La Chaux-de-Fonds is in Switzerland. The city has an impressive heritage of watch making and has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List as “La Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle, Watchmaking Town Planning”.
La Chaux-de-Fonds is in the resplendent Swiss canton of Neuchatel, perched some 1000m above sea level in the Jura Mountains. It is an ancient and historic parish that has roots way back in the 1600s. Perhaps deemed at first glance not to be an obvious inclusion on a list of places to see in Switzerland because it doesn’t have any of the defining characteristics of a traditional Swiss city – like a medieval old town or being nudged up to a clutch of winter sports resorts, it is a hugely underrated tourist destination.
Thanks to incredible architecture (ref: Le Corbusier and see below) and being seeped in an historic air of culture and a magical showcase of legendary Swiss watching making, La Chaux de Fonds is a city that was some eons ahead of its time. It is a French speaking region in Switzerland and is a relatively small mountain community just a hop, skip and a jump away from the border with France.
The mountain territory actually consists of two small neighbor small towns – the other being Le Locle – and the towns were designed specifically to reflect the bustling industry of watch making, which has been beautifully preserved and has is still going strong today. However, it was only after a catastrophic fire destroyed ‘’Watch Valley’’ that they were built in the way you see it today. Both the towns have earned their place as UNESCO World Heritage sites because of their massive cultural and universal contributions.
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The Best Time To Go
The Jura Mountain range offers a climate that is particularly harsh and is touted as being the Siberia of Switzerland; no surprise then that is holds the record for having the lowest ever temperature every recorded for Switzerland entirely a whopping – 41.8°C (-43.2°F). The winter months are decidedly unpleasant and somewhat unbearable with average daytime temperatures about – 2°C (28°F) or so on any given day.
For visiting, the summer time is definitely best. The summer months of June, July and August are when the temperatures briefly rise out of their below freezing comfort zone and head out to a cool 12/13°C (54°F).
Summer is a fantastic time and locals emerge on their bicycles, get out into the fresh air and are seen jogging, walking the dog and enjoying each other’s company. During the freezing winter months, winter sports enthusiasts are out in full force, zipping about the mountain side. Because of the town’s elevation, there is no chance the summers get too hot here, and the warm weather is perfect for sightseeing. There is lots to see and do and the town is easy to get to by train from Zurich or flying in landing at Bern and hiring a car to make the short, picturesque route to the town.
Getting Around in La Chaux-de-Fonds
Being Switzerland, the public transport system is exceptionally well organized, on time and easy to navigate. Tickets for trams, highly efficient articulated trolley-buses and the mountain railway can be booked online and packages for your visitors travel requirements can be organized with the tourism office or your hotel. As with many of the small Swiss towns, La Chaux de Fonds is no exception and the town is easy to navigate on foot or meander around on a bicycle.
Bicycle hire can be arranged at a few spots throughout the town, but if you are planning to go a bit further afield, it may be preferable to hop on a train or use the tram system to see the countryside. You can rent a car to travel around in, although it is not necessary; the public transport system will more than suffice.
Travel by train to La Chaux-de-Fonds
The train station is well connected with several lines in different directions:
- An hourly RE train from Bern (1h 5min)
- Two hourly RE trains from Neuchatel (30 min), one of which is the train from Berne
- Two hourly RE trains from Le Locle (8 min)
- One RE (40 min) and one R (1h) train from Biel
- A couple daily French TER trains from Besançon (1h 50min)
In addition there are regional trains from other small towns in the region.
There is three main roads leading to La Chaux-de-Fonds from other Swiss cities: Road 20 from Neuchatel, road 30 from Biel and road 18 from Delémont and Basel. The closest motorway is A5, from which La Chaux-de-Fonds can be accessed either from Neuchatel or Biel. Road 20 then goes on to France in direction of Besançon.
Major Attractions and Sights
There is an abundance of really fascinating local heritage and cultural sites to see and experience in the town, with lots of museums showcasing the history of this intriguing hilltop location.
The International Museum of Watches is a stunning exhibition in La Chaux de Fonds and is an exciting showcase of the history of watch making from both Switzerland and all over the world. This is a must see attraction for every age group – and even if you were not interested in watch making when you got there, you will certainly be so when you leave. The collection has more than 700 clocks and 2,700 watches.
The Museum of Natural History has a comprehensive showcase of the local flora and fauna. And there is a small zoo that will delight all visitors. It is easy to find and explore this attraction on foot, and has no entrance fee.
The Farming and Craft Museum is another attraction that will charm those who want to know about the area or just love history and rural life. Take a journey through the life and times of early 17th century farmers and their families. To make the trip a special one, enjoy it on the back of a horse drawn carriage.