Let’s start with a confession: We knew very little about Luxembourg before we stepped foot in the country. Measuring at just less than 1,000 square miles and landlocked between France, Belgium, and Germany, Luxembourg ironically has learned to become quite the chameleon in order to set it apart from its bigger neighbors.
Depending on what part of the country you’re in, you’ll hear multiple dialects of muddled French, German, and Luxembourgish. It’s the same with the food. You might devour crepes or piping hot fries in The City (what the locals commonly refer to as the capital, also named Luxembourg), but after a 40-minute drive northeast you can enjoy a plate of schnitzel. And while the country has adopted the tastes and tongues of its neighbors, it has a history and culture that is distinctly its own.
It was early afternoon when we disembarked our bus at the capital’s main train station and became aware that we had quite a challenge ahead of us. With a mere 48 hours in the country, our activities had to be chosen carefully. We pulled out a map of Luxembourg and began marking the spots we knew we couldn’t miss.
Our plan was to start in the heart of the country, the capital. Our Luxembourg digs for two nights, the boutique Hotel Simoncini, offered a central location near official government buildings, bustling shopping streets, and the quirky hipster parts of town.
The capital city of Luxembourg is just as diverse as the rest of the country but there’s a strong dichotomy between old and new. For example, the fortified medieval Old Town is dotted with the new Vel’Oh (city bike) stations. At the same time, the city boasts structures that date back more than 1,000 years and a budding hipster scene.
Viewfinder Tip: One of the best ways to explore Luxembourg is on a bicycle. Vel’Oh stations are found throughout the city. The first thirty minutes are free.
We spent our first evening in Luxembourg by mixing a little new and old. Over coffee. We found a piping hot cup of joe at Konrad Cafe & Bar, located a short walk from our hotel. The cafe is as hipster as they come with mounted stag heads, quirky recycled furniture, and a vegan menu.
From there, with bellies full of vegan curry and coffee, we headed to the Bock casemates. These subterranean defense passages (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) were built in 1644 and helped protect a fortified castle built by Count Seigfried 963. They also helped seal Luxembourg’s title of the “Gibraltar of the North.” These days, visitors can wander through the tunnels and even catch a concert down there. A number of caves in the tunnel system also now double as art galleries.
Inside the casemates
After our tour of the casemates, we meandered around the city, taking in the historical buildings and stunning architecture. We even had a few minutes to sit in one of the central squares and people-watch as the sun began to set.
We spent the following day and a half outside Luxembourg city. A forty-minute bus ride found us in Echternach, a spot often referred to as “Luxembourg’s Little Switzerland,” and the oldest town in the country. We frolicked along the Mullerthal Trail, visited the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Willibrord, and peered across the river at neighboring Germany. This was a charming town and we easily could have spent our entire time there.
We spent our last few hours in Luxembourg on the road as part of an attempt to pay respects to fallen American soldiers and chase a few of the castles for which the country is known. The American Military Cemetery is the resting place of more than 5,070 American soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the Battle of the Bulge during the World War II. We paid our respects as we walked through the multitude of white crosses. Interestingly, General George S. Patton survived this battle only to be killed in a car accident years later. Before his death, he requested that he be buried alongside his men. His grave sits at the front of the lawn between two flagpoles, overlooking the crosses of his fellow comrades.
The commanding Vianden castle
With only a few hours to spare, we quickly made our way to the feudal castle of Vianden. A chairlift offers the best views of the castle, and our decision to opt out of the ride down allowed us to hike to the fortress to explore at a closer angle. This prominent castle dates back to the 9th century and is located in one of the most picturesque towns we’ve ever seen.
One thing we learned from our time in Luxembourg: Size isn’t everything. The country may be small, but there’s no shortage of coffee, culture, and castles. If we could change one thing from our time there, it would be to prolong our stay by a few more days.
What’s the smallest country that you have been to?