Set against the backdrop of the high peaks of the Alps, the little country of Switzerland has much to be proud of. Famous landmarks like the Zytglogge Clock Tower and Lucerne’s wooden chapel bridge are unsurpassed for travelers. Swiss luxury watches and deluxe chocolates are world-renowned, and its ski resorts and hiking trails are unparalleled.
With influences from the bordering countries of France, Germany, Italy, and Austria, Switzerland presents a cultural extravaganza in over 900 museums showcasing a stunning collection of artifacts and art. Here are some of the best museums in Switzerland to experience its history and culture.
The Swiss National Museum‘s permanent exhibition in Zurich is a collection of the country’s way of life throughout its history. More than one million displays chronicle Switzerland’s culture from the Paleolithic age to modern times with an emphasis on Switzerland’s ancient history and the Middle Ages.
The collections include art from the Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance periods, prehistoric artifacts, and relics from the Roman and Carolingian empires.
In addition to relics from ancient periods and empires, the museum features unique collections of traditional furnishings and folk costumes from each canton, Swiss armor and weapons, and exhibits on the history of Swiss clocks. You’ll see a fascinating huge scale model of the Battle of Murten in the Hall of Fame.
In all, the museum has over 100 rooms of engaging displays, and you can secure an iPad tour by depositing your personal ID or passport. Stop by the trendy minimalist museum café for coffee and cake.
Visit the Swiss National Museum/Landes Museum at Museumstrasse 2, 800, Zurich.
The world has long been fascinated by the history and culture surrounding the Olympic games. The International Olympic Committee established the Musee Olympique (Olympic Museum)in 1993 on the shores of Lake Geneva in Ouchy, a district of Lausanne to tell the Olympic story. A museum dedicated to the Olympic concept was the brainchild of Pierre de Coubertin who founded the IOC and revived the spirit of the games to bring nations around the world together.
Spread over three floors, exhibits showcase the games beginning in ancient Greece all the way to modern times. The unique building, with impressive views of Lake Geneva and the Alps, features Olympic paraphernalia, the sporting equipment used by famous athletes, and thousands of video clips documenting the history of sports. Don’t miss the interactive displays on the third floor where visitors can try out their skills in Olympic-style games.
You’ll find this museum in Lausanne at Quai d’Ouchy 1, 1006.
The Kunstmuseum, or Museum of Fine Arts in Bern houses art that Switzerland acquired through the end of the 1800s. The collection begins with medieval Italian primitives and includes pieces from modern Swiss artists with a focus on old French masters Henri Émile Benoît Matisse and Paul Cézanne.
In addition, the museum features the most notable prints by Dürer, Rembrandt, and Callot and German and French masterpieces from Romanticism to Impressionism of the 19th century. Works by Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler and his followers represent art from the turn of the century.
The modern art section features art by American artist Andy Warhol, German expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Swiss artist and designer Sophie Taeuber-Arp, and many more. Due to limited space, the collection is presented in changing exhibitions. See them at Hodlerstrasse 8, 3011 in Bern.
Located in Geneva, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum represents the world’s longest-running humanitarian initiative and one of the most important non-profit organizations dedicated to improving the lives of millions worldwide.
The history of the organization’s groundbreaking work is showcased along with the best and worst facets of humanity. The museum boldly displays heart-wrenching images of natural and manmade disasters around the world.
Located at, Av. de la Paix 17 1202 in Geneva, the museum is one of the largest and most impactful in Switzerland.
The Museum Rietberg in Zurich is the only art gallery in Switzerland that focuses on non-European cultures. Its collections feature works from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Oceania and the acquisitions of Baron von der Heydt who donated his collection in 1952.
The exhibits are presented in the grand neoclassical mansion Villa Wesendonck where composer Richard Wagner once resided. More displays are housed in the unique redbrick Park-Villa Rieter’s underground galleries built to enlarge the museum without changing its elegant appearance other than the stunning Emerald glass foyer.
Villa Wesendonck features exquisite examples of African, East Asian, Latin American, and Native American art from the Pacific Northwest as well as a fascinating collection of ceramic and early Buddhist sculptures from China. Also on display are masks from Africa and Oceania, carpets from Armenia, colorful ancient Indian paintings, and Middle Eastern Textiles.
