Knowledge & culture

La Chaux-de-Fonds: watchmaking metropolis and Swiss stronghold of Art Nouveau

Discover the birthplace of Le Corbusier with its architectural treasures

La Chaux-de-Fonds is a fascinating city whose layout is as regular as a chessboard. The streets laid out at right angles give the city an unmistakable appearance, which can be easily recognised from vantage points such as the "Tour Espacité".

As one of the highest towns in Europe, surrounded by lush meadows and dense pine forests, it is strongly characterised by its watchmaking tradition. This unique combination of urban architecture and the art of watchmaking has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit is therefore not only worthwhile for watch fans, but also for architecture enthusiasts. This interesting town in the Swiss Jura is an ideal destination for a day trip and offers a wealth of sights and experiences of all kinds.

By train, from Bern, it takes an hour directly to La Chaux-de-Fonds. 

Watch industry and urban development

La Chaux-de-Fonds lies at around 1000 metres above sea level. Due to the harsh climate, the village was barely populated until the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the oldest human skeleton in Switzerland to date was found nearby. The original hamlet was founded at the beginning of the 16th century and grew in importance in the 17th century, thanks to its strategic location. At the same time, the watch industry began to develop – a pocket watch was documented here as early as 1664! La Chaux-de-Fonds soon became the leading centre of the watchmaking industry in the Alpine region.

A devastating fire in 1794 destroyed a large part of the town. After this tragic event, the town was rebuilt on the basis of a rectangular street grid with a largely uniform design. In later years, the town was also extended in a chessboard pattern – this construction method enabled optimal lighting for the watchmakers' workshops in the buildings, most of which faced south-east.

Urbanistic watch industry showroom

Immerse yourself in the fascinating world of watchmaking at the Espace de l'Urbanisme horloger, where the close connection between urban development and the watch industry is impressively presented.
Before you set off through the streets of the watchmaking metropolis, this is the ideal starting point for anyone who wants to uncover the secrets of this listed site. Here you will receive valuable tips and advice that will lead you to a wrought-iron balcony, a staircase, a manor house or a watchmaker's workshop.

Watchmaking town planning showroom

International watch museum 

Visit the impressive Musée international d'horlogerie, the largest museum specialising in watches in the world!  
This unique museum tells the story of timekeeping through 4,000 extraordinary exhibits: from sundials and atomic clocks to magnificent pocket and wall clocks, pieces of work from goldsmiths and scientific instruments. 

International watch museum

Espacité tower

The impressive cityscape of La Chaux-de-Fonds is best viewed from above. Thanks to its central location on Avenue Léopold-Robert, the tower offers the opportunity to capture the chessboard-like structure of the city. From the glazed viewing platform on the 14th floor, the view sweeps over the cityscape, which was shaped by the watch industry.   

Espacité tower

Art Nouveau – Promenade Art Nouveau

La Chaux-de-Fonds is also an important centre of Art Nouveau in Switzerland and has even developed its own "pine tree" style ("Style sapin" in French and "Tannenstil" in German).  
With the help of a brochure, which you can obtain free of charge from the tourist office, you can set off in search of visible and hidden Art Nouveau treasures. You will discover the subtle decorations integrated into the buildings, or the crematorium with its very own local Art Nouveau style.

Crematorium

The La Chaux-de-Fonds crematorium was designed by Charles L'Eplattenier and opened in 1909. It is a unique place where art and spirituality meet. The building in the typical "pine tree style" is one of the main works of local Art Nouveau and features rich decorations in stone, repoussage metalworking elements, mosaic and colour.

Cultural heritage Crematorium

Ancien Manège – Old Riding Hall

One of the city's most astonishing buildings which, like many others in La Chaux-de-Fonds, does not reveal its treasures at first glance. However, a visit to the Old Riding Hall with its magnificent inner courtyard and frescoes is definitely worthwhile.

