Yes, it rains a lot in Zurich. But don’t despair: there’s lots of fun to be had indoors!
I grew up in California, where we don’t have weather. So it was a shock coming to the four seasons of Switzerland, after spending all year long outside with my baby in San Francisco. Now I suddenly had to think of all sorts of things to do with my kid indoors. We started small, with playgroups at local community centers and churches. But after a decade of long cold winters here, I have lots of ideas to add a little variety to your rainy day routine. Since I refuse to do indoor activities when it’s sunny, my kids actually look forward to a little rain so they can do some of the things below. Here are our favorites…
1. Indoor Swimming
Switzerland has a wide variety of indoor swimming options, from small local pools to thermal baths to full scale water slide parks. In Zurich, we like the Altstetten city pool (shown below), with its water slide, diving platform, and bouncy toys in the pools. For special occasions, we like Aquabasilea near Basel, which has lots of water slides.
2. Interactive Museums
These child-friendly museums will entertain your kids for hours and are mostly designed so kids can run around and touch everything without breaking it. Our favorite is Technorama, with hundreds of interactive science and technology exhibits to delight, challenge and excite growing minds. Here are a few of our favorites.
Both Zurich and Basel zoos have indoor exhibits that will entertain away from the rain. The Basel Zoo has a large indoor aquarium, with a much bigger variety of undersea creatures than Zurich. We would go to Basel just to visit the aquarium. Zurich Zoo has many more indoor exhibits than Basel, including the large rain forest, the elephant enclosure the monkey house, the reptile and bird house, a smaller aquarium with penguins, and other small indoor viewing areas for animals like tigers and lions. We recently revisited the Sealife Konstanz aquarium, across the border in Germany. It’s still small and cramped and can’t to the compare to big aquariums in big cities. But my kids had a great time, especially admiring the sharks and rays.
4. Indoor Play Halls
Sometimes the kids just need to run around like crazy and indoor play halls are a perfect choice for that. They have trampolines, various climbing equipment, slides, ball pits, mini trains to ride, cars to drive, etc. There’s plenty to do for all ages, from two to teen. They have cafes so you can eat lunch there and some allow picnics. Most are open weekdays afternoons and all day on weekends and holidays. We usually go to Trampolino but Springding is also quite popular.
For quiet time, the Zurich libraries are an inexpensive solution to the bad weather. Most Zurich libraries have an English section for children’s books, audio, and movies. Many libraries also check out toys and board games. I got my kids hooked on audio books and we travel from library to library looking for more in their favorite series. It also gives us a good excuse to visit different neighborhoods and parks that are near the libraries, like this fun park with the giant slingshot swing next to the Zurich Hardau library shown below.
6. Indoor Sports
If your kids need something a little more active, there are a variety of indoor sport options that don’t require a membership or weekly class to use.
Zurich has several public indoor tennis courts that are open to the public. You can reserve them online at GotCourts. Some aren’t heated well, so it can get cold in winter – bundle up!
There are several indoor sports complexes (not private clubs) around Switzerland that have indoor sport courts, like badminton, tennis, squash, etc. We can recommend Morschach Swiss Holiday Park south of Luzern and Säntispark near St. Gallen .
If it’s too wet to climb outside, you can visit an indoor climbing gym. We did a birthday party at Milandia near Zurich, where they did a short training course, after which the kids could use the climbing wall and indoor ropes course. They offer drop-in use, abos and classes. They require participation in a one-time training course before using the facilities on your own. They have an indoor climbing gym in Schlieren (north Zurich) and Greifensee (east of Zurich). More info at www.kletterzentrum.com. Basel has Kletterhalle7.
7. Let’s Go Bowling
Sometimes my kids like to do something competitive and bowling fits the bill. All the bowling places we’ve been to in Zurich have lane bumpers for kids and balls as low as 5 or 6 pounds for little kids. We usually go to Fun Bowl Stockmatt in Affoltern am Albis, southwest of Zurich.
8. Factory Tours
We love seeing inside a factory, with all the machines working hard, producing magical creations. Plus we also get free samples of chocolate and cookies. Most have fun interactive exhibits for the kids and some have playgrounds.
9. Art & Theater Workshops
Many museums and theaters often children’s workshops on Wednesday afternoons and weekends. Most are held in German but often the staff speaks English can translate. Here are a few in the Zurich area:
Theater PurPur offers weekly and holiday classes and workshops but sometimes has special one-time workshops on weekends.
10. Theater & Music
If you plan ahead, live theater and music is a nice change from the usual suspects. Of course, most theater is in German, more likely Swiss-German for kids. Occasionally one of the international schools puts on a play or musical in English. So watch for those.
Here is a list of theaters that routinely put on productions for children.
Züricher Märche Bühne puts on fairy tale theater at Theater Hechtplatz, usually Wednesday, Saturday and Sundays afternoons from October through March. We’ve seen Aladdin, which my kids liked. The seating is very cramped and the room quite hot, so be prepared. This is the kind of performance where kids are encouraged to cheer and boo as the action progresses.
Berhard Theater next to the Zurich Opera House usually has a children’s musical during the winter months. We’ve seen The Jungle Book, Der Kleine Eisbär, and Emil und die Detektiven, all in Swiss German. My kids really liked the performances, especially because it’s a small room and you can sit very close to the stage. Some of the actors come out in costume after the performance to meet the kids.
Zurich Tonhalle offers family concerts a few Sundays a year. We’ve been twice. I would only recommend it for kids that are interested in music and make sure to get tickets early so your kids can sit close to the musicians. One time we sat way at the back and my kids couldn’t see well and they lost interest. One of my sons doesn’t like music and this concert did not change his mind. My other son loves music and he definitely wants to go back. Get to the performance early to grab a free seat cushion that lifts your child higher up to see better.
Theater PurPur usually has children’s theater on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons.
We love seeing movies on the big screen, but it can be hard to find them in English. In Switzerland, most kid movies will show in the original language on one screen for the first two weeks, maybe longer if the movie is very popular. In Zurich, the Sihlcity, Corso and Abaton theaters usually have at least one screen with a kids’ movie in English. Look for the E/d/f symbol next to the movie title, the capital letter E indicating the spoken language will be English. The small letters indicate subtitle languages.
In addition, Film Podium Zurich has started showing classic kids’ movies in English, usually one a month on a Sunday afternoons. This is part of the Kinderkino program, which show other kids’ movies in the original language. Film Podium is a special arthouse movie theater focusing on classic and artistic films, often hosting programs focusing on a director, actor or film genre. They usually show the films in the original language, meaning you can often see films in English.
If your kids speak German, the Kindercity Kino is always showing kids’ movies, but always dubbed into German.
Out of ideas?
I think it’s time to put on your rain suit and go hiking instead.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”- Alfred Wainwright