Traveling in the Neuchatel region and you’re wondering if it’s worth stopping by La Chaux-de-Fonds? Then you’re definitely in the right place because this detailed guide covers all the best tourist attractions in the Swiss city.
The town is known for its interesting architecture and its crucial role in the watch-making history of Switzerland. It has produced some of the most famous Swiss people to have ever existed, plus it’s surrounded by some truly beautiful scenery, including the Jura mountains.
This detailed guide will tell you a little about the history of La Chaux-de-Fonds, as well as about the best things to do in the area!
Brief History of La Chaux-de-Fonds
La Chaux-de-Fonds is a city in the Neuchatel canton, right on the border with France. It was founded back in 1656, and since then it has been an important center of the watch-making industry in Switzerland. The city has also produced some very famous Swiss people, including Le Corbusier, Blaise Cendrars, and Louis Chevrolet.
There was a fire in 1794 that destroyed a big part of the city. A large area had to be reconstructed, and it was decided that it would be rebuilt following a grid plan, which was a relatively new concept in Switzerland. The easternmost part of La Chaux-de-Fonds is exempt from this because it was not damaged in the fire, and it’s fascinating to observe the differences between the old and the “new” areas of the city.
The city also has a watch-making history that spans several centuries. When the industry was on the rise in the latter half of the 18th century, many Jewish traders started to settle in the region, ignoring the residency bans that were in place. The Neuchatel canton started to gradually alleviate these bans in the 19th century, so more and more people involved in the industry settled there.
This is one of the main reasons why the area has come to be known as the Watch Valley. The Jewish traders who had settled in the area decades ago become more and more interested in modernization, and new types of factories were gradually built.
The Ditesheim brothers founded one of Switzerland’s first modern watch-making factories in the late 19th century, and their company quickly gained international fame. At the start of the 20th century, they renamed the company Movado, and it was eventually sold to an American corporation.
Things to Do in La Chaux-de-Fonds
International Watch Museum
The International Watch Museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. It is situated in an underground building and it boasts a large collection of watches, clocks, marine chronometers, and other objects relevant to the industry.
The museum is definitely worth visiting if you want to understand the watch-making history of the city and its importance in the industry. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the craft, observing the mechanisms and devices that are several centuries old is truly fascinating, especially because the museum has so many unique objects on display.
The museum is open every Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 AM to 5 PM. Tickets can be bought at the entrance and there’s no need to buy them online in advance. The museum ticket shop accepts both Swiss Francs and Euros, and the price for a single adult ticket is 15 CHF.
Le Corbusier’s La Maison Blanche
La Maison Blanche, also known as Villa Jeanneret-Perret, is one of the most significant buildings designed by the famous architect Le Corbusier. The villa was his first independent project, and he designed it as a home for his parents.
The building was built back in 1912, and it has been preserved in remarkably great condition. It was opened to the public in 2005, and today it operates as a heritage museum with period furnishings. It’s the best place in town for all architecture lovers because it speaks volumes about Le Corbusier’s beginnings and early designs.
The heritage museum is open from 10 AM to 5 PM on select days, and the entrance fee is just 10 CHF. You can visit the villa on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from October to May, and it’s also open on Mondays from June to September.
Art Nouveau Walk
An Art Nouveau-themed walking tour of La Chaux-de-Fonds is the best way of getting acquainted with the architecture and the layout of this Swiss city. It’s possible to sign up for a guided walking tour, and this is a good option if you know very little about the town and its history, and you want a local guide to tell you the stories behind the buildings while taking you around La Chaux-de-Fonds.
You can also do a walking tour of the architecture on your own. Take a bus to the Crematorium and from there go to Rue du Doubs 5, where you can see the famous vintage stairwell. Visit the former Spillmann factory, Villa Fallet, the Mon Rêve Villa, and The Crêtets Park.
Zoo du Bois du Petit-Château (MUZOO)
Visiting the Zoo in a new city isn’t something that everyone likes to do, but if you’re an animal lover you’ll have a great time in the MUZOO. It’s also a great place for nature lovers and museum-goers, thanks to a variety of different collections that can be observed in the buildings on the zoo premises.
The zoo is in a vast park, where you can observe countless animals in their enclosures. There’s also a newly built vivarium at the zoo, as well as a museum with collections on mammals, fish, geology, and much more. Overall, if you’re staying in La Chaux-de-Fonds for a few days, a trip to the MUZOO is a great way to spend an afternoon, especially in warm weather.
Robosphere is a leisure and learning center in La Chaux-de-Fonds, that operates one guided tour a day. It’s mandatory to reserve your spot on the tour in advance, and it’s absolutely worth the hassle if you want to learn more about robots, drones, artificial intelligence, etc.
The center primarily works with children and students, providing them with an excellent background in education on modern technologies. The tour lasts approximately an hour and a half, and it costs some 24 CHF. It’s worth noting that you can pay 25 CHF to get a tour with a fondue afterward, and this is definitely the better option in terms of value for money.
Espace de l’urbanisme horloger
Espace de l’urbanisme horloger is a history museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds. It’s by far the best place to visit if you want to understand the history of the town. You can watch a 15-minute movie that covers everything from the founding of the city to the present day.
The movie is very informative, and it will certainly help you understand everything about the life of locals, the town’s significance in various Swiss industries, and the changes implemented over the years in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
The opening hours of the center are a bit weird, so you should plan your visit in advance. In July and August, it’s open from 9 AM to 6:30 PM Monday through Friday and 10 AM to 4 PM on Saturdays. In the off-season, the center is open from 9 AM to 12 PM and then again from 1:30 PM to 5:30 PM on workdays, and 9 AM to 12 PM on Saturdays.
Tour Espacité is an observation tower in La Chaux-de-Fonds and definitely the best place to visit if you want to experience a panoramic view of the city. The tower building alone is incredibly interesting, but the 14th-floor observation deck is certainly the star of the attraction.
The tower was designed by architect Jacques Richter and was built between 1992 and 1994. It is 60 meters tall, so the 360-degree views from the observation deck are absolutely amazing. Best of all, the entrance to the tower is completely free for everyone.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is La Chaux-de-Fonds Known For?
La Chaux-de-Fonds is considered the watch-making capital of Switzerland, and its importance in the industry was even recognized by UNESCO, which declared it a World Heritage Site.
The Swiss city is also famous for its Art Noveau architecture, which had a major impact on this city back in the 19th century. La Chaux-de-Fonds is also home to many works by Le Corbusier, the famous Swiss architect who is deemed a pioneer of modern architecture.
Is La Chaux-de-Fonds Worth Visiting?
The town is absolutely worth visiting if you’re familiar with its attractions and you know what to expect from it. If you’re expecting a big city experience with numerous museums and landmarks, maybe you’re better off traveling to Zurich, Bern, or Geneva.
But if you want to discover its importance in the watch-making history of Switzerland, and tour the many houses and buildings designed by famous architects, it’s definitely worth it to spend a few days in this city. This is especially true if you’re already traveling in the Neuchatel canton, and you’re lacking ideas on interesting places to visit in the region.
Which watch company was founded in 1902 in La Chaux-de-Fonds?
Schwarz Etienne is a watch company that was founded in the city back in 1902. The company was founded by Paul Arthur Schwarz and Olga Etienne (his wife), and it was eventually sold to Raffaello Radicchi, in 2007. The headquarters of the company are still in La Chaux-de-Fonds.