Many of Switzerland's pleasures and pastimes, such as alpine skiing and mountain trekking, are strictly adult-oriented. Nonetheless, it's one of the great outdoor countries in Europe, and all its major cities, such as Geneva and Zurich, offer activities that the entire family can enjoy.
If you're on a rushed weeklong schedule, our suggestion is to spend only 1 night in the two main cities, Geneva and Zurich, but 2 nights each in the more kid-friendly cities of Interlaken and Lucerne, because of all the thrilling mountain excursions possible from these two resorts.
Day 1: Zurich: Your Arrival Point
On Day 1 arrive as early as you can to crowd in as much sightseeing as possible, since you have only a day. The best and quickest way to see the city is to walk about the famous quays of Zurich, which are riverside promenades along the Limmat. Many of these quays open onto beautiful gardens where the entire family can rest their feet. The town's major attraction is the Landesmuseum (Swiss National Museum), which has something for all ages, such as antique dollhouses built over various periods for the very young. Older boys will be fascinated by the display of weapons and armor, and there are always special exhibitions. After lunch, families can head for the Botanischer Garten, which features some 15,000 living specimens. If you've gotten through the day with time to spare, you can visit either the Zürcher Spielzeugmuseum (Zurich Toy Museum) or one of the best zoos in Europe, Zoologischer Garten. You can also pick up a map listing 80 different playgrounds at the tourist office.
Days 2 & 3: Lucerne: Mountains & Lakes
On Day 2 leave Zurich and head 50km (31 miles) south to Lake Lucerne and its "queen," the city of Lucerne itself. Check in to a hotel for 2 nights, and take the whole family on our walking tour, which will take you by the big attractions. The major sight of Lucerne is something the whole family can enjoy: the Verkehrshaus der Schweiz (Swiss Transport Museum). There's everything from spaceships to an adventure ride called the Gotthard Tunnel Show here. There's even the Longies planetarium where space travel is simulated. In the afternoon, take the kids to the Bourbaki Panorama, a replica of the famous 19th-century battle, followed by an excursion on one of the flotilla of lake steamers plying across Lake Lucerne. Some summer boat excursions last 4 hours, and there is a cafeteria onboard. (Ships are operated by Lake Lucerne Navigation Co.)
On Day 3, while still based in Lucerne, take your family on two of the most famous mountain excursions in Switzerland, Mount Pilatus and Rigi. Because of public transportation, such as a cog railway, getting there is part of the fun.
Day 4: Bern: Capital of Switzerland
On Day 4, leave Lucerne heading for the capital city of Bern, 111km (69 miles) to the west. Swiss politics will hold little interest for children, but the Bärengraben (Bear Pits) is a surefire winner. These pampered bears are the best fed in Europe, carrots being their favorite food. Families may also enjoy the Zytgloggeturm (Clock Tower), which, 4 minutes before the hour, stages the oldest and biggest horological puppet show, with mechanical bears and the like. Another popular attraction is the Dählhölzli Tierpark, one of the best zoos in Switzerland, with everything from exotic reptiles to musk oxen. Later, an excursion to Mount Gurten at 844m (2,768 ft.) is in order. Not only do you get a panoramic view, but there's also a children's fairyland on-site. After a final stroll along Marktgasse, the main street of Old Town, you can call it a day.
Days 5 & 6: Interlaken: The Bernese Oberland
On Day 5, drive 54km (34 miles) southeast of Bern to reach Interlaken, the tourist capital of the Bernese Oberland. This will be your launchpad for exploring the mighty Jungfraujoch at 3,400m (11,152 ft.), reached by traveling to the highest railway station in Europe.
Arriving in the morning in Interlaken, check in to a hotel for 2 nights and spend the rest of the morning exploring parklike Höheweg, covering 14 hectares (35 acres) in the center of town. All ages can admire the view of Jungfrau mountain and the famous flower clock. In the afternoon, take an excursion to the Wilderswil/Schynige Platte at 1,936m (6,350 ft.), where you'll find an alpine garden. If time remains, try to fit in an excursion to Giessbach Falls, accessible by funicular, allowing about 2 hours for the excursion. Return to Interlaken for the night.
On the morning of Day 6, set out by Jungfrau Railways for a day's excursion to the aforementioned Jungfraujoch. Families can purchase a Family Card for the whole brood. Attractions at the top include the famous Eispalast (Ice Palace), and there are lofty alpine restaurants as well. Later you can take the family on a sleigh ride pulled by huskies. Departures from Interlaken are daily at 8am, with a return at 4pm. Overnight once again in Interlaken.
Day 7: Geneva
On your final day in Switzerland, Day 7, leave Interlaken in the morning and drive 218km (135 miles) southwest across some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, both lake and mountain, until you come to Geneva. After checking in to a hotel, set out to discover one of Europe's most regal cities. Kids delight in seeing the famous fountain, Jet d'Eau, and the Flower Clock in the Jardin Anglais. A walk through the Old Town, or Vieille Ville, can be a highlight of the trip. Wind down in the Parc Mon-Repos, perhaps securing the makings of a picnic. Later you can visit the Jardin Botanique (Botanical Garden), with its alpine garden and little zoo. Older children are often interested in the adventure movie and exhibitions at the Musée International de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge, devoted to the Red Cross. Overnight in Geneva.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.