Less than half an hour from Zürich, Winterthur is a mid-sized in the north of Switzerland. Traditionally Winterthur was an industrial hub. Not a lot of tourists come here, and the city is known mostly for its high-tech manufacturing sector. But you’d be missing out if you don’t spend a day or two, especially if you’re an art fan.
There are 17 museums, most in the gigantic pedestrian zone in the centre. And you can thank the 20th-century art collector Oskar Reinhart for endowing Winterthur with a hoard of invaluable Romantic and Impressionist art. Kids won’t be left out, as the Technorama is an interactive science museum without equal, and Kyburg Castle is crammed with grisly medieval fun like torture chambers and an armoury.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Winterthur:
A science museum without equal in Switzerland, Technorama is the ultimate hands-on learning experience.
Inside and out are more than 500 experiments to watch and take part in.
These showing with ingenious simplicity how natural phenomena and technology work.
Kids are constantly encouraged to get involved, creating their own cyclones, making paperclips levitate through magnetism, solving fun mathematics puzzles and even tackling more advanced topics like calculus using a laser game.
Both kids and adults will be transfixed by the labyrinthine ball runs, made only from wood and with crazy systems of ramps and pulleys.
2. Oskar Reinhart Collection – Am Römerholz
When he died in 1965 the art patron and collector Oskar Reinhart left his rich stash of art to the city.
A big portion of this is at a plush house in woodland to the north of Winterthur, up the hill and blessed with panoramic views.
Reinhart had an eye for French 19th-century art, and the array of works he gathered is almost unbelievable.
In the galleries you’ll be greeted by paintings by Monet, van Gogh, Degas, Delacroix, Sisley, Courbet, Camille Corot, Renoir, Manet and Cézanne, to name just a few.
And as if that wasn’t enough, there are also older paintings by masters like Goya, Rubens, Brueghel and Hans Holbein.
3. Oskar Reinhart Museum
Reinhart’s collection was so vast that it couldn’t all fit into one museum, so there’s another building under the same umbrella.
You’ll find it on the edge of the Stadtgarten in a former grammar school, and comprising the various donations he made to the city while he was still alive.
The collection is by artists from the Low Countries, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Some names you may be familiar with are Ferdinand Hodler, Carl Spitzweg and Caspar David Friedrich.
The crowning work is Friedrich’s Kreidefelsen auf Rügen (Chalk Cliffs on Rügen), one of the seminal paintings of the Romantic period.
4. Fotomuseum Winterthur
In a former factory, this celebrated museum and the Fotostiftung Schweiz next door amounts to a centre of excellence for Swiss Photography.
There are constant temporary exhibitions, many organised by the foundation and presenting world-renowned photographers like Robert Frank and Nan Goldin.
The museum’s permanent collection is enthralling, because it approaches photography as an art-form, with work by Vanessa Beecroft, Larry Clark, Hans Danuser, Nobuyoshi Araki and Paul Graham.
But it also handles photography as a functional medium and has a huge archive of images for fields like architecture, fashion, engineering, forensics and medicine.
5. Kunstmuseum Winterthur
The cultural feast continues at the city’s art museum, in a 100-year-old edifice that also houses the Naturmuseum and Research Library.
Even if you’ve been to both Oskar Reinhart locations, you have to make space in your plans for this museum.
There’s more Impressionist art waiting for you, by yet more famous painters like van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne and Sisley.
A modern wing was unveiled in 1995 and has art by Ellsworth Kelly, Pia Fries and Mark Tobey.
Early 20th century movements like Cubism and Expressionism are also well-represented by Picasso, Fernand Léger, Kandinsky, Le Corbusier and Mondrian.
Finally, Giacometti and Delacroix dominate the museum’s sculpture gallery.
6. Kyburg Castle
A Swiss heritage site, Kyburg Castle reigns from its perch above the Töss River.
The castle’s architecture is from between the 14th and 16th centuries, when it was first the seat of the Counts of Kyburg and then a Habsburg property.
From around the 15th century to the end of the 1700s, this was the residence of the regional governor, and the updated museum has insights into his life and role.
You can tour the original dungeons, a medieval kitchen, armoury and a beautiful chapel with 15th-century frescoes.
Kids will be able to get involved, testing a medieval bed, smelling historic spices in the kitchen and even donning a suit of armour.
Although it doesn’t have the big name sights of other Swiss cities, the centre of Winterthur definitely merits a self-guided tour.
Practically all of the old town is pedestrianised, and cafes and restaurants spill out onto the streets in summer, and there are some intriguing side allies to investigate.
