Spielzeug Welten Museum – Basel, Switzerland - Atlas Obscura

Basel, Switzerland

Spielzeug Welten Museum

An unassuming Swiss institution houses Europe's largest toy museum. 

The Spielzeug Welten Museum (Toy Worlds Museum) in Basel, Switzerland, indulges your inner child with interactive floor-to-ceiling displays of historic teddy bears, dolls, and miniature worlds that activate with the push of a button.

Located within a 19th-century building in the city center, all four stories of this sprawling, nearly 11,000-square-foot museum are packed to the rafters with more than 6,000 items, rendering the Spielzeug Welten the largest museum of its kind in Europe.

Exhibited thematically, teddy bears put the pedal to the metal on a working race car track; miniature families whirl around carnival rides; and tiny dolls play house in astoundingly elaborate sets, all from within sleek, wooden-framed glass showcases. Miniature displays are outfitted with computerized controls that allow visitors to breathe life into charming microcosms.

The museum focuses on toys crafted between 1870 and 1920, when the most prominent workshops and manufacturers around the world saw their heyday. Teddy bears and dolls primarily from this period inhabit all four stories of the building, though the top floor is specifically dedicated to a spectacular collection of 20th-century teddy bears. Named after United States President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, the teddy bear soared in popularity following a famous hunting expedition in 1902, during which Roosevelt allegedly refused to kill a bear that his companions tied to a tree for an easy shot. The oldest bear in the museum’s collection of some 2,500 teddies dates back to 1904, and was a gift to the president himself.

In addition to teddies, dolls, and miniatures, the museum hosts a program of special exhibitions that spotlight cultural trends on an international scale, from the history of corsets to handbags, walking sticks, and denim. On the ground floor, a small gift shop sells collectible teddies, dolls, and figurines.

Know Before You Go

Visitors can navigate the items on view by way of a museum guide available for download on smartphones, in-house tablets, and catalogues printed in multiple languages on every floor. All four stories, including the Ristorante La Sosta on the ground floor, are wheelchair accessible. Visitors who are hard of hearing can pick up free audio systems from the front desk to enjoy the museum’s interactive displays.

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