Cultural heritage Old Riding Hall

Art Nouveau city tour

During the city tour, you will be surprised time and again by the beautiful Art Nouveau elements that are harmoniously integrated into the buildings: staircases, colourful stained glass windows, balconies and the famous crematorium, a masterpiece of the so-called "Tannenstil" or "pine tree style". A visit to an Art Nouveau apartment is one of the highlights of the tour.

Every Tuesday from 2 July 2024 to 27 August 2024

Book an Art Nouveau city tour

Culture & museums

Plenty of culture

Enjoy the city's diverse cultural offerings, including a theatre in the Italian neo-baroque style, a concert hall with excellent acoustics, cosy cafés and bistros and an annual street art festival. Immerse yourself in the lively cultural and museum scene and discover the diversity and history of La Chaux-de-Fonds.

Musée des beaux-arts 

The listed building houses an impressive collection. It includes Swiss and international art from the 19th and 20th centuries. The wealth of the permanent exhibition is impressive. Admire works by Léopold Robert and Le Corbusier, Van Gogh, Derain, Rouault and many others.

Musée des beaux-arts La Chaux-de-Fonds

Quartier Général - Centre for contemporary art

The Quartier Général (QG) is an exhibition space in the unique setting of the old abattoirs of La Chaux-de-Fonds.
With its unusual and bold exhibition programme, it offers young artists an ideal platform. 

Quartier Général

Rural and craft museum

In a typical Neuchâtel farmhouse from the 17th century, you embark on a journey through time into the domestic world of the farmer-watchmakers who shaped the identity of the region. In this world of fire and wood, don't miss the clockmaker's room!

Musée paysan et artisanal 

Historical museum

Discover how the inhabitants of La Chaux-de-Fonds used to live in a 19th century villa.

A city museum that sees itself as a bridge between past and present. The permanent exhibition is organised both chronologically and thematically and highlights the role of the men and women who have shaped and continue to shape the watchmaking metropolis. An entire room is dedicated to Le Corbusier.

Musée d'histoire La Chaux-de-Fonds

Restaurants in La Chaux-de-Fonds

Brasserie de l'Hôtel de Ville 

Spend a convivial moment in the authentic atmosphere of a Parisian brasserie. Discover the wine list with over 500 wines from the best wine-growing regions in France at prices that are unrivalled in the restaurant trade.

Brasserie de l'Hôtel de Ville

Crêperie Poivre et Sel 

Cosy restaurant for a quick and tasty meal in a friendly atmosphere.

Crêperie Poivre et Sel

La ferme des Brandts 

Down-to-earth cuisine with fresh, exclusively home-made products from the region. Roast suckling pig with the juice of dark Freiberg beer or forgotten dishes such as tender braised veal cheeks or slow-dried meringues. The cuisine is based on the seasons and is complemented by the wild flavours of the surrounding nature.

La ferme des Brandts

Restaurant La Parenthèse 

Gourmets can take a culinary break here to savour, taste and appreciate.

Restaurant La Parenthèse

La Différence 

Enjoy a culinary experience without a menu and let yourself be surprised. Whether meat, fish or vegetarian delicacies, all are prepared from fresh, seasonal products and pay homage to forgotten flavours and culinary traditions of Latin America.

La Différence

BLS suggestion

Scavenger hunt "Les Barons"

Experience an exciting scavenger hunt through the museums and sights of La Chaux-de-Fonds!

Immerse yourself in the exciting story of Uncle Louis, a respected watchmaker from around 1900 whose last watch was stolen. Will you manage to find this important family heirloom? The "Les Barons" scavenger hunt takes you on an adventurous journey to the places of worship and museums of La Chaux-de-Fonds.

This entertaining city scavenger hunt combines historical facts with a pinch of fantasy and requires no prior knowledge. Follow in the watchmaker's footsteps to unmask the culprit and return the stolen watch!

"Les Barons" – an exciting scavenger hunt

How to get there

Travel comfortably by train to La Chaux-de-Fonds.

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