Are you visiting Zurich on a budget? Here are the best free museums in Zurich to expand your horizons without breaking the bank - no pun intended!
Zurich is widely known as one of the most expensive cities in the world. But budget-conscious travelers will be delighted to discover that Zurich offers many free activities, too. Apart from public parks and free rental bicycles, some museums offer free admission.
They are not always easy to locate, though. This is where this comprehensive overview of free museums in Zurich comes into play. Based on my firsthand experience and research, I decided to share my favorite museums in Zurich with free entry.
From art to culture and criminology to science, I hope you will visit these wallet-friendly museums in Zurich someday. A big thanks goes to the University of Zurich, which gives us free access to its history and science museums.
Centrally Located Free Museums in Zurich
Zoological Museum of the University of Zurich
My first recommendation is the Zoological Museum of the University of Zurich. This fascinating natural history museum showcases more than 1500 animals from around the world. (Note that it is closed on Mondays.)
I was taken in by the museum’s collection of animal skeletons and taxidermy specimens. Considered one of Europe’s largest collections, there’s everything from a giant whale to tiny spiders and even a live beehive. Yes, this is your chance to get up close and personal with a hyena!
I spent over two hours wandering through the exhibits, studying creatures under the microscope, or listening to animal sounds.
Beyond the exhibit, the museum offers hands-on family workshops every Sunday. After an educational introduction, families solve interactive biology research tasks together.
Zoological Museum of the University of Zurich, Karl-Schmid-Strasse 4, 8006 Zurich
Paleontological Museum of the University of Zurich
After exploring the Zoological Museum’s species, I headed next door to the Paleontological Museum at the University of Zurich. This museum is a time tunnel into prehistory with an astonishing permanent collection of over 10’000 ancient fossils. Also, dinosaur skeleton reconstructions!
I was particularly fascinated by the rare marine reptiles and fish fossils from Monte San Giorgio. This UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ticino is one of the most important middle Triassic fossil deposits ever found. Many of the museum's fossils came from this area 235 to 245 million years ago.
Interactive multimedia displays allow you to visualize Switzerland across different geological eras. Don’t miss the massive reconstructed 14-meter skeleton of a Plesiosauria, an aquatic reptile that fed on fish during the Jurassic period.
Fossils range from microscopic specimens to complete skeletons of prehistoric creatures. Exhibits are thoughtfully arranged to educate visitors on paleontology. Among the many artifacts are ammonites from Germany and ancient elephant relatives from China. This free museum has an unbeatable collection any dinosaur lover should see.
Paleontological Institute and Museum, Karl-Schmid-Strasse 4, 8006 Zurich
Museum of Anthropology of the University of Zurich
Are you ready to meet your ancestors? The Museum of Anthropology covers human evolution spanning over 3.5 million years. Starting with our closest relatives in the family of apes, the museum showcases primate replicas of all types and sizes. From vegetarian to carnivorous apes, I better understood the members of my extended family.
In chronological order, displays feature replica casts of human skulls from our earliest ancestors to today. The startling evolution of the brain size covers Australopithecus afarensis, who lived between 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago. There is Homo erectus who appeared about 1.9 million years ago and was present until about 110,000 years ago. And finally, Homo sapiens, our own species, is believed to have appeared around 300’000 to 200’000 years ago.
Computer simulations bring the facial features of ancient species to life. This is your chance to meet your ancestors face to face!
Beyond evolution, the museum houses over 500’000 objects representing the cultural heritage of over 200 global societies. Think stone tools of the first upright-walking hominids, masks, jewelry, or pottery.
With free daily admission except Mondays, this modest yet highly educational museum at the University of Zurich campus offers important knowledge about our own species.
Museum of Anthropology, Winterthurerstrasse 190, Building Y10, 8057 Zurich
Archaeological Collection of the University of Zurich
I consider myself a modern-day time traveler, so I was thrilled to discover the Archaeological Collection of the University of Zurich. This free museum offers a captivating glimpse into antique cultures spanning the Mediterranean to the Middle East.
