Switzerland’s Grand Tour: Arts and Culture Itinerary

With countless museums and galleries, performances venues, and events, Switzerland delivers a dazzling array of arts and cultural options. Sample some of the best-of-the-best experiences on this six-day road trip.

By Maryellen Kennedy Duckett

GATEWAY AIRPORT Zurich Airport, Zurich

DEPARTURE AIRPORT Geneva Airport, Geneva

With countless museums, galleries, performance venues, and events, Switzerland delivers a dazzling array of arts and culture options. Sample some of the best-of-the-best experiences on this six-day road trip. The route is designed to help visitors delve deeply into Swiss life, visual and performing arts, and design. Pick and choose among the activities and attractions featured here based on your interests and the time allotted for your trip. The Swiss Travel Pass makes it easy to travel the entire route by public transportation. (Tip: Kids under 16 travel for free with a parent who has a Swiss Travel Pass.) Or you can rent a car for all or part of the trip.


GET AROUND BY PUBLIC TRANSIT The Swiss Travel Pass gives you unlimited access to trains, buses, boats, and public transportation in 75 towns and cities, including Zurich.

HEART OF ART The art scene in Zurich is diverse and exciting. The Museum für Gestaltung Zurich is Switzerland’s foremost institution of design and visual communication. It features four permanent collections—Poster, Design, Graphics, and Applied Art—and more than 500,000 objects. The Kunsthaus Zurich houses masterpieces by such artists as Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, and Marc Chagall as well as works going back to medieval times. Head to the Löwenbräukunst Art Center to find the revitalized heart of contemporary art in an old brewery building in Zurich. It includes the Kunsthalle Zurich, which displays works by up-and-coming artists. Journey to nearby Winterthur to find the Fotomuseum Winterthur, a Swiss mecca of photography.

ZURICH CELEBRATIONS Zurich swells with spring fever during Sechseläuten, a signal that winter is ending and warmth is on the way. Gather at 6 p.m. on the third Monday (or so) of April at Sechseläutenplatz at Bellevue to see the Böögg (snowman and symbol of winter) explode. Summer brings the Zurich Festival, combining theater, art, and music. Zurich is also the birthplace of dadaism, and 2016 is the hundredth anniversary of the art movement’s start at the recently reopened Cabaret Voltaire.

MUCH MUSIC Switzerland is famous for its folk music, but for a more contemporary take head to a music venue in Zurich. These include Maag Halle, the complex in Kreis (district) 5 that attracts 350,000 visitors a year to performances; Papiersaal, with folk and indie artists; and Moods, a cool jazz club also offering pop, world music, and dancing on Friday and Saturday nights.

EAT Zum Guten Glück, Zurich

STAY Hotel Helmhaus, Zurich



ART CITY Basel has been called the “city of art” in Switzerland. The Kunstmuseum Basel is debuting a new extension for 2016 and hosting such exhibits as “Sculpture on the Move,” presenting works dating from World War II to the present day. The smaller Fondation Beyeler presents some 250 works, the Tinguely Museum is home to the largest collection of works by innovative Swiss artist Jean Tinguely (1925–1991), and the HeK explores electronic arts.

MAIN VENUES Look, listen, and learn at Kaserne, the largest site in northwest Switzerland for contemporary theater, dance, performance art, and music; and at Kuppel, which boasts a mishmash of music—salsa, disco, electronic, house, reggae, and indie—under a dome-shaped tent.

ART CELEBRATION Art Basel organizes cutting-edge art shows around the world. Next held in Basel June 16–19, 2016, it gathers gallery owners to show off work by more than 4,000 artists during the week.

EAT 1777 Kaffee Restaurant Bar, Basel

STAY The Passage, Basel


GET THERE BY CAR A2 BY PUBLIC TRANSIT IR (InterRegio) train > Lucerne

MAIN MUSEUMS The Museum Sammlung Rosengart houses the Rosengart Collection of works by 23 19th- and 20th-century artists, including Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee. The Verkehrshaus der Schweiz (Swiss Museum of Transport) is an homage to Swiss transportation, including exhibits on helicopter flying and automobiles throughout history.

CULTURE CENTER The KKL Lucerne quite rightly bills itself as “a cultural beacon in the city of Lucerne.” It is a mixed-use venue for concerts, lectures, and cuisine, and it’s the homesite of the Lucerne Festival.

CELEBRATE The famous Lucerne Festival is actually three events throughout the year that attract 120,000 visitors: The spring 2016 Easter Festival features artist-in-residence and conductor Jordi Savall; the summer 2016 festival is themed “PrimaDonna” and showcases women in music; and the fall 2016 Piano Festival offers piano music by Grigory Sokolov, Rudolf Buchbinder, Maria João Pires, and Murray Perahia. The Blue Balls Festival is July 22–30, 2016. It hosts more than 100,000 people for a hundred events over nine days and features blues, jazz, soul, funk, world, rock, and pop performances. The Fumetto International Comix-Festival Lucerne draws about 50,000 people. It takes place from April 16–24, 2016, and explores the art and impact of comic artists and writers.

