For a tiny country, a Luxembourg vacation offers quite a rich blend of culture to be found on your trip to Europe.
Officially, Luxembourg is called the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and is headed by the Grand Duke Henri. (Interestingly, it is the only remaining grand duchy.) It is sandwiched between Belgium to the west and north, Germany to the east, and France to the south. These three European neighbours have influenced Luxembourg’s culture, people, and language. There are three languages spoken – namely French, German, and a dialect of German called Luxembourgish. In everyday life, road signs are only in French, but English speakers are quite common.
How big (or small) is Luxembourg? Well, it is one of the smallest countries in Europe, with a population of just under 600,000. Interestingly, foreign nationals make up 48% of the population, the majority of which are working for international concerns. To give you an idea of its size, Luxembourg is 82 kilometres/51 miles long and 57 kilometres/35 miles wide. Perhaps not as small as you had imagined for a Luxembourg vacation? Nevertheless, it has an advanced economy and one of the world’s highest GDP per capita. One more fact – it is one of the world’s best performers in environmental protection and as such, its capital has been recognized as one of the world’s most livable cities.
So, now you know where Luxembourg is located, why spend time there? Let’s look at a number of reasons why. It is probable that most visitors will be on their way to somewhere else, either on a tour or a driving vacation. Don’t rush in and out. You may regret it. In brief, on travel to Luxembourg, the attractions are its architecture, its history, its culture, and its gastronomy. And if you venture outside of the capital, Luxembourg (the capital and the country have the same name), you can enjoy scenic, picturesque countryside, amazing forests, fortresses and castles, and some small but fascinating towns.
To use a common but apt phrase, Luxembourg, the city, has an old world charm. First, geographically, it is situated within the deep gorges of two rivers. Second, it is one of Europe’s most scenic capitals, earning its centre an award as a UNESCO World Heritage site. One of its major claims to fame lies in its medieval fortifications originally built in the 10th century, albeit, largely dismantled in the 19th century. The most interesting parts of the fortress have survived, along with a 23 kilometre/14 mile long network of underground galleries called the Bock Casemates, first constructed in 1644. This tunnel network includes a dungeon, a prison, and the Archaeological Crypt, considered the city’s birthplace. You can walk along the top of the ramparts of the fortifications and enjoy some dramatic views of the city below.
Another major site on a Luxembourg vacation is the Grand Ducal Palace, built in 1572 and surrounded by charming cobblestone lanes which now houses the Grand Duke’s office, part of which is used by the Luxembourg parliament. The facade of the palace is exquisite, designed in the Flemish Renaissance style of the 16th century. Inside, which can be visited, are the ceremonial rooms, a medieval cum gothic dining room, and gilded staircases. Unfortunately, the palace is only open during the summer months.
There are two major churches in the city. The Notre Dame Cathedral was built in the early 1600s and is noted for its distinctive black spires, its ornate renaissance portal and its 19th- and 20th-century stained glass windows which contrast interestingly with the rest of the 17th-century church. The Neumunster Abbey is a 17th-century Benedictine abbey which has bronze statues created by an artist named Lucien Wercollier, who in 1942 refused to create Aryan artworks and was imprisoned by the Nazis in this building.
A square which must be visited on a Luxembourg vacation is the Place Guillaume II, situated at the heart of Luxembourg’s historic Ville Haute quarter. This elegant square is ringed by trees and houses the Luxembourg City Hall which was built in 1838, and the statue of the former Grand Duke William ll, after whom the square is named. The square also has a number of fine dining establishments. Every Saturday, there is a colourful market selling food and flowers.
Another pleasant venue is the Place d’Armes in the old town, once a military parade ground, hence the name. In 1944, this was where the people of Luxembourg welcomed its liberators. It is surrounded by cafes and restaurants and in the summer, the bandstand here holds musical concerts. There are a few statues of notable Luxembourgers including two national poets to look at. Twice a month, there is a flea market, and in December, a Christmas market.
The Adolphe Bridge, a striking sight in Luxembourg, was erected between 1900 and 1903 during the rule of Grand Duke Adolphe. This event aroused great interest from abroad because the bridge had the largest stone arch in the world at the time. The big double arch spans 85 metres/275 feet across a valley.
