The Best Museums to Visit in Basel blog post was first published on Culture Tourist on 13 August 2021 and updated on 1 March 2024.
The Swiss Cultural Capital of Basel is home to around forty museums. The oldest public art collection in the world and the largest museum in Switzerland are among them. Basel has a long tradition of art collecting, as well. Its museums host art, history, natural history, scientific, cultural and many other collections. To help you decide which museum to visit in Basel, here is the Culture Tourist’s guide to the best museums to visit in Basel, packed with all the helpful info to know before your visit.
Best museums to visit in Basel
Basel museums are home to some of the oldest world’s art and cultural collections. However, from the 1960s, Basel became a hub for avant-garde museum architecture, attracting top international architects to leave their mark in the city. Renzo Piano (Fondation Beyeler), Zaha Hadid (Fire Station – Vitra Design Museum) and Mario Botta (Museum Tinguely) are just some of them.
Watch my video about the best museums in Basel below:
Why are there so many museums in Basel?
Basel has a long tradition of collecting art, going back to the 16th century. In 1661, the city of Basel and the Basel University purchased the Amerbach Cabinet. That collection belonged to the local printing family. Among numerous fascinating artefacts, it contained the most extensive collection of paintings made by Hans Holbein the Younger and the library with around 9,000 books. The Amerbach Cabinet is the oldest civic museum collection in continuous existence, and it formed a base for the Kunstmuseum Basel.
The reason for so many museums in Basel also lies in the early establishment of the University of Basel. Numerous Basel museums’ collections were developed because they were needed for the research done at the university. Despite that, most collections focus on fine arts and originated as private collections. No wonder one of the world’s leading art fairs, Art Basel, is organised in that Swiss town, too.
Basel Town Hall also contributed to the art collecting in the city. The artists were commissioned to leave their mark with the wall paintings. It’s also where art and historical objects, such as weaponry, were collected throughout the centuries. However, the first building designed as a museum was built in Basel in 1849.
Best Museums in Basel
With so many great museums to visit in Basel, it could be hard to decide what are the best museums to visit in Basel during your stay. Some of my favourite museums in Basel are the Kunstmuseum Basel, Tinguely Museum and Fondation Beyeler. Their collections have their place among the best museums in Europe.
However, if you’ll have more time during your stay, check some of the Basel museums listed later in this article, too.
Address: St. Alban-Graben 16, 4051 Basel / Museum website
Kunstmuseum Basel hosts one of the best collections of fine arts worldwide. Its history goes back to 1661 when the private collection, Amerbach Cabinet, was purchased by the University and the City of Basel. It’s the oldest museum, not only in Switzerland but also in Europe and probably in the world.
The Kunstmuseum Basel has an extensive collection of paintings made between 1400 and 1600 by artists from the Upper Rhine region. The Holbein family, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Matthias Grünewald are some of the best known among them. However, it also has a beautiful modern and contemporary art collection of paintings created from the mid-19th century onwards.
Its collection of Picasso’s paintings is quite interesting not only because of the high quality of these works but also because of the collection’s history. Kunstmuseum Basel was home to two of Picasso’s paintings, a private loan from the art collector Peter G. Staechelin. However, in 1967, he got into financial trouble and decided to sell those paintings. Its citizens collected the money and acquired the paintings to keep their beloved artworks in Basel. They managed to raise the money and paid 8,4 million Swiss Franks for them.
Pablo Picasso was so impressed by that story that he donated four more of his artworks to the museum. You can see all of them in Kunstmuseum today. And they form one of the most significant Picasso collections in Europe.
TIP: Kunstmuseum Basel is a large museum, with its collection displayed in three buildings. Do your research in advance and pick up a part of the museum you’d like to visit because it will be impossible to see everything at once.
Address: Paul Sacher-Anlage 2, 4002 Basel / Museum Website
This lovely museum in Basel is dedicated to the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely (1925 – 1991). He is best known for his kinetic art and professional obsession with machines, the way they work, sound, move, and their overproduction in the modern world.
The Tinguely Museum in Basel tells the story of the artist’s life and professional work. It also displays many of his artworks, from kinetic art to illustrated letters to friends and drawings.
This fantastic Basel museum is highly interactive and, because of that, especially amusing. Visitors could push the buttons and start Tinguely’s machines, play with them and observe them in a way the artist intended them to be seen. They are so fascinating because of how they move and the beautiful way they are done.
The artists paid particular attention to their colours and the machine construction composition. This lovely interactive place is a perfect family-friendly museum in Basel, too.
