If you are a nature lover...mountain seeker...enjoy fresh air...and views for days and days...then, get ready to swoon over Switzerland! Oh and who can forget the famous Swiss chocolate?? Take me there.
In five days, we covered four cities and saw the most breathtaking landmarks. Switzerland is known for it's Alpine skiing, but don't completely disregard it during the summer. The weather is the most delicious and enjoyable. We went the last full week of June (shortly after Europe opened its borders due to Covid), and everything was delightful.
Are you curious about swimming in glacier water, historic city tours, hiking behind majestic waterfalls, devouring mounds of chocolate, and your car taking a train ride with you inside...?? Then read on!
We stayed in a rustic AirBnB above (literally above, up on the mountain) Interlaken. Although, we had grand plans of exploring as far as we could for as long as we could. Our first stop was the majestic area of Lauterbrunnen.
Standing in the parking lot staring with dropped jaw was enough to make my heart skip a beat. However, hubby found a couple of unique waterfalls to explore.
Staubbach Falls was the first one. It's a short, steep hike to get underneath the misty water. There is a parking lot just before the entrance on the left, which is only ONE FRANC to park. If you've been to Switzerland, it sounds too good to be true. But this place is legit!
Side Note: Switzerland is ridiculously expensive. To find anything normal priced is a miracle.
If you are sensitive to cold water, wear a light-weight, rain jacket with hood. The wet stuff drips through the rocks from overhead and will come from all angles- especially depending on how the wind is blowing. Some type of hiking boot or outdoor shoe would be preferred. Nobody likes walking about in soaked sneakers all day, and there are good sized puddles along the trail that are difficult to step around. Our boys are 4&6 years old, and loved every minute of it. Anything outdoors involving the possibility of getting dirty is their jam!
Once back down at the bottom, we stopped at a nearby playground for a backpack lunch. This is the single easiest way to save money while traveling. Grocery shop and make your own meals. Another reason traveling via AirBnB is my favorite go-to for accommodation.
This simple tip easily saved us $1,000 over the week.
Trummelbach Falls was the second. Y'all, this place...we saw some pretty amazing waterfalls in Iceland. But this series of glacier melt was crazy cool because of how close we were able to get.
You can hike to the top or have the option of taking the elevator. By taking the lift, you would miss out on various viewpoints though. My crew did half and half. We took the elevator part of the way up and then hiked the remainder. And on the way down, we walked the route which we didn't see going up. It was awesome, you guys. Well worth the few francs for entry. A little scary at some points due to the insane rushing waters and very cold. The boys enjoyed seeing their breath. It was THAT cold. We wore our rain jackets to keep us warm and fairly dry.
Children under four years old are not permitted entry. It's not safe.
Traveling? Never Leave Home Without This One Lifesaver!
Before calling it a day, we made the extra drive to Grindelwald. And man, I'm glad we did! It had been high on my list for a long time. We didn't do anything, per se while there. But I was able to get some spectacular shots while the boys were sword fighting outside the car. Ha! You do what you have to do, right?
-Zermatt & the Matterhorn-
This day was filled with such extreme highs and lows. The fam was thrilled to experience the icon of Switzerland in person. Or better yet, to my kids...the mountain of Toblerone.
You guys, we followed the map and *thought* we were driving to a place where we could catch the train to Zermatt. In all reality, that is exactly what we did. Only our car is what caught the train to Zermatt. Y'all...! If this had happened to anyone who struggles with anxiety or claustrophobia, it would not be good.
The problem escalated when we were following the flow of traffic, and it turned into a line that we couldn't get out of. Seriously. We drove onto a platform with bars on either side of our car, and there we sat. Literally like a sitting duck. We are generally very detailed oriented and super planners when traveling (well, my husband is at least!) but this took us all by surprise. We were translating signs around us that basically said turn off your engine and do not stick your head outside the window.
