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 are 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. We really like the Zurich free walking tour, which I’ve done three times with family visitors and learned something new every time.
>> If you want to be on your own, check out my Zurich City Walks for Families.
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 Panorama Planet Trail, which is stroller-friendly, has a couple playgrounds.
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 views, try Säntis or Rigi, both of which have large viewing areas with 360 degree views of the alps.
4. See Something Famous… on a Budget
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 from Zurich and have lots of options at various budget and fitness levels. I typically take my visitors to Allmendhübel (near Mürren) which has fantastic views of the Eiger and Jungfrau and a great alpine playground for the kids for less than half the price of Jungfraujoch and Schilthorn. We usually add on visit the roaring Trummelbach falls to add to the excitement.
>> See also my Swiss Alps on a Budget.
5. Go Back in Time
Instead of shushing kids in a traditional museum, visit the open-air living museum at Ballenberg where buildings and landscapes from each region of Switzerland are condensed into one big park near Interlaken. There are often people dressed in traditional Swiss dress, making cheese or playing the alphorn. It has classic Swiss landscapes, gorgeous views and playgrounds and room to run for the kids.
6. Go Swimming
Whether you swim in an alpine lake with a view, an elaborate indoor swimming pool, or a fancy thermal baths, chances are these experiences will be new and exciting for your visitors. This is also a nice break from sightseeing for the kids. We love the Caumasee for alpine lake swimming, Aquabasilea for water slides and spa, and Sole Uno thermal baths for hot/cold pools and scented steam rooms. Remind your visitors to pack a swimsuit, just in case.
>>> See also 10 Special Spots for Swimming in Switzerland
7. Tour Nearby Castles
Save the famous Neuschwanstein for a long weekend and in the meantime, enjoy two delightful castles near Zurich, Kyburg or Lenzburg, with lots of history for the adults and fun interactive elements for the kids. Lenzburg has a whole children’s castle playhouse with dress-up costumes and a crafting area.
8. Visit France
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!
9. Cruise a Lake
A relaxing lake cruise is a great way for visitors with mobility issues and little kids 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. If you want to add a hike, try the Swiss Path trail that parallels the lake shore.
10. Stroll through Cute Towns
After living in Europe awhile, you may forget how fun it is for visitors simply to walk through an old European city. The roaring Rhein Falls and the nearby adorable town Stein am Rhein are a classic combo an hour north of Zurich. Kids will like the playground at the falls and ice cream in town.
>>> See all reviews of Cute Towns near Zurich.
11. Drive the scenic route
If you can fit all your guests in the car, taking them on a scenic drive is both affordable and amazing. You can see so many beautiful things in Switzerland just from the car, many beautiful lakes and big mountain views. Our kids listen to audio books or have some screen time, while our visitors snap endless photos and tells us news from abroad.
I’ve mapped out a driving route that we often take from Zurich, driving over the Brünigpass to Interlaken, then returning over the Sustenpass. We usually include a hike or cable car ride in this trip, maybe in Meiringen, Brienzer Rothorn, or something in the Jungfrau Region.
12. Get Interactive Indoors
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.
>>> See all Rainy Day Ideas for Zurich Kids
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, hang out in our favorite parks, go grocery shopping, visit the farmer’s market and take them on quiet outings that we do often with family in our regular life.
For example, we usually take Grandpa to Jucker Farm, a lovely tourist 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.
Where’s your favorite place to take visitors in Zurich?
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