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  • Jennifer

Luxembourg: A Small Country with Big Charm

Updated: May 2

On our way from Kitzbuhel, Austria to Paris we decided to stop for a week in the tiny country of Luxembourg. After a quick two hour train ride to Munich, and a one hour flight to Luxembourg City, we found ourselves in a magical medieval city built amid deep gorges formed by the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers.


Tucked in a corner between Belgium, Germany, and France, Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in Europe and also one of the least populated, with fewer than 700,000 residents. This little country is quite prosperous though, in fact it has the highest GDP per capita in the world, according the the IMF. Although it's small in size, it has a rich history and is the only remaining Duchy in Europe. Henri, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, has reigned since 2000.


While we were there we got to see the royal family up close when a police motorcade escorted a car carrying royal members right past us on the street. Inside the car they were dressed in full formal military regalia, and it was pretty neat to see traffic stopped and intersections closed off as they drove by.


There are many castles to visit in Luxembourg and because the bus system is free throughout the country, they are easy to get to. There are the Beaufort castles, the Vianden Castle, and the Wiltz Castle, to name a few. But you don't need to leave the capital city, aptly named Luxembourg City, to see the home of the Grand Duke, the Grand Ducal Palace. It's located right in the center of the old town and remains the official residence of the grand ducal family. In fact, there are no fences or barricades outside the palace, you can walk right up to it, but there are some pretty fancy soldiers protecting the entrance so we didn't try to knock on the door and say hello!


Luxembourg has an interesting (and turbulent) history, to say the least. It's one of the reasons that there are three languages spoken here: German, French, and Luxembourgish, the national language. We aren't going to give you a history lesson, but Luxembourg was constantly under attack in the past: Germany, France, and even the Netherlands all wanted to rule this little piece of Europe. You can tell that Luxembourg was at the center of a tug of war between countries because Luxembourg city feels like one massive fortress! In fact, Luxembourg City is one of Europe's greatest fortified sites.


The city was repeatedly reinforced as European powers passed it from one to another; from the Holy Roman Emperors, the House of Burgundy, the Habsburgs, the French and Spanish kings, and finally to the Prussians.


It's no wonder that visiting here feels like stepping back in time.


But this complicated history has resulted in a stunning city that has beautiful architecture around every corner, gorgeous views, and incredible food. Of course, anyone who wants to walk around the city quickly realizes how difficult it was for invaders to take this city - it's one big hill!

Every day as we walked along the river we could look up and see the Bock Casemates, a complex of subterranean tunnels that were once part of one of the most formidable medieval fortresses in Europe. You can visit the Casemates and follow some of the 14 miles of tunnels built below the fortress. Way back then the tunnels included artillery slots, workshops, kitchens and barracks for 1200 soldiers, but today it's a great way to get a unique view of the Grund, which is the lower town in the city, below the city center.


They call the Grund the fairy tale district, and it's easy to understand why...it's magical! There are lots of cute restaurants and bars in the Grund, and its actually where we stayed while visiting so we got to stroll along the Alzette river every day on our adventures. It's also where we noticed a purple mermaid sculpture along the banks of the river. It wasn't until we visited the Casemates, however, that we learned the history of the mermaid. According to legend, Melusina, the wife of the first count of Luxembourg, demanded that her husband not see her during a specific day and night of the week. Of course, eventually he couldn't resist finding out why, and when he looked through the keyhole of Melusina's room he discovered her in the bath...and she had a fish tail! When Melusina realized her husband was watching her, she vanished forever into the Alzette river. She sure taught him a lesson about being too nosy for your own good!


The historic city center, Ville Haute, is high above the Grund, but if you don't feel like walking up, there are two elevators to transport you there quickly and without getting out of breath. In fact, the Pfaffenthal Panoramic Elevator connects the Ville Haute with Pfaffenthal, in the Alzette valley below. This free glass elevator offers sweeping views of the lower city, so it's a great way to go up, up, up! There is wonderful shopping, lots of beautiful little stone streets to stroll, and a pretty square (the Place d'Armes) in the old town area of Ville Haute. And the food, wow, does Luxembourg have great food! After a month in Austria, the sight of fresh seafood stopped us in our tracks, which is how we ended up at Brasserie Guillaume on our first night. One side of the restaurant faces a lovely square and one side is a huge window filled with fresh seafood. We couldn't resist, and everything, from the oysters to the dessert, was amazing! Of course, the city's French influence means there are plenty of pastries to indulge in wherever you go.


There are sites to see in the old town, including Notre Dame Cathedral, the Grand Ducal Palace, the Place de la Constitution (where the Monument of Remembrance is located), and Edmund Klein Park. Museums are free in Luxembourg city, and we visited the Nationalmusée um Fëschmaart (National Art History Museum), which covers the archaeology, history, and art of Luxembourg. The basement starts with the earliest human history of the area and as you go up from one floor to the next you enter a new phase in the country's history, it was pretty cool!


The Monument of Remembrance, which was conceived in 1918, has an interesting backstory (and a beautiful location overlooking the Pétrusse River).


The original monument base featured two bronze sculptures of fallen soldiers and an obelisk with a gilded statue on top, the Gëlle Fra (Golden Lady). During the German occupation, German administrators demanded that the memorial be dismantled and demolished, and during this process the Gëlle Fra fell and broke. The two bronze soldiers were saved, though, and, after the liberation of Luxembourg by the Allies, they were returned to their rightful spot. But it wasn't until 1981 that the remains of Gëlle Fra were found under the stands of the national soccer stadium! In 1984, the complete statue was rebuilt, and that's what we see today.

Luxembourg city is small, so we easily saw everything we wanted to during our week there. But, even more than the sites, we most enjoyed just strolling the streets, walking along the river and climbing to different views of the city, enjoying local music and food at quaint bars (we loved Scott's Pub in the Grund), and absorbing the rich history of this country. From Luxembourg City we were catching a train to Paris, an easy ride that's just over three hours.


If you're visiting Paris and want a beautiful side trip for a few days, we highly recommend you jump on a train and head to this gorgeous country. Although Luxembourg's small size can mean that it's often overlooked as a destination when visiting Europe, it's so easy to get to, can be appreciated in just a few days, and is very worth the trip! Don't miss this small country with big charm.


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Enjoy a taste of our travels with drink recipes on Instagram - Worldwide.Cocktails.

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