I’m currently based in Zürich and had a few days’ off of work for the All Saints’ Day long holiday. I had never been to Liechtenstein (is that a thing?) and so figured why not! I didn’t really know that much about this tiny landlocked nation before visiting – I knew there was a Prince and had heard about it being a friendly billionaire tax-haven. After spending a few days in this country, sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, I can attest to it being absolutely lovely, and very worth a visit.
To get to the capital city, Vaduz, I took a train from Zürich HB to Sargans, right on the Swiss border and then a bus to Vaduz, Post (quite central). The commute was stunning and I could hardly stop filming out the window – leaving Switzerland, the train passed Walensee with its beautiful turquoise color and quaint sailboats bobbing in the wind, and then once I switched to the bus, the scenery switched to magnificent snowcapped alps. The entire trip only took about 1.5 hours , which was very reachable and even more convenient than several trips I’ve taken within Switzerland!
As it turns out, Vaduz is basically all things pleasant about cute European cities – quaint, pleasantly walkable, nice restaurants, (very) artsy, clean, organized, and photogenic. Not having known what to expect before going, I was pleasantly surprised and certainly happy that I went ahead and made the trip.
Not knowing exactly where the most poppin part of town was when I made an extremely last minute booking, I ended up in a hotel just across the town border in Triesen (only about 20 min walk from downtown Vaduz). The Meierhof Hotel was super comfy, snuggly and the perfect little nest for a few days of exploring Vaduz.
I only spent one night in Liechtenstein and for two partial days of exploring, feel that I saw Vaduz fairly thoroughly. I started with a delicious Italian lunch at Amarone, then headed to see Schloss Vaduz (Vaduz Castle), the current permanent residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein and family.
After stalking the Prince for a while, I continued on through the old part of Vaduz to the Red House, which was built in 1338 and is famous mostly for its color but has also passed ownership various times throughout the years and centuries… as one would hope.
Walking down from the Red House through the old town (Mitteldorf area of Vaduz) was very peaceful and the perfect place to experience a gorgeous sunset, with quaint vineyards of Red House and other small abodes in the foreground and Vaduz Castle, standing in front of impressive alpine peaks as a backdrop to purple billowing clouds.
By the time sun had set, my exploring day had just about come to an end and I made it my mission to stop only twice on the way back to the hotel – at the chocolate shop Dolce, (you need this chocolate in your life) and at the Mövenpick wine store (also has wine-tasting available!). I actually made three stops by mistake, as I ended up buying shoes on the way home (eye roll) – they are warm comfy boots, how can you go wrong?!
After a solid night’s sleep and a lovely breakkie at Hotel Meierhof, I set out for exploring day 2, but with a different agenda in mind. I headed directly for Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, the 10 year old modern and contemporary art museum that houses a thoroughly interesting collection, largely comprising of the provate collection of the Principality of Liecthtenstein. The architecture of the building itself is quite renown for its “great structural complexity and and discreet simplicity,” built by Swiss architects and contributing significantly to the overall aesthetic of this central pedestrian street of Vaduz.
At the time of my visit, the featured exhibition was Yuri Albert’s Elitist Democratic Art. This exhibition is the Russian-born artist’s first comprehensive solo exhibit outside of Russia. [In this series the artist contrasts the language of art with the languages of blind or deaf people or also the terminology of sailors and stenographers in order to analyse the individual semiotic systems and the system of art as a whole, their comprehensibility and accessibility. The museum visitor is always an interlocutor in these studies of the relationship between artwork and interpretation, image and text, visibility and invisibility, original and copy. Yuri Albert’s works draw us into a dialogue with and about art, inviting us to ponder the status of art: elitist or democratic.]
After absorbing (or not understanding anything as likely intended this time) of the delicous modern art, I set about buying a few souveneirs with my last hours in Liechtenstein. I visited the main souvenier shop that was open, as Hoi was closed for the public holiday. For souvenir hunters, you needn’t look further than this pedestrian walk, as the Landesmuseum Liechtenstein also has a unique selection, and further up the road, Nimrod AG turns the “traditional to fashionable” with dirndls and lederhosen – Oktoberfest plans, anyone??
