With the Swiss school holidays falling in October, it's a great time of year to explore these family-friendly museums, attractions, parks, cafes plus a few places to chill out and wind down in too.
Aathal's Dinosaur Museum (Saurier Museum) on Lake Zurich is the largest museum of its kind in Switzerland. Get a dino-overload with life-size models and skeletons of all your favourites - brontosaurus, stegosaurus, triceratops, velociraptor etc. to the requisite T-Rex skull, as well as dinosaur eggs and various paraphernalia.
Zurich’s zoo has risen to international fame for its 'Masoalahalle': a large dome filled with the wildlife of Madagascar. Don’t worry – they’ve not included any predators, so it’s safe to walk around and climb the steps to the viewing platform. And don’t miss the zoo’s newest attraction – the Mongolian Steppe complete with yaks and yurts. There's also the fantastic modern elephant house with large indoor area and on-site Thai food stall serving delicious snacks while you watch the elephants.
Great for older kids. Leave a CHF 20 deposit at one of the Züri rollt containers and enjoy the city on two wheels. You might want to cycle down part of either side of the lake or just use the bike to get around Zurich a bit quicker.
We love Iroquois' American-style hamburgers and fries - choose from beef, chicken, veal, fish or veggie. There's also a good range of salads and daily specials, as well as a weekend brunch offering, Znüni (morning tea) and a very decent kids' menu, that doubles as a colouring sheet (pencils are provided) - nice.
Operating since 1907, the Urania has been Zurich’s astronomical observatory for over a hundred years. There are special tours for children once a month. All public tours are in German, but private tours in English can be arranged.
Since the opening of the adjacent arches of the Viadukt, housing shops, restaurants and cultural centres, the Josefswiese has become a popular meeting point for locals from all over town. Families with small children find a lavish playground with climbing and dexterity constructions for various ages. The grass offers space for football, beach tennis and even barbecues, and there is also a beach volleyball field.
It's all about swimming in this bright, newly renovated public swimming pool built in the 1940's.
Run by the ETH's university's geology department, this museum focuses on our planet and its wonders. From rocks and minerals to volcanism and plate tectonics there is a lot to learn.
The Bäckeranlage is a pleasant green space in Kreis 4 with a modern building which hosts a café and cultural centre. Lunch at the café is tasty and cheap, and the on-site playground is a great place if you have small kids who want to make friends.
Sihlcity is much more than a mere shopping centre. With 80 different shops, 14 restaurants, a multiplex cinema, a spa, a hotel and much more. Plus, there's a children’s area where qualified personnel will take care of your kids while you shop ‘til you drop.
The Richterswil Horn is a popular local park, no doubt due to its stunning location on the shores of Lake Zurich. The park also has an excellent children's playground.
With artefacts and documents dating from the Stone Age to today, the Landesmuseum holds a vast permanent collection as well as hosting regular exhibitions. There are guided tours in English once a week and various activities for children.
This two-floor café with its kitsch interiors and abundant flowery decoration is as loved by many as it is hated by some. But if you can handle the permanent sensory overload and often very slow service, you will be rewarded with delicious dishes and cakes.
The flat boats with their panoramic glass roofs offer a different view of the city - from the bottom up. Built to pass below the seven bridges over the Limmat, they offer space for up to 51 passengers. A pleasant school-holiday cruise.
With mismatched furniture, retro elements and that slight amateur feel, Kafi für Dich also has a large indoor area where you can let your offspring play all afternoon. Maybe not the most exciting place in town, but definitely a good option if you have small kids and want to meet your friends on a rainy day. And as soon as the sun comes out you can cross the road and let the children run free at Bäckeranlage.
Opened in 1994, the lakeside Chinagarten is a present from Zurich’s Chinese partner city Kunming. The playground right next to it is a popular spot for children and families year-round.
You can learn more about the history of Zurich’s trams in its own tram museum. Original carriages from 1897 onwards are on display as well as models. A special museum tram runs to the venue every last weekend of the month (check the website for timetable), and there are special family Sundays with handicraft activities.
This park less than half an hour away from the city of Zurich consists of two parts: the Sihlwald forest and Langenberg, Switzerland’s oldest wildlife park. Most of it is accessible at all times. There is an educational forest trail, and in Langenberg visitors can watch 16 native or formerly native animals such as bears, bison and hares.
