By Joseph Francis
Just half a million people and 2,500 square kilometers make up the tiny little Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. And while this tight-knit nation on the edge of the European Low Countries remains one of the smallest on the continent, its regal past, lax tax laws and booming centre stage position in the theatre of modern European politics means it can tell tales of everything from Holy Roman Emperors to WWII conflicts to UNESCO heritage and plenty, plenty more besides. Yes sir, if you’re thinking of heading to this multilingual enclave in the heart of the continent this year, then be sure to check out this Luxembourg travel guide, which lists all of the country’s top sights, activities and experiences, from the enchanting riverside districts of its bluff-perched capital to its haunting Gothic castles and beautiful woodland backcountry.
Uncover medieval history at Bourscheid Castle
Crowning the rolling hillsides of the River Sûre valley in northern Luxembourg, this majestic and formidable citadel dating to the year 1000 remains one of the best-preserved medieval relics in the region. It actually stands on an older fortification with roots going back to Roman times, while the structure seen today is a fairy-tale medley of turrets and keeps, arched gateways and daunting battlements that’s something of the epitome of the European Gothic-Romanesque style. Today, travellers can scale the castle hill and enjoy guided audio tours of the complex that chronicle the rise and fall of the Bourscheid name and the dynastic families it spawned, while others will wait around for the evening, when the whole citadel is lit up gloriously over the rolling forests below.
Wander the fairy-tale Barrio Grund
A charming and fairy-tale conglomeration of half-timbered Germanic homes, Francophone architecture and looming Gothic church spires, all crisscrossed by narrow cobbled streets and dotted with the occasional open square and beer tavern, the Barrio Grund of Luxembourg City continues to draw in visitors with its beautiful appearance and pretty riverside location on the edge of the winding Alzette. Away from the more straight-laced cathedral district and political hub of the capital, the quarter is famed for its lively array of cocktail joints and restaurants, and can be accessed via a staircase carved into the city’s central bluff.
See the sobering memorials at the US Military Cemetery
First opened in 1944, while WWII raged on in the Ardennes, Rhineland and Wallonia nearby, the iconic American Cemetery and Memorial on the outskirts of Luxembourg City is unquestionably one of the nation’s must-see sights. It covers a whopping 50 acres of land between the forests of the Hamm quarter, hosting the graves of 5,076 American soldiers (many of which were victims of the Battle of the Bulge) and a collection of striking monuments to the conflicts that overtook Europe and Luxembourg in the first half of the century. Also on-site is the famous grave of US General George S. Patton Jr, whose wish to be buried with his men was granted after he suffered a fatal accident in Germany in 1945.
Go wine tasting in the Moselle Valley
Straddling the border with Germany to the east, the Moselle Valley is famed right across the globe for its verdant hillsides and pretty landscapes, all packed with vineyards and tree-topped hills. The Moselle River itself delineates the region, which runs for almost 40 kilometers around the towns of Schengen and Grevenmacher, while a small but refined selection of cellar doors and wineries forms Luxembourg’s only major wine region on the western banks. Riesling and Pinot Gris are among the most popular grapes grown, and many of the sellers offer guided tours and tasting sessions on-site at their wineries. If you’re travelling here in May, be sure to check out the Pentecost Open Wine Cellars weekend, when many of the local distilleries host music, culture and wine-related events.
Hit the walking trails of the Ardennes
While perhaps more closely associated with Belgium to the north, the undulating valleys and dense forests of the Ardennes also extend deep into Luxembourg territory, offering outdoorsy types and adventurers the perfect escape from the city. With countless stretches of marked and well-maintained hiking trails crisscrossing the region, hiking here is suited to everyone from beginners to expert Nordic walkers. Trails weave their way through misty forests, past the pretty Upper Sûre Lake, where locals swim, canoe, go fishing and sunbathe on the banks by summer, and up to windswept escarpments that command sweeping views of the Ardennes valleys. And for the most intrepid of travellers, there are even trails like the Escapardenne, which weaves over the border into Belgium, passing quaint villages and pretty backcountry as it goes.
Get cultural in the museums and galleries
Most all Luxembourg tour guides will recommend travellers to the capital of the Grand Duchy hit the appropriately-named Museumsmile, which runs through the heart of the city and offers up a whopping collection of no fewer than seven museums and art galleries. These range from the elegant neoclassical facades of the Villa Vauban – bursting with totemic works from the Dutch Golden Age - to the Musée Dräi Eechelen (or Three Acorns Museum), which chronicles the city’s history through the middle ages to the modern day from within the fully restored rooms of the Austrian-built Fort Thüngen. The Museumsmile is also notably home to the Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (or MUDAM for short), where works by the likes of Warhol and Daniel Buren meet between the exhibition spaces.
Other ideas for a great Luxembourg holiday
Of course the above is just a taster of what this fascinating country offers. Travellers here should be sure to plan at least a week on the ground if they want to make the most of all the other hotspots that abound between Luxembourg City and the beautiful backcountry sites. For example, there’s always the rugged landscapes of the Mullerthal Region to explore, complete with the ancient town of Echternach and medieval Trappist monasteries. Then there’s the wealth of farmer’s markets touting frothy Luxembourgish lagers, Miel luxembourgeois (the famed national honey) and mouth-watering quetschentaart. And that’s not even mentioning the totemic political institutions of the European Union that lurk on the periphery of the city!
Joseph ‘Rich’ Francis is a freelance travel writer who has travelled extensively in Asia and Europe. He particularly enjoys the jazz bars of Poland, the ski slopes of Austria and the beaches and cities of India.
Image Details and Licenses: https://flic.kr/p/5iUVXc (Archangelus Gabriel, CC BY-NC 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/ckqZqo (Tristan Schmurr, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/koxrHk (Dennis Jarvis, CC BY-SA 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/CpoNYn (Shearings Holidays, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/njC25v (Roman Boed, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/eewLqr (Harshil Shah, CC BY-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/6FzKip (Alessandro Prada, CC BY-SA 2.0)