Another venue which might appeal to visitors on travel to Luxembourg is the US Military Cemetery which contains over 5000 US military who died in the 2nd World War. This includes the famous and venerated General Patton, who played an important role in the liberation of Luxembourg.
Luxembourg City Neighbourhoods
For those who like to explore local neighbourhoods, they should head to Grund, on the banks of the Alzette River. It is reached by an elevator that moves through a cliff into the river valley. Apart from being a picturesque area, it is a popular place for locals to hang out and enjoy the pubs and restaurants to be found here. You can have a pleasant stroll through the narrow streets stopping at one of the numerous cafes or boutique stores.
Kirchberg is a residential-business district popularly known as the “European Quarter,” due to the various European Union institutions situated here, including the European Court of Justice, European Court of Auditors, parts of the European Commission, the Secretariat of the European Parliament, the European Investment Bank, and the European School of Luxembourg. It also contains the Philharmonie Luxembourg, which is Luxembourg’s national concert hall with its remarkable contemporary architecture and fantastic acoustics, MUDAM, a museum of modern art, and the reconstructed Fort Thungen, formerly a part of Luxembourg City’s fortifications.
If you are a museum buff on a Luxembourg vacation, there are a number of good museums. There is the General Patton Museum (Historical exhibition of the events of the Second World War and documentation on the life of General Patton), the Battle of the Bulge (Second World War 1944/5) in nearby Clervaux, the Luxembourg City Art Gallery (Dutch painting from the 17th century, French historical and landscape art from the 19th century and paintings, sculptures and engravings by European artists from the 17th to the 19th Century), the Contemporary Art Gallery, the National Museum of Natural History, the Carriage Museum ( a collection of historic carriages of different kinds), and the Victor Hugo House Literary Museum (a restored mansion where the famous French poet and novelist, Victor Hugo, lived with exhibits of painting, texts and personal possessions of the author who spent several months there in 1871 during his exile). There are numerous other museums, and considering the size of the country, culture is very much alive and well in Luxembourg.
If you decide to explore other parts of the country on a Luxembourg vacation, and you should, there are some places which will offer you an interesting visit. First up is charming Echternach, the oldest city in Luxembourg with its narrow streets, fortified walls dating back to the 10th century, old houses, and a medieval town centre where you will find the 15th-century Town Hall and an attractive market square. The renowned basilica of the Abbey of Echternach is where the country’s patron saint, Willibrord is buried. There are also the remains of a Roman Villa excavated as recently as 1975.
The Hopping Procession in Echternach is a totally unique event. It is also entitled “The Dancing Procession of Echternach,” held in June and is described as “Three steps forward; three steps back.” So, presumably, it goes nowhere, fast. It begins with a sermon delivered by the parish priest after which the procession then travels through town to a basilica 1.5 kilometres/1 mile away. The participants wave white handkerchiefs while dancing or hopping from left to right. When they somehow arrive at the church, there are prayers and a benediction to conclude this event. It is on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity! This event dates back almost 1000 years so it can be excused for having no idea why it actually is performed this way.
Just outside of Echternach is Mullerthal, also known as “Little Switzerland,” due to its surrounds of hilly landscape, dense forests, and numerous streams. The Mullerthal Trail takes the experienced hiker through 112 kilometres/70 miles of magnificent valley trails which include rock formations with odd-sounding names such as Piteschkummer, Geyerslay, and Hohllay, to name only a few.
In the south-east of the country, there is Remich on the left bank of the Moselle River, surrounded on all sides by vineyards, a great place to enjoy a gourmet meal paired with local wines.
The romantic village of Vianden has a stunning fortress, the medieval Beaufort Castle, constructed between the 11th and 14th centuries, one of the most beautiful Romanesque-Gothic castles in Europe. It is perched on top of a hill but can be reached by chairlift. It is surrounded by forests and a lake with swans, making it look like a fairytale castle. Vianden is a good place to enjoy a drink at one of its pleasant cafes.
So, there you have it. Don’t ignore the chance to experience a Luxembourg vacation. You won’t regret it if you spend time there.