Ten museums you'll only find in Switzerland

BEYELER FOUNDATION, BASEL

Pharmaceutical-rich Basel has excellent galleries, one housed in this light-flooded, avant-garde building in the suburbs, designed by star Italian architect Renzo Piano. It provides a rundown of modern art, compact enough not to induce a headache but impressive with canvasses from the likes of Cezanne, Matisse, Warhol, Rothko and Swiss master of the abstract Klee. There are also Giacometti sculptures and Monet waterlilies neatly juxtaposed with an outdoor lily pond. See fondationbeyeler.ch

OLYMPIC MUSEUM, LAUSANNE

The posh Lausanne lakeshore neighbourhood of Ouchy, headquarters of the IOC, has views across Lake Geneva to the French Alps, nowhere better admired than from the sculpture-studded gardens of the Olympic Museum. The interior provides an interactive, high-tech wander through the history of the Olympics, from ancient Greek urns to Carl Lewis' running shoes. Athletic exploits are well documented, and historical footage of Olympic highlights (lowlights are mostly ignored) is wonderful. See olympic.org/museum

KUNSTHAUS, ZURICH

If you think Zurich is a boring banking city, head to this art museum for a gander at the Dada anti-bourgeois, surrealist school of art, founded in Zurich in 1916, that would later influence pop art and punk rock. Then check out the gloomy, grotesque works of Swiss artist J. H. Fussli and the world's largest collection of sculpture and art by Alberto Giacometti. The Kunsthaus also has good Dutch, Italian and impressionist works. See kunsthaus.ch

PATEK PHILIPPE MUSEUM, GENEVA

In 1839 Polish immigrant Antoni Patek arrived in Geneva and was soon its top watchmaker, much sought after by European royalty. The company invented crown-wound watches and some of the earliest true wrist watches. But this museum is far from just a brand exercise, showcasing 500 years of clock and watchmaking history and fashion through pocket watches, music boxes and bejewelled timepieces. The array of gorgeous objects is utterly bewitching. See patekmuseum.com

SWISS MUSEUM OF TRANSPORT, LUCERNE

Switzerland's most visited museum and arguably Europe's best transport museum traces the history of planes, trains and automobiles and speculates on their future. Recently the aviation hall was substantially extended to cover space flight. Local interest is supplied by early 1900s Swiss motorcars and a fascinating exhibit on the challenges of transport-building in the Alps. Interactivity makes it very child-friendly, with dozens of simulators and multimedia displays. See verkehrshaus.ch

ABBEY LIBRARY OF ST GALL

St Gallen in north-eastern Switzerland was famous in the Middle Ages as a centre for church learning and manuscript illumination. Switzerland's oldest library has an extraordinary collection of manuscripts and books, including an abbey plan dated AD830. They're displayed in an even more extraordinary space of sumptuous baroque decoration, undulating balconies and swaths of mahogany and cherry wood. An audio-guide takes you around architectural and literary highlights. See stibi.ch

INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS MUSEUM, GENEVA

This museum vividly outlines the worldwide projects of this famous benevolent society, founded in the 1860s by Genevese businessman Henri Dunant. It doesn't shirk from describing the horrors of war and natural disasters, and personal stories in the Chamber of Witnesses can be harrowing. But this museum is what many museums fail to be: challenging, thought-provoking and memorable. Use the audio guide, since signage is sparse and somewhat confusing. See redcrossmuseum.ch

MUSEUM TINGUELY, BASEL

Jean Tinguely is Switzerland's greatest 20th-century sculptor and a household name in his homeland. He created vast, mechanised works of art from scrap metal and assorted bric-a-brac. Many are set in motion at this museum, to the delight of children and adults alike as they click, whir, clang and lurch. It's a refreshing, fun alternative to classical art museums. Enormous glass panels between cliff-like walls gaze out over the Rhine River. See tinguely.ch

INTERNATIONAL HOROLOGY MUSEUM, CHAUX-DE-FONDS

Bunkered in a plain concrete building below a public park, this museum in Switzerland's watchmaking capital kicks off with sundials and medieval wooden machines before racing on to ships' chronometers, carriage clocks and arriving – via 4500 objects – at the latest timekeeping method, the shivering of a caesium atom. It's a romp through the ingenious history of how we've striving to keep track of time, and why. You can also see watchmakers at work. See mih.ch

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COLLECTION DE L'ART BRUT, LAUSANNE

This museum of "outsider art" features extraordinary works created by artists who spent time in criminal asylums and mental institutions. Many have a haunting quality, either because of their subject matter, misshapen depictions or curious range of materials, such as crushed eggshells or stolen milestones. The travel-themed art by Willem van Genk is fabulous. You'll be left wondering just what "normal" is in both art and our fellow humans. See artbrut.ch

Brian Johnston has travelled as a guest of Switzerland Tourism and also frequently visits Switzerland at his own expense.

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