Famous for producing some of the best cheese and chocolate in the world, Switzerland is a country filled with lush green landscapes crowned with snow-capped mountains, bell wearing cows, and wooden chalets adorned with window boxes filled with bright red, orange and yellow flowers. I always knew I would love Switzerland. Who wouldn’t? It’s arguably one of the prettiest countries in the world. But Switzerland is not just a pretty place, it’s an ideal destination for families.
Switzerland, It’s Not Just a Pretty Place
There’s no debate, Switzerland is one of the most beautiful countries you’ll ever visit. But I know my grandkids well and a pretty place is only going to entertain them for so long. Of course for hardcore adventure seekers there’s plenty of hiking, mountain climbing and skiing. And while I’m happy to hike with the grandkids, I’m not a mountain climber and my skiing is, well, let’s just say, entertaining.
But Switzerland is much more than a pretty place and a haven for adventurers, it’s a place for families with enough to keep everyone entertained. Here are a few of my favorite experiences that I hope to share with my grandkids someday.
All Aboard for a Ride through the Stunning Landscapes with a Swiss Travel Pass
In a country filled with storybook architecture and stunning landscapes, no one wants to focus on driving and risk missing any of the sights. Enter the Swiss Travel Pass. It allows families to experience Switzerland by train, bus and boat on premium panoramic trains such as the Glacier Express, Bernina Express, GoldenPass Line or Wilhelm Tell Express. The pass also includes public transportation in more than 75 Swiss towns and cities, a 50% price reduction on most mountain railways and free admission to nearly 500 museums. It’s a convenient and economic way to make the most of your time in Switzerland.
Passes can be purchased for 3, 4, 8 or 15 days. Children under 6 travel free with an accompanying adult and there are substantial discounts for children age 6 to 16 and additional discounts for youth from 16 to 26. And, for the young kids and grandkids you’ll have the added benefit of family designated cars equipped with a playroom.
Playtime and Discoveries in Thun’s Schadau Park
My visit began in Schadau Park on the shore of Lake Thun where I enjoyed a delicious lunch on the patio of Schadau Castle with panoramic views of the lake and surrounding Alps. An ideal place for children, Schadau Park has a maze for the kids to master in search of the playground. And on Sunday afternoons in the summer months, a small narrow gauge steam train takes the kids on a ride through the park gardens.
Be sure to visit the Thun Panorama—a huge 360° painting of central Thun painted in the early 19th century by the Swiss artist Marquard Wocher. It’s the oldest surviving 360°panorama painting in the world and is displayed in circular building that puts you at the center of the painting.
Follow the Trail to Knighthood at the Castle of Thun
Perched above the center of Thun’s historic Old Town, the Castle of Thun beckons young and old alike. Grandmoms like me will treasure the views from the top. And what kid wouldn’t want to climb the towers of a medieval castle surrounded by swords and knights in shining armor?
At the Castle of Thun, the kids can do exactly that and along the way, they can earn the designation of knighthood. There are three steps: page, knave and knight. As you climb through the castle, the kids complete tasks re-enacting the situations of a knight in training.
And, there are costumes – because a real knight can’t just wear jeans. I have no doubt this would be a favorite of my three grandkids…and the costumes would definitely be a bonus for my youngest costume obsessed grandson.
Step back in time at the Ballenberg Museum
At the Ballenberg open air museum history surrounds you with every step—but the kids won’t realize it’s a history lesson. The museum’s hilly and wooded 163 acres wind past more than 100 original centuries-old buildings from all over Switzerland that showcase the rural farming culture of the country.
There are daily demonstrations of traditional crafts including basket making, braiding, weaving and carving. There’s also a cheese dairy with a traditional cheese-making kettle hanging over the flames of an open kitchen. More than 250 native farmyard animals live here too which is always a thrill for the kids.
Ride the World’s Steepest Cog Railway to the Top of Mount Pilatus
A highlight of my time in Switzerland was a visit to Mount Pilatus. It began with a lake cruise from Lucerne past idyllic villages surrounded by snow-capped mountains. To climb the mountain (6,932 feet above sea level) I boarded the world’s steepest cog railway. Not for the faint of heart, the train slowly tackles the vertical tracks to a mountain top often shrouded in fog. Along the way bell wearing cows grazed and hikers inched their way up the steep trails. As the fog cleared, I was rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding Alps. At the top there are restaurants, a gift shop and musicians clad in traditional Swiss attire.
There are plenty of adventures to keep the kids (and grandparents!) entertained on the way down the mountain: panoramic gondolas, aerial cable cars, Switzerland’s longest summer toboggan run and a rope park.
There’s so much more to discover in Switzerland. I’ll return someday and take the grandkids along. And when I do, I’ll share it with all of you.