TIP: To prolong your museum experience, visit Tinguely Fountain in Basel’s city centre. Built in 1977, the fountain consists of ten machine statues made of iron. Since it’s located in front of the city theatre and where the old stage once was, the statues were inspired by that art form. They are in constant movement, almost looking like the actors performing and interacting with each other.
Address: Baselstrasse 101, 4125 Basel / Museum Website
Fondation Beyeler was my favourite museum in Basel. If I would need to pick only one of the best museums in Basel, it would be the Fondation Beyeler. Located outside the city, in the small town of Riehen, the museum is easily reachable from the city centre of Basel by tram, and you’ll need about 25 minutes to get there.
The museum is situated in a building designed by Renzo Piano in 1997. Hildy and Ernst Beyeler privately owned the art collection and transferred the ownership to the foundation in 1982. The museum could be seen in around two hours, making it a perfect place to introduce some of the top names in the modern art world. Among the authors of the works displayed there are Degas, Monet, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Rothko, Warhol, etc.
Some other fantastic museums to visit in Basel
The Basel Paper Mill
Address: St. Alban-Tal 37, 4052 Basel / Museum Website
Located in a 500-year-old building that used to be a paper mill, this is one of Basel’s best museums to visit. Also known as the Swiss Museum for paper, writing and printing, its collection is generally dedicated to papermaking, writing and publishing.
Vitra Design Museum
Address: Charles-Eames-Straße 2, 79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany / Museum Website
Although located outside the city, in Weil am Rhein, Vitra Design Museum is worth visiting. It’s dedicated to design, focusing mainly on furniture and interior design. Museum complex buildings were created by various architects, such as Frank O. Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Nicholas Grimshaw, Tadao Ando and Alvaro Siza. It’s also a fantastic place for architecture enthusiasts to visit in Basel.
The Anatomical Museum
Address: Pestalozzistrasse 20, 4056 Basel / Museum Website
The first exhibits that found their place in the Anatomical Museum collection were objects bought by one of the University of Basel’s famous professors, Carl Gustav Jung, in the 1820s. Among the most exciting exhibits are the oldest anatomical specimens in the world, made by Andreas Vesalius in 1543 in Basel and a skeleton prepared by Felix Platter in 1573.
Historical Museum Basel
Address: Barfüsserpl. 7, 4051 Basel / Museum Website
This museum hosts the Upper Rhine’s most extensive collection of cultural history. It’s been located in Barfüsser Church since 1894. The museum’s collection mainly consists of goldsmith works, stained glass, furnishings, tapestries, etc.
The Museum of Pharmacy
Address: Totengässlein 3, 4051 Basel / Museum Website
Basel is famous for its pharma industry, so visiting a museum dedicated to it could be a great addition to your trip to Basel. The Museum of Pharmacy in Basel hosts one of the world’s largest collections of the history of pharmacy. Besides books and artworks dedicated to the pharmacy, some old apothecary objects, laboratory utensils and instruments are displayed there.
Swiss Architecture Museum
Address: Steinenberg 7, 4051 Basel / Museum Website
Basel is well known for its fantastic modern architecture. So, where better to learn about it than at the Swiss Architecture Museum? Founded in 1984, it hosts temporary exhibitions about international architecture and urbanism. After the visit, you can take a guided tour around the city and explore Basel’s modern architecture.
TIP: Located on the ground floor of the Kunsthalle building, in which the museum is located, is an excellent restaurant bearing the same name. So, if you’d like to have a nice meal after your museum visit, check it out.
Tips for visiting museums in Basel
Free entrance – Most Basel museums have a free entrance on the first Sunday of the month. If you’re visiting Basel around that time of the month, plan your museum visit on Sunday!
Basel card – Some Basel hotels provide a complimentary Basel card during the stay. With it, you’ll have a discount in many museums.
Opening hours – One of the most essential tips in this guide to the best museums to visit in Basel is to check the opening hours before your visit. They are usually open 9 am – 5 pm. Be sure to plan your visit ahead so you have plenty of time to explore the wonderful museums of Basel.
With more than a museum per square kilometre, Basel definitely deserves the title of the Cultural Capital of Switzerland by every right. Hopefully, with this guide to the best museums in Basel, you’ll find some great cultural spots to visit in Basel.
Have you visited any museums in Basel? Which were your favourites? Let me know in the comments.
I visited museums in Basel during the press trip organised by Basel Tourismus. Many thanks to Basel Tourismus for organising a fantastic press trip for me. I had a great time and enjoyed exploring these beautiful museums in Basel and preparing this guide to the best Museums in Basel for you. However, as always, all opinions are my own.