People often ask me where to take their out-of-town guests, specifically what would give the best “swiss” experience, while accommodating a range of budget and fitness levels. This is not a grand tour of Switzerland. This is what I do with family and friends that come to visit us, where the priority is spending quality time together, while also showing off the charms of Switzerland. You don’t need to trek all the way to Zermatt and spend hundreds of francs to show your guests a good time. There’s plenty of wonderful relatively affordable activities within an hour or two of Zurich. Below is a mix of classic Swiss nature outings, cultural experiences, and low key family fun. Enjoy!
1. Explore Zurich
Don’t rush off to the mountains without showing off your adopted city, which is so charming, especially if you take the time to look at the details. I’ve done the free walking tour three times with family visitors and learned something new every time. >>> More details
2. Visit the Zurich “Mountains”
No visit to Zurich is complete without a visit to Uetliberg, the highest point overlooking Zurich lake and the alps in the distance. You can simply take a short train ride to the top and climb the tower for the view. You can also hike along the ridge on the Planet Trail. >>> Read more
We also like taking the Felsenegg cable car up and finding a nice place to build a fire and grill dinner with a view of the lake. This is a nice option to include a working parent in the evening, if they weren’t able to participate in your day trip.
3. Go Hiking: Short, Easy, Affordable, Nearby
Many visitors want the experience of hiking in the Swiss alps, but have limited time, budget or a low fitness level. Not to worry. There are lots of great short and easy hikes near Zurich with have amazing alpine views. Plus, they are much more affordable than the big and famous one and are usually not crowded at all. I like to take visitors to Flumserberg, Hoch Ybrig, and Stoos. Below is a picture with my 80+ year old grandmother, my aunt, and my 3 year old on the Flumserberg Flower Trail. If you don’t want to hike at all, just get big view, try Säntis or Rigi, both of which have large viewing areas with 360 degree views of the alps. >>> Read more
4. See Something Famous
If your visitors are determined to see something famous in Switzerland, but don’t have the time or budget to get all the way to the Matterhorn, there are still great options closer to Zurich. The Bernese Alps are close enough for a day trip and have lots of options at various budget and fitness levels. The Jungfraujoch and Schilthorn are very expensive (CHF 100 – 200/pp), so instead I typically take my visitors to Mürren and Allmendhübel for less than half the price and we still get great views of the Eiger and Jungfrau, as shown below. We usually visit the roaring Trummelbach falls as well to add to the excitement. >>> Read more
Even the drive there is a treat, like a mini tour of Switzerland. It is so beautiful as you drive past many lakes with big mountain views, that we stop often to take photos, like this one of the super blue Lungernsee on the way to Interlaken.
5. Stroll through Cute Towns
The roaring Rhein Falls are nearby and a good combo to make a full day of it.
6. Go Back in Time
The grandparents always like Ballenberg, the Swiss open air museum with buildings and landscapes from each region of Switzerland condensed into one big park near Interlaken. There are often people dressed in traditional Swiss dress, making cheese or playing the alphorn.
7. Cruise a Lake
A relaxing lake cruise is a great way for visitors with mobility issues to enjoy the beauty of Switzerland without requiring a long walk. We like cruising Lake Lucerne the best, especially the section from Brunnen to Flüelen.
Lake Thun is also very nice and can be combined with a stroll through Thun or even a quick ride up one of the mountains that borders the lake like Niederhorn. Lake Zurich can be nice as well, with a stop in Rapperswil.
8. Tour Nearby Castles
Lenzburg has a whole children’s castle playhouse with dress-up costumes and a crafting area.
9. Cross the Border
Visitors love saying they visited more than one country. Within an hour or so drive of Zurich, you can be Germany, Austria or France. The ever popular Colmar is a great choice, especially in spring and summer when flower boxes are bursting all over town. We also love Strasbourg for more of a big city feel and the tiny, quiet, impossibly cute Eguisheim. Plus you get to eat real French croissants!
>>> Read more
10. Stay Inside on a Rainy Day
When the rain clouds gather, don’t despair. There are lots of fun indoor things to do as well. We often take visitors to Technorama, which has plenty to entertain and educate kids and adults, in English too. The interactive exhibits makes it easy for family visitors to play with our kids and get to know them better. >>> Read more
Swimming is also a good indoor option. Many visitors are unfamiliar with the elaborate indoor swimming pools and thermal baths of Europe, so this can be a real treat and a nice break from sightseeing for the kids. Our favorite is Sole Uno near Basel. Remind your visitors to bring a swimsuit, just in case. >>> Read more
Bonus: Just Hang Out
Sometimes visitors just like seeing a slice of your life. Living here, we forget how even the small details are delightful and strange to visitors unfamiliar with Switzerland. So we take walks around the neighborhood, visit our favorite parks, go grocery shopping, and take them on quiet outings that we do often with family in our regular life. We might go on a bike ride along the Sihl river. Or spend a quiet day at Jucker Farm, a very consumer-friendly day at the farm, with farm-fresh food, lots of play equipment, animals to pet, and a lovely view. It’s particularly nice in fall when they have the pumpkin festival.