Swiss Cultural Capital 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. 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 Museums in Basel packed with all the info you need about them.
A Guide to Museums in Basel
Basel museums are a great example of the development of these kinds of cultural institutions. They are home to some of the oldest museum collections in the world. 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 museums in Basel below:
Why there are so many museums in Basel?
Basel has a long tradition of art collecting, going back all the way to the 16th century. In 1661 the city of Basel and the Basel University purchased the Amerbach Cabinet. This collection belonged to the local printing family. Among some other interesting things, the Cabinet had the largest 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 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, the majority of 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 city, too.
Basel Town Hall also made its contribution to the art collecting in the city. The artists were commissioned to leave their mark with the wall paintings they created. It’s also where the 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 make your choice of which museum to visit in Basel during your stay. Kunstmuseum Basel, Tinguely Museum and Fondation Beyeler are absolutely among the world class museums. Visiting any of them will be a great experience.
However, if you’ll have some more spare time, be sure to check some of the Basel museums listed below, too.
*Address: St. Alban-Graben 16, 4051 Basel / Museum website
Kunstmuseum Basel hosts one of the best collections of fine arts in the world. Its history goes back to 1661 when the private collection Amerbach Cabinet was purchased by the University and 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. Holbein family, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Matthias Grünewald are among 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 Picassos is quite interesting. Not only because of the high quality of these works but also for the collections’ history. Kunstmuseum Basel was home to two of Picasso’s paintings, a private loan from an art collector Peter G. Staechelin. However, in 1967 he got into some financial troubles and decided to sell those paintings. To keep their beloved artworks in Basel, its citizens collected the money themselves and acquired the paintings. They managed to raise the money and paid 8,4 million Swiss Franks for them.
Picasso himself was so impressed by that story that he donated another four of his works to the museum. All of them could still be seen in the Kunstmuseum today. And they form one of the most significant Picasso collections in Europe.
TIP: Kunstmuseum Basel is quite 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, how they work, sound, move, and their overproduction in the modern world.
The Tinguely Museum in Basel provides the story of his life and professional work. It also displays many of his artworks, spanning from kinetic art, illustrated letters to friends and drawings.
Especially amusing while visiting this museum is that it’s highly interactive. Visitors could push the buttons and start Tinguely’s machines, play with them and observe them in a way artist intended them to be seen. They are so fascinating because of the way they move and because they are so beautifully done. It seems as the artists paid particular attention to their colours and the composition the machine constructions have.
It’s a lovely interactive museum that could be a perfect family-friendly museum in Basel, too.
TIP: To prolong your museum experience, visit Tinguely Fountain right in the Basel city centre. Built in 1977, the fountain consists of ten machine statues made of iron. Since it is located in front of the city theatre and where the old theatre’s stage once was, the statues are inspired by that form of art. 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 needed to recommend only one place to visit in this guide to museums in Basel, it would be the Fondation Beyeler. Located outside the city, in the small town of Riehen, it’s easily reachable from the city centre of Basel by tram (you’ll need some 25 minutes to get there).
It’s situated in a building designed by Renzo Piano in 1997. The art collection was a private one by Hildy and Ernst Beyeler, who 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 are Degas, Monet, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Rothko, Warhol etc.
Some other great museums in Basel
take a walk and explore some of the Basel modern architecture. (Address: Steinenberg 7, 4051 Basel / Museum Website)Swiss Architecture Museum – Basel is also well known for its fantastic modern architecture. And where better to learn more about it than at the Swiss Architecture Museum. It was founded in 1984 and since then its hosting temporary exhibitions about international architecture and urbanism. After the visit, you can
TIP: Located on the ground floor of the Kunsthalle building, in which the museum is located, is an excellent restaurant with the same name. So, if you’d like to have a nice meal after your museum visit, be sure to 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, be sure to plan your museum visit on Sunday!
Basel card – If you’re staying in some of the Basel hotels, you’ll get a complimentary Basel card. With it, you’ll have a discount in many museums.
Opening hours – One of the most essential tips in this guide to museums in Basel is to check the museum’s opening hours before your visit. They are usually open 9 am – 5 pm, but be sure to plan your visiting time ahead, so you have plenty of time to enjoy exploring 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 Museums in Basel, you’ll find a perfect museum in Basel for yourself to visit.
Do you have any other Basel museums to recommend? Let us know in the comments.
*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 Museums in Basel for you. However, as always, all opinions are my own.
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