I had heard all kinds of opinions about Luxembourg – none of which were particularly negative, nor excessively positive – middle of the road statements like “it’s quite small,” or “there’s not a lot to do there.” So, I decided to see for myself.
Hosted by Visit Luxembourg, the tourism agency of Luxembourg, I was able to spend a lovely three day weekend in this beautiful country. My observation? Well, it really is a lovely place, and in my opinion, definitely worth at least ONE visit!! If you really want to delve into the fascinating history and have time to see the surrounding areas (not just downtown Luxembourg City), it would be ideal to have at least one week in the country, or come back for multiple trips. Also, having visited in early December, I am a huge advocate for the pre-Christmas time given the spectacular Christmas markets that Luxembourg puts on, though I would also love to see it in the spring/summer months.
Let me bring you along on my little Luxembourg journey…
Christmas time in Luxembourg is a magical time
I arrived to Luxembourg City by train from Switzerland on a Friday evening and it was just beginning to get dark. As with many European train stations, Gare Luxembourg is absolutely beautiful, and quite unique from anything else I’ve seen thus far. The city is well-connected by public transport (mostly bus in the downtown area), so a quick bus brought us to our hotel – Hotel Vauban, located directly on the Place Guillaume in the heart of downtown Luxembourg City, and the perfect location as a base for exploring the city.
We passed at least two small Christmas markets and tons of shimmering lights just on the short drive from the station to our hotel, and to our very happy surprise, discovered that our hotel was not only situated in the midst of a very lively market, but that it was within 5 min walking distance of two of the other best markets in town!
We dropped our things at the hotel, which was simple, cozy and clean, and bundled up for an evening at the markets. First, we visited the market right across from our hotel, in the partially-enclosed Place Guillaume, which focused on food, drinks and fun loud music, with a gorgeously-illuminated ice skating rink and beautiful Christmas lights strewn over the buildings and sparkling from the tops of trees. We ate a typically Germanic sausage dog for dinner, preceded (and followed) by Glühwein (hot/mulled wine), the staple drink of Christmas markets and European winter season, generally.
We visited one more market before turning in for the evening, just around the corner at the Place d’Armes, which boasts a giant lighted Christmas tree and the “Lights of Luxembourg” sign. This market is significantly larger, with many stalls serving different types of food, drink (also Glühwein, of course – at this market they served it in the cute colorful boot mugs, which we of course took as souvenirs), and knickknacks of all sorts. Towards the back of the market near a carousel was a Christmas tree display featuring a variety of decorations that seem to have been done by local schoolchildren.
All things UNESCO – a city full of history
Our first morning and full day in Luxembourg was dedicated to exploring some of the most famous landmarks and historical areas of the city. The city’s fortifications and historical quarter were recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1994, and it is possible to see nearly all, if not all, of the included attractions in one afternoon of exploring. Visit Luxembourg has a recommended walking route to complete a tour of all the UNESCO sites; my path was a bit different as I wanted to experience the full mix of classic, contemporary and medieval architecture that the city has to offer.
Downtown Luxembourg City and Pont Adolphe
We explored downtown a bit to see the mix of architecture, featuring various governmental-related buildings with beautiful designs and a street lined with remarkable buildings, reminiscent of the French style. Next we visited Adolphe bridge, which is lovely from all angles and has beautiful and intriguing ruins underneath it, and several walking paths.
Notre Dame Cathedral and Casemates du Bock
Notre-Dame’s cornerstone was first laid in 1613, and after passing through various phases and different religious associations, was refurbished in neo-gothic style from 1854. The inside of the cathedral is classic and elegant, with expansive ceilings and richly colored stained glass displays. Even if you don’t have a lot of time to explore or sit inside, it is worth peeking in and open to the public (except perhaps during certain masses).
We walked from the downtown area of Notre Dame to Casemates du Bock, which led us down various quaint cobblestone alleys and past multiple styles of architecture; walking around the city really is the best way to see it properly.
