Switzerland’s Grand Tour: Family Fun Itinerary
Explore eastern and central Switzerland with your family on this seven-day loop.
By Maryellen Kennedy Duckett
GATEWAY AND DEPARTURE AIRPORT Zurich Airport, Zurich
Explore eastern and central Switzerland with your family on this seven-day loop. The route begins in Zurich and was designed to limit long drives. Less time spent on the road each day means more opportunities for parents and kids to hike, bike, play, and discover some of Switzerland’s best parks, museums, zoos, and other kid-centered destinations. While this is a classic road trip, the route can be covered easily by Swiss Rail and public transportation using a Swiss Travel Pass. (Tip: Kids under 16 travel for free with a parent who has a Swiss Travel Pass.) As an added bonus, the pass also provides free or discounted entry to many of the route’s featured attractions. Pick and choose among the activities featured here based on your interests and the time allotted for your trip.
DAY ONE: ZURICH AND WINTERTHUR
GET THERE BY CAR Zurich > A1L (signs for Winterthur/Flughafen) > A1/A4/E41/E60 > St. Gallen/Winterthur BY PUBLIC TRANSIT S (S-Bahn) train > Winterthur
ANIMAL KINGDOM Start your family vacation with Zoo Zurich, the largest zoo in Switzerland. See more than 360 animal species, including tigers, snow leopards, Andean bears, gorillas, and penguins. Experience the Masoala Rainforest, covering 117,000 square feet and featuring a walkway through the tropical treetops. Also, do not miss the Kaeng Krachan Elephant Park, the zoo’s roomy area designed to give the majestic pachyderms ample room to roam.
CHEESY ATTRACTION View the city lights of Zurich through the windows of the evening Fondue Tram, which runs from November until the end of March. The trip takes two hours and includes a welcome drink and all-you-can-eat Valais fondue, a dessert, and coffee.
RIVER CRUISING Enjoy the view of Zurich’s old town from a tour on River Limmat. The 50-minute trip on a glass-roofed motorboat takes you from the National Museum up the river to Lake Zurich and back, passing historic buildings like the guild houses and Zurich’s town hall. The tour runs from the end of March until mid-October.
SWISS CULTURE Dive into Swiss history and culture at the Swiss National Museum. The exhibit “Switzerland on the Move, 1750–1920” covers three floors and traces the development of the country from the Enlightenment to the beginning of the 20th century.
WINTERTHUR ATTRACTIONS Nearby Winterthur boasts 6a Plus, a climbing arena where you and the kids can tackle 23,680 square feet of climbing space, including 180 routes, 120 boulders, and 11,000 climbing holds. The Winterthur Natural History Museum caters to kids with exhibits on all things nature.
EAT Kindli Restaurant, Zurich
STAY Sorell Hotel Zurichberg, Zurich
DAY TWO: ZURICH TO CHUR
GET THERE BY CAR A3 BY PUBLIC TRANSIT RE (RegioExpress) train > Chur
SLIP AND SLIDE The Alpamare in Pfäffikon is Europe’s largest covered water park, with 5,900 feet of slides and four thermal pools. The iodine brine pool is 97°F and is said to cure all types of illnesses.
DOWNHILL RIDE Stop at the Habergschwänd departure point in Filzbach to take a chairlift up the mountain, then enlist the kids to ride a scooter down 4.7 miles on a mountain road.
TAKE A HIKE For a taste of the Swiss outdoors, hike the Habergschwänd-Talsee Nature Trail in Filzbach. The route is just one and a half miles but covers 100 million years of geological history.
HIGH IN THE SKY The Fixed Rope Park in Milandia Greifensee is the largest freestanding high-wire park in Europe. It offers eight courses with a hundred different elements. The Base Jump lets adventurers take a nearly 66-foot free fall.
ANCIENT HISTORY In Chur, the oldest town in Switzerland, visit the car-free Old Town to get a sense of its 5,000 years of settlement history.
EAT Buendner Stube, Chur
STAY Ambiente Hotel Freieck, Chur
DAY THREE: CHUR TO LUGANO
GET THERE BY CAR A13 > A2 BY PUBLIC TRANSIT Bus 171 > Bellinzona > ICN (InterCity tilting train) > Lugano
CASTLES OF BELLINZONA Along the way to Lugano, stop in Bellinzona to see the medieval castles Castelgrande, Montebello, and Sasso Corbaro that once protected the city. Now just remnants of their former glory, the ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
LLAMA LED Go llama trekking in Ticino at Malcantone. The llamas carry the load (food, drinks, and other gear) on these guided, family-friendly hikes suitable for kids of all ages. For a special treat, combine a trek with an overnight stay at the llama farm.
GET WET Splash & Spa Tamaro in Rivera features five waterslides with names like Gravity Killer and Tunnel of Horror. The pools are calmer and offer places for little ones to play, and the nine spas and saunas are much more relaxing for adults.
JUMP IN A LAKE If you want to cool off in Lugano, head to the Lido di Lugano, which has a sandy beach on the banks of Lake Lugano, a heated Olympic swimming pool, a smaller swimming pool, a diving pool, a kids’ pool, a court for beach volleyball, and a soccer field.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE At the Zoo al Maglio in Magliaso (near Lugano), kids and parents can get up close to the more than a hundred animals. The resident wildlife includes lions, snow leopards, wallabies, Japanese macaques, capuchin monkeys, and parrots.
