Swiss Open Air Museum

The Swiss Open Air Museum is a dream come true for those who love the history of day-to-day life. We had no plans for the weekend so I suggested to Dan that we take the motorcycles out for a little ride and make a stop at this well-reviewed spot. The weather was iffy, with a constant threat of rain, but it was the perfect day to walk around.

The museum was just a couple of hours from Basel but due to the meandering route we took we didn’t go through the main gates until after noon. I was surprised at the number of cars in the lot and the people walking towards the entrance. This would be nothing like the museum we visited in Scotland, where we saw less than a dozen people, and that was just as we were leaving. The ticket counter took our money and handed us a nice map of the 163 acre grounds. We had some walking ahead of us!

Over the years, the museum has collected buildings from all over Switzerland, all aged between one and six hundred years old, and installed them on a beautiful spot of land in the Bernese Oberland . They didn’t just move grand homes, but also simple farmhouses, barns and other outbuildings. Inside most of the structures were typical furnishings, right down to the socks hanging by the stove to dry and the dishes on the sideboard.

We didn’t see all of the buildings, and we didn’t go in all of the ones we did see, but we still managed to see quite a bit of the museum. I wasn’t good at all about tracking what I was taking photos of, so there won’t be any titles of which area each house is from, unless I happen to remember or know it. Dan and I had the advantage of traveling extensively throughout Switzerland, so we had seen many of these architectural styles already. But we hadn’t been inside them, so this was a new experience for us.

And off we go…

Most buildings had a sign describing the building, where it came from, and a photo from its original location

Ready for dinner

The Museum setting

Daily details, right down to the laundry

In front of the house above there were some families having a picnic, as was common throughout the grounds. One man seemed to have hurt himself and was holding his hand tightly. I suspected that he might have cut himself and after watching another person hand him a napkin (which he immediately wrapped around his finger), I approached him with a band-aid I keep in my camera bag. I offered it to him in German (although I didn’t know the word for “band-aid”) and he gratefully accepted it. It was only after I walked off that Dan told me why he was laughing: apparently the group was English and my German practice was for naught!

Real-life houses on the valley floor

These people were visitors, gracious enough to allow me to photograph them

Few rooms were roped off – usually ones with a tempting looking bed in it

Most rooms were open, like this one. Go ahead and explore!

Remember: all structures you see were moved here from hundreds of kilometers away

There were always people around, but the crowds weren’t difficult to get around. Some of the buildings were taverns or restaurants, open for business for hungry visitors. One could also buy fresh-made oven baked breads and smoked wursts. It really was like traveling through an ancient series of villages.

In addition to the furnishings, some buildings housed craftsmen at their jobs. A working flour mill, a weaver at her loom, cheese making, a working sawmill; these were all part of the real life experience.

Pottery shop


The waterwheel of one of the flour mills

We had reached the far entrance of the museum grounds. Of course we hadn’t seen all of the buildings but before turning back we decided to stop for lunch. This was heralded by a specialty shop: homemade chocolate. The smell when I walked through the door was fantastic and we each bought a bar of chocolate to enjoy later. Just above the chocolate shop was a restaurant with outdoor seating. We took a seat on the terrace and enjoyed the view of the waterfalls and valley and listened to rockslides as they tumbled down the distant cliffs. It was a beautiful day.

Chocolate shop under the restaurant

The view from the restaurant

I really can’t say enough of how thrilled I was that so much of this museum was “hands on”. I loved to open doors to see what was behind them, open cupboards to see what was in them, and pick up pot lids to see what was under them. Dan just rolled his eyes, but I was in my glory. And so much detail in the displays!

Gutter supports

Many of the houses had kitchen gardens with heirloom vegetables and flowers, each fenced in in their own unique way. There wasn’t anything to remind me that it wasn’t the 21st century.

More interior details:

There was a lumber mill, driven by a fast-flowing flume and companion waterwheel. A man was watching over as the belt-driven saw blade tore through a stack of planks, cutting them into 2x4s as many of us gathered to watch. It was a slow process by today’s standards, but compared to pre-waterwheel times, it must have seemed like a miracle.

One of the many “Kachelofen” we saw

Complete barber shop

By the end of the day (4:30) we were content to head home. We had seen most of the buildings and the ones we hadn’t were from “our” area of Switzerland, so we had seen them from the road many times. I am still impressed by the displays and arrangement of the museum and the many “finishing touches” that the presenters provided.

There is so much that I didn’t include on this page. I could go on for quite some time about the details of what I saw, but where would I stop? The straw beehives? The charcoal pit kiln, the limekiln, the birthing chair? There was so much to see, it would take a long time to share it with you. If you’re ever in the area, I recommend stopping by for a day’s visit!

Back to the motorcycle ride!

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