A bit of history about the Casemates from Visit Luxembourg: In 963, Count Siegfried built a fortified castle on the Bock promontory, which was soon to become the cradle of the city. In the course of the centuries, on the western side, mighty ring walls were added, which, however, did not foil the Burgundians in their attempt to conquer the city in 1443. The best builder-engineers of the new masters (the Burgundians, the Spaniards, the French, the Austrians and the German Confederation) eventually turned the city into one of the most powerful emplacements in the world, the “Gibraltar of the North”. Its defences were bolstered by three fortified rings with 24 forts, 16 other strong defensive works and a unique 23 km long network of casemates: these could not only shelter thousands of soldiers and their horses, but also housed workshops, kitchens, bakeries, slaughter-houses etc. In 1867, after the declaration of neutrality,the military withdrew from the fortress and during the following 16 years 90% of the defences were demolished. In 1875, the superstructure of the Bock, a tremendous construction, was razed. However, it proved to be impossible to blow up the casemates, without also demolishing part of the city, so the entrances and the key connecting galleries were sealed. In spite of this, 17 kilometres of tunnels remain, often on different levels and tremendous stairways penetrate up to 40 metres inside the rock face.
As per the tourism website, the Casemates are open for visitation from February through November, so I had just missed the window to go inside, though even from the outside, these ancient walls and fortifications are truly fascinating to see, especially when one imagines just how old it all is, and the history behind its making.
A city of history and art
From Casemates du Bock, there is a walking route to the hill, atop which sits MUDAM, the modern art museum of Luxembourg (Musée d’art moderne Grand-Duc Jean). The strikingly modern museum sits on the site of the historical Fort Thüngen in Dräi Eechelen Park, and was inaugurated in 2006. Most of the original fortress (Thüngen) was demolished after the 1867 Treaty of London, which demanded the demolition of Luxembourg City’s numerous fortifications. The three towers and the foundations of the rest of the fort were all that remained. During the 1990s, the site was reconstructed in its entirety, in parallel with the development of the site for the construction of MUDAM. After being fully restored, the building was reopened in 2012 as Musée Dräi Eechelen.
Outside of MUDAM can currently be seen an exhibit titled “Wind Caravan” by Japanese artist Susumu Shingu, whose art is dependent upon wind to exist. His elegant sculptures are animated by the slightest breath and thereby reveal the intangible but omnipresent nature of air. Outside the museum are a set of 21 such sculptures, and inside, his “Water Tree” and various other works driven by the harmonious interactions of wind, water and light in his dedicated exhibit room.
Very near to MUDAM is the Philharmonie, an architectural marvel in itself and really beautiful to see at twilight or after dark, when it is illuminated against the night sky. We stopped by on our way to the bus stop, which took us back to our friendly neighborhood of Christmas markets for the evening.
Our last day in Luxembourg was dedicated to exploring the historical area around Casemates du Bock a bit more thoroughly, and From our hotel, we took the back way through the small alleys down towards the Grund. The Grund is technically a neighborhood of Luxembourg City, and has a very relaxed, historical (cobblestoned streets dating from the 10th century, walls from the 14th) and village-like feel to it; perfect for a quiet Sunday stroll. The path winds downhill along a very scenic route, passing by colorful and quaint houses with lovely views out over the river, Neumünster Abbey (a UNESCO building), and the river, bridges and the Casemates du Bock further in the background – the places we had explored from a new angle!
Near to the Grund is Luxembourg’s National Museum of History and Art, which typically hosts an eclectic variety of classical and historical artwork and artifacts, alongside a selection of contemporary art. This is a good museum for those that are interested in history and other cultures. At the time of my visit, the headline exhibit was about ancient Chinese civilization, a fascinating journey from the beginning of the oldest civilization in the world, through to modern times. There were also some amazing exhibits including paintings and even an exhibit dedicated to the evolution of the national currency of Luxembourg.
I am so glad that I was able to visit Luxembourg myself and experience some of its fascinating culture and history. I honestly expected to come to yet another postage stamp-sized nation with a sort of Liechtensteinien vibe – small but cute, pretty but really not much that you cannot see and do in one day. I was pleasantly surprised at the vastness of Luxembourg’s national history, its present mix of cultures, beautiful architecture and absolute mastery of the Christmas spirit… I would absolutely return for another visit, especially to see more of the surrounding countryside and villages outside of Luxembourg City.
Getting around: The Luxembourg Card, like the one I had provided by Visit Luxembourg, a travel pass which allows travel by all forms of public transport within Luxembourg and entrance into most tourist attractions and museums, is an excellent thing to have for your visit. They are available for 1, 2 or 3 days for individuals or family passes. More info and prices here.
Money: most places around the city accept credit card for typical purchases, but if you want to make smaller purchases or especially, if you visit during Christmas Market season, you’ll want to have some cash – there are plenty of ATMs around the city and Luxembourg’s currency is the Euro, so if you’re already traveling around Europe, you’re in luck!
