Six of the best museums in Geneva, Switzerland

ARIANA MUSEUM

The big European art museums can be overwhelming in size and crowds. The most enjoyable museums are surely small and focused, so you leave without exhaustion. Musee Ariana, housed in a gorgeous Italianate villa near the United Nations, displays only ceramics and glass, but never has crockery looked so good. Inspect a thousand years of objects from Europe, the Middle East and Far East and their mutual design influences. The only downside is French-only signage but, with objects and glowing stained glass this wonderful, it hardly matters. Even better, entry to the permanent exhibits is free. See musee-ariana.ch

BAUR FOUNDATION

Another case for small museums is this private collection of Chinese and Japanese art, which you can admire for an hour or two with considerable enjoyment. You won't find a second-rate piece, and every porcelain object in particular is luminous. Imperial Chinese ceramics, snuff boxes, incense burners and jade compete for attention with Japanese netsukes, lacquered boxes, prints and bowls blooming with chrysanthemum motifs. You'll be tempted to make off with a Ming vase, as burglars did in 2019. A compact, austere Japanese dry garden outside makes a striking contrast to the ornate facade of the villa. See fondation-baur.ch

INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS MUSEUM

The Red Cross was founded in Geneva by 19th century businessman Henri Dunant, and this smallish but absorbing museum traces its story and current humanitarian work. It's a horrible history, but the wander through war, atrocity and natural disaster makes a change – even if confronting – from the usual art museums. The multimedia exhibits are excellently presented, though signage isn't the best, so get yourself an audio guide. Video interviews with witnesses to Red Cross work are very moving. You'll need to clear your head afterwards: Geneva's lovely Botanical Gardens are just down the road. See redcrossmuseum.ch

MARTIN BODMER FOUNDATION

xx6geneva Six of the Best Geneva Museums Switzerland ; text by Brian JohnstonMartin Bodmer Foundation
(handout image supplied by Patricia Galve <pgalve@fondationbodmer.ch>, no syndication) 

A museum of literary texts sounds dull, but this is one of the world's most superb private collections of writing, where you can peer at such wonders as Egyptian papyrus scrolls, the oldest copy of the Gospel of St John, a Gutenberg Bible and first editions by luminaries such as Shakespeare and Moliere. Impeccable connections to national libraries around the world guarantee impressive temporary exhibits too. The collection is housed in a lovely villa with views over Lake Geneva, and in a Mario Botta-designed underground extension. You'll find the Bodmer in Cologny, the city's poshest suburb. See fondationbodmer.ch

MUSEUM OF ART AND HISTORY

If you're more of a generalist, then you're bound to find something among the thousands of objects exhibited here to interest you. Geneva's biggest museum traces the whole of western culture through Greek and Roman knicknackery, medieval religious objects, armour and weapons, Renaissance silverware and musical instruments, and an assortment of paintings that include some notable Impressionist works. Some random, brooding Egyptian artefacts are thrown in for good measure, including a mummy. Entry is free, making this a good retreat if the rain comes on while wandering around the adjacent old town. See institutions.ville-geneve.ch

PATEK PHILIPPE MUSEUM

xxgeneva
Six of the Best Geneva museums
Traveller story by Brian Johnston, check for further use
Patek Philippe-Museum (credit Patek Philippe)

Photo: Patek Phillipe

The marriage of precision instrumentation and jewelled beauty in the cabinets at this watch museum is entrancing. Wander through 500 years of the quest to measure time and present its remorseless tick-tock in appealing ways. Enamelled pocket watches depict flirtatious shepherds, pastel Lake Geneva scenes or Chinese pagodas, while complex modern watches show dates, times, sunrise and sunset, and signs of the Zodiac. The section devoted to Patek Philippe is fascinating: the company invented the crown-wound watch and first true wristwatches, and you can consult ledgers recording the orders of 19th century queens and prime ministers. See patekmuseum.com