Switzerland is a beautiful country. It is clean, efficient, but also full of history and natural wonder. This was one of our first big trips as a family, our kids were 2.5 and 1. It was a long flight for us from Seattle, and the jet lag was a little intense. But we don’t regret it at all. We stayed in the city of Lucerne, about an hour south of Zurich. I can’t stress this enough, but when traveling with kids in Switzerland, try to choose a medium size city. Large cities in countries you’ve never been to can be overwhelming. And small villages let’s just say they can be pretty underwhelming. But medium-sized cities are perfect, because they have lots to do but are manageable.
Finding Transportation in Switzerland With Kids
We rented a car in the Zurich airport and drove to Lucerne. This may not be advisable for all because it can get pretty hectic – especially if you are sleep deprived. But Swiss roads are super nice and renting a car is incredibly easy. Very little wait time. Parking the car is a bit pricey but it is nice for day trips, and overall it costs about as much as riding the train. For two weeks we were able to rent a small Ford for about 500 dollars, with two car seats (minus gas which is pricey!).
One word of warning when driving with kids in Switzerland, beware of what we like to call “the evil eye”. It is a speed monitoring device on the high way with a symbol that looks like the evil eye. The Swiss basically go whatever speed they want between unrestricted zones, but in certain zones the speed is heavily observed – probably because of the eye that catches you if you are speeding and sends you a ticket, even if you live miles and miles away in Seattle.
Train travel is beautiful thing in Switzerland. It is fast, and efficient. It is not particularly cheap though. One thing I didn’t know before our trip is how incredibly kid friendly Switzerland is. The last cab on the train has a play area! Slides and tunnels and all. There is a little teddy bear icon on the outside of the cab to indicate it has a play area, so nice to travel this way with kids! I found myself dreaming how easy 3-hour car rides would be if they were substituted with 3-hour train rides with play areas…I could even read a book! Ah a mom can dream right?
Pro tip: if you have kids of reading age grab a few books to introduce them to Swiss culture before you go. It makes fun reading on the trains!
Finding a Place to Stay in Switzerland
So as some of you know traveling in Switzerland comes at a steep price. That in no way means that you shouldn’t go, it just means that you will have to become more practical and efficient – much like the Swiss themselves. I recently wrote about my first impressions of this great country and how we got around with the trains and our car rental. Now I’ll share with you how we stayed in Lucerne for a week while staying within budget.
The four of us stayed in a small studio apartment in Lucerne. This was manageable for us because our kids were little so each of them was in their own travel crib (one which was provided by the apartment!) The studio had a small kitchen with everything we needed, and it was clean and in a good central location.
I booked this studio for $500/week (cheap by Swiss standards!) on Interhome. This is a great rental site. They send you your ‘key’ before hand. Mine was just a security code, but it was still very nice to have. The woman at the front desk was very kind and friendly.
Here is a link to the apartment we rented. As you can see it is quite small, but it fit our needs. Only towards the end of the week were we getting tired of being so squished together 🙂
I would also recommend checking out Airbnb when traveling in Switzerland with kids. We’ve had great experiences with them in Copenhagen, and they provide you with all the amenities you need as a family.
There is a Migros (Swiss grocery store) down the street about two blocks away. The train station is about a 20-minute walk, very doable. Downtown Lucerne is just across the bridge! Like I’ve said before Lucerne is a great place to stay if you are in Switzerland. It’s a very central location. We were able to make a trip to Zurich and Geneva easily during our visit.
Our kids did wonderfully here, the streets are walkable even for those that haven’t been walking for long! I would definitely recommend bringing an Ergo and a lightweight stroller though. It is such a child-friendly city, many cafes have little play areas tucked away so that the kids can play with Duplo’s while parents enjoy a delicious espresso.
SWISS FOOD GUIDE
The Swiss, who are known for many things such as watches, chocolate, and one of the highest standards of living, are not known for their food. From what I’ve tasted from the few restaurants I went to in Switzerland I would agree. I’m not saying I don’t like Swiss food. It’s just that the restaurants I went to were very expensive and not really worth the price in my opinion. I’m sure there are many fine quality restaurants in Switzerland, but I think most people will be okay with me saying there are better ways to spend your time in Switzerland.
MY LOVE OF COOP IS ETERNAL
One has to eat though. And there are actually some great casual dining options in Switzerland, we really enjoyed eating at various Coop’s around the country. These are large department/super markets with cafeteria-style dining areas which are very affordable. The best part is almost every Coop we went to had a play area, so we could dine in peace – not an easy feat for a couple with a baby and a toddler.
So now you’re thinking wow, cafeteria style dining is what she’s suggesting? What the heck. But really try it. It’s actually pretty darn good. They have fresh squeezed juice for breakfast and various mueslis (Swiss staple, it’s a must try!).They even had beef tartar! (And yes that picture you see there is of a meal we got at Coop).
THE JOYS OF RESTAURANTS WITH PLAY AREAS
Also, Coop is a great place to chat up other parents. This seems to be the go to spot for the Swiss dining with kids. We got some really good play ground recommendations from a Swiss mom who asked us to watch her kid while she ran to the bathroom. (Something that would never happen in the US).
If you are staying somewhere that has a kitchen (which I would almost always recommend). Another great place to get your food is the Coop super market – they have fresh gnocchi and other tasty ingredients. They also had an amazing flavor of hazelnut yogurt that I fell in love with. God I miss my Coop hazelnut yogurt! I always like going to grocery stores in foreign countries, I never leave without something new and tasty. In Switzerland, I was never let down, and always had some nice fresh and yummy food to cook.