What to see and do:
get more ideas for your trip from Visit Luxembourg!
When I visited Zürich two years ago from my base in Germany, I can’t say I was all that impressed with the city. Perhaps it was the rainy, cold gloom that had descended across all of Europe at that time, or the fact that when we went bar and restaurant hunting in the rather quiet and old neighborhood we were staying in, we were greeted with a lot of “closed” signs.
Fast forward two years, when I am calling Zürich home for a few months… and I really only have good things to say about this city! I have been here for a few weeks now and this place is nothing short of lovely. Here are are few things that I have enjoyed most about Zürich, and reasons it should have a spot on your Eurotrip list.
Swiss people are friendly.
Whether you are stopping to ask directions or purchase a Laugenbrötchen from a local bakery, you will find that in general, Swiss people are cute, friendly and overall cuddly – interacting with them is pleasant and you may just want to adopt some of them as your temporary grandparents. As with many European cities, I would say the English level is generally strong, but if you know a few words of German (Hochdeutsch is fine!), they will love you for trying.
It is very Instagrammable.
AKA, the modern way of saying it is simply a gorgeous city with lots of very aesthetically pleasing spots. Photographers love it, but even if you aren’t part of the Instagram game and don’t care to be, there are numerous spots around the city to enjoy a cup of coffee, glass of wine or good book with an absolutely stunning view.
There is a lot of nature.
The fact that downtown Zürich wraps around Lake Zürich automatically gives this city a very unique outdoorsy and water-based vibe. I love being around water and for those of you that miss beaches, oceans, rivers and lakes terribly when living in/visiting cities, Lake Zürich provides the perfect remedy. Swiss people have a strong reputation for loving the outdoors, which is evident by just how packed the waterfront is every evening, really rain or shine – but especially during the long sunny summer days and golden autumn evenings. Nature in Zürich isn’t only limited to the lakeside – there are many green parks throughout the city where you can go for a jog, do some yoga, or again park yourself on a bench with your journal or a good book.
It is an easy walking city.
Even though the city is relatively well-connected by public transport including trams and buses, walking throughout the city and from place to place (even if you have somewhere to be) is both convenient and pleasant. I have simply walked from my home to the Central Station several times, even though it takes 30-45 minutes, simply because it is such a nice walk! Pedestrians always have the right away on crosswalks and drivers are cognizant and courteous to let you cross. When the weather is nice, tons of people have the same idea, and you see more people walking or on bikes than on public transport.
The food is delicious.
While Swiss food is excellent (hello?!, land of CHOCOLATE AND CHEESE!!!), there are so many options if you’re not into more traditional German-esque fare (think sausage, spätzle, bread, cheese, etc.). Zürich offers quite a range of international cuisines and there are many hip restaurants downtown and slightly on the outskirts that seem to be open on weekends (even Sundays) and late into the evening. Even casual restaurants serve mouth-watering food; aka, you don’t have to worry about going hungry in this city, and you will likely love what you eat – it comes at a price though, so be prepared to spend a little more than you likely would at home. Plus, there are COOP, Migros and Denner stores all over the place that sell lovely fresh fruits, veggies, fresh bread and healthy pre-made meals (salads, etc.), fresh bakeries everywhere, and most importantly, LINDT is the mainstream chocolate option… it only gets BETTER from there *drool*. Don’t plan to go on a diet when you visit Zürich.
Fresh salad, Mamarita pizza & wine at STRIPPED PIZZA
There is a lot to do.
If you get tired of long walks by the lakeside (or if the weather prevents these), there are plenty of other activities to keep you entertained during your time in Zürich. In my case, such activities revolve heavily around EATING, but there are many cultural and social things to keep you busy as well! Here are some favorite must-do’s:
Have you been to Zürich? Let me know some of the reasons you enjoyed this city in the comments below!
Set deep in the beautiful green canton of Bern, Switzerland, a little red train car chugs its way up and down a treacherously steep track – adventurous hikers can have the ride (and views!) of a lifetime on the one and only Gelmer Funicular (Gelmerbahn).
The funicular was originally built in the 1920s to haul heavy materials and equipment up to the top of the mountain for the construction of the Gelmersee reservoir and dam. Now, the car shuttles 24 people each time, approximately 30 times per day, with the first ride up at 9:00AM and the last one down around 4:00PM (see the official schedule and book tickets here). The Gelmerbahn only runs in summer/autumn months, usually late May-late October.
