When you think of Europe’s alpine capital, art may not be what comes to mind. Famous for its spectacular mountain scenery, placid glacial lakes, and photogenic cities and towns, Switzerland is not generally considered a destination for culture vultures. It may come as a surprise to find that there are a number of world-class museums and collections in a clutch of Swiss cities that will satisfy the most discerning art lover, and that offer a lovely break from the outdoor sports and scenery spotting for which the country is known. If you’re looking for an art interlude, here are a few museums to check out:
For more information about Switzerland’s UNESCO-listed capital city, see our overview here: 48 Hours in Bern.
Zentrum Paul Klee
Address: 3 Monument im Fruchtland, Bern
Hours: Tue – Sun 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Paul Klee was born in Bern and the city is home to the significant museum dedicated to his work in the world. Home to almost half the paintings he completed during his lifetime, Zentrum Paul Klee holds roughly 4,000 works by Klee in its vaults, though only between 120 and 150 of these are displayed during the revolving exhibitions that change regularly based on theme or highlighted works and periods. Even if you’re not a fan of Klee, Italian starchitect Renzo Piano’s undulating museum design is worth a gander, designed to echo the surrounding rolling hills.
(Photo by Martin Abegglen via Flickr)
Address: 8 Hodlerstrasse, Bern
Hours: Tue 10:00 am – 9:00 pm; Wed – Sun 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
It only seems fitting that the capital city of Switzerland would be home to one of the oldest art museum’s in the country. Its permanent collection consists of more than 4,000 paintings and sculptures as well as 50,000 drawings, prints, photographs, videos, and films and includes works dating from the 1200s to the 20th century. Around 3,000 works are displayed at any given time, and include masterpieces by everyone from Fra’ Angelico to Picasso. Set in an elegant 19th-century Neoclassical building along the Aare River, the museum is an easy stroll from the old town.
Read here for more tips on visiting the highlights in the delightful canton of Ticino: 48 Hours in Ticino
Museo d’Arte della Svizzera Italiana (MASI Lugano)
Address: LAC (Lugano Arte e Cultura), 6 Piazza Bernardino Luini, Lugano
Hours: Tues – Sun 10:00 am – 6:00 pm; Thurs 10:00 am – 8:00 pm
Lugano’s strikingly modern LAC building is home to contemporary art and performance spaces, including the excellent MASI Lugano collection. Founded in 2015, the museum quickly became one of the most visited in Switzerland, and its collection represents a bridge between Germanic culture north of the Alps and Italian culture to the south, echoing the Canton of Ticino as a whole. There is an excellent roster of temporary exhibitions throughout the year, as well as a permanent collection of around 14,000 works dating from the 15th century to today, from which the gallery displays change out regularly. Note that MASI Lugano has a second location in the city’s Royal Palace, completely renovated and inaugurated in December of 2019.
(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)
Museo Villa dei Cedri
Address: 9 Piazza San Biagio, Bellinzona
Hours: Tues — Fri 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm; Sat, Sun, holidays 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Located in a pretty 19th-century villa, this small museum opened in 1985 to house a collection of 19th and 20th century drawings and prints from Lombardy, Ticino, and Switerland; the scope has since widened and today the museum is home to a small but excellent smattering of international artists. Visit the mixed and monograph collections and take a stroll though the temporary exhibitions before heading outside to explore the English and Italian gardens surrounding the villa.
Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (MAMCO)
Address: 10 Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers, Geneva
Hours: Tues — Fri 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm; Sat, Suns 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Switzerland’s largest contemporary art gallery, MAMCO is located in a stylish retrofit factory behind the city’s Plainpalais square, a hub of chic art galleries and cafés. Covering four floors. the collection includes 4,000 works displayed in cavernous industrial spaces lit with vast windows; plan on spending at least a few hours here to take in the highlights, and take advantage of the guided tours in English for a better understanding of the often enigmatic installations. New exhibitions are held three times a year, intriguingly blending the works in the permanent collection with the temporary pieces.
(Photo by Nicolas Nova via Flickr)
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Genève
Address: 2 Rue Charles-Galland,
Hours: Tues — Sun 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
This vast museum holds a collection of more than 1 million artifacts and artworks, tracing the history of western culture and civilization from ancient times. Take the grand staircase to the fine arts collection on the upper floor, where works by Canova, Rembrandt and other Flemish masters, Cézanne, Renoir, and Modigliani await. Use one of the available audio guides to orient yourself though the collections, and be sure to linger before the entrancing works of Ferdinand Hodler that depict a number of otherworldly Swiss lakes.
Musée de l’Elysée
Address: 18 Avenue de l’Elysée, Lausanne
Hours: Tues — Sun 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Dedicated to photography as art, this premier museum displays some of Switzerland and the world’s most famous international photographers. One of the first photography museums in Europe, the Musée de l’Elysée is home to a collection of roughly one million photos from the 19th century to today, including sections dedicated to photojournalism, fashion photography, and street photography. Be sure to take in the view over Lake Geneva from museum’s 18th century villa.
(Photo by Miles Sabin via Flickr)
Address: 1 Heimplat, Zürich
Hours: Tues, Fri — Sun 10:00 am – 6:00 pm; Wed, Thurs 10 am – 8 pm
Located in the heart of Zurich’s historic center, Kunsthaus Zürich houses one of the most important art collections in Switzerland’s most important art collections. About up to 1,000 pieces selected from the permanent archives of roughly 4,000 paintings and sculptures and 95,000 prints and drawings are displayed at any given time, and visitors can admire masterpieces dating from the 13th century on. From Rembrandt to Mondrian, there is something to satisfy every art aficionado in this rich collection.
Address: 270 Limmatstrasse , Zürich
Hours: Tues, Weds, Fri 11:00 am – 6:00 pm; Thurs 11 am – 8 pm; Sat, Sun 10 am – 5 pm
Zürich’s most avant-garde contemporary art space doesn’t own a permanent collection, but instead hosts a constantly changing roster of exhibitions by some of the most blockbuster contemporary artists in the world. It is located on the upper floor of a renovated Lowenbrau brewery (now known as the Löwenbräukunst-Areal); downstairs, the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst instead is home to a vast permanent collection of contemporary art spanning the last few decades and featuring ground-breaking artists.
(Photo by Daniel Lobo via Flickr)
Address: 15 Gablerstrasse 15, Zürich
Hours: Tues – Sun 10 am – 5 pm
For a change of pace, stop in to admire the collection at Switzerland’s only museum for non-European art. Wander the elegant halls to take in African and Asian art, as well as works from the Americas and Oceania. The museum has 23,000 artworks and artifacts, most of which are on display in the museum’s galleries or its open storeroom. Highlights include Chinese porcelain, Indian miniature paintings, and Himalayan Buddhist art.