Great guided tours are available, including kid-friendly versions, and on the first Sundays and Wednesdays of the month, they’re free.
Originally built as a pressure release valve for Geneva’s water supply, rather than for any aesthetic reason, the jet d’eau spurts 500 litres of water per second some 140m (459ft) into the air, before thundering back into Lake Geneva.
There's a children's playground and, in winter, an ice rink by the café which is free to use.
Since it first started in 1970 this twice-weekly Geneva institution has grown into a sprawling mass of stands that now make up one of Switzerland’s largest flea markets. I
It’s a fascinating and rather humbling experience to visit this museum, which documents the work of the Red Cross from the humanitarian vision outlined by founder Henry Dunant in 1863, through its work during so many conflicts and natural disasters since then.
A number of hiking paths meander over the mountain, including one which leads through the woods and on to an open meadow, the perfect spot for a picnic or snooze in the sun with a view of Mont Blanc.
It’s worth playing the tourist and joining the sometimes long queues to visit this huge 1930s building which houses the European headquarters of the United Nations – the largest UN centre after New York.
Straddling the Franco-Swiss border is the laboratory of the European Council for Nuclear Research – better known as CERN. For a guided visit of the lab’s facilities (though not, sadly of the LHC itself) book yourself onto a tour – but think ahead as English tours fill up months in advance.
You won’t find overloaded patties at this American-style burger joint in the Pâquis. The boys behind this recent addition to Geneva’s increasingly large burger scene like to keep things simple. There are just three options on the menu – hamburger, cheeseburger and bacon cheeseburger – and the focus is on the meat – juicy, succulent and cooked medium rare, unless you specify otherwise.
Built in the 1930s, the Bains des Pâquis is a public swimming baths right on Lake Geneva and a popular social meeting place for Genevois of all ages, shapes and wallet-sizes. In summer it’s a lovely place to swim, lounge about in the sun and have a cheapish lunch on the large terrace of the Buvette.
At the top of Lausanne’s broad sweep from hilltop to lakeside, this forest is a pretty spot for a Sunday stroll or cycle along the leafy trails. The focal point is the lake and petting zoo – ideal for kids – and its chalet restaurant which serves Swiss classics such as fondue.
The small downstairs room is ideal for a quick coffee, while the calm, muted tones of the larger upstairs café draws punters looking for a laid-break brekkie and groups of new parents (a kids’ menu is available) catching up on a weekday morning.
The huge Lac de Joux in the Jura valley of the same name is a draw for outdoor enthusiasts at any time of year. In summer it’s a magnet for swimmers, sailors and windsurfers making the most of the warm water and favourable winds, while cyclists and hikers take to the many marked trails around the lake. In winter its relatively high altitude (1,004m) means the lake often freezes over, becoming the largest natural outdoor ice skating rink in Europe. Skating on the vast expanse of ice is a truly freeing experience, even if the lack of barriers and ungroomed ice mean novices are likely to wobble and fall. Meanwhile snow turns the trails around the lake into snowshoeing and cross-country skiing tracks – some of the best in the Jura. Equipment can be hired at a number of sports shops in the area.
Making the most of its position on one of Europe’s largest lakes, Lausanne’s ferry port at Ouchy offers cruises to many destinations around the lake in both Switzerland and France.
As anyone who has arrived into the main train station knows, Lausanne is rather chuffed with its self-proclaimed status as ‘Olympic city’, due to the presence of the International Olympic Committee’s headquarters down by the lake in Vidy. A museum dedicated to the movement was created in Ouchy in 1993 and was renovated in 2013 to the tune of £36 million. As you’d hope for that amount of money, it’s now well-worth a visit. Divided into three themes, the permanent exhibition leans heavily on interactive, multimedia displays including interviews with athletes, wall-to-ceiling screenings of clips from opening ceremonies and games to test your own physical and psychological skills in various Olympic disciplines. There’s also a vast array of memorabilia documenting the design changes and scientific advances made throughout Olympic history in medals, venues, torches, outfits and sporting equipment. It even dips into the murky world of drug cheats, while ensuring that the shiny, wholesome veneer of the Olympic movement remains fully intact. In addition to the permanent exhibition there’s a series of temporary displays, plus a café-restaurant with a fantastic view of the lake.