Hmm...makes perfect sense why we paid 27 Francs to get past a certain point. We were both confused as to why it was incredibly expensive for a toll or fee to access a road. When in actuality we were rolling aboard an "autoverlad"- a train for our car.
The autoverlad was a twenty minute, high speed ride that shot us through a pitch black dark cave of a mountain. It did save us about 40 minutes from driving around the mountain. But holy cow! Since we were unaware of what was going on, we had zero clue how long it was going to last. Seriously, don't attempt it if you have anxiety or claustrophobia.
Okay! Off the autoverlad, parked the car, and hopped the shuttle to Zermatt. This eclectic ski town is car free and is only accessible by train.
Once in Zermatt, we bought the crazy tickets which would power us to see the iconic Matterhorn. I say crazy tickets, because this was by far the most expensive thing we did and it was kind of disappointing. You can see the best views of the mountain from below. The closer you get, the more it loses it's grand appeal. The lookout had incredible views of the valley, up-close vantage point of paragliders, and other devine Alpine ranges. Although in my humble opinion, the grandest views...are seen far away from the bottom.
If you have time, there is a cafe and gift shop at the lookout point.
Otherwise, gazing at glaciers and standing in awe of God's raw beauty was enough for me. We began our trek back down the mountain via train to Zermatt and enjoyed an ice cream stop before boarding the shuttle to our car. And this time, we did NOT take the autoverlad back to our AirBnB.
The scenic route was worth the extra time! Choosing alternative routes can be a welcomed surprise.
If you do decide this route around, I HIGHLY recommend Grimsel Pass. It was one of the most breathtaking areas I've ever driven through. Unfortunately, I was too busy drooling out of the window to take any photos.
The capital city wasn't a huge focal point for us when planning, but it pleasantly surprised both of us! It was hubby's birthday, so I booked him a walking tour of the city while I took the kids to play in the park and have a picnic lunch. He's not big on history but does enjoy learning about the places we travel from a local. I booked this tour as a surprise for his birthday through, AirBnB Experience.
AirBnB Experiences provided by a local give you fun insight and clues to the area you wouldn't otherwise discover on your own.
We also stopped to see the city bears of Bern-
Went swimming in one of the free, local pools at, Marzili Bad-
Highly recommend a look into this! The birthday boy took a float in the Aare River around the city-
(more on this in my highlights of Switzerland on Instagram)
The tour guide told him this is something the locals enjoy doing as the river has a swift current. It's easy to swim or float on your own; although, very refreshing melted glacier water.
Fun Fact: As the glaciers melt, the rivers, streams, and natural pools fill up for swimmers in the summer. However, the warmer the air the more the mountain icebergs melt. This makes the water colder when the air is warmer. Therefore, the swimming holes are freezing cold in the hot August heat.
We also walked down the famous and gorgeously decorated Kramgasse.
It's also home to Kaspar Brunner's clock tower, Zytglogge. The residents of Bern have been consistently counting on this classic mechanism to tell time for over 600 years.
From 1903-1905, Albert Einstein rented out a second story floor with his bride and young son, Hans. During his time in Bern is when he discovered the life-changing Theory of Relativity. There, you will find a coffee shop in his honor and museum hosting a multitude of artifacts from his life.
Keep an eye out for a photo opt around town with the world-renowned genius. There are four opportunities to snag a selfie on a park bench with him; one being in the lush Rose Garden.
-Lucerne & Zurich-
Woowhee this was a long day. We checked out of our AirBnB and headed to Lucerne. The Chapel Bridge is a Swiss icon and a must-see when driving through. The wooden structure has experienced several fires causing portions of it to be moved, rebuilt, and mosaics to be repainted over the centuries.
Another amazing focal point when researching Lucerne is the lion monument, Lowendenkmal, tucked away in the center of the city. It's only a ten minute walk from the bridge and a great shady spot for a packed lunch.
We headed back to the car and made our way to Zurich for the night. Before turning in, we made a short stop by the Lindt Chocolate World. My, oh my...
