Perched on the glamorous fringes of the sparkling Neuchatel Lake – the largest lake in Switzerland – the capital of Swiss Canton of Neuchatel is a romantic fairy tale medieval village beautifully preserved from as far back as the 12th Century.
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Celebrating its 1000th anniversary in 2011, Neuchâtel has a wonderful location between the eponymous lake and the Jura mountain chain. You can travel from the mountains to the beach in just a couple of minutes. There’s a magnificent view to the Alps as well across the lake. Lac Neuchâtel itself is 38km long and 8km and thus the largest lake entirely in Switzerland.
- Neuchâtel Tourism, Hôtel des Postes (in the massive post building at the lakefront), , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Mo-Fr 09:00-12:00, 13:30-17:30, Sa 09:00-12:00, in Jul and Aug longer times and open on Sunday too. The tourist office have great maps of the city, very useful for exploring the old town on foot. The office itself is located in the city’s massive central post building, itself worth seeing.
History and Geography
Neuchatel might well be called the city of many names. As well as its obvious name which translated to English mean new castle, it is also known as the City of 140 Fountains, and alternatively as the Yellow City, because Neuchatel is a stunning collection of incredibly preserved 17th and 18th Century buildings, many of which were built out of yellow sandstone.
The small French speaking town in the area of western Switzerland known as Suisse Romande, is home to an elite university and a bustling café culture all encapsulated in a pretty setting by a glorious breeze ruffled lake. Complete with an effervescent free commune or commune libre, the delightful small town is full of history, charm and activity.
Historians have documented traces of human activity in the area dating right back to 13000 BC, from treasures found when the city was busy constructing the massive A5 highway at La Coudre in Monruz in 1990. An exciting discovery just 5 m below the surface of the road unearthed beautifully preserved fire pits, carved flints, bone artifacts and 3 small lignite earrings. This astounding showcase uncovered some of the oldest Swiss art ever found, and brought to light some fascinating historic aspects.
Nine years later when more construction took place connecting the lower railway station to the university, another site was discovered and documented as being a middle Neolithic village from the Cortaillod culture. With artifacts dating right back to 3571 BC, which further adds to the charisma of such a unique and appealing town.
The Best Time to Go
Neuchatel has a cool to cold climate with very cold winter temperatures. That however, doesn’t stop the visitors pouring into the city in their hoards during the festive season to shop at all the Christmas markets and bundle up warmly, hot chocolate in hand to experience the festivities in the snow and cold.
The summer months run from June, July right through to August and the temperature heats up rather nicely and everybody gets out into the fresh air. Expect average day time temperatures from 19°C right up to 24°C (66-75°F). The summer is obviously a favorite time for visitors, but expect the prices to rise in tune with peak season; not that Switzerland has a reputation for being a cheap destination in the first place.
There might be queues to get into to the sights and attractions, but it is worth it if you are not a fan of the below freezing temperatures in the winter. The banks of Lake Neuchatel are packed with sunbathers and water sports enthusiasts who are all out and about enjoying the lovely weather. Cyclists meander along the boardwalks, swimmers frolic in the lake and hikers dust off their boots and head into the hills, enjoying the fresh air and the mountain trails.
So it all depends on your travelling style and your ability to handle the cold as to which time of the year is best for you. September may be good if you are looking for a compromise, the summer crowds will have gone, but the weather is still nice and warm.
Getting Around in Neuchatel
Neuchatel is best explored by bicycle or on foot, as everything is nicely compact and many of the popular sites are in close proximity to each other. There are easy to read maps that you can easily navigate the city by if you want to meander around at your leisure. If you are visiting during the summer time you can pick up a bicycle for free from 2 bicycle rental stations right up to 9.30pm. Just pay a small deposit and you can tour around all day, just take the bike back later that same night and you will receive your deposit back and you can walk to your hotel.
There is a good public transport system as well, and being Swiss, it is pedantically on time and never runs late. There are buses and trains that depart every 20 minutes and if you are planning on exploring the surrounding towns and UNESCO world heritage sights like Le Locle or Chaux-de-Fonds, this is the perfect method of transport to get you there.
Further afield you can head out to Cressier, Boundry and Vaumarcus where you can experience some beautifully preserved castles hidden away in the hilly countryside, as well as do some wine tasting at some of the boutique vineyards or head out on a hiking trail. But you would be better off hiring a car to get you there.
Neuchâtel is served by the major train line which crosses Switzerland on the southern Jura. Trains arrive in Neuchâtel hourly, if not more often, from major Swiss cities such as Berne, Lausanne, Geneva, and Zurich. The railway station is a 15 minute walk from downtown, alternatively you can take the bus 7 or 9 towards Place-Pury or take the funicular down to the lakefront.