Visit the WHAT!??!?!?! Yes, the Large Hadron Collider where nano-little things go bang so we, humans, can learn about the mysteries of our universe and how we are all made of. . . stars. But “What’s THE BIG BANG?”, my seven-year old son asked. That’s the goal: make them ask such questions. Mission Accomplished. Here’s what family-friendly, fun and almost FREE things to do in Geneva, Switzerland in one day… with kids or without (for you singletons out there), other than Geneva city itself. Check out the below video of the CERN microcosm exhibition!
After a day trip in Geneva the day before and before hitting the road on DAY 31 of our European summer camping road trip, we stopped by CERN for a half-day of “scientific” exploration while my kids sing, “She blinded me with science!“.
So Why visit CERN with kids?
Yes, CERN–the European Organization for Nuclear Research–is easily well worth a half-day visit.
First of all, it is FREE! And in Geneva, Switzerland, who wouldn’t LOVE FREE! This specifically refers to the two permanent exhibitions: the “Microcosm” and the “Universe of Particles” right across the esplanade from it.
Secondly, if you love the internet and all the good things it brings us, you may want to make this your pilgrimage site. This is the birthplace of the INTERNET, apparently.
Third, it is considered the universal symbol of Open Science–“of research, knowledge and innovation”, containing one of the “world’s largest and most complex scientific research laboratories”.
It is worth a visit whether you are a little science-technology geek like me (or at least used to be) or NOT. Maybe you’re simply interested in the BIG BANG. Or you’ve heard of the matter-antimatter thing from Dan Brown‘s “Angels and Demons“–his novel before the “Da Vinci Code“.
Well, CERN is where, in layman’s terms, tens of thousands of scientists from over a hundred countries since the 1950s have come together to explore the universe of particles–those mysterious little things that exist in the far-flung stars as well as within us. . . apparently.
We’re talking about particles smaller than atoms, beyond neutrons, protons and free electrons that we learned in grade school. We’re talking about their unfamiliar and elusive little cousins called muons, gluons, higgs, tau, neutrinos, photons and gravitrons. I still don’t know what they are. “Use the FORCE, Luke!” Maybe that’s what Master Yoda talks about in Star Wars. Apparently, these elusive little things result from colliding very small nano particles, almost like the Big Bang at the birth of the universe.
Why do it? Why are the brainiac scientists looking into these super nano things? By looking inwardly, we learn about the cosmos and the birth of stars. What is out there? Perhaps the meaning of life itself. Maybe…
Just a little taste for the kids. That sounded like a bunch of a gobbledygook for our 7 and 3 year old boys, (and me and my wife too). After all, the kids are a little too young to understand all the science involved in this heavy-duty theory of particle physics. Hell, it’s also heavy duty for adults too. At the very least, the visit was a great introduction into the world of unseen little things.
There’s enough information there to fuel the imagination.
what to see in the microcosm and the universe of particles exhibits?
The microcosm exhibit had a good way of showing that through their interactive short videos and demos, like in a museum. You could also walk around and investigate a replica of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to get an idea of its size and substance.
There’s a wall-sized map, showing an illustrative bird’s eye view of Geneva and the outlying towns in both Switzerland and France around which the Large Hadron Collide goes some 27 kilometers around, 100 meters underground, with nano particles colliding at near-the-speed-of-light at four different flash points of experiments. That’s what this place is all about. Unfortunately, the actual LHC is off limits to visitors.
My kids were, however, very much interested in watching the films at both exhibits. They stayed put, paid attention and tried to interact with things throughout both the 12-minute and 6-minute films at the microcosmos and universe particles.
They watched the whole visual effects of it. You can see the film almost entirely in our video. But I shrunk it down into two-minutes with fast-forwarding magic.
There were some exhibits showing what happens to particles when they collide resulting in a bunch of strange-looking, elusive things.
There’s also a copy of a computer mainframe that used to run these experiments.
The gift shop had (of course) scientifically-based little mementos and toys for both the little ones and the not-so-little-anymore. If you want a free souvenir, just put your finger in the socket and let the free electrons massage your skin.. hehe.. just joking. It does have the same shocking effect as the prizes in this gift store.
Both exhibitions were impressive. While “Microcosm” was more like a museum, the “Universe of Particles” exhibit was more like entering a different world with little pods in which you can rest while listening to audio descriptions while waiting for a six-minute film with interactive light and sound show–almost like in a planetarium. While microcosmos shows inwardly (the innerspace), the universe of particles shows the universe full of these mysterious little particles.