I was fascinated by wandering through rooms filled with Egyptian sarcophagi, Etruscan bronzes, and Greek pottery. And, of course, there was a mummy! I never knew why the ancient Egyptians placed small figurines made of stone, clay, or wood into the sarcophagus: it was believed that the dead would have to work in the afterlife so that the ushabti figurines would be doing the work for them instead.
Studying the striking Greek mythological scenes painted on ancient vases brings timeless stories to life. The extensive plaster cast collection lets you come face-to-face with historic figures and marvel at Roman sculptural mastery.
Beyond the core exhibits, don't miss exploring the digital collection featuring over 800 artifacts searchable by theme. I spent close to an hour delving into amulets, votive figurines, oil lamps, and other everyday objects that provide intimate insights into ancient ways of life.
Combining original relics, reproductions, and online resources crafts a unique experience spanning centuries of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern history and culture. With free admission Tuesday through Sunday and an extensive online collection, this university gem is a must-see for history buffs!
Archaeological Collection of the University of Zurich, Rämistrasse 73, 8006 Zürich
Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich
I recommend visiting the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich for a change of pace from natural history. It provides a fascinating worldwide cultural tour with its extensive collection of over 200’000 artifacts. While most holdings remain in storage, rotating exhibits spotlight selected regions and themes.
Another highlight was the expansive collection representing indigenous Arctic communities, including intricate scrimshaw etching and fur garments. Beyond objects, the museum houses thousands of films documenting vanishing cultural practices.
During my visit, the museum curators set up a collection of ritual masks from Sri Lanka. This is just one of the many rotating exhibits in the museum’s thematic Werkstattreihe. I would highly recommend visiting this museum in person - at no charge. But if you cannot make it out Tuesday through Sunday, view their virtual exhibit JAPARI, from the comfort of your home!
Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich, Pelikanstrasse 40, 8001 Zürich
Swiss National Museum
Inside the permanent exhibit of the Swiss National Museum are three rooms about the history of Zürich. Think short films by local filmmakers, an archive of sixty significant artifacts, and a video installation featuring virtual tours...
Enter the Swiss National Museum any day and ask for a free ticket to Einfach Zürich at the welcome desk. The museum is open daily except for Mondays.
Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum, Museumstrasse 2, 8001 Zürich
Free Biology and Outdoor Museums in Zurich
Langenberg Wildlife Park
For an outdoor nature experience, run (don’t walk) to the Langenberg Wildlife Park on the outskirts of Zurich. I’d heard about this outdoor zoo before but was genuinely surprised at its size. The paths lead through the forest and meadows where 19 native (and formerly native) animal species live in their natural habitat.
I observed brown bears, alpine ibex, red foxes, deer, and majestic European moose. There are various spots throughout the park to go in-depth about some animals, such as a fox barn or a “mouse house.”
The Langenberg Wildlife Park hosts a family of Eurasian lynx, elusive wild cats rarely seen in the wilderness. In June 2023, baby marmots and baby lynx were born! You have to see these adorable little things!
Entry to Langenberg Wildlife Park is completely free of charge, and it's open year-round from dawn until dusk. With winding trails perfect for hiking and wildlife viewing, this is one of the best free attractions in Zurich for nature lovers.
Langenberg Wildlife Park, Wildnispark, 8135 Langnau am Albis
Botanical Garden of the University of Zurich
Continuing the outdoor theme, I highly recommend a leisurely stroll through the new Botanical Gardens of the University of Zurich. Located at Seefeld in the heart of Zurich, these lush grounds offer a soothing escape from the hustle and bustle.
With its three iconic domes, the garden features over 7000 species of worldwide plants on 53’000 square meters. Whether you forget the flow of time inside the tropical mountain forest, the low-land rain forest, or the drylands, this is the ultimate escape from the winter's cold!
