The majority of people in Switzerland seem to associate Winterthur with manufacturing and engineering, whilst many others from elsewhere are either unfamiliar with the name, or think of the du Pont mansion in Delaware when they hear it. I personally feel that both the predominantly industrial image and lack of recognition do the place absolutely no justice at all. In fact, it is a very appealing town that has a pleasantly relaxed feel, which contrasts favourably with that of nearby Zürich, and makes the short trip from the latter worthwhile.
Additionally, there are more reasons to visit other than just a nice atmosphere. Years of prosperity have resulted in a fine compact city centre that is a pleasure to explore on foot, as it is full of greenery and elegant buildings, most notably a lovely church. Meanwhile, also in the vicinity are a lot of lively bars that cater primarily for the students who attend the local university, and which ensure a generally fun nightlife that has tempted me to stay into the evening.
The single biggest draw is undoubtedly the surprising number of cultural attractions, two of the best of which are the direct responsibility of the eminent past citizen, Oskar Reinhart. Eschewing the highly successful family banking and industrial interests, he instead devoted much time, energy and wealth to acquiring an incredible amount of art, much of which was eventually bequeathed to the state. The small gallery adjoining the main park that bares his name nowadays showcases works originating in the general region, including several by Ferdinand Hodler. More spectacular, but less conveniently located, is the renowned collector’s fairly grand former residence, Römerholz. Most of the pieces displayed inside its walls date from the 19th century onwards, and spending time perusing the paintings by the likes of Cézanne, Monet and van Gogh in such nice surroundings is an enjoyable activity.
A completely different, and perhaps more family orientated, experience is offered at Swiss Technorama. The institute deals with all things related to science and technology, using creative and often interactive exhibits, which can be a lot fun, especially for children.
However, anyone who prefers things a little less modern will perhaps be better advised to travel out a few miles to the Kyburg Castle, which was once a Hapsburg stronghold. The attractive old structure not only has some interesting architectural features, such as the Renaissance chapel, but is also home to a museum of both decorative and military antiques. In addition, from the parapets there are some wonderful views available of the surrounding hilly countryside, which is good terrain for hiking. Meanwhile, it is not the only venerable fortress in the area, merely the most striking, and those on a budget might be pleased to find that one of the others is now a hostel.