The ride takes 8-10 minutes one way (so the videos you have seen on Instagram making the ride look like an insanely fast rollercoaster are on hyper-speed!), and you have plenty of time to enjoy the breathtaking views of the valley and mountains. There is only a drop-down bar (think Ferris wheel style) to keep passengers safe, but the car neither jolts, tilts, nor goes fast enough to worry about safety.
Once you reach the top, it is an absolute must to hike around the gorgeous turquoise lake (Gelmersee). This must be the Swiss-Banff equivalent; I swear, I have never seen water of such a stunning color. The hike around the lake takes approximately 2 hours, though if you are in the habit of pausing frequently or taking 23720 pictures (like me), you may want to allow yourself significant extra time, as this is not a place that you want to feel rushed.
Some important facts and tips for your Gelmerbahn trip:
How to get there:
By foot: if you are staying at the closely Handeck Hotel/Naturresort, you will only need to walk 5-10 min, either down the road, or over the hanging bridge (much more fun option) to get to the lower terminal of Gelmerbahn.
By car: there is a parking lot out in the grass/meadow just down the road from the Gelmerbahn (follow signs)
By public transport: 5 min walk from nearby bus station Handegg, Gelmerbahn
While a trip to Paris is (understandably) on everyone’s travel and/or life bucket list, there are so many places in France to be explored that are far off the beaten path. Some of these are along the border between France and Germany, resulting in an interesting pattern of signage and nomenclature, for one thing, and a bit of confusion as to what language we should be speaking, on the part of local and tourist alike.
The capital of the Alsace region, Strasbourg is a must-see for all those traveling along the French-German border. Strasbourg retains an air of quaintness, while not being too small. You can explore this lovely city by foot (my preference,) by bike or even by river boat! There are many beautiful sights to see and/or photograph while exploring Strasbourg, so prepare to be inspired by its beauty. Plenty of shops are scattered throughout the city center, but the best area to explore if you only have a bit of time is La Petite France. Something you must see, but will also likely not miss, is Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg; this enormous 15th century cathedral towers above the central square, and offers an impressive view to those lucky enough to dine outside in the sunshine. A brief walk will take you to the Barrage Vauban, which is a dam built in the 17th century as a defensive work to protect the city, but now provides a perfectly-situated bridge, from which to enjoy a fantastic view of the city.
To stay: Mercure Hotel, La Petite France- situated in between the central train station and central Strasbourg, the hotel is convenient, easily reachable and a short walk from all the fun things J Breakfast is yummy as well, so if you wake up hungry and don’t feel like wandering yet, it is worth getting there, before (or after) your complementary welcome drink; I recommend trying the house made wine from the Alsace region.
To eat: Hotel Rohan – one of many lovely locales next to the cathedral, this boutique hotel fulfills most expectation of the term, with quirky décor and a similarly eclectic menu, of course combining French and German influences; one thing you will see repeatedly on most menus in the Alsace region is the Tarte Flambeé, an Alsacian/South German specialty that traditionally involves thinly-rolled dough, crème fraiche or fromage blanc and various toppings- to my confused American et. al friends, think along the lines of thin-crust pizza, or even flatbread, with 10X the deliciousness. I tried the warm goat cheese Tarte (with bacon and honey, if I remember correctly- amazing).
Jeff de Bruges- yes, it is Belgian. Yes, the chocolate is to die for. Stop by Jeff’s to create your own sample baggie from a delectable selection of gorgeously-handcrafted chocolates, or purchase a colorful, delicious souvenir for a loved one!
Le Kuhn- Playfully mixing French and German (already in its name!), this restaurant is nice for dinner, and again, conveniently close by. Here you will find the opportunity to sample from a variety of traditional Alsatian specialties, from meat, sauerkraut and potatoes, to Schnitzels, salads, and of course the beloved Tarte Flambeé.
I would have to say this is a place inevitably defined by an air of romance- Colmar feels small and can easily be explored by foot. While walking hand in hand with a loved one along the colorful, picturesque streets or even taking a boat ride along the river seems indeed quite popular, this is not to discourage the solo traveler! Grab an ice cream and your camera, and simply enjoy the feel of this cozy little town, which is indeed a welcome reprieve from some of the busier stops along your European travels. Tourist shops featuring trinkets from the Alsace region conceal themselves modestly amongst snack shops in bright yellow, pink and blue buildings, which I indeed unