Open Air Museum Ballenberg
Witness life as it once was in rural Switzerland
Switzerland's open air museum Ballenberg provides fascinating insights into rural farm-life as it was
until just a short while ago. It consists of 13 groups of approximately 100 residential and farm buildings (and growing) that represent all regions of Switzerland, set up as small hamlets on a vast area of 66 hectares or 163 acres.
The setting couldn't be more perfect. The Open Air Museum is built on a small forested hill interspersed with farm meadows. A network of unpaved roads meander through the countryside and it feels like visiting another village each time a group of houses appear on a small hill, a forest glade or a wide open grassy field.
Wooden Alpine huts, stone buildings and stately farmsteads worth preserving find a new home here. The impressive variety of 14th to 19th century buildings are dismantled and brought to Ballenberg. Here, they are reconstructed and interiors carefully restored to their original state.
Ballenberg is hands on. You are allowed to touch things, sit down at kitchen tables and test your skills in daily activities that are demonstrated with authentic tools by people wearing period costumes. Some of these activities are taking place every day; others depend on the season, such as producing products that involve harvesting materials first. Children can get up close with farm animals and several playgrounds invite for rest and play.
Farmsteads were (and sometimes still are) small enterprises where everything was made by hand and from scratch. Long winter months provided time to repair and build new tools, some of them of nifty design and embellished with intricate carvings. It seems all farmers - women and men - where artists too. Food preserving, gardening, tool and cloth making were not just daily chores, everyone was proud to give everything a personal touch.
The feel is enchanting and tranquil. Horse and buggies transporting passengers, the sounds of farm animals, chiming of cowbells and people working with ancient tools transplant visitors back in time. If it wouldn't be for the occasional noise of military training flights cutting through the idyllic scene, the Fata Morgana would be perfect.
Good to Know
Yours truly in Ballenberg
- Wear comfortable shoes. There's a lot of ground to cover at the Open Air museum, and on natural surface at that;
- If you visit with toddlers, don't forget the buggy;
- Allow at least one whole day for for exploring the museum - especially if you have children. If you still have some time left, explore the nearby lakeside and wood carving town of Brienz with its traditional wooden buildings before you head back to your starting point;
- Pack snacks and lunch for a picnic. No problem to fill your water bottles at fountains. There are three restaurants, but a picnic is much more fun, especially with kids;
- Physical disabilities: Wheelchair accessible, but roads are unpaved and a few paths have steep inclines or are not wheelchair accessible at all. A ride with a horse buggy might be an easier solution. Farmhouses weren't exactly built wheel chair friendly, so depending on the disability, not all houses are accessible. Of course, all main facilities such as exhibition areas, washrooms, and restaurants pose no problems;
- Pick up a map at either of the entrances to help you navigate your way through the Open Air Museum. The West part at the Hofstetten-entrance is less steep than the rest;
- You can't get more traditional and authentic Swiss souvenirs to take home than in Ballenberg: homemade food specialties produced according to traditional recipes and a variety of crafts made by Ballenberg artisans.
- Daily handicraft demonstrations during the summer months;
- Special seasonal events such as Brächete (scotching flax into linen), Schwingete (Swiss wrestling in sawdust), traditional costumes, dance and yodeling events, herbal medicine weekends and more take place throughout the season. Check with their website;
- Tip: If you happen to be near Ballenberg during August 1st, the Swiss National Day, this would be the place to celebrate.
Where to find Ballenberg
View Ballenberg Open Air Museum in a larger map
- Reachable by public transport and car. About 10 minutes from the town of Brienz (train or by boat from Interlaken to Brienz and postal bus);
- From Bern: Approx. 77 km (48 miles) by car; change of trains in Interlaken Ost;
- From Lucerne via Brünig-Hasliberg station: approx. 50 km (31 miles) by car via Brienzwiler; direct trains from Lucerne to Brienz and then by Postal bus. Or to "Ballenberg West" entrance by train from Lucerne to Brünig-Hasliberg and then by postal bus. The latter option is only advisable if you don't have too much luggage with you (or return to Lucerne).
Mid April to End of October 10am to 5pm daily.
Where to stay
- Here's a page where I list all possible ways to search for the right accommodation for you. Closest towns are Brienz and Interlaken Ost and West;
- A fabulous place is just a boat ride away from Brienz, the historic hotel Giessbach in Iseltwald;
- The small and cozy Aaregg family campsite is situated directly on Lake Brienz. Bring your own tent, camper van or stay in one of the cute pod-houses.
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