Neuchatel is not only a city but also the capital of the canton of Neuchatel. The pleasant city is situated in the middle of vineyards and has a medieval heart. Alexander Dumas once said that the pale ochre houses were caved out of a pat of butter. Neuchatel has even its own lake, the largest lake located entirely in Switzerland. 15 km (9.3 miles) of accessible shores invite all kind of water activities. The canals join with Lake Biel and Lake Murten.
The name Neuchatel is derived from a structure built as a stronghold in the second period of Burgundian rule. The town then became the property of the French Orleans-Longueville family by inheritance. Again by inheritance, Neuchatel became the personal property of the King of Prussia after 1707. Its intellectual and cultural life blossomed and the ideas of the Encyclopaedists flourished there. Neuchatel then joined the Swiss Confederation in 1815 and got into a peculiar political position. It became a Swiss canton while remaining bound to the King of Prussia. Neuchatel is well known for its watch making, vineyards and of being one of five sites of the Expo 02, the sixth Swiss national exhibition held in summer 2002.
Attractions and Activities
Soft, yellow sandstone buildings dominate the old town – a picturesque quarter with old houses of the 16th and 17th century.
Take your time for a cup of coffee at one of the many cafes at the Place des Halles (the old market square). If you like to take a panoramic view of the town, visit the castle.
Sights and Excursions
Chateau de Neuchatel (Castle of Neuchatel)
The castle once housed the lords of Neuchatel and was the seat of authority. Nowadays it is the seat of cantonal government and the law courts. The castle was built in the 15th and 17th centuries (the west wing even dates back to the 12th century). Visit the Salle des Etats (state room) and find out who married into Neuchatel’s ruling dynasty.
Lake Neuchatel Cruise
How about a boat trip? The lakes Neuchatel, Murten and Biel build the 3-lakes-region. There are boat trips going through all three lakes, starting e.g. in Biel, going through the Lake Biel, via the Zihl canal to the Lake Neuchatel and via the Broye canal into the Lake Murten.
In 1276 this gothic collegiate church was consecrated. It’s a combination of Romanesque and Burgundian Gothic styles. A Gothic tomb from 1372 consists of life-sized figures of the counts of Neuchatel.
Maison des Halles
In this Renaissance market hall from the 16th century, grain was sold on the ground floor and cloth on the upper floor. The Louis XIII and Louis XIV style is recognizable in many houses at the Place des Halles.
Hotel Du Peyrou
This graceful building was erected in the 18th century for a financier, Du Peyrou, a friend of philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau. A fine entrance gate affords a view of the façade, which has pure lines and great unity of stale and gives access to a garden. The statue in the pool, The Bather, is the works of A Ramseyer.
If you are interested to learn about nature or simply like to relax – visit the Botanic Garden in Neuchatel. The natural environment growing at the foot of the Jura hills (Jura is an adjacent canton) can be seen as well as temporary exhibitions.
Garden of Scents
Have you ever smelled 80 different fragrances of geraniums or 70 sorts of mints? Stop at the Garden of Scents and discover 1500 aromatic and useful cultivated plants.
Gor de Vauseyon (Vauseyon Gorges)
Find some 16th-century-remains and undisturbed nature in the heart of town. The walks are free-of-charge. Conquer the climbing wall, discover wild gorges and gushing waterfalls on the path leading to the medieval site of Valangin.
If you are tired of walking, take the little tourist train and let you chauffeur through Neuchatel’s old town for 45 minutes (running May until October).
Bern – Switzerland's Captivating Capital
Beautiful Bern is only a 50 minute rail trip from Neuchatel. This is a city of medieval magic, listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage. Berne attractions include the famous clock tower, the bearpits – home to Berne's heraldic animals – and excellent shopping arcades.
Montreux – on Lake Geneva
In approx. 1 hour, Montreux can be reached by train via Lausanne or Morges. Montreux is the most frequented resort on Lake Geneva. This trip can be combined with a visit to the Castle of Chillon.
Chateau de Chillon
In a unique setting on the shores of Lake Geneva stands one of the most beautiful historic buildings in Switzerland. Erected in the 13th century on older foundations, the Castle of Chillon was the residence of the Counts of Savoy throughout the Middle Ages. Originally a fortress, the Castle of Chillon underwent numerous transformations with a view to its adaptation to the advances in the defensive and offensive weapons of the age. Other modifications were occasioned by amenities and embellishments suited to the pomp and ceremony of life in the castle. Many prominent figures in history stayed there: emperors, popes and princesses.
Half-day excursion to the Olympic’s city. In approx 40 minutes, you reach Lausanne by train.
Lausanne is a truly elegant city on Lake Geneva. Its hillside setting on the lake facing the Alps is truly spectacular. Lausanne is a university city with a vibrant student population. The Swiss Hotel School is located here, as well as the International Olympic Committee headquarters, which has a fascinating Museum on the Olympics with all kinds of exhibits and a library of Olympic videos.
All kind of sports are offered in and around Neuchatel, such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and downhill skiing in winter or hiking, mountain-biking, roller/inline-skating and cycling in summer.
Neuchatel is a medium Swiss city and offers many different bars, nightclubs, pubs, discos, theatres etc. – a wide range of establishments.
Many shops can be found in the city center of Neuchatel – watchmakers, bookshops, outfitters, food stores etc. You don’t have to walk miles but find everything within close proximity.
Fete des Vendanges
In early fall, this wine festival draws thousands of wine lovers to Neuchatel. For 3 days and nights visitors enjoy the culinary delights, admire the decorations, listen to the various music groups and simply celebrate the new wine.
In February, the world-best teams of synchronized skating meet in Neuchatel for the Neuchatel-Trophy.
The Latenium consists of a museum, the canton’s Archaeology service and the University of Neuchatel’s Institute of Prehistory. Take a look at 500 centuries of history at the edge of the Lake Neuchatel. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Ethnography Museum (MEN)
A permanent exhibition shows the ancient Egypt, Himalaya, general Daniel de Meuron’s 18th century national history room as well as the 21st century curiosity rooms. There are also temporary exhibitions.
Art & History Museum
This museum displays permanent and temporary exhibitions (plastic and appliquéd art, drawings, history and numismatics) in more than 20 rooms in 3 sections. On the upper floor, paintings by 19th and 20th century Swiss artists, such as Hodler or Anker, can be seen as well as a collection of French impressionists. On the second floor, the history of the canton of Neuchatel and local decoration art are presented. Three automatons of the Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz are the main attractions. They demonstrate the sophistication of the 18th century Swiss watchmakers. The automatons are permanently displayed but put into action every first Sunday of the month only.
The museum is closed on Mondays.
National History Museum
Mammals and birds from Switzerland are permanently presented as well as the giant fossils.
Mario Botta, on of Switzerland’s most famous architects, designed this exhibition space, which is dedicated to literature and visual arts. Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s personal library with approx. 4000 books, mostly German classics such as Schiller or Lessing, is housed in the Dürrenmatt Center.
Location and Map
Neuchatel is situated at the Lake Neuchatel in the western part of Switzerland, just 20 km (12.4 miles) from the French border.
Geneva, 128 km (79.5 miles) away, can be reached in 1 hour 20 minutes by train. Zurich Airport is approx. 2 hours by train (150 km/93 miles to the northeast). After 4 hours train ride on the TGV train, you reach Paris in France.