As the largest city in Switzerland, Zurich offers a plethora of family-friendly activities and hotels while treating visitors to a taste of the traditional Swiss way of life.
With more of a sleepy town vibe than a buzzing hub of metropolis, Zurich is one of the most relaxing European cities to visit with children. With low crime rates, well-mannered and helpful locals and the renowned Swiss efficiency absorbed into every corner of the city, this is an ideal destination for parents who yearn for a cultural city break with child friendly amenities and ease of travel.
Make a splash on the Limmat River
From Zurich Lake runs Limmat River, flowing 35km northwest to the quaint town of Brugg. The colour of the water is the first clue as to the cleanliness and general health of the city; the vivid blue winds its way like a ribbon underneath bridges and in between chocolate shops and galleries.
On sunny days crowds can be seen relaxing in swimsuits on the banks of the river, having water fights or floating leisurely in dinghies.
Grab the kids’ cossies and a lilo and join the locals in the shallows; the water is so clear that the riverbed is visible even from bridges above. Try the Lower Letten River Pool, with separate areas for little ones and even a diving board!
Visit Zurich’s Art Museum
Parents can feel confident taking their kids to the Kunsthaus; there are enough rooms and various kinds of art (including bronze sculptures and gargantuan wall-to-wall pieces) to keep children entertained, without the gallery becoming a sprawling labyrinth.
Hidden among the lesser-known artists’ work are some classic Swiss paintings as well as pieces by Monet and Van Gogh; a real treat for Impressionist and post-Impressionist fans.
Children can have their own personal audio guides, or book a private visit with a guide who will tailor the tour according to the interests of your children.
Kids will be particularly impressed with the recent installation of a bicycle with loudspeakers attached; available for hire, riders can cycle around the city complaining loudly about the things that they would like to change about the world (it makes a good ‘Plan B’ for kids who may not appreciate traditional artwork!)
Relax in Josefwiese park
Located in the trendy district of West Zurich, Josefwiese park is a hidden gem that is popular with locals and tourists alike. A large children’s playground sits in an open green space with boules courts, volleyball nets and water sprinklers at the peripheries. On hot days enjoy the delicious aromas from the sizzling communal barbecue; simply bring along some buns and burgers, pop them on the grill and wait for your summertime picnic to cook. If eating out is your thing, pick up fresh salads and cold drinks from the nearby kiosk.
Sail away on Lake Zurich
Bordered by the Swiss hills, Lake Zurich lies at the heart of the city and is a must-see for visiting families. Previously used as a channel for traffic and transport, nowadays the water is dotted with leisure boats and city tours.
Rent your own boat for special occasions or hop on one of the plentiful steamboats, motor boats or themed cruises (salsa evening on the water, anyone?)
There are several swimming areas at the edge of the lake and many child friendly bars, restaurants and cafes for when you’ve worked up an appetite! Check out Zurichsee for timetables and boat options.
The Kameha Grand Zurich is one of the most stylish city hotels in Europe and has exceptionally high service standards. Featuring giant cowbells as lights, bank-vault handles on the doors and chocolate panelled walls, every touch is a reminder that you are in Switzerland! Themed suites including the Fair Play Suite with basketball hoops, table football and other games are perfect for a family, especially when booked with one of the interconnecting rooms.
The popular restaurants offer a kids’ menu and an extensive selection of homemade chocolates and tempting cupcakes baked fresh on the premises. The six-minute transfer time from the airport makes the journey a breeze, and a tram stop goes from outside the hotel straight to the heart of the city.
Forget swimming pools; down the street is a freshwater pond that is perfect for swimming on hot days!
The Widder Hotel is great for families who want to stay in Zurich’s Old Town and soak up the quaint Swiss-town vibe. With child-sized bathrobes and slippers in each room; cots and booster seats available for loan and babysitting on request, this hotel has everything you need for a convenient family break.
The Widder is ideally situated for parents with young children who won’t want to walk too far to see all of Zurich’s sites; the rustic chocolate shops, cobbled streets and Swiss cafes nearby are picture perfect and the trams nearby are always on time.
Tucked away in a shaded courtyard in the Old Town, Mère Catherine is an ideal spot for a quiet lunch. Sit outside so that children have a bit more space and try some of the delicious French-Swiss cuisine on offer. The sea bream is delicious, as is the fish platter and the olive and anchovy tapenade that comes with fresh bread. The children’s menu is fantastic; the offerings include chipolatas with sautéd potatoes, chicken escalope with pommes frites and gnocchi with cream sauce.
A giant pasta dish hanging from the ceiling; pepper mills the size of a small child and tiles with painted depictions of types of pasta are some of the quirky aspects of L’Unico that make it worth a special trip when visiting Zurich. Kids (and enthusiastic adults) can watch their favourite pasta being made from the shiny machine in the open-plan restaurant kitchen. The braised beef ravioli is a pasta-lover’s dream, and the classic spaghetti bolognese is sure to impress even the pickiest of eaters. Start with some warm rosemary bread; the waiters will come over to make up an oil and vinegar dipping blend at your table.
Cheese lovers will be in their element at this specialist Raclette restaurant located in the marketplace of Zurich. Choose from a sticky slab of warm cheese scraped over mashed potatoes, a classic fondue or a fresh green salad to balance the rich main courses.
Kids will love skewering and dipping chunks of bread into the fondue and the friendly waiters are more than happy to sit with guests and explain everything on the menu. Those with more adventurous palettes can try a warm blend with truffles or the creamy sheep’s cheese.
Frau Gerold’s Garten
The social hub of hipster West Zurich is a secret garden nestled behind the Freitag Tower. With several cafes and food stalls to choose from as well as a few select ethical boutiques, family members can pick the food that they fancy and then meet to eat together on benches or decking areas overlooking the city. In the evening, fairy lights give the whole place a garden-party vibe and it is a lovely last stop after a busy day touring the city.
The most famous of Zurich’s shopping streets, Bahnofstrasse is the most expensive strip of retail property in Europe and the third most expensive in the world. With shops like Gucci, Bvlgari and Louis Vuitton, this may be a place for mum or dad to sneak off to when the kids aren’t around. At the end of Bahnofstrasse is Paradeplatz, one of the most famous squares in Switzerland and home to banks like Credit Suisse and UBS- and more importantly, the Sprüngli chocolate shop and cafe.
Rated as one of the best chocolate shops in the world, walking into Cafe Schober is like stepping back in time a hundred years or more. Gold trays of handmade chocolates and other confectionary wrapped in shiny foil line the shelves; extravagantly decorated cakes sit in the window and the smell of hot chocolate fills the shop and cafe.
A huge ornate silver till surrounded by truffles is the centerpiece. Try the hot chocolate, a rich slice of cake and a box of fresh truffles to take home as gifts.
This eco-friendly store doubles up as a shop and tourist attraction. Created from shipping containers stacked one on top of the other, the Freitag Tower has a viewing platform at the top for anyone brave enough to face the stairs.
Inside, trendy bags and purses made from recycled lorry canvas line the walls. The Freitag Tower is in popular West Zurich and there are plenty of boutiques and cafes nearby.
How to get there
Fly to Zurich in under two hours from London Heathrow with Swiss Air from around £99 for a return ticket.
Where to stay
Enjoy a two night family break including B&B in a games suite, access to the spa and chocolate making in the patisserie at the Kameha for £395.
There are plenty of airport transfer companies to drive you to your hotel, and car hire is available at the airport from £10 per day.