From the onset, it is wise to create a Zürich itinerary focusing on your children since you know that their cultural interest will wane quickly. However, there are numerous activities that children would enjoy while still allowing their parents to see historical and dynamic Zürich.
Hotel: Choose Wisely
The first family challenge in most cities is to find an authentically kid-friendly hotel. Palace hotels and luxury accommodations in the heart of Zurich are as outstanding as their room rates and the appeal to children is sometimes minimal. Rather than staying in the historical center, there is a new developing lively area in Zürich West with fresh new hotels and renovated factories that are now funky restaurants and shops. One hotel in particular that specializes in hospitality for children is Novotel City Zürich West. This 4-star hotel with “Family Rooms” is more affordable than being “downtown” and it’s free for kids who can enjoy a safe children’s play area with digital games, free WiFi, and healthy (but appealing) food.
Kids Playroom Novotel Zurich City West — Photo courtesy of Novotel Zurich City West
The Zürich West neighborhood is only 1.2 miles away from the center where you find the main train station, the Hauptbahnhof. All areas of Zürich are easily reached by excellent public transportation. Do buy “ZürichCARDs” for your family for everyday so you will not have to fumble around for coins. Buying tickets in strange machines in 3 languages can be frustrating for you and for all the people waiting behind you. Besides, ZürichCARDs are good on all the public transportation in the city as well as on the lake and river boats, and most museums. They also offer discounts at certain shops and restaurants.
Toys and Chocolate
One of the highlights of Zürich, at least for adults, is wandering through the Medieval winding streets with shops and cafés of Old Town on the Right bank of the Limmit River. This can be best arranged to please everyone in the family by heading to the Toy Museum in the heart of Old Town. Exhibited here are 18th c. to 20th c. toys of all kinds which could stimulate the imagination of your digital-era born offspring. Entrance is free with the ZürichCARD. Have lunch near there which is like dining in another century. Just minutes by foot you can join the Bahnhofstrasse Boulevard and head down to the 175-year old chocolate company Confiserie Sprüngli at the Paradeplatz.
Antique toys — Photo courtesy of Jo Naylor
During the walk down to the chocolatier, a delight of all children, interested parents may be on the lookout for nearby shops such as Bucherer for Swiss watches, Channel, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Hermes or other interesting shops in which you have pre-planned stops for rapid and discreet shopping. This will cost you at Confiserie Sprüngli but it may be the only shopping time you get with small children.
Get On the Water
If it is a good weather day, you may want to take a Lake cruise on the 19 c. Paddle Steamers departing from the Quays of Zurich. There is a lot of room on the boats for your kids to move around and the price is included in your ZürichCARD. You can sail to Rapperswil, a charming village with a deer park, zoo and castle at the other end of the 25-mile long lake and return by train or return by boat. There are also other shorter cruise itineraries from which to select.
Historical paddle steamers on Lake Zurich — Photo courtesy of Dominique Schreckling
A Welcoming Castle and Park
The National Museum Zürich, called the Landesmuseum, is a fascinating castle to see even if you don’t go inside for the exhibitions or collections. It is free entrance with the ZürichCARD so you could always leave quickly if your children were not pleased. Located just across the street from the train station, the Landesmuseum has political and cultural historical displays of Switzerland as well as handicrafts and articles from Swiss homes throughout history to the 20th c. There is a collection of arms that might intrigue your children, in particular, the Medieval armour and jousting helmets along with 19th c. and 20th c. Swiss Army uniforms.
Behind the castle there is a beautiful park called Platzspitz in which to play or picnic. Right near the Landesmuseum is the embarkation for the cruise on the Limmat River which runs through the center of Zürich, This is a fun and relaxing way for families to see the major architectural highlights on both sides of the river without having to walk too much. The cruise is free with the ZürichCARD.
The Limmat River Zurich — Photo courtesy of Dominique Schreckling
Explore and Learn
A good area on the Left Bank of the Limmat for families is the delightful, safe, pedestrian Medieval neighborhood of Niederdorf. It has at least a couple toy shops and many other shops and cafés. You could lunch here and then go to the Tram Museum if it happens to be a Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday which opens at 2:00 PM. Free with the ZürichCARD, the museum has a lot of historical trams and related objects and encourages “hands on” visits which children love.
Tram Museum Zurich — Photo courtesy of Dominique Schreckling
Animals, Movies, Heavenly Bodies and Soaking
The Zürich Zoo is an ongoing scientific conservation project offering views of snow leopards, Andean bears, elephants, penguins, sea lions and more. The center piece is a Madagascar recreated “Masoala” tropical forest into which you can immerse yourselves.
There are many other activities that families will love in and around Zürich including an outdoor cinema, a zoological museum, an observatory, a recreated solar system trail, lake swimming and an exciting Technorama Science Center in nearby Winterthur.
When you’ve done it all there is the reward for both parents and kids in Baden thermal baths just 15 minutes away by train or at Alpamare, one of Europe’s largest water parks 30 minutes away by train. It has 4 pools, 10 slides, 6 saunas and 2 steam baths.
The perfect end to "Kinder" Zurich — Photo courtesy of Counselman Collection
So Much to Do, So Little Time
The only real difficulty you will have with “Kinder” Zürich is deciding which of the many child-friendly activities to do. Be sure to allow enough time in your visit to Zürich as you will find that it is a very welcoming city for the “Kinder”.