Oh, and before I forget...we ate ONE meal out in five whole days. And it was 140 francs. This pretty much equates to similar in euros and US dollars, and I'm not even joking. This was zero percent fancy. It was casual. Outside. Pretty much a biergarten where we ordered some chicken wings, french fries, bratwurst, and I had fish. And it was, in fact, 140. The groceries we bought for the other five days while we were there totaled around 200. Guys...those groceries provided us all breakfast, lunch, dinners, and a special birthday cake. Insanity, I tell ya. Insanity!
Heading to Vietnam? How to Explore Hanoi...with Kids!
Our original plan was to drive through Lucerne AND Zurich on our way back to Germany. Hahaha! Oh the ambition. We soon realized just how ambitious that was and booked a room for the night.
I'll be honest; I am 100% team AirBnB since our kids are out of Pack N Plays. The space they provide is priceless. We split the kids up and put them to bed separately, because that mimics their bedtime routine at home. It gives my husband and I time to chill out and reset once the kids are in bed. It also provides a space for us to make breakfast and have slow mornings. We are on top of each other in a hotel room every waking second and bedtime is a nightmare when we are all in one room. Why not rent an AirBnB when they are the same if not cheaper than a hotel?? Especially when you can have a view like this?? Whew, I digress...
Anyways, we sucked it up and powered through one night of hotel dwelling. Little sleep and nerves on the frazzle, but there was no way we could've "seen" Zurich and made it back to Nuremberg after Lucerne.
A train stop was right outside our hotel, so we hopped aboard and headed into the city center for some good-hearted exploring.
Most of Zurich didn't stick out or give me that wow factor like most European cities do. It was typical modern buildings and streets. Meandering down Bahnhofstrasse was pretty neat though. A few years ago it was rated the most expensive real estate in all of Europe and lists all the high-end designers. However once you wander into the Old Town, it all changes. That specific area stole my heart. The quaint boutiques, architecture, and cafes had me swooning for awhile.
TRAVEL TIP: All fountains in Switzerland are 100% filtered for drinking. You are welcome to monkey around the bars for a quick sip or refill a reusable bottle. Money saved!
Lastly, a fun thing for the kiddos and great view for adults is taking the Polybahn to the top of the Universitat Zurich. The littles will enjoy the "train" ride, and you will be glad you went the extra mile for the city view.
2 MUST DOs for Switzerland!
1.) Make sure you have plenty of Swiss Francs as they don't accept Euros, and cash is still king. Plus, ATM fees are outrageous.
2.) Purchase a Swiss vignette before or just after crossing the border. They can be found at gas stations or border crossing stations for 40 CHF.
All the jokes of Switzerland being "neutral" amongst chatter is real. They are not part of the EU. So if you are accustomed to traveling throughout Europe, definitely check specific laws prior to entry.
Switzerland is a breathtakingly, beautiful country! Depending on which border you are closest to, the locals will speak a mixture of Swiss German or French. But for the most part, everyone we came in contact with spoke perfect English. The locals were super nice and didn't seem annoyed with tourists. It was refreshing! The biggest damper was the expense of everything. And I do mean everything.
Overall, would I recommend Switzerland? Absolutely! But bring cash (lots of it), pack lunches, plan hikes, seek out waterfalls, and drive for as long as you can. Every turn has a jaw-dropping, storybook view of those lovely, majestic Swiss Alps.
Be sure to check out the Switzerland highlight reel on Expat Actually's Instagram page for video footage of each spot with even more tips.
And don't forget to sigh-up below for more tips on adventurous international travel as a family. Click below!
Have you been to Croatia?
It had been on my radar for years, and what better excuse to explore than our ten year anniversary! Our 2&3 year old boys joined our ambitious itinerary of covering four cities in one week, and we all had a blast.