For the museum fanatics, there are multiple museums precisely in this area of Vaduz, including the Landesmuseum (country history), Postmuseum (post office, stamps and related history) and various others. I was super content with my dose of contemporary and modern art in the morning, and after grabbing a cold Alpenlager at my hotel, was ready to head out for a leisurely return to Zürich.
Overall – Liechtenstein is just precious. Would I prioritize coming back every year? – maybe not, but if you’re wondering whether it is “worth” visiting (on a super packed Eurotrip, for example), I would say it is! If you are in the area and it is relatively convenient and not extremely expensive to get to, I would 100% recommend this tiny and fabulous mountain nation.
LIECHTENSTEIN IN A FLASH:
Where to stay: Hotel Maierhof
What to do: Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz Castle, Walk through old town (downtown), Red House
Where to eat/drink: Local vineyards, Mövenpick Wine Outlet, Dolce, Amarone
Feeling cooped up with city life, or simply craving some crisp mountain air? Mount Rigi is the perfect getaway that you can do in one day (or even just a morning/afternoon), and without any special planning or gear. Trains from Zürich HB leave every hour straight to Arth Goldau station, from where the Rigi train departs. Ride the tiny blue train for about 40 minutes uphill at a snail pace, taking in some truly gorgeous views on the way up.
I decided on a whim to visit Mount Rigi one afternoon and took the 2:09PM train from Züruch HB, so I arrived at the end station (Rigi Kulm) just before 4PM. This gave me a few hours to walk around the small peak grassy area and take in the stunning panoramic views of the hills and lakes below, and alpine peaks in the background, before sunset around 6:30PM (in October).
At the top of Rigi Kulm there is a full restaurant that is part of a hotel and it seems to serve proper hot meals all day (it was closed by the time we went but again, it was close to 6PM) – but you can still buy sandwiches, chips, drinks and snacks. We sat on the outdoor patio built like a jetty to jut out over the hill with a beautiful view of the mountains and facing the setting sun.
After having a snack, we made our way down past the wooden lounge chairs to the edge of the fence to witness the stunning golden glow of a magical sunset.
I took this opportunity to test out a few different DSLR settings, but because I struggle with technology, I think some of my iPhone pics might have turned out better – I’ll let you be the judge of that.
The views from up here – and the sunset – are things I could never ever get sick of and it makes me think twice about city life. This is a perfect place to getaway from the hustle and bustle for a bit, even just for a few hours. Take your mind off things, breathe some fresh mountain air and let your soul drink in the beauty of this amazing planet. If you want to make it a longer trip, even for several days, there are several hotels in the area and plenty of daytime activities to keep you and your family busy!
Golden hour at Mount Rigi
There are several trains down for those of you that wish to catch the sunset (highly recommended if you’re already there during the afternoon!!!) I took the 7:00PM train, which sadly no longer connects directly to Arth Goldau, so the way back to Zürich HB involves two middle of nowhere bus connections and then a train, but as with all trips in Switzerland – my recommendation is to simply trust the SBB app to plan your trip, and make sure you have decent phone battery on the way down!
Any chance you’ve recently drooled over pictures of Canada’s Banff National Park? For very good reason; the stunning turquoise of the glacial lakes, like Lake Louise, is enough to make me want to go right now. Well, I can interestingly say that I’ve found the lake’s European TWIN, in Switzerland! Let me convince you of the likeness with a couple (ok, a TON) of photos.
Gelmersee is a hydroelectric reservoir held by a dam that was constructed in 1932. The “lake” can be reached by taking the Gelmerbahn, a ride of duration 8-10 minutes with a maximum inclination of 106%! According to a map posted at the lake’s entrance, it can also be reached by foot via a hiking trail (in red, below). One can also continue hiking further upwards to reach the Gelmerhütte, a lookout point above the lake.