Imagine a tropical rainforest complete with ferns and lush greens... All this and weekly public tours on various topics (held in German) come at a zero price tag.
I also lingered in the bamboo grove for over an hour, listening to the rustling stalks creak in the breeze. The sprawling rock garden also showcases a fascinating diversity of alpine plants. Elsewhere, there are rare tropical specimens, too.
Whether you have half an hour or half a day, this verdant oasis is the perfect spot to recharge from sightseeing. Don't forget to visit the on-site cafeteria for coffee or lunch.
Botanical Garden, Zollikerstrasse 107, 8008 Zürich
Zurich Succulent Plant Collection
Nestled along the shores of Lake Zurich, the Zurich Succulent Plant Collection is a marvelous free botanical garden. This oasis contains over 6,500 succulent species from 80+ plant families within a series of greenhouses.
The collection encompasses cacti, agaves, aloes, and other desert specimens found in all parts of the world. They are artfully arranged by geographic origin. My favorite display was the wondrous “living rocks” exhibit, featuring sand succulents camouflaged into rock-like lumps.
Founded in 1931, the collection is curated based on geographic origins, providing a global tour from the Americas to Africa. Informative signs detail each succulent type. Take time to appreciate the artful arrangements and sheer diversity of forms.
This little-known garden punches above its weight with thousands of specimens packed into a compact area. The Zurich Succulent Plant Collection offers a free, focused botanical experience. Even non-plant lovers may enjoy seeing these uniquely adapted species on display…
Zurich Succulent Plant Collection, Mythenquai 88, 8002 Zürich
Free Art Museums in Zurich
Migros Museum of Contemporary Art
As a classical art lover, I initially hesitated to visit the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art. However, learning about the museum's origins and approach helped me appreciate it with fresh eyes. And admission is free!
The Migros cooperative's longstanding patronage of the arts is admirable. The museum challenges us to rethink the concept of art. I understand art as dynamic, evolving, yet interacting with the past. With this in mind, I could better appreciate even the most perplexing pieces, such as Maurizio Cattelan's taxidermied horse suspended on wires.
While much contemporary art remains an enigma to my classical tastes, visiting the Migros Museum enriched my horizons. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I encourage you to visit the Migros Museum and experience contemporary art firsthand.
Migros Museum of Contemporary Art, Limmatstrasse 270, 8005 Zürich
Augusto Giacometti Hall
How often would you voluntarily check yourself into a police department? At the Zurich City Police Amthaus 1 branch, it is well worth depositing your ID for a visit. The entrance hall to the city police station is a hidden gem of art nouveau mural painting.
The Augusto Giacometti Hall, or "Blüemlihalle" in the local dialect, features 14 vaulted ceilings and five murals with ornate flower patterns. Apart from the semi-geometrical, semi-biological shapes, you will find human subjects such as craftsmen, astronomers, and magicians.
From 1923 to 1925, Swiss painter Augusto Giacometti decorated the interior with a medley of colors ranging from yellow to grey and olive green to pink. No wonder this is considered one of the most significant Swiss artworks of the 20th century.
Free 45-minute guided tours are available Wednesday to Saturday afternoons from 2 to 5 PM, but groups are limited to 10 people. Advance reservations are not possible, so arrive early at the meeting point outside the entrance to secure a spot. Don't miss your chance to glimpse this unexpectedly whimsical interior, which contrasts against the backdrop of the police operation there.
Stadt Zürich Stadtpolizei, Bahnhofquai 3, Amtshaus I, 8001 Zürich
While the Kunsthaus Zürich charges admission most days, I was delighted to discover free entry every Wednesday. I took advantage of this weekly opportunity to explore one of Switzerland's premier art institutions without spending a franc.
