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An especially old town (even in Swiss terms), Neuchâtel has signs of human settlement dating back to 13,000 BC (well documented in the local archaeology museum), a significant Roman past, and the good fortune to be wealthy in architecturally significant times. The “New Castle” (from which the town name derives) is just over 1,000 years old, an impressive site towering over the city. Much is made of the Belle Epoque buildings: the center is very pretty, most buildings in a yellow tone, with lovely detailing. The overall vibe is quaint, even a little bit hippy-collegiate. Note that the town is on a hill, and also has hills – peaks and valleys packed together, which involves a lot of stair climbing to explore.

For me, Neuchâtel is consistently a bit “out of sight, out of mind,” and I don’t like it enough to recommend it as a primary destination for visitors. It’s pleasant though, and if you’re nearby, give it a half day. This is also a great region for biking and hiking, around the lake and up into the Jura above.

Activities

  • **Centre Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel is quite high up on the hill – walkable, but would be easier by car. It’s a Mario Botta building, heavy on the concrete, and the art is quite odd. Do go on a sunny day to sit on the terrace, however, the views of the alps are stunning. Also check in advance to see if the studio is open; it’s a pretty mid-century design that captures more effectively what a getaway the property must have felt like. Just below the museum, the **Neuchâtel Botanical Garden is worth a stroll. It’s pretty, though hiding in a shaded valley without views.
  • The **Château and the Collegiate Church, both dating from the 12th century, are on a high island in the center of the city. The chapel is austere in an elegant way. Walk the ramparts for great views and a peak into the neighborhood private gardens. Check in advance for touring options (I haven’t seen the interior yet) – summer only, limited times, requires reservations in advance.
  • **Laténium Park and Museum of Archaeology: worth a stop if you’re in the area. Switzerland’s largest archaeological museum features local historical artiefacts stretching back to 50,000 years ago. It’s high production, and the recreations of traditional houses are cool. Not a particularly large collection.
  • *MHNN is the hipster name for the local stuffed animal museum. The newer areas are fairly conceptual and oriented towards kids. They do have nice classic dioramas with stuffed animals, focused on birds and animals of Switzerland. It’s not my favorite example of this category of museum, but if you have kids… sure.
  • **Musée d’Art et d’Histoire is an especially short stop – the automatons are cool, there’s typically an exhibit (wasn’t great on my 2023 stop), and the staircase and upper landing are an Art Nouveau masterpiece. It takes 20 minutes, worth it if you’re in the area.

Dining

  • **Brasserie Le Jura is great. Not the most stylish interior, but the food is fabulous and it’s packed with locals.
  • *Cactus pretends to make Mexican food. It’s kind of thematically accurate but the ingredients and spices are all wrong (gruyere cheese? French dressing?). Cocktails are not good. Expensive. It was edible but I definitely will not go back.

Gorges de L’Areuse

A very easy, very pleasant **hike, flat or downhill if you walk west to east. We did the section from Noiraigue to Champ-du-Mulin, which has a very decent restaurant (Restaurant de la Truite.)

While in the area, stop in at the ***Musée de l’Areuse. It’s a delightful 15 minute break, a collection of collections (stuffed birds, snakes, eggs, shells, etc.) from the 1870s.

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