See The Man in Seat 61 (seat61.com) for all the information you could possibly need.
The main airports in Switzerland are Zürich and Geneva, but Basel and Bern also receive frequent international flights, some by low-cost operators.
Fast, well-maintained motorways through France make Switzerland easy to reach by road, with Geneva 930km from London (about 9hrs if driving non-stop, with road tolls costing about €70).
With older kids, you might consider cruising along the Rhine to Switzerland from Amsterdam, via Germany. Switzerland can also be reached by lake steamer ferries from Germany via Lake Constance, from Italy via Lake Maggiore, and from France via Lake Geneva.
Switzerland is a notoriously expensive country to live in or visit. In skiing areas, accommodation is naturally more expensive in winter; in summer, it's cities that see increased prices. Self-catering options will help you to save money wherever you are – including camping in summertime.
If you're not going for the skiing, think about going in the shoulder season (May/June and Sept/Oct), when the weather is pleasantly mild and ideal for family holidays and breaks.
There is a great choice of family-friendly hotels in Switzerland, ranging from 5-star splurge affairs to more modest but homely family-run Alpine hotels handy for the ski slopes. In summer you might think about camping in glorious nature – perhaps beside an idyllic lake – while in the larger cities, you could save money by staying in a child-friendly apartment.
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