Here is our recommended route for easily covering the Dalmatian country-
Some people will claim it's the coolest city along the Dalmatian coast. The rich history and natural beauty will be enough to satisfy your Croatian thirst. The Monument to the Sun is a fabulous place to sit and gaze at the sunset. It's also interactive and was a huge hit for the kiddos. As you run across, it lights up and responds to your movement. Crazy cool!
Along the edge is the super famous Sea Organ and #1 rated attraction in Zadar. There are creatively cut steps forming into the water along the promenade. As the waves roll in, the underwater pipes fill and exhale with water making a soothing harmonica sound. They play a meditative 7 chords of 5 tones from 35 pipes installed underneath the stairs. The air inside is pushed up and out by the incoming crashing waves. The boys being so young and full of energy, they too, even sat down to listen and stare at the peaceful ocean. It's not to be missed!
Plenty of ruins are peppered throughout the city. Some you can climb, which the kids will revel in, and others are roped off and charge an entry fee to explore.
The 9th-century, Byzantine-style, Church of St. Donatus is one not to miss. You can climb the accompanying tower next door, which dates back to the 12th century. Breathtaking views of the harbor await you atop.
My absolute favorite restaurant in Zadar is Restoran Bruschetta. And if you like sauvignon blanc wine, do yourself a favor and order a Galic while there. It's local, and you will NOT be disappointed!
Fresh food, spectacular wine, and fantastic for kids. It was highly recommended by our AirBnB host, and it certainly didn't disappoint! Another reason I highly recommend going the AirBnB route. Much more of a personal touch with the owners instead of receptionist in the hotel lobby.
Overall, Zadar was a spectacular place for our introduction to Croatia. It's centrally located if you want to explore further: north to Zagreb or south to Dubrovnik. The latter was next on our list of places to spend the night. But first...
We rented a car in Zadar for our adventure along the Dalmatian coast, and our first stop was Krka. The waterfalls in Croatia are mind-blowing, and we were fortunate to experience a pretty epic one. On our way to Dubrovnik, we made a half-day stop in Krka to swim in the majestic waterfall. And holy cow! I'm so glad we did.
There are five entrances to Krka National Park. The most popular are Skradinski Buk and Roski Slap. However, there is free parking at Lozovac. Krka National Park entry fee is 20 euros during high season or 150 kunas (Croatian currency). If you are a hiker and nature lover, there is an incredible trail from the Lozovac entrance which is 875 meters (1/2 mile) in length. We would've chosen this option over the boat if we didn't have little people in tow.
Parents' Travel Tip: Krka National Park is NOT stroller friendly! Be prepared to wear the babies or carry the toddlers.
The line to get on the boat, and likewise back to our car was completely redonculous. The three year old ended up sitting on my foot because he was so tired, and the two year old completely passed out in my arms for a solid hour. Eeek!
But worth it? YES. 1,000%
After slowly tip-toeing around the edge of the slippery lake, we found a decent spot to toss our towels and dip our toes. Well...and let the three year old loose for a bit.
After taking in the beauty of the lower falls, we hiked about a mile up the cliffside to get a peek at the expansiveness of this wonder. We were in awe!
As I mentioned up top, we patiently waited our turn for the return ferry. After living in buttoned-up organized Germany, THIS drove me crazy. No particular line or roped off way to congregate. People were pushing in from the sides or walking around through the woods to break in line. Ugh. Please don't be like those people. Remember kindergarten? Wait your turn!
Back on the road and hoping to reach Dubrovnik before nightfall; we first had to cross into and out of another country...
BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA
We didn't have reservations for a stop over nor time for a meal, but driving through was breathtakingly beautiful. The small country has an even smaller coastline. And if you look at a map, it actually breaks up Croatia. So you either have to drive through Bosnia or sail around the tip of the tiny country to reach the south end of Croatia. Kinda crazy but was cool for us and our road trip. Also, Mostar was highly recommended to us, but unfortunately, we didn't have time to stop. If you are interested, 5-star accommodation can be booked for $80/night. The smidge we were able to drive through was beautiful!