The three glass domes of the botanical garden's palm houses might make you worry about an alien invasion. But despite their exotic and often stunning appearance, all the plants inside the spheres appear to be earthlings.
Don’t miss the archaeological site beneath the cathedral, which contains the remains of previous churches on this site as well as pre-Christian remains dating back to the third century BC.
No visit to Lausanne would be complete without a hot chocolate in Le Barbare, it’s arguably the best hot chocolate in town – pure, thick, melted loveliness and little else, unless you fancy it topped with whipped cream.
This tea-room on the cobbled Rue de Bourg is owned by a family of artisan chocolate-makers, so that’s reason enough to visit right there. However besides Manuel’s divine Swiss chocolates, this is a good little place for a morning croissant – widely considered the best in town and cheap too.
The Swiss Transport Museum is huge, well-designed and enjoyable to visit. With separate sections for transport by track, road, air, water and space travel, there's loads of interactive displays and exhibits for kids of all ages.
Billed as a ‘theatre for young and old’, Basel’s well-known puppet theatre is exactly that, staging afternoon performances aimed at children and darker tales for adults during the evening. Performance styles vary wildly – if you thought puppetry was just Miss Piggy or Big Bird you’ll be thoroughly surprised by the cast of characters performing here.
Get set for a tidal wave of fun and, er, relaxation! Splash & Spa Tamaro has a huge amount of water-based activities on offer. First up, there's five exciting waterslides to try (we suggest the Gravity Killer!).
The roar of up to 600,000 litres of water per second crashing over the rocks makes your ear drums throb. There is some lovely walking in the romantic landscape around the falls, but the must-do experience is a boat trip to the rock that stands at the heart of the powerful masses of water.
Situated at the foot of the Flüela mountain pass, this high wire and cycle park offers a fun day out for adventurous adults and children alike. The park has five rope courses of different difficulties (including a children’s one) and a mountain bike course suitable for all riders.
Visit Yumm in the morning and it’s likely your cupcake will have been baked in the last hour. The aroma of fresh baking that infuses the shop in Kleinbasel is irresistible – as is the selection of cupcakes, which range from chocolate and vanilla to mango or white chocolate and raspberry.
Known affectionately to locals as Zolli, Basel Zoo is something of a landmark. It opened in 1874, making it Switzerland’s oldest zoo. It is also home to some 600 species, including meerkats, snow leopards, gorillas, spider monkeys, giraffes, penguins and parrots.
This recently built spa resort nestles in a valley on the train route just out of Champéry in the popular Franco-Swiss Portes du Soleil region. The spa area offers a large menu of massages and treatments – some specially for kids – and you can get your fingers and toes primed and polished in the accompanying nail bar.
The centre has also won well-deserved praise for its exemplary, hands-on studio for kids, where aspiring artists from four up can produce masterpieces of their own.
At 2,042 metres and yet entirely accessible by train from Montreux, the summit of Rochers de Naye is one of the most attainable alpine peaks in Switzerland. You can hike up, but when there’s such a lovely (and easy) hour-long cogwheel train ride to be had instead, it’s tempting to forgo the effort.
At 858m, the Gurten sports fabulous views over Bern on a clear day, and makes for a welcome getaway from the city. The leafy offering includes a viewing tower, several restaurants, a children’s play area, plus hiking and mountain biking trails.
A solution born out of the Switzerland’s changing environment, this 170 meter long pedestrian suspension bridge allows intrepid hikers to complete the Trift mountain route without the Trift Glacier serving as a natural crossing.
There are more scenic thermal baths in Switzerland, but what this one lacks in bucolic views it makes up for in convenience and a reasonably entry price. Just a short walk, drive or bus ride from Yverdon-les-Bains town centre, the Centre Thermal draws on the area’s famed sulphur-rich water to offer a complex comprising one indoor and two outdoor pools.
Fancy taking on the challenges of mountain climbing without the risk? Look no further to Europe’s largest indoor rope adventure park with 5 courses to test your climbing skills on. Tackling tricky scenarios like overcoming giant icicles, abseling and the odd zip-lining.
The intriguingly-named Tingel Kringel is a purveyor of coffees, bagels, cakes and sweets, with an interior decor in riotous candy colours that threatens sensory as well as sugar overload.