12 ways for non skiers to enjoy winter in Switzerland

Winter activities for non skiers in Switzerland, including sledding, winter walks, thermal bath, or lounging in an alpine sun bed with a good book.

If you are spending winter vacation in Switzerland but don’t ski (or can’t because you are looking after small children), you might be wondering what to do while everyone else is racing down the slopes. Don’t worry. There are so many other fun things to do in winter that don’t require ski boots and nerves of steel. Plus if you go to the Swiss alps, you can escape the fog in the valley and soak in the sun.

Here are our favorite winter activities in Switzerland for non-skiers.

1. Sledding

If you like speed but don’t know how to ski (yet!), then sledding is the perfect choice. You don’t need any specific skills besides courage. When you are ready to graduate from your local hills, most ski resorts have a long sled run, from about 3-11 km long. You can easily rent sleds at the resort, usually right at the lift that services the sled run. 

See 10 Long Sled Runs near Zürich and How to Sled in Switzerland (Gear & Clothes)

2. Ice Skating

Every city and many villages have ice rinks open from mid October through early March. While primarily used by figure skaters and hockey players, most have open skating in the afternoons and all day on weekends. All rinks rent skates and often skating helpers/support for those just learning. 

See Ice Skating near Zürich and Ice Skating on Frozen Lakes in Switzerland

3. Winter hikes

If you want to enjoy the mountain views at a slower pace, we suggest hiking on the groomed winter trails that don’t require snowshoes. Most ski resorts in Switzerland have a large network of winter trails, usually marked in pink on the map. Winter walks are also a good choice if you have babies and toddlers too little to ski. We liked to bundle our child up on a sled and pull him along the trail.

See our suggested Winter Walks in Switzerland

 Winter walk around Trübsee at Engelberg

4. Snowshoeing

If you are feeling more sporty, you might try snowshoeing, where you can get off the beaten trail and freely explore the beautiful winter landscape. Most ski resorts have suggested snowshoeing trails, which have trail markers, keeping you in safe areas away from avalanche zones. Snowshoes are inexpensive to rent (about CHF 12/day) and available at most ski rental shops.

See SchweizMobile Snowshoe Trails

snowshoeing at Toggenburg, Sellamatt

6. Cross-country skiing

If you want a fitness workout, you might try cross-country skiing, which is a very popular activity in Switzerland. Many villages in the Swiss alps have dedicated cross-country routes, which are groomed loops through fields and forests, sometimes long frozen rivers. These trails are usually marked with green trail signs.

See SchweizMobil Cross-Country Routes

7. Visit a mountain peak

Winter is actually a great time to visit tourist destinations like Jungfraujoch. Since most everyone else is skiing, the observation decks will be a bit quieter than summertime. In Dec 2019, I went to the Jungfraujoch and it was practically empty. I also went to Mt. Titlis and it was much quieter than summer, but still some tourists. Some of these destinations are also cheaper than in summer because there is less demand and the region is making money on ski passes.

Here are a few touristy Swiss mountain peaks I would suggest for winter:

8. Lounging in alpine sun beds

If the rest of your family is skiing, you can accompany them to the mountain, then lounge on a sun bed with a book and a view. This is a great way to escape the grey fog in the valleys and soak in some vitamin D.

Some places have lounge chairs that anyone can use. Some have loungers near the snow gardens and ski schools for kids, so non-skiing parents can be comfortable while you wait.

Loungers at the top of Chäserrugg

Other have nicer chairs or wooden sun beds with blankets that require you to order drinks or pay a rental fee like a beach resort, about CHF 20/day. I’ve seen a few that even have hot tubs at the top of the alps.

sun beds at Arosa Hörnlihütte (pic taken during hiking season)

8. Lunch with a view

Note: During Covid-19, restaurants in some cantons are closed, only offering take-away. So check the status of your restaurant before making plans.

Even if you don’t want to do a winter walk, it can be nice to enjoy a nice meal with a great view of the Swiss alps above the fog. Many mountain restaurants are at the top of gondolas and cable cars, so you don’t even have to go outside in the cold to get to your table. It’s best to make a reservation because restaurants get crowded with skiers.

Here are a few restaurants for winter that I would suggest that require a cable car:

Do you have any mountain restaurant suggestions?

9. Go on a sleigh ride

A sleigh ride in the Swiss alps is a special experience, if a bit expensive. We have done this as a special treat during Christmas or when family visits. The sleigh is usually very cosy with heavy fluffy blankets, but still dress warmly with winter boots, gloves and hats. Best to reserve these a few weeks in advance if you want to go on a specific day.

In Davos, the sleigh took us to a mountain restaurant for fondue then brought us back. At Schwarzsee, we looped around the frozen lake, stopping halfway for hot punch and cookies. At Raten, we looped through the fields and forest and ended at a restaurant and great sledding hill. 

10. Thermal Baths

If you want to skip the cold altogether, then visit one of the many thermal baths and spas around Switzerland. Some thermal baths are near the ski resorts, with heated outdoor pools and views of the snowy Swiss alps. A few we can suggest:

For more options, see Thermal Baths with Kids

11. City Walks

Winter is a great time explore Switzerland’s charming cities like Zürich, Basel, and Luzern as well as smaller villages like Appenzell or Murten. For example, you might enjoy our Self-Guided Chocolate Tour of Zürich. Or maybe a puzzle trail through a city like FoxTrail. See all our city walks.

12. Museums  

If you prefer indoor activities, there are many fantastic museums in Switzerland to keep you busy. With kids, try one of the interactive museums like Technorama or Transportation Museum. See all our suggestions for kid-friendly museums.

For adults, all the big cities have excellent art museums, like the Zürich Kunsthaus or Basel’s Fondation Beyeler. See all Swiss museums.

FAQ

When is winter in Switzerland?

Winter starts in November and lasts until March. It may snow as early as the beginning of October and as late as mid April. Ski resorts are typically open from mid December to mid April, though they may open earlier if the snow is good. Cities at lower elevations will get snow occasionally but will not have snow on the ground all winter. See our guide to Winter in Switzerland.

Can I hike in Switzerland in winter?

Since the mountains will be covered in snow, you cannot do regular mountain hiking in winter as you would do in summer. Instead you can do winter walks on groomed snow with regular hiking shoes (many resorts prepare trails for this) or snowshoe trails. See also our Hiking Calendar for idea of what to do each month in Switzerland. 

Where is the best place to stay with non skier children in winter in Switzerland?

If your children don’t ski, you’ll need to select a location that has lots of other amusements, like good sledding hills, ice skating rinks, indoor playgrounds, and indoor swimming. All big winter resorts like Grindelwald, Arosa Lenzerheide, Davos Klosters, and Aletsch Arena have these sorts of amenities. I would probably choose Grindelwald in the Jungfrau Region. See our suggested ski resorts.

What to pack for winter in Switzerland?

If you are participating in winter outdoor activities, make sure to bring warm waterproof clothing and gear. Even if you don’t plan to play in the snow, you should pack a warm winter hat, gloves, thick socks, scarf, waterproof shoes (preferably with high ankles to keep out the snow) and thermal base layer for very cold days. See our guide to winter clothing for kids.

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Hi! I’m Tanya and our family has been living & hiking in Switzerland since 2005, collecting dozens of fun hikes and activities for all ages and abilities. More about us…

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