It all adds up to Switzerland’s largest pedestrian zone, and at the heart of this district is the busy Marktgasse where you can sample the ambience of the city.
If you’re up for a shopping expedition this is where you want be, as all the Swiss and international chains are on this animated thoroughfare.
8. Wildpark Bruderhaus
This animal park on Eschenburg, a forest-covered hill on the southern fringe of the city, is top of the list for family outings from Winterthur.
The park has mostly European species like wild boars, fallow deer, red deer, mouflons, bison, wolves and lynxes living in large habitats.
There’s also a herd of sika deer, a species most commonly found in Japan.
There’s a bus service to and from the park on Line 12 between March and November.
And the great news for parents is that the park is completely free.
Pack a picnic or something to grill on the barbecue, or grab a bite the park’s cafe/restaurant.
Sharing the same location as the Kunstmuseum, Winterthur’s Natural History Museum documents the native fauna and flora in the North of Switzerland.
The trove of old specimens and taxidermies dates back more than a century, and a decade ago this was dusted off and reconfigured in new, more engaging galleries.
Children are now given more opportunities to participate: Youngsters can even use a tablet computer and try to earn “learning points” at different points around the museum with the help of a cartoon character.
If they complete the tour they’ll earn a “fossil hunter’s diploma”.
Winterthur’s rose garden is a fragrant haven a short walk from the old centre.
The garden is on Heiligberg, a tall rise to the south of the old town and was planted in 1964 when the city celebrated its 700th anniversary.
There are 2,900 rosebushes in the garden, from almost 300 varieties, many of which are historic cultivars.
Naturally the rose garden is a seasonal pleasure, best visited in June and July.
But no matter the time of year there’s always a rewarding view of Winterthur and its hilly backdrop.
Winterthur’s Stadkirche has been the site of a church of some description since the 700s.
The building here now is a melange of architecture from different periods.
The oldest part is the Romanesque-Gothic choir from the 12th century, while the two towers were completed in the 14th century (North) and 15th century (South). The simple facade gives way to a very colourful interior, as the walls were painted in an Expressionist style in the 1920s by artist Paul Zehnder.
A lot of the church’s ornamentation was removed in the Reformation in the 16th century.
But there’s a ledger stone for Elsbeth von Bach a 15th-century patroness of the city and the 17th-century Baroque baptismal font deserves a moment.
Translating to “Museum of Applied Art and Design”, this museum explores the common ground between industrial production, art, crafts and design.
The attraction is known for its innovative temporary exhibitions that run the full gamut of design and production, documenting clever everyday items or whimsical artistic concepts.
Recent exhibitions have dealt with industrial design in the sex industry, and the technical wonders behind of everyday objects.
The venue is a grand former girls’ school, built in the middle of the 19th century.
The building also contains the exceptional Kellenberger Collection, which has clocks from the 16th and 17th centuries.
When Winterthur’s residents want to unwind and reflect they make for the city’s favourite scenic lookout on Goldenberg.
From this tree-lined belvedere surrounded by vineyards you can pick out the landmarks on Winterthur’s skyline and watch the sun setting behind the city.
You can get there on foot via a stiff trail from Rychenbergstrasse.
Once you make it to the top you could reward yourself with a meal at the Restaurant Goldenberg.
In summer people dine alfresco on the terrace, while in winter there’s also a clear view from the warmth of the interior.
14. Münzkabinett und Antikensammlung
On weekends and Monday and Thursday afternoons you can view a remarkable coin and antiquity collection owned by the city.
The origins of the Münzkabinett (coin collection) can be traced back to the 17th century and it now counts more than 55,000 pieces.
At the core of the collection are coins from the Roman and Byzantine Empires, but there are also Swiss medals and coins from medieval times to the 20th century.
Among the museum’s 1,600 ancient artefacts you can admire vases and glassware from Ancient Greece and Rome.
It’s all found in Villa Bühler, an exquisite 19th-century mansion on the edge of the old town.
15. Rhine Falls
Europe’s largest waterfall is around 20 minutes up the road from Winterthur and right on the Swiss-German border.
The appeal isn’t so much in the height of the waterfall; it’s all about the power of the Rhine as it roars over this 23-metre drop, 150 metres across.
Summer is when the river is wildest and when 600 cubic metres of water per second cascade down the falls.
The noise it generates is awesome, and there are a few vantage points on the shore reached by paths and an elevator down the side of the falls.
One of these was chosen by J.M.W . Turner when he painted this scene in the 19th century.
Neuhausen am Rheinfall is the embarkation point for a range of boat tours, which take you to the base of the falls where force of the water pushes the vessels back downstream.