Visit the museum at Gablerstrasse 15, 8002 in Zurich.
The Bodmer Museum traces the evolution of civilization beginning with the invention of writing 5,000 years ago. See examples of mankind’s pivotal invention in varying languages and images on papyrus and first edition manuscripts.
Famous Swiss scholar and bibliophile Martin Bodner collected all of these artifacts to begin a library that he envisioned would evolve into a museum to highlight the invention of written expression and its importance to the human race. One of the largest private libraries in the world, the Martin Bodmer Foundation features a collection of 150,000 artifacts in around 80 languages. It became open to the public in 2003.
Some of the most fascinating items to look for include western and oriental manuscripts, a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, Greek and Coptic papyri, and archaeological documents and drawings. The museum also contains numerous minerals and fossils.
See the collection at 1223 Geneva in a building designed by architect Mario Botta.
This outdoor museum opened in 1978 with 16 traditional Swiss buildings on the original site. Today, the Swiss Open-Air Museum has extended into more than 100 agricultural and residential buildings sourced from various parts of Switzerland sprawling over a 66-hectare area.
Since the 1970s, old farmhouses and buildings have been taken apart and reassembled at the site in Ballenburg rather than being destroyed. With kitchens, chambers, and living rooms, the historic buildings represent rural life in Switzerland.
About 250 animals roam free on the grounds to further add a realistic experience. The area also has gardens, pastures, and meadows, and indigenous crops are cultivated. Traditional handicrafts such as basket weaving, spinning, and wood carving are demonstrated, and visitors are invited to join in.
To round out the museum, there’s a petting zoo, a house with antique toys, a forest trail, a medicinal garden, and themed exhibits. Visit at Museumsstrasse 100, 3858 Hofstetten bei Brienz, Switzerland.
One of the most popular landmarks in Basel, The Museum Tinguely houses works by Jean Tinguely (1925-1991), one of Switzerland’s most noted artists of the 20th century. Tinguely was famous for his moving mechanical sculptures. The largest collection of his work, the exhibition presents works that span four decades.
Exhibitions featuring a wide range of artists based on Tinguely’s style are held regularly with works by contemporaries such as Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Arman, Yves Klein, Niki de Saint Phalle, and are presented.
A work of art itself, the museum was built on the Rhine River by Ticino architect Mario Botta. Visit the museum at Paul Sacher-Anlage 2, 4002 Basel. Admission is free with an Oberrheinischen Museum Pass.
Learn history right where it happened at Museum Aargau, a collection of structures that includes the Lenzburg, Wildegg, Hallwyl, and Habsburg castles, the Legionnaire’s Path, the Königsfelden monastery, the Egliswil collection center, the museum at the Roman camp of Vindonissa, and the industrial culture TOUR Abach.
Each structure is a monument to history For example, the Lenzburg castle is a museum on knighthood and nobility.
The grounds are expansive, and all of the castles are surrounded by vineyards and gardens. The castles house exhibits and artifacts representing 11 generations of dukes, counts, and adventurers. Each castle has even more buildings, gardens, and farms. Historic horticulture is presented at the Wildegg Castle. The Roman camp is now an adventure park.
Visit Museum Aargua at Effingerweg 65103, Wildegg.
One of the most interesting places to visit in Lucerne, the Verkehrshaus Der Schweiz is a museum of all modes of transportation and includes basically any vehicle that is used for travel from motorcycles to locomotives. The one-of-a-kind museum opened in 1959.
Learn the history of automobiles, planes, trains, ships, and even spaceships at numerous exhibits, and theme parks. Simulators give visitors an idea of what a ride is like. The collection includes over 3,000 items presented on 20,000 square meters of space.
One of the most extensive transportation museums in Europe, Verkehrshaus Der Schweiz also features unique attractions such as a state-of-the-art planetarium, film theatre, Swiss Chocolate Adventure, and Media World. The film theater shows documentaries in XXL format on a huge screen. The Swiss Chocolate Adventure is a multimedia journey showing how cocoa beans are made into chocolate.
A large outdoor area with a lake and playground equipment makes a day at this museum an adventure. Find ot at Lidostrasse 5, 6006, Lucerne.
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