A few weekends back, my wife and I decided to explore a nation in Europe which rarely features on the tourist map, Luxembourg. Although I have been to Luxembourg City twice before, the last trip was when I honestly got a chance to explore the countryside and local culture. We were genuinely awestruck by its natural beauty and some beautiful castles the country has to offer.
Some trivia on Luxembourg before we crack on with our trip:
- Did you know Luxembourg is the second most prosperous country in the world with a GDP per capita of $109,000?
- Did you also know Luxembourg was one of the founding members of OECD, NATO, and the EU?
- And, last but not the least, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg is the first openly gay PM in the world! I am sure there are several more facts which I might have missed about this illustrious nation, but these are significant already. The history of Luxembourg dates back to 963 A.D when Count Siegfried I, acquired a rocky promontory and its Roman-era fortifications known as Lucilinburhuc, ′little castle’. Over the centuries, the City and Fortress of Luxembourg, has been of great strategic importance situated between the Kingdom of France and the Habsburg territories. It was gradually built up to be one of the most reputed fortifications in Europe. After being ruled by Louis XIV of France and Maria Theresia of Austria, Luxembourg became part of the First French Republic and Empire under Napoleon.
Now a few basics before we kick into the details of our trip:
Currency: Euros (most parts of Luxembourg accept card payments but always safe to keep some cash at hand)
How to get there: Luxembourg is globally connected through its international airport in Luxembourg City. For those travelling in Europe/UK, there are direct flights that run from most major cities around Europe.
Language: Luxembourg has three official languages- Luxembourgish, French, and German. However, most people speak fluent English.
Recommended months of travel: April to November
Visa requirements: Luxembourg is part of the Schengen visa programme.
Travel Tip: Most of Luxembourg is dead and closed on Sundays, so plan your day accordingly.
We flew on a Saturday morning from London Gatwick with our usual preferred airline, EasyJet. Only about an hour away by air from London, we landed in Luxembourg around 2 pm. To be able to explore the countryside, we had decided to rent a car for the weekend, and to our pleasant surprise, we got upgraded from a basic manual hatchback to an automatic Audi Q2. Gosh, I loved every bit of that car! Our first stop was about at a 20-minute drive from the airport to the Mullerthal region, also referred to as Luxembourg’s mini Switzerland due to its hilly landscape reminiscent of Switzerland. What makes this region and its 112km hiking trail so unique is its unusual composition of rock and soil erosion that contribute to its landscapes.
Within the region we covered:
- Schiessentümpel waterfalls: There are parking facilities at about 500m distance from the falls where you can park your car walk down to this stunning sight. There are also hiking trails near by which take you to the top of a mountain to give you a panaromic view of Luxembourg. We did both! 😊 Parked our car, climbed up on a trail and made our way to the falls. We loved every bit of it.
- Auberge La Veranda Café: We were starving by the time we finished the waterfalls, so we drove about 10 minutes down to this scenic town, Echternach. We ordered some coffee, a toffee pastry, and cheese & tomato baguette. What struck us even more, was that just across our café was River Sauer, and post that was Germany! I could walk to Germany within 5 minutes. Unbelievable! The best example of a borderless world.
- Perekop: One of the most visited rock giants on the road between Berdorf and Echternach. Climb through the narrow crevice jammed in between walls to experience the beauty inside the rocks. Do not miss this out!
- Echternach: This town is the historical and cultural center of the Mullerthal Region - the oldest city of Luxembourg with labyrinthine streets, remains and towers of the ancient city wall and a marketplace with a Gothic townhouse takes you back in time.
After spending almost 3 hours exploring Mullerthal, we decided to explore Trier in Germany which is about a 40 minutes’ drive from Luxembourg city. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Although we reached Trier by around 5 pm, the city centre was still vibrant and bustling with crowds. We parked our car in the city centre parking and made our way towards Central Square or Hauptmarkt. The plaza is encircled by elegant townhouses that create a mixed cityscape of Renaissance, Baroque and Classicist architecture. It is very elegant and stunning.
After admiring the Hauptmarkt square and clicking several pictures, we headed towards Saint Peter’s Cathedral. Built in 1270, the cathedral is the oldest church in Germany and probably one of the most magnificent in Europe.
We then had a bit of a detour as my wife got a bit distracted with the shopping outlets around us. 😉 It was my wife's first visit to a German shopping zone, and she found it a lot more value for money compared to her UK high street experiences. After an hour of shopping, we made our way towards the central spot of Trier, Porta Nigra. Built in around 170 AD, the Porta Nigra is a large Roman city gate. Although inimitable, the look and feel of it didn’t impress me too much. It has a bit of an eerie feeling to it. At around 6:30 pm we decided to head back to our hotel in Luxembourg.
We wanted to make this an exceptional stay, so we booked ourselves at Double Tree by Hilton. We had agreed to some special arrangements with the hotel a month in advance of our trip and were excited about it since we got free upgrade to the Junior Suite. Built in the middle of a forest, the drive and view of the hotel is quite scenic.
