9 Best Sights in Neuchatel, Fribourg and Neuchâtel

Musée d'Art et d'Histoire

Fodor's choice

Thanks to a remarkable curator, the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire displays a striking collection of paintings gathered under broad themes—nature, civilization—and mounted in a radical, evocative way. The 15th-century allegories, early impressionist paintings, and contemporary abstractions pack the walls from floor to ceiling, interacting, conflicting, and demanding comparison. You may climb a platform (itself plastered with paintings) to view the higher works. This aggressive series of displays is framed by the architectural decorations of Neuchâtel resident Clement Heaton, whose murals and stained glass make the building itself a work of art.

This novel museum also has the honor of hosting three of this watchmaking capital's most exceptional guests: the automates Jaquet-Droz, three astounding little androids, created between 1768 and 1774, that once toured the courts of Europe like young mechanical Mozarts. Pierre Jaquet-Droz and his son Henri-Louis created them, and they are moving manifestations of the stellar degree to which watchmaking had evolved by the 18th century. Le Dessinateur (the Draughtsman) is an automated dandy in satin knee pants who draws graphite images of a dog, the god Eros in a chariot pulled by a butterfly, and a profile of Louis XV. La Musicienne (the Musician) is a young woman playing the organ. She moves and breathes subtly along with the music and actually strikes the keys that produce the organ notes. L'Écrivain (the Writer) dips a real feather into real ink and writes 40 different letters. Like a primitive computer, he can be programmed to write any message simply by the change of a steel disk. The automatons come alive only on the first Sunday of the month, at 2, 3, and 4 (more often in summer; days and times are posted on the museum's website), but the audiovisual show re-creates the thrill.

Casino Neuchâtel

The small casino has 150 slot machines as well as favorite table games like roulette, blackjack, and Ultimate Texas Hold'em Poker.

Centre Dürrenmatt

Named after the Swiss writer and artist Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–90), the Centre Dürrenmatt, perched high above Neuchâtel, houses an exhibition devoted to modern literature and visual arts. One of Switzerland's (and the world's) top architects, Mario Botta, designed a curving, skylit underground space connected to Dürrenmatt's former home (now a private library and offices). Many of Dürrenmatt's paintings are disturbing, reflecting a bleak worldview that tends to be softened by the humor, albeit acerbic, in his writing. Letters and excerpts of his books are also on display, with each artwork accompanied by a quote.

74 chemin du Pertuis-du-Sault, Neuchâtel, 2000, Switzerland
032-7202060
Sights Details
Rate Includes: SF8, Closed Mon. and Tues.

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Château de Neuchâtel

Perched on a rocky hill at the center of the city, the relatively modest château is one of a cluster of historic buildings that made up the ancient royal court of Neuchâtel, including the Collegiale and Tour des Prisons. Until the canton joined the Swiss Confederation in 1848—uniquely, the only monarchy to do so—it was inhabited by various branches of Prussian royalty. Today, it serves as the main administrative offices of the canton, but a selection of the castle's rooms and fittings can be viewed on a guided tour, which is offered four times daily on days that the château is open to visitors. Taking the tour is the only way to visit the fascinating Roman-built Tour des Prisons,where visitors may enter the original wooden prison cells and take in stunning views from its panoramic terrace.

Rue du Château, Neuchâtel, 2001, Switzerland
Sights Details
Rate Includes: SF5 for guided tour, Closed Oct.–Mar. Closed weekdays Apr. and May. Closed Mon. June–Sept.

Église Collégiale

The French influence in Neuchâtel is revealed in many monuments and in its architecture, most notably the Église Collégiale. The handsome Romanesque and Burgundian Gothic structure, with a colorful tile roof, dates from the 12th century. The church contains a strikingly realistic and well-preserved grouping of life-size painted figures called le cénotaphe. Dating from the 14th and 15th centuries, this is considered one of Europe's finest examples of medieval art. From April through September there are guided tours (usually between 10 and 4) of the Château de Neuchâtel (Neuchâtel Castle) adjoining the church; check at the château entrance to learn when the English one starts. Anyone not wanting to climb steep streets can reach the church from the Promenade Noire off the Place des Halles by an inconspicuous elevator—ascenseur publique.

3 rue de la Collégiale, Neuchâtel, 2000, Switzerland
No phone
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Free

Galeries de l'Histoire

This gallery houses scale models of Neuchâtel from the year 1000 to 2000.

7 av. du Peyrou, Neuchâtel, 2000, Switzerland
032-7177925
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon., Tues., Thurs.–Sat.

Laténium

Located at water's edge, this interactive archaeological museum is the largest in Switzerland. In the nearby community of Hauterive, it displays artifacts found in and around Lac de Neuchâtel and explains how they were recovered. The lifestyles of Bronze Age lake dwellers are skillfully depicted, with pride of place going to a sculpted standing stone that resembles a man, from Bevaix, a village southwest of Neuchâtel. Inside the museum, see the remains of a 60-foot-long Gallo-Roman barge; outside in the park, its reconstruction is moored near a full-scale wooden Bronze Age house on stilts. There is a pamphlet in English, and for SF5 you can rent an hour-long audio guide in English. There is a free shuttle-boat service to Hauterive from the port in Neuchâtel that runs Friday–Sunday in April and May and Tuesday–Sunday from June to September.

Musée Cantonale de la Vigne et du Vin

Neuchâtel is part of the Three Lakes wine region, the smallest of Switzerland's six wine-growing areas. The famous Pinot Noir rosé wine, Oeil de Perdrix, originated in Neuchâtel, and the canton produces many other excellent wines, including traditional-method sparkling wine made by the Mauler winery in an old Benedictine monastery in Val-de-Travers. Amid the vineyards that fan out to the west of Neuchâtel city and slope gently down to the lake sits Château Boudry, which houses the Musée Cantonale de la Vigne et du Vin (Cantonal Museum of Vine and Wine).

Old Town

The architecture of the Old Town presents a full range of French styles. Along Rue des Moulins are two perfect specimens of the Louis XIII period, and—at its opposite end—a fine Louis XIV house anchors the Place des Halles (market square), also notable for its turreted 16th-century Maison des Halles. The Old Town has several fine patrician houses, such as the magnificent Hôtel DuPeyrou, home of the friend, protector, and publisher of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who studied botany in the nearby Val-de-Travers. Most of the Old Town is pedestrian-only, though public buses do rumble through. You can stroll as far as Marin-Epagnier (east side) and Vaumarcus (west side).