March 2020 meant free movement for everyone in the richest country in Europe – the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Nestled between France, Belgium and Germany, this small landlocked country is surrounded by a mountainous landscape and has a wealth of culture, history and wildlife all packed into a country the size of Oxfordshire.
And the city, just an hour’s flight from the UK, has undergone massive changes as it struggles to maintain its position as a major player in the European Union.
There’s never been a better time to enjoy a short city break. Then grab your free pass and view the highlights.
Currently, 170,000 commuters from neighboring Belgium, France and Germany arrive in Luxembourg every morning, and this number is expected to triple over the next 40 years.
To combat the effects of climate change, a sleek new Spanish tram system has been introduced with stylish illuminated seats that transport you neatly and quickly through the city. Cars connecting a funicular and a giant panoramic elevator may be a thing of the past.
Tip: A hive of activity for thousands of commuters, the central station also features a huge mosaic window depicting the city’s skyline and an artistic ceiling that welcomes workers important to Luxembourg’s economy.
Luxembourg old town
One thing Luxembourgers want to keep is their historic center and its beautiful architecture. You can walk for hours past beautifully maintained buildings, quiet squares and ancient bridges.
One of the most impressive bridges is the 16th-century Palace of the Grand Duke, the former residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. It is now used for state functions and weddings and has its own guards. It is guarded by three lampposts with golden faces bent inwards, best seen at night, the middle one even winking mischievously.
The Adolphe Bridge is a double decker arch bridge and a great landmark if you get lost. Go through it and you’ll see what looks like a large castle, but it’s actually a savings bank.
Kazematten du Bock – a military labyrinth
Luxembourg has seen quite a few battles over the centuries and is known for its medieval fortress that protected it from enemies.
You can go underground and explore the 17km labyrinth of stone tunnels that make up the Casemates de Bock. During WW1 and WW2 it was an important refuge for local residents and soldiers.
Kirchberg region – Money, money
The Kirchberg district is connected to the old part by the Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge. It’s home to the Court of Justice of the EU, housed in two gilded James Bond-esque skyscrapers, and it’s also home to the new currency courtesy of massive global banks.
The city’s wealth is best illustrated by the imposing tall banker’s statue that stands at the entrance to the banking district. It was created in 2002 by a group of German artists called “Inges Idee”.
It stands eight meters high in front of Deka Bank and symbolizes progress, victory and an optimistic future.
He has a man-sized waist, but wears size 96 shoes and is immaculately dressed.
The Pfaffenthal area – A glassy view
Thanks to EU funds, the traditional Pfaffenthal area at the foot of the Alzette valley has been able to connect to the capital via a huge glass lift that takes you 71 meters up in seconds and offers beautiful views of the verdant valley.
Down in the Pfaffenthal area are old houses, restaurants and retirement homes that look like castles, so beautiful! Rents are high in this area, with a small apartment costing more than €1,500 per month.
Schueberfouer Amusement Park – Magical fun
Every August and September, locals visit the Schueberfouer amusement park, a traditional event that started in 1340 after it was founded by John the Blind, Count of Luxembourg. He is buried in the crypt of nearby Notre Dame Cathedral, and the exhibit shows how the fair has evolved from the wooden coasters and strongman competitions to the modern attractions of today.
The City Museum of Luxembourg has a wonderful exhibition in the amusement park, showcasing strange and wonderful amusements through the ages
Monument to Gelle Fra – The Golden Lady
In 1923, the Gëlle Fra monument was erected in memory of the Luxembourgers who lost their lives during the First World War. High in the sky, the woman initially stared at the city. In 1940 the Germans demolished the statue, but in 1984.
Food and traditions
Luxembourgers take their influences from France and Germany in their love of food, and the traditional part of the city is full of lovely old-fashioned butchers, pastry and chocolate shops and numerous restaurants.
Place d’Armes is a good example, with fast food on one side and a Michelin star restaurant on the other – in fact 8 restaurants together have 12 Michelin stars. Traditional dishes include delicious hams, potato cakes, sausages and high-sugar cakes.
With the newly launched Hop-on Hop-Off bus, you can escape the city relatively easily and travel a few kilometers to the most beautiful landscapes of Luxembourg towards the green Ardennes.
Nestled within the cliffs is one of the country’s finest castles, Vianden, which dates back to the 11th century and is one of the largest castles west of the Rhine. It was the seat of the influential Counts of Vianden until the beginning of the 15th century. He had close ties to the French royal family and the German imperial court. From then on, it was inherited by the House of Nassau. In 1820, during the reign of the Dutch king William I, the castle was sold piece by piece and fell into disrepair.
It was saved by the state in 1977 and restored to its former glory. When you get there from the cable car station, you take a nice walk through the forest.
FLIGHTS: Several airlines, including easyjet.com, ba.com and the national airline luxair.lu, fly to Luxembourg Airport.
BY TRAIN: Interrail
You can buy a world pass that gives you unlimited train travel in 31 countries. Costs start at £146.00 for 3 days within one month
ACCOMMODATION: Hotel Vauban is a traditional family-run hotel in the historic center on the beautiful Place Guillaume and is convenient to all attractions. The rooms and apartments have a wonderful view of Notre Dame Cathedral and you will be woken up by the beautiful ringing of the church bells. Old-fashioned table service is on hand to ensure that a delicious continental breakfast of pastries and specialty pastries is washed down with a freshly squeezed orange and good coffee.
You can also try the stylish Le Royal, which is within walking distance of all the city’s attractions and offers a gourmet restaurant.
TAKE AWAY: Luxembourg’s map is a great way to see all that’s on offer, and until the new free transport system comes into effect in March, it means you can travel for free. All options are available at www.luxembourgcard.lu and www.seightseeing.lu
EXCURSIONS: You can join several excursions. Check them out here.