A Weekend in Luxembourg: A small country with lots of interesting history and things to do
By Ailish Casey
When I told my friends I would be celebrating my birthday with a weekend in Luxembourg, they all gave the same response: “Why?” It was a fair question. With its proximity to the major tourist countries of France, Germany and Belgium, why would I choose to visit tiny Luxembourg?
But the fact that the country is so easy to overlook is exactly what made me want to visit. I knew nothing about Luxembourg, other than the fact that it was driving distance from Belgium, where my partner Adam and I would be visiting family.
And so, bypassing the Western European giants that surround this diminutive country, we headed towards Luxembourg.
My thin guidebook assured me there was plenty to keep us occupied for the weekend in the city and around.
As we crossed the unmarked border into one of the world’s smallest countries, I suspected it was exaggerating.
The Sights of Luxembourg City
We started our time in Luxembourg by exploring the city sights, and, as navigating public transport has ruined many an exploration for us in the past, we were grateful to find this city can easily be navigated on foot.
We started at the imposing Spuerkeess bank, then crossed the valley via the Adolphe bridge to the War Memorial. The memorial itself wasn’t all that impressive, but, standing at its base at the edge of the river valley, we got our first view of the city of Luxembourg.
It truly is a beautiful city, located along a deep, forested valley, and blending UNESCO-listed old city streets with impressive modern edifices.
We stopped briefly at Notre Dame Cathedral, understandably less visited than its namesake in neighboring Paris, before turning away from the valley and into the modern center of the city.
At least, the designer shops and international restaurants were modern, but they were housed in ornate buildings topped with regal domes and laid out along pedestrian cobblestoned streets.
The Grand Ducal Palace was surrounded by a market of wheeled stalls selling local handicrafts. The entire neighborhood felt like an anachronism. We were reminded of our recent visit to picturesque and cobblestoned Bruges but were thankful that Luxembourg, unlike Bruges, wasn’t overrun by hordes of tourists.
Adam and I had intended to visit either the Luxembourg City History Museum (Musee d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg), which we’d read offers a stunning city view from its balcony, or the Bock Casemates, a series of subterranean tunnels underneath the Bock promontory.
But we’d spent a surprising amount of time making our way around the tiny city, and we wanted to ensure we’d make it to what we’d heard is one of the best views in Europe by sunset. So we continued to the Chemin de la Corniche, a balcony stretching along the valley wall offering a panoramic view of both old and new Luxembourg.
The vista was as impressive as advertised. To one side lay the old fortified neighborhood of Grund, to the other, the modern side of new Luxembourg. We’d arrived at just the right time to catch the golden hour sunlight casting its long shadows and the Alzette river capturing the reflection of the valley.
Our day of strolling past city sights on cobblestoned streets had endeared me to this little city, and taking in the view of the valley, bathed in an orange glow as the sun went down, I was convinced it was more than a match for Paris, Brussels or Berlin.
Hiking the Mullerthal Trails
Eager to explore more of Luxembourg than just the city, we woke early the next morning to drive the 20 minutes to Mullerthal, the starting point for a collection of hiking trails. Opting for one of the shorter routes, we followed a sign pointing us towards Schiessentumpel.
The woodland had been described as “fairytale”, and, following the trail through lush pastures and overgrown woodland, we couldn’t help but agree that a fairy or two wouldn’t look out of place here.
Though a more realistic comparison may be to an alpine scene in Switzerland. After strolling through this unspoiled setting for almost a mile, we arrived at Schiessentumpel, a stone bridge with woven wooden handrails, spanning a three-pronged waterfall. The bridge looked as though it had been unchanged in the past hundred years (and also like it had been plucked straight from Middle Earth).
Exploring Ancient Castles
Driving just a short distance from Mullerthal (though, in reality, every distance in Luxembourg can be described as “short”), we soon reached Beaufort castle, one of many medieval castles that call Luxembourg home.
We paused only briefly to snap a few photos and grab a quick cup of coffee (during which I tried and failed miserably to converse in French with the friendly cafe owner), before carrying on to the more impressive Larochette castle.
Built high on a promontory overlooking a rustic village, the castle has been badly damaged throughout the years, but, through partial reconstruction, models and artists’ depictions, offers a glimpse into life in medieval Europe.
While I’m certainly no history buff, clambering over the remains of an ancient castle while taking in the view of the village below was more than enough to keep me occupied for an afternoon.
Sampling a Range of European Cuisines
Hunger soon got the better of us, and we returned to the city in search of some Luxembourgish food (I was happy to discover that “Luxembourgish” really is the term). Though, after spending some time circumnavigating Place d’Armes, we began to realize Luxembourgish food, if there was such a thing, was in short supply.
Instead, the square was filled with restaurants offering Italian gelato, Swiss fondue, or Portuguese cod. Opting for a gooey cheese fondue, we ate our fill, then stepped back outside to find a British brass band setting up in the central bandstand.
Grabbing ourselves paper cups of gelato, we sat down to listen as they struck up a rousing chorus of trumpets and tubas. When the chilly night air began to get to us, we left in search of a nightcap, which we found in the form of Belgian beer.
While we still hadn’t managed to try anything that was traditionally Luxembourgish, we were more than satisfied with our culinary tour of Europe that had taken place solely in the Place d’Armes.
Raising our glasses to the end of our brief time in Luxembourg, we agreed that the country had proved to be far more than just an easily overlooked slip of land wedged between larger, more impressive neighbors. Rather, it had shown itself to be a unique blend of old and new, local and international, set at the crossroads of Western Europe.
Ailish Casey’s stories have been published by the New York Post, Holiday Mag, and Backpack South America, and was named one of Insight Guides’ Top Travel Tweeters to follow in 2016. Read her blog, www.ailishinwonderland.com
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