Well, that’s easily a half-day fun stop! If you have another day in Geneva, don’t forget to check out Geneva city itself, if you haven’t already (MAKE IT EASIER FOR YOU: check out our tips/recommendations on a separate post and video on below links). And if you have a third day, you can take a bus and a cable car to Mont-Saleve for a panoramic viewpoint of the city and its surrounding mountains and trek/hike for a bit.
REMEMBER, GENEVA is the home to the United Nations Headquarters in Europe as well as big international organizations such as the Red Cross and International Red Crescent among many other things. It is also the center of the excellent and exquisite Swiss watches (we missed that part, not that we can afford any, not even the famous Swiss Army knife). There’s also a one-hour, self-guided tour with 10 stops on the important landmarks of the Reformation Movement. MAKE SURE to adjust your itinerary accordingly, if you are into that kind of stuff, that is.
TIPS FOR FAMILY WITH KIDS or singletons
- If you drive, there’s FREE parking at the uncovered lot next to the Globe of Science and Innovation, where the Universe of Particles exhibit was located.
- But get there early. When we arrived on a late morning there was already a long line to the parking spaces.
- If you want a guided tour in your language, possibly with access to other parts of CERN (but NOT the LHC, which is restricted), you will need need to book well in advance–at least 15 days for groups fewer than 15 people and up to 9 months for larger groups.
- We recommend, just visiting the two free exhibits (the Microcosm and the Universe of Particles). There’s enough stuff there to fuel the imagination.
- Food. Unless you’re part of a guided tour, you cannot access their dining hall/canteen. That basically means, don’t go there hungry. But fear not, there’s a service/gas station right next to the unmistakable Globe of Science & Innovation nearby with some decent-looking food.
- Train/Tram. If you don’t have a car you can get to CERN via the purple tram/train 18. See the the picture map for details. CERN is about 25 minutes to the main train station and 25 minutes from the airport (where you can also get an 80-minute FREE train ride to CERN, apparently).
- FREE public transportation with accommodation. One great thing about Switzerland or Geneva is that you can get free public transportation with your accommodations. It doesn’t matter if you stay in an expensive hotel or youth hostel or camping site. If your accommodation is legit, it can give you a “city transit pass” for FREE!
- This is easily a 4-hour trip that’s, you know, assuming you actually stop and read some of the interesting tidbits of info and learn about some of those sci-tech stuff.
- The French border is some 500 meters away. There are likely cheaper places to stay in the French side.
- Check out more tips and our free electron family one-day itinerary in Geneva, Switzerland… with kids!
cheap PLACE to stay in geneva? GO camping!
As one of the top ten most pleasant cities in the world, Geneva is expensive. During our first family camping road trip, the cheapest place we could find to stay in Geneva was something like 240 euros per night for a family of four (and that includes Air B&B). For this year’s family camping road trip we decided to go camping all the way. . . for 6 weeks in total. In Geneva, there are 6 camping sites within half-hour of the city (4 in Switzerland and 2 in France). We found an excellent state/cantonal/municipal campground in Satigny called Cantonal Camping Val de Allondon for 28 euros a night (30 Swiss Francs or $31 USD), that made it affordable for us to visit this diplomatic hub of a city and the French-speaking capital of Switzerland!
What?! You don’t feel comfortable going camping with your kids? Don’t be! Find out more about this camping on Is Geneva Worth a Visit? Day 30 Camping Road Trip with Kids.
That’s it. Thanks for stopping by. Remember to SUBSCRIBE and CHECK OUT the following family-friendly videos in Switzerland.
NEXT STOP: religious pilgrimage stops in France on the way to the village of the Three Musketeers!
Wanna see what (almost) FREE and fun things you can do in Geneva in one day with or without kids? CHECK OUT our free electrons family Geneva video (below) that shows: Saint Peter’s Cathedral with fantastic panoramic view of the city and the bell rings, yellow taxi boat rides from the Geneva “beach” to Parc Mon Repos, a camping site, a mere 20-minute train ride away, and more.
That’s it. Thanks for stopping by. Remember to SUBSCRIBE.
NEXT STOP: Religious pilgrimage stops in France on the way to the village of the Three Musketeers!