The hotel although recently renovated does not have the most urban look to it. The waiting time for a lift to show up is at least 5 minutes, and most of the time it is packed, so it is likely you will wait another 5 minutes. Upon entering the room, we were a bit disappointed as we were expecting complimentary water bottles and a basket of fruits and chocolates (as agreed beforehand) but all we found was an empty table. We had to go through a whole lot of documentation to prove to the staff that this was part of the deal, which was awkward and annoying.
Anyway, after checking into our room, we headed for dinner to Vapiano in Kirchberg which was only a 10-minute drive from our hotel. Kirchberg is Luxembourg’s business district and has plenty of modern office complexes. By the time we got back to the hotel after dinner, it was almost 11pm, and we crashed to bed straight after.
Breakfast at Hilton has a decent buffet selection ranging from loaves of bread, croissants to cheese. Given our car rental was only valid till 2 pm, we decided to cover more countryside in the morning. We kicked off the day by driving towards Clervaux in North Luxembourg, which was about 63km or about an hour’s drive from our hotel. Imagine, within an hour we were at the northernmost tip of Luxembourg! 😊
The drive to Clervaux is scenic, and you will be truly amazed at how underrated the natural beauty of Luxembourg is. Clervaux is mainly known for a WW2 battle that took place in 1944 which resulted in German victory over the Americans. The town has two key sights- Clervaux Castle and the Abbey of St Maurice and St Maur. The Castle, built around the 12th century, is home to the Family of Man exhibition by Edward Steichen. We also took a short walk in the town centre. We got done in an hour!
Our next stop was the Vianden Castle, at about a 30-minute drive from Clervaux. Although the scenic route continued to overwhelm us, we were amazed at how empty the roads were on a Sunday. For almost the entire journey, we were probably the only car on that road. I'm not complaining because it was a driver’s paradise.
The castle was built during the Roman era around the 11th century and stands at a height of 310 meters. It is undoubtedly a spectacular building. Entry to the castle for adults is Eur 7, and kids enter for Eur 2. Overall, we loved it.
The journey back from Vianden to Luxembourg Airport was only around 45 minutes, and we were precisely on time for returning our car at 2 pm. The plan for the rest of the afternoon was to explore Luxembourg City, so we caught bus No 16 outside the Departures Terminal which takes you to the city centre within 30 minutes. Although the last stop is Gare de Luxembourg (central station), for city centre you should get off at Hamilius. You can reach the main areas within 0.5km from this stop. You can buy a 24-hour ticket for Eur 4 which will allow you to travel on any public transport mode across the country. We got off at the main station and dropped off our luggage at the locker rooms. It costs Eur 5 for 24 hours. Travel here is unbelievably cheap!
So here is the walking trail that we covered for exploring Luxembourg city centre:
- Gare de Luxembourg
- Avenue de la Gare: street just before the station which is mainly occupied by global retail chains and fast food joints. Quite lively on weekends!
- Luxemburgo Passerelle Bridge: this is the bridge that connects the old city centre with the station area. The city view from here, especially the fortress and valley views are impressive and deserve at least a few clicks.
- Palais de Justice Luxembourg: as the name suggests, this is the court of justice for people of Luxembourg. We then turned on to Rue de la Congregation.
- Place de Clairefontaine: An elegant square with a monument of Grande-Duchess Charlotte in the centre.
- Palais Grand-Ducal: The official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and also where he performs his duties as Head of State. The architecture of the palace is breath-taking and my personal favourite in the entire Luxembourg!
- History & Art Museum of Luxembourg: Part of the Fishmarket street, the museum is known for its display of artworks and artifacts from all walks of Luxembourg history. Although we never got a chance to go inside, the museum is highly rated for art lovers!
- Eglise Saint-Michel: The oldest extant religious Roman Catholic church in Luxembourg.
- Schlassbreck: Also known as the castle bridge that connects the Fish Market with Bockfiels. A perfect spot to admire the view of the castle and the old city.
- Chemin de la Corniche: Most recommended viewpoint of Luxembourg, and often referred to as the “balcony of Europe.”
- Place Guillaume II – Luxembourg: It is the main town square of Luxembourg opposite the Town Hall. Although currently under construction, this is what I would define as the heart of the city. Surrounded by cafes, bars, and restaurants it is where the hustle and bustle of the city happens.
- Note-Dame Cathedral: Also known as “Cathedral of our Lady,” this is perhaps one of must do sights in Luxembourg. Construction had started in 1613, and it was officially completed in 1938. The church is particularly famous for its Gothic architecture.
- Gella Fra: The monument of remembrance is a gilded bronze statue built in 1923 to honour the lives of Luxembourgish soldiers who volunteered in both the World Wars and Korean War. A spectacular point to enjoy the view of South Luxembourg.
So that was our walking trail that we managed to cover in two hours. At 5 pm we decided to take a break and grab some coffee and cake. So we decided to stop at Coffee Fellows on our way back to the Station. It was delicious to the core.
We took bus 16 from Luxembourg station back to the airport at around 6 pm, and in 30 minutes we were at the departures terminal.
We decided to grab dinner after checking in, but to our disappointment, there are very few restaurants to eat at. And the choice gets even more niche if you are a vegetarian. So my suggestion would be to dine in the city and then head to the airport.
And with that our 36-hour weekend break came to an end. I finally felt I gave true justice to this magnificent nation, rather than a place to pass by through.