A castle-like building with neo-Gothic flourishes houses an excellent museum showcasing the cultural history of all Switzerland. It is by far the most important collection of Swiss historic and cultural artifacts – more than 820,000 of them, covering a wide range of subjects from prehistory through the 20th century. The archaeological collections, with artifacts discovered in Switzerland that date from about 100,000 BC to about 800 AD are among the finest in Europe.
Entire collections cover works of gold- and silversmiths, textiles, costumes, metalwork, jewelry, watches and clocks, scientific instruments, rural life, carriages and sleighs, musical instruments, crafts, and industrial antiquities. The medieval wall paintings are particularly interesting, as is the collection of old stained glass. The Armory Tower exhibits an important collection of arms and armor.
Displays follow four themes: early migration and settlement, religious and intellectual history, political history, and the economic development of Switzerland. The Collections Gallery provides an overview in 20 displays showing Swiss handicrafts and products. A series of reconstructed period rooms, for which the museum is best known, shows furnishings and decorative arts in room settings following the evolution of living spaces through the centuries as needs and tastes changed. Swiss furniture from the 20th century is displayed as well, highlighting the contrasts.