THINGS TO DO IN SWITZERLAND
Now to the fun part (not that eating wasn’t fun). I think Switzerland offers a lot of different things to do depending on what you like – there’s something for the outdoorsy, the museum types, the urbanites, the young, the old, etc. you get my point. One of the best ways to experience Switzerland (and also most European cities) is just to walk. Lucerne center has nice cobblestone streets, and is closed to traffic so walking is the only way you can get around. The Swiss are big on bike riding so if that is something you’re interested in you might want to look into a rental.
You can admire the architecture, people watch, and always stumble upon something interesting. When you get tired it is advised to get a tasty pastry and an espresso – and people watch some more. Although the Swiss aren’t as strong people watchers as the French, the Swiss who are more introverted and they just seem to like to relax and look calm and classy.
In Lucerne you can hop on any of the buses after buying at ticket at a ticket kiosk.
You can go see the famous Lion of Lucerne. It’s a tranquil adventure, the Lion is behind a little pond. And we were there in the Fall so there was pretty foliage everywhere. There seemed to be a nice neighborhood to walk through around the corner. The pond was a big hit with the kids and so was the little green park area nearby.
Switzerland has beautiful landscapes and trails. So it’s always a good idea to take a little hike or nature walk. You will most likely see some happy Swiss cows.
But like I said before, city walking is one of my favorites. That’s how I stumbled across my favorite place in Lucerne. The old Apothecary. It has displays of what an Apothecary would like when they were in prime popularity. Not to mention the building is just beautiful. All the jars and old books look like something out of Harry Potter (in a good way).
Also I loved seeing all the beautiful white and black Bavarian-style houses. They just looked so quintessential and neat.
Lucerne has a fairly famous transportation museum. It is pretty amazing. If you have a transportation enthusiast in your family it is worth a visit. Be warned it is quite expensive. But they do have a nice cafeteria style dining area a la my beloved Coop.
Last but not least, Lucerne has good shopping. The prices for clothes aren’t as bad as the ones for food, and the price difference isn’t that noticeable for most brands in comparison to the US. Although, remember that I live in Seattle so the cost of living is pretty high around here. If you are used to better prices, then Swiss shopping may not be your cup of tea. But hey it’s always fun to browse 🙂
DAY TRIPS TO OTHER CITIES
Switzerland has a lot of interesting cities to explore, for example Zurich which is a great metropolitan city but still has typical old world Swiss charm. It is a very large city, so it can be hard to maneuver with kids if you’ve never been before. It’s much busier and more hectic than quite Lucerne. Zurich is mostly known as a financial center, but don’t let that turn you off – it’s not just skyscrapers, we really enjoyed walking the cobblestone streets and looking at the storybook buildings (which are right next to the metal and chrome ones like you see in the photo).
CALLING ALL NERDS
If you are a little nerdy like we are, then a trip to the Cern may be up your alley. Geneva is an interesting city and I would say that it has a more French feel than a Swiss one. Which you will see is common with border cities around Switzerland – the closer a Swiss city is to another country the more you will see of that other culture in the city. The Cern is out of the city and there isn’t much around it except a couple restaurants. If you aren’t traveling with kids or have older kids, and you are really interested in the work they are doing there then I would recommend taking a tour. You have to pre-schedule one, and they are about 3 hours long – you can find more information here.
It’s always a good idea to have a picnic after some big outings. We were even able to do this in November, the weather wasn’t too bad (then again we live in Seattle which is not known for its weather). We enjoyed playing at the many playgrounds while having some cheese and bread. Like in many parts of Europe there are lots of birds to feed with your bread crumbs which is always fun for the kids
And last but not least, I couldn’t resist posting this picture of a bath tub garden in Lucerne. Just so pretty and practical – a perfect way to describe Switzerland in two words.
Traveling with Kids?
Subscribe to get our latest tips straight to your inbox.
Ready to plan your own trip?
Here are my go to travel sites, I use them for 100% of family vacations we plan, they have never let me down 🙂
OK so for a while I was Kayak all the way but I recently fully converted to Skyscanner. Why? Because they seem to be able to search more thoroughly and almost always find a deal that is lower than any other site. The key is to click “cheapest month” when searching in the calendar drop down. Another way to find super cheap flights is to input your from airport code and simply put “anywhere” for the destination airport, this will allow you to see which countries may be having a sale.
Is my number 2 go to resource for figuring out where to go. If you want to find great prices then flexibility is key Kayak Explore will let you see the lowest prices to any destination. I love zooming in and out on the map and figuring out how far I can go before we hit our budget cap.
Although we do use Airbnb quite a bit, for some destinations you can’t beat VRBO. When traveling with a large group or family VRBO can actually be more affordable. One trick that I learned from a veteran worldschooler is to wait until the last minute (or as long as you can). And message any VRBO’s that are still available, they may have had cancellations and will be willing to let you stay for a discount. Make sure to ask for a discount in your message. Rates seem to be a bit more flexible on VRBO than Airbnb. Another plus is most listings on VRBO are seasoned hosts and not somebody’s actual apartment (if that isn’t your thing).
Airbnb is my go to in urban areas. We love going somewhere and renting a place and feeling just like we’re locals. Sometimes we get lucky and find an Airbnb with kids’ toys and all the kids’ amenities. You can’t wish for better when traveling with young kids, it makes life so much easier. All for cheaper than a hotel room. Do I need to say more?