There’s a host of top Historic Sites in Switzerland to visit and among the very best are Augusta Raurica, Aventicum and International Museum of the Reformation. Other popular sites tend to include Geneva Museum of Ethnography – Conches, Geneva Museum of Ethnography – Carl-Vogt and Palais des Nations.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Swiss cultural places, landmarks and monuments, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of Historic Sites in Switzerland, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Historic Sites in Switzerland?
Augusta Raurica is a well-preserved Ancient Roman site near Basel in Switzerland. Founded in 15 BC, the settlement grew into a thriving city by the mid-first century with a population of over 20,000 people. Amongst its sites, Augusta Raurica has a fifty-row theatre, the remains of several public and private buildings and a maze of underground Roman sewers connected to a main pump room.
Augusta Raurica also has an archaeological museum housing finds from the site including a collection of silver objects.
Grossmunster is a famous medieval church in Zurich with a history dating to Charlemagne. Indeed, it is said that this Frankish king built the first incarnation of Grossmunster on the site where he found the graves of the city’s patrons, Felix and Regula.
Today, visitors to Zurich flock to see Grossmunster’s Romanesque crypt, its museum dedicated to the Reformation and its pretty windows.
Aventicum is an impressive ancient Roman site in Switzerland which was the thriving capital of the Helvetians. The sites which can now be seen at the archaeological site of Aventicum are very well preserved and include a 2nd century amphitheatre which would have seated 16,000, some of the original city walls with a surviving tower, a set of thermal baths and holy sites including a sanctuary and some temples.
Now located in the area known as Avenches, Aventicum offers visitors plenty of original sites to see. There is also a museum within the amphitheatre tower which explores the history of Aventicum and with finds from the site itself including daily tools, mosaics, sculptures and various items from the city’s time under the Romans.
Chateau de Chillon, also called Castle Chillon, is a beautiful fort which uses both Lake Geneva and a moat created between a small island and the mainland for defense. First mentioned between 1160 or 1005 AD, it is along the shoreline of Lake Geneva near Veytaux. Through the centuries it has been home to the Counts of Savoy as well as Lord Byron.
St. Peter’s Cathedral is a famed cathedral in Geneva dating back to the 12th century. Visitors who tour the cathedral can still see some traces of the site’s onetime grandeur in its stained glass windows as well as in the 15th century Chapel of the Maccabees, which has been restored. There is also the opportunity to climb the cathedral towers for great views.
In addition to the current incarnation of St. Peter’s Cathedral, there are the archaeological remains of two earlier churches, once dating to the 11th century, the other to the 4th, both visible next to it today.
The Palais des Nations in Geneva has been the official European headquarters of the United Nations since 1966 – second in importance only to New York. Prior to this it was originally home to the League of Nations, leading to it also being known as the Volkerbund or “League of Nations” Palace.
Now at a length of some 600 metres, the grand Palais des Nations is where one finds several important elements of the UN, including its Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and Human Rights Council. Guided and thematic tours of the Palais des Nations are available to the general public, who can see important places such as its 2,000-seater assembly hall – the largest room in the palace – and the Council Chamber as well as learning about the history and role of the UN.
The International Museum of the Reformation in Geneva presents the story of the Protestant Reformation which occurred in Switzerland in the 16th century.
Spread over some twelve rooms, the International Museum of the Reformation looks at this important event and the history of Protestantism from its very beginnings, exploring it through the ages and brings it right up to present day. The exhibits use a variety of media to do this, from historic items such as paintings, original manuscripts, engravings and religious objects through to modern media including films.
The Bex Salt Mines are a living museum of the salt mining industry which has operated here since the 17th century up until present day.
Visitors to the mines can discover the story of this site, from the time salt was first discovered in the 15th century to how it was mined from 1684 onwards, right up until today. There is even the opportunity to descend into the depths of the Bex Salt Mines via a real mine train as well as exploring the mines themselves.
The Geneva Museum of Ethnography displays historic pieces from all five continents and an array of civilisations. With some 80,000 items from Africa, America, Asia, the Pacific and Europe, the museum offers a fascinating insight into historic cultures from around the world and is said to be the second largest collection in Switzerland.
From African weapons and sculptures to pre-Columbian artefacts, Japanese samurai weaponry to historic musical instruments, the Geneva Museum of Ethnography offers an incredibly diverse number of things to see.
Fort Vallorbe was a World War II artillery fort which had great strategic importance defending the Col de Jougne Pass as well as the Swiss-French border. Hewn out of the surrounding rock, Fort Vallorbe was built into a network of underground tunnels including accommodation, a hospital and munitions storage, all with air filtration. Indeed, these self-sufficient bunkers accommodated up to 200 men in 1945.
These can be visited during the summer, with a variety of exhibits about Fort Vallorbe, its past and, for the military history buff, its weaponry including missile launchers, machine guns and cannons. Just remember to dress up warmly, even in the heat, as it can get quite cold within the fort itself.