EAT Geissmatt, Lucerne

STAY Art Deco Hotel Montana, Lucerne


GET THERE BY CAR A8 > A6 BY PUBLIC TRANSIT IR (InterRegio) train > Bern

HANDS-ON HISTORY Literally step into Swiss history and culture at the Swiss Open-Air Museum in Ballenberg. The “House from Burgdorf” exhibit, for example, is a Swiss chalet with local performers showing off traditional costumes, instruments, and folk music. (Note: The museum is closed during the winter.)

SOUNDS OF MUSIC Mendelssohn Music Week takes place from August 20–27, 2016, during which performances honor the classical composer. The Musikfestwoche Meiringen (Meiringen Music Festival) is July 1–9, 2016, in Meiringen.

TREASURES OF THE PAST The Bernisches Historisches Museum displays permanent collections of objects dating back to the Stone Age through to the present, not all of it relating solely to the history of Bern. The museum is also home to the Einstein Museum, which celebrates the life and theories of the groundbreaking physicist who lived in Bern while formulating his theory of relativity. Zentrum Paul Klee features works by Paul Klee (1879–1940) and includes the exhibit “Pictures in Motion,” highlighting Klee’s fascination with movement. Kunstmuseum Bern has a great section devoted to female artists.

FLOWER POWER Spring blooms eternal at the Rose Garden in Bern, a draw for those who love flowers (220 rose varieties, among others) and the spot to relax in warmer weather, with views of Old Town and Aare Loop.

LIVE MUSIC The Gurten Music Festival takes place over four days in July on top of Bern’s local mountain, the Gurten. The best way to get up there is by funicular, and the program includes more than 60 live acts along with 60 DJs. Hold your breath for the Zibelemärit Onion Festival on the fourth Monday in November, for which attendees arrive as early as 4 a.m. to catch farmers bringing in their pungent crops, some of which are blended with garlic to stave off evil spirits. For the 41st year, from March to May 2016, the International Jazz Festival takes place at various locations, including Marian's Jazzroom. The Buskers Bern Street Music Festival toasts and hosts street performers from around the world from August 11–13, 2016.

EAT Wein & Sein, Bern

STAY Bellevue Palace Bern, Bern


GET THERE BY CAR A1 BY PUBLIC TRANSIT IR (InterRegio) train > Lausanne

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GREAT MUSEUMS The Lake Geneva region is home to the greatest density of museums in the world. Lausanne, for example, is where the International Olympic Committee is located, and you can feel the spirit of the games, which are being held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016, at the Olympic Museum. Other fun museums to see in the city: The Collection de L'Art Brut houses works by self-taught artists including, according to the museum, “psychiatric hospital patients, prisoners, eccentrics, loners, and outcasts”; Fondation de l’Hermitage hosts only changing art exhibitions, such as the art of neoimpressionist Paul Signac (1863–1935) running through May 22, 2016; and the Musée de l’Elysée, housed in an 18th-century villa, focuses solely on photography.

ARIAS ALOUD Opéra de Lausanne, housed in an ultramodern opera house, is devoting the 2015–16 season to great composers. For instance, it is performing Handel’s Ariodante on April 15, 17, 20, 22, and 24, 2016.

CHARLIE CHAPLIN A 20-minute detour from Lausanne on the A9 takes you to Chaplin’s World, which opens in spring 2016. The facility, located on 34 acres in the Swiss Riviera, fetes Charlie Chaplin, the comic genius made famous by his silent films, such as Modern Times, at the beginning of the 20th century.

EAT Café du Grütli, Lausanne

STAY Mövenpick Hotel Lausanne, Lausanne



FUN FESTIVALS Two nights of hard-pounding sound on October 14 and 15, 2016, make up the 32nd edition of the Vernier sur Rock, a music festival held outside Geneva in Vernier. There’s also winter’s Fête de L’Escalade, on December 9–11, 2016, which recalls December 11, 1602, when soldiers of the Duke of Savoy tried scaling the city walls and unsuccessfully attacked the city.

LISTEN LIVE Geneva, particularly in the Carouge area, is alive with live music venues including Chat Noir; L’Usine, housed in a former gold refinery; and Le Box, an intimate performance space tucked in the basement of Le Cheval Blanc, a traditional Swiss auberge.

HISTORY MUSEUM One of Switzerland’s most important institutions, Musée d’art et d’histoire Geneva is an art and history museum hosting exhibits such as “Byzantines in Switzerland,” through March 13, 2016.

A CONSTELLATION OF ART The Quartier des Bains is Geneva’s art district and home to several great museums and galleries. Check out the Centre d’Art Contemporain, the first contemporary-art institution in French-speaking Switzerland, and MAMCO, Geneva’s museum of modern and contemporary art. Time your trip to coincide with La Nuit des Bains, street parties where visitors wander through the district’s galleries and check out new artists. The nights take place on March 17, May 19, and September 15 in 2016.

EAT Red Passion‪, Boulevard James Fazy 14, Geneva 1201; +41 76 751 41 28‬, Geneva

STAY Hotel N'vY, Geneva

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