Switzerland is expensive. There is no way to sugar-coat this truth. However, don’t let this stop you from visiting this land adorned with gorgeous mountain peaks and looking-glass lakes. Here are five free things to do for families visiting Switzerland.
Tour Swiss Parliament (Bern)
If you are bringing your children in the summer, then good luck getting them into the building; you might have to admire it from the outside. In front of this majestic domed government house are a series of dancing fountains that entertain the children – locals and tourists – during the warm months. Should you make it inside, free tours are offered most days of the year. During Session you can also hear debates and meet a Swiss official or two. No photos are allowed inside. Bring your passport ID, and some change for a locker if you are carrying a large bag.
Explore the outdoors (Various)
Hiking trails of various length and difficulty abound in this country. Families might enjoy such hikes as the Heidi Trail in Maienfeld, exploring the mountains and fields that inspired the famous story. There is a Witches Trail in Schwarzsee where you can read about the seven legends and fairy tales of this land. Hike the Historic Railway Trail in Bergun-Bravuogn for striking views of the Rhaetian Railway line, or the Geology/Botany Trail in Lucerne, which starts at the Stancerhorn. Whatever your taste, download the free Swiss Hike iPhone app in order to download 32 hiking maps offline.
Visit a cathedral (Various)
Often, with the Alps and Matterhorn, as well as over 600 castles, cathedrals in Switzerland often go unnoticed. These architectural masterpieces are gorgeous to behold, and they offer insight into the religious traditions of Switzerland and the Swiss canton in which they are located. Arguably, Lausanne Cathedral is the most impressive, with its decorative doorway, Montfalcon Portal. St. Peter’s in Geneva is interesting in that it displays multiple architectural styles within a single building. The pillars, towers, and spires are breathtaking. Cathedrals are a free marvel to behold all around Switzerland.
Ride around the city (Geneva)
In the summer months, rent a bicycle in one of six locations around Geneva for free. From May through October you can cycle the city for up to four hours for free, and then return your bike to any of the rental locations. If you want to tour the city in winter (or in a more climate-controlled manner) then hop on a tram, bus or train with your Geneva Transport Card, which is free to anyone staying in a hotel, hostel or campground in Geneva. You can even cross the lake for free in a yellow-taxi boat. Coming into Geneva via the airport? Don’t forget to pick up a ticket in baggage claim for free transport to your hotel.
Peek into the wonders of Emmental cheese (Affoltern)
Emmental is an iconic Swiss cheese, tracing back to the 13th century. Its name comes from the river Emme, near Bern, which is where the cheese is thought to have originated. Visit the dairy to watch the cheese being made; free tours are available several times a day. Call ahead to reserve your space, as tours fills quickly. The restaurant offers a variety of cheeses to taste. There are also walking excursions in the area of this picturesque valley, including the Emmental Cheese Route, which touts this delicious cheese, as well as other aspects of the local agriculture and other interests of the area. A free map and phone app of the route is available, including a fun scavenger hunt-type side story for the kiddos.
Have you been to Switzerland? Share your experiences with us!