EAT Pasta e Pesto, Lugano
STAY Hotel Lugano Dante, Lugano
DAY FOUR: LUGANO TO LUCERNE
GET THERE BY CAR A2 BY PUBLIC TRANSIT ICN train > Lucerne
MOUNTAINS OF FUN Lucerne is home to two mighty mountains for the family to explore. Rigi, also known locally as “Queen of the Mountains,” is accessible by the first mountain railroad built in Switzerland in the late 1800s. It’s tucked between Lake Lucerne, Lake Zug, and Lake Lauerz and offers spectacular 360-degree panoramic views and great hiking in the summer. The equally picturesque, 7,000-foot-tall Mount Pilatus can be reached by gondola—the world’s steepest cogwheel railroad.
BACK IN TIME Give the family a taste of Lucerne history by visiting these sights that are located near one another: the Lion Monument, which honors the Swiss mercenary soldiers who lost their lives in 1792 defending the royal family during the French Revolution; the Glacier Garden, which shows remnants from the last ice age in a natural setting; and the fun-for-kids Alhambra mirror maze with its labyrinth of 90 mirrors, included as part of the admission to Glacier Garden.
SCAVENGER HUNT The Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne is a must-see for families. For those with kids seven years old and older, check out the Captain Coop and Lexi app, available for iOS and Android. The program uses a smartphone to guide children on an educational and engaging scavenger hunt. Kids look for hidden items, solve mysteries, and collect points as they move through the four halls of the museum. Stop in the gift shop off the lobby for an activation code, a lanyard, and a Captain Coop cap.
EAT Unicum, Lucerne
STAY Seehotel Hermitage, Lucerne
DAY FIVE: LUCERNE TO INTERLAKEN AND JUNGFRAU REGION
GET THERE BY CAR Lucerne > A8 > Interlaken BY PUBLIC TRANSIT IR (InterRegio) train > Interlaken Ost; R (Regio) train > Lauterbrunnen
CHOCOHOLIC PARADISE The Funky Chocolate Club Switzerland in Interlaken is a gathering place for chocolate lovers young and old. While you can shop for genuine Swiss chocolates or savor chocolate fondue, the real attraction is the chocolate workshops, during which you’ll learn how chocolate is made and take home your own handmade treat.
OUTDOOR ADVENTURE The Seilpark Interlaken will remind your family of an Ewok forest with its maze of eight treetop courses made up of bridges, swings, and zip lines. The routes offer 90 challenges with varying degrees of difficulty from ground level up to 66 feet in the air.
CYCLING TOURS Flying Wheels Electric Bike Tours in Interlaken runs various e-bike tours perfect for families. The ride to the valley of 72 waterfalls in Lauterbrunnen (the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elven realm, Rivendell), for example, takes you past Trümmelbach Falls, where nearly 5,300 gallons of water roar through a narrow gap every second. Flying Wheels also rents bikes for your own adventures. (Note: Flying Wheels closes for the winter.)
SWISS VILLAGE The 163-acre Swiss Open-Air Museum in Ballenberg is a best bet for families. Wander among historic houses and view artifacts from Switzerland’s past that can be touched and tried. See 250 farm animals, including bees, pigeons, birds, hens, ducks, geese, rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs, cattle and oxen, and horses and donkeys. Explore the special children’s exhibit, “The Enchanted Forest,” in which elves and helpers guide kids through a life-size picture book about the woods. At the cheese storehouse, learn about games children played centuries ago. (Note: The Open-Air Museum closes for the winter.)
FUNICULAR FUN Venture into the mountains to find funicular and cable railways that will take your family to new heights. The open-air Gelmer funicular is said to be the steepest in Europe, giving a feeling of a roller coaster as it comes down the mountain. The resort at the end of the Meiringen-Hasliberg cable car has won a Top for Families Award from Skiresort.info. It features two theme trails, open from the end of June through mid-October, where kids can explore the lives of mythical Swiss dwarves. And, of course, there is the world-famous Jungfrau Railway from Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch in the Bernese Oberland, which ends at the highest railway station in Europe at 11,332 feet.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
EAT Restaurant Laterne, Interlaken
STAY Hotel Eiger, Mürren
DAY SIX: INTERLAKEN TO BERN
GET THERE BY CAR A6 BY PUBLIC TRANSIT ICE (InterCity Express) train > Bern
KLEE CLUB The Zentrum Paul Klee (Paul Klee Museum) in Bern features the Kindermuseum Creaviva, where kids can learn about art and its creation. The Open Studio is a drop-in art workshop where children can play with paint and make their own creations.
BEAR UP The Bern Bear Park gives families the chance to learn about and see bears in a natural habitat. Bears have been kept in Bern since the 19th century in a bear pit, but in 2009, a new one-and-a-half-acre enclosure was built for resident bears Finn, Björk, and Ursina to allow them to climb, fish, and play. The bears are most active during warm weather; they hibernate in winter.
CHILD’S WORLD On the way to Bern, stop in Thun to see its Toy Museum, near Thun Castle. The museum has 12 rooms of exhibit space and shows off games, dolls, teddy bears, and other toys from 1850 to 1960.
EAT Restaurant Krone Bern, Bern
STAY Hotel Innere Enge, Bern
DAY SEVEN: BERN TO ZURICH
GET THERE BY CAR A1 BY PUBLIC TRANSIT IC train > Zurich
NEVER ENOUGH CHOCOLATE On the way to Zurich, drop into the Chocolat Frey visitors center in Buchs. Kids will enjoy the overview of chocolate production with Röbi the robot. Take a test to find out what variety of chocolate you are, and have your child pretend to be a bonbon in a giant chocolate box.
KNIGHT WATCH You and your kids can step into the past at the Roman Adventure Park and Legionnaire’s Path in Windisch. This is the spot where 6,000 Roman legionnaires once camped, and today it is an archaeological adventure park featuring ten areas to explore. For more fun, stay overnight in camp Contubernia, cook on an open fire, play ancient games, and live a legionnaire’s life with the family for a few hours.
EAT La Fonte, Zurich
STAY Hotel Glärnischhof, Zurich