Gelmersee is an excellent place for a quiet hike and to enjoy the spectacular natural beauty of the glacial water. There is a hiking trail around the entire lake, which takes about two full hours to complete with some stops. If you plan to take 3489283 photos like I did or want extra time to sit and enjoy the views every once and a while, maybe have a picnic halfway on one of the large flat rocks that are perfect for sitting and relaxing, it would be best to allow several hours up at the lake. It is important to plan your visit ahead because there is limited space on the Gelmerbahn and tickets sell out, especially in summer and during nice weather. Read more here about how to plan your trip and riding the Gelmerbahn.
Starting the hike around Gelmersee – The trail is quite rocky in places and narrow in others (at one point, there is a rope to hang on to for extra balance and security), so it is recommended to bring sturdy walking/hiking shoes with good soles and be relatively sure-footed if you plan to do the whole hike. It is relatively flat, so not very strenuous.
For me, this little piece of the world is a slice of heaven on earth, and I could honestly happily stay here for hours and hours and hours, hiking around the lake again and again, staring into the turquoise water and pondering my existence… alas, I had only booked 2.5 hours at the top before our return trip on the Gelmerbahn, so we had to really make every minute count – which we did!!
Needless to say, Gelmersee has earned a permanent spot on my life’s repeat bucket list, if that’s even a thing (you know, those absolute favorite places you simply must visit, perhaps at least once a year or every few months even?!) The dream is to visit this place in summer – even though I doubt anyone dares to swim in the ice cold glacial waters, I could totally get involved with sunbathing and reading on a rock all day, minus a few layers.
Tips for visiting Gelmersee:
Sure, Detusche Bahn is fantastic – (read: Deutsche Bahn is fantastic when your train shows up on time, leaves the station on time, does not stop intermittently during your journey for no apparent reason, and indeed arrives at your intended destination, also relatively on time). Beyond this, WIFI functionality is a blessing, not a given (sorry business commuters) and a seat? Good luck finding vacancy on that 4pm train from Munich to Frankfurt, and even if you do, better not put in your earphones yet, for you will most likely soon hear an indignant “das ist doch mein Platz”- classic German bluntness (aka you’re in my seat- aka get out). Hey, not blaming anyone here, but hopefully shedding a small light on the occasional struggles of DB will help all you would be Germany-explorers avoid a 6-hour train trip as a permanent hallway-floor fixture, being stepped over (on) by all who pass.
DB has become a (fond?) joke of our time and regular commutes in Germany, indeed not to sound completely disenchanted with the system- generally, the trains are indeed quite nice, comfy, and get you around pretty much anywhere and everywhere you would need to get to in the country (and sometimes beyond); DB easily and regularly connects to train providers of other countries (think France, Belgium, Switzerland, etc.) for weekend trips-galore. DB also offers perks and privileges (we’ll ignore cost for now), such as the Bahn-100 card, which allows unlimited travel throughout the country on any DB regional train or city underground. 1st class, while (annoyingly) exclusively for 1st class ticket holders (ok, fine), provides a somewhat calmer and more spacious surrounding, and perhaps the extra leg room is even worth the splurge- we’ll leave that up to you to decide. Cross your fingers for a smooth train… otherwise we advise you to hang on to your Starbucks, and trips to the bathroom? Don’t even think about it.
A few of our favorite hacks for essential DB survival:
So, with that said, we genuinely hope you enjoy your adventures in Germany! We would kindly nudge you to practice logical and smart train-station navigation, beginning with arriving early (at least 10 min before your departure time if a seasoned DB-goer, or up to 30+ min if you are 1. A newbie, 2. A baby sloth 3. Hopelessly confused (also forgiven) – you will need this extra time to wait in line at the Reisebüro for guidance or 4. Simply enjoy wandering aimlessly around (at times, the amusing) establishments that are German train stations (note: avoid heroin dealers). Look to the giant board for your train departure info (sometimes platforms change last minute or there may be delays), and if still confused, we urge you to find someone in DB uniform (usually blue or red) rather than scurrying around asking any and every one on your platform, who, to be honest, are probably either 1. Tourists, who are just as confused as you 2. May not speak the language you are trying to communicate in well enough to fully assist you 3. May give you false information, even with the best of intentions – this way, you will certainly save some time and headache.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we hope you enjoyed your trip and thank you again for choosing Deutsche Bahn” – did we really have a choice?? Oh, the irony.