Museumstrasse 2, Zurich
3 hours per location
The Swiss National Museum in Zurich is one of the most important museum institutions in the world’s cultural history. The institution was born out of the desire to create a national museum that would be the pride of Switzerland’s young federal state.
- Name: Swiss National Museum
- Location: Zürich, Switzerland
- Opened 1898
- Type of attraction: Museum Institution
- Ticket price: $US 10
National Council member Salomon Vögelin proposed the construction of a national museum, and a site in Zurich was selected after much debate. The edifice housing the museum was built in 1898. The building was designed by Swiss architect and teacher Gustav Gull, and it look like a French Renaissance chateau.
The Swiss National Museum consists of three museums and the Collection Centre in Affoltern am Albis. The museums display the history of Switzerland from its beginnings up to the present day. They provide an insight into the identity of the Swiss people as well as the rich tapestry of the country’s history and culture. Additionally, the museums host temporary exhibitions that address topics of contemporary relevance.
The institutions of the Swiss National Museum are:
National Museum Zurich
Next to Zurich’s Main Station sits the National Museum, which looks like something out of a fairytale. Through the arches leading into the inner courtyard, visitors will encounter the original structure, built in the historicism style, balanced by a new, contemporary edifice.
The Swiss National Museum has the country’s largest collection of cultural artefacts, dating from prehistoric times to the present day, including works of art, sculptures, and decorative arts. In addition, the National Museum hosts a number of temporary exhibitions that explore current societal issues. You can rent a device or download the “National Museum” app to your smartphone to listen to audio guides in a variety of languages while you explore the museum.
The permanent “Simply Zurich” exhibit located on the museum’s first floor historical wing is free to the public. In a lighthearted and personal approach, it illustrates the city and canton of Zurich’s vast cultural diversity. The exhibition centers on a glass case comprising sixty artefacts that together convey the tale of Zurich’s illustrious history. Visitors from other countries can enjoy the display alongside locals.
The National Museum’s lovely inner courtyard regularly hosts concerts and other activities. This creates an intriguing contrast between the past and the present, the old and the new, and the young and the old.
The museum shop is well stocked with unique gifts and souvenirs developed and crafted by Swiss craftsmen.
The museums house a wide array of art and a selection from ancient times and the Middle Ages to the 20th century.
Some of the museums’ more unusual exhibits include a gallery of Gothic paintings, liturgical wooden sculpture, carved alters, and art related to chivalry. There’s also a segment on Switzerland’s history which shows traditional costumes and clothes.
The Swiss Furniture Design section is a nice juxtaposition with the older items in the space. The museums feature collections that change regularly so it is always something new to see and learn.
Forum of Swiss History Schwyz
The Forum of Swiss History Schwyz, was opened in 1995, serves as the country’s cultural epicentre and is home to the Swiss National Museum. The museum’s upper three floors are dedicated to the Middle Ages and the establishment and growth of the Old Swiss Confederacy.
There are priceless, historically significant artefacts on display from all around Switzerland and beyond. In this context, the usage of new media is limited to instructional purposes. Visitors can engage with the exhibition topic on a deeper level and have fun doing so at one of the many media stations.
The periodically rotating special exhibitions in the basement are a major draw for visitors from all across central Switzerland. They pick up timely topics and reframe them in a fresh way. There is also a café and a gift shop for visitors to the museum.
Chateau de Prangins
The Swiss National Museum for French-speaking Switzerland is headquartered in the magnificent Château de Prangins, which is located not far from Nyon. With the largest historical vegetable garden in Switzerland and the largest visitable castle from the 18th century, Prangins is an indispensible cultural landmark in the area.
Multiple permanent displays take visitors back in time to the Enlightenment era with the motto, “Noblesse oblige!” The “Potager,” a genuine outdoor exhibition, or “Indiennes: un tissu à la conquête du monde,” a fascinating look at the history of printed cotton fabrics, are just a few of the highlights.
Visitors of all ages are encouraged to continue their adventure with transport modes from the 18th to the 20th centuries in the ‘Ready to go’ gaming display. The documentary “Switzerland. What is it?” challenges common misconceptions about Switzerland by showing how people have lived there from the 18th century to the current day. The rotating exhibits shed light on contemporary Swiss culture and politics. The Swiss National Museum’s informative “The Walk of Light” trail can be found outside as well.
Café du Château provides a refined menu influenced by the traditional vegetable garden or picnic baskets for a meal on the grass, completing the experience. The Château de Prangins has three rooms with unquestionable cachet, as well as the Café and its spectacular terrace overlooking Lake Geneva, perfect for private or professional parties and birthday celebrations. Numerous group and family-friendly activities and guided excursions are available all year long, giving visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go back in time.
The Collection Centre of the Swiss National Museum can be found in Affoltern am Albis, which is located in the canton of Zurich. This location acts as the depot for the Swiss National Museum, and it also houses a photographic studio, a workshop for the museum’s conservators, and a department that manages the logistics of packing and exporting cultural objects.
A decommissioned armory from the 1980s served as the basis for the creation of the centre through its conversion. According to the Swiss Inventory of Cultural Objects, it has been given the number 11777, which designates it as a national treasure.
The Museums are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except on Thursdays when it is open until 7 p.m.). Visitors ages 17 and older are charged 10 Swiss francs (less than $11) to enter, though admission is free for all Zurich Card holders and children 16 and younger. Museum tickets include access to restrooms, a gift shop, a cafe and a library.
Parking is not offered through the museum but can be found across the street at the Hauptbahnhof train station. Several train, tram and bus lines stop at Hauptbahnhof or the adjacent Bahnhofquai station.
Interesting facts about Swiss National Museum
- Swiss National Museum exhibits more than 840’000 objects from various collections.
- Museum tells stories not only about history and art, but also about winter sports in the Alps, Swiss watches and Swiss chocolate.
- As Switzerland is famous for its banking system, museum features large collection of banknotes and coins from country’s history.