Wandering the galleries, I discovered a world-class collection spanning medieval altarpieces to contemporary photography. I admired the museum's impressive array of works by Swiss artists like Paul Klee and Alberto Giacometti. Seeing Giacometti's iconic elongated sculptures felt like greeting old friends.
My favorite gallery displayed the museum's outstanding Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces. I was transfixed by Monet's dreamy water lilies and entranced by Van Gogh's fiery landscapes.
Temporary exhibitions are also free on Wednesdays so that I could experience the fascinating Re-Orientations exhibit showcasing Islamic artistic traditions.
Children below 16 are free, and adults enjoy free admission to the permanent collection every Wednesday. Kunsthaus Zurich offers an incredible opportunity to connect with human creativity across centuries and continents. I look forward to further exploring this remarkable cultural treasure...
Kunsthaus Zürich, Heimplatz 1, 8001 Zürich
Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich
Here is the perfect admission-free museum for those interested in design and photography. The Graphische Sammlung of ETH Zurich is a collection of 160'000 artworks on paper, including many maps. Important Swiss and international artists from the 15th century to modern times include Albrecht Dürer, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Silvia Bächli.
The museum is generally open daily from 10 AM to 4:45 PM, except on Mondays and Zurich holidays. Consult the exhibit page before your visit, as the museum is only open during the three or four temporary exhibits every year.
ETH Zurich Graphische Sammlung, Rämistrasse 101, 8092 Zurich
Some Curious Free Museums in Zurich
For an intriguing look at the history of crime detection in Zurich, visit the underground Police Museum in a converted civil defense bunker. This hidden gem provides a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of the Zurich City Police through over 300 artifacts spanning two centuries of policing history.
During my guided tour, I was fascinated by studying the vintage police uniforms, communication devices, forensic tools, and an extensive array of weapons and vehicles used through the decades. Standout exhibits included a police motorcycle from the 1920s, an antique lie detector machine, and telephone wiretapping equipment. I go through authentic documents and photographs that illustrate the changing nature of police work.
The museum can only be visited through scheduled group tours, but admission is free. Tours run 90 minutes and must be booked in advance for groups of 10 to 30 people. Guides provide insightful commentary to bring the intricate exhibits to life. Don't miss this special opportunity to explore Zurich's rich policing heritage through the unique collections of the Police Museum.
Stadtpolizei Polizeimuseum, Uraniastrasse 3, 8001 Zürich
For a museum experience tied to currency, visit the MoneyMuseum tucked away in a Zurich neighborhood. Aptly named, this museum traces the history of money and currency. Founded by an avid coin collector, the MoneyMuseum displays trading items like boar tusks, pearl oysters, coins, bills, or metals spanning centuries.
The library forms the center of this museum, which also happens to be an architectural marvel. Some standout exhibits include medieval piggy banks, a dozen Roman coins, giant solid gold bricks, and the pressing tools that imprint Swiss francs. The oldest coins date back to the 6th century BC. Interactive exhibits allow you to test your skills in detecting counterfeit currency.
The museum also offers a digital vault containing no less than 2095 coins. Try searching for your country, and you will likely find an ancient coin in this vast database.
The MoneyMuseum offers free admission, providing quite literally a priceless experience. The museum opens on Mondays and Thursdays if you RSVP online. Take the Rigibahn to “Hadlaubstrasse” from where it’s just a short walk.
MoneyMuseum, Hadlaubstrasse 106, 8006 Zürich
focusTerra Earth Science Museum
Who knew there was an earthquake simulator in Zurich? I discovered it at the focusTerra Museum, part of ETH Zurich. This free museum is all about earth sciences, geology, and seismology.
The earthquake simulator recreates ground shaking up to magnitude 8. I was there on a weekday and learned that guided tours of the simulator are offered on Sundays.
Other highlights include rare mineral specimens like a large quartz crystal group and multimedia displays on topics like meteorites, volcanoes, and climate change.
focusTerra Museum, Sonneggstrasse 5, 8006 Zürich