And since B&H isn't part of the EU, we had to wait in line to have our passports examined/stamped by custom officials before driving on.
Side Note: if you are driving through the EU, you can cross borders with no problem. Going from one country to the next, there is no difference in one side of the road to the other. But if you approach a border country that isn't affiliated with the EU, then you must stop for clearance to enter.
Next up on our road trip of easily covering Croatia was the capital city of Dubrovnik. Ahhh, yes. The azure blue waters and rocky cliff coastline was mesmerizing. And to swim here? Dreamy! I mean, who wouldn't love gazing at castle ruins while floating in this? It was one of our favorite family experiences.
I use to teach history and LOVE places chock full of the good stuff. And this place? Rightfully so, since it dates back to the 6th century as part of the Holy Roman Empire. It went through significant changes over the centuries belonging to different countries, and now remains the seat of Croatia.
The walls themselves date back to the 16th century! Having a walk along the top is definitely something to put at the top of your daytime itinerary. Keep an eye out for the brave and curious little ones, though, as the walls aren't much higher than my waist in some places.
A full walkthrough will take as much as two hours, but it is without a doubt the best way to see Dubrovnik.
The nooks, crannies, and staircases (!) of the Old Town are remarkable ways to see the city down below.
We actually got lost one night wandering through the maze of connected neighborhood pathways.
Stroll along the Stradun. We did this during the day but came back once it was dark. This is the main street in the Old Town. Lots of delicious restaurants, shops, cafes, and ice cream bars to choose from. I HIGHLY recommend seeing the Old Town at night. It looks like a curated movie set. The cobblestone streets glisten and shine from years of polishing underfoot. My amazement came from every single stone being the same gorgeous light color. It almost seemed as though the thoroughfares were painted.
Travel Tip: Always always carry a map! You never know when cell service will drop, your phone will lose battery, and there is no one in sight that speaks your language. Remembering this was HUGE that particular night!
Game of Thrones fans will be thrilled!
The food is a major draw of Croatia in general, but Dubrovnik has some pretty magical spots to dine. We didn't realize how fancy this place would be for small children upon entering, but could not leave once on the terrace. I mean, check out this view! King's Landing and the ocean...swoon. Be sure to stop by Restaurant Posat if you are in town.
We had a pretty spectacular time in the capital city. I would recommend at least two days to see the highlights. Any less and you would be shorting yourself from some real gems.
Lastly, we rounded out our trip by heading back north. Halfway between Dubrovnik and Zadar lands you in the harbor town of Split. This was our final destination and a great one to end on.
The second largest city in Croatia was founded back in 3rd century BC. It later became home to the famous Diocletian's Palace, which was constructed in 305 AD for the Roman Emperor. We were fortunate to stay in a partially renovated section of the walls to the palace. That's right, the actual WALLS to the palace have been transformed into tiny studio, dungeon-type apartments. One of the coolest accommodations we've ever had the opportunity of staying, and I most definitely recommend!
Wandering the palace, surrounding ruins, and eating our way through Split was how we decided to best spend our last day in Croatia. However, the city is also best known for its sports. Split has produced numerous world-famous athletes and also houses a few, well-known stadiums and arenas.
Overall, we had many amazing adventures during our road trip through Croatia. Four cities, seven days, and two toddling babes made it a whirlwind extravaganza for sure. I would've added a couple more days to truly soak in the experience, but I was crazy happy with what we were able to fit in.
Croatia was a bucket list item for over a decade. Celebrating our 10 year anniversary there was a dream come true, especially sharing the adventure as a family.
It is more than idyllic beaches. This central European country has it all, and the best part - Croatia is super affordable, and you can easily cover Croatia in seven days. There is adventure, charm, culture, and lots of nature. I give it a high five all around! Let me know if you have questions about any of the cities or traveling through the country. You can reach me through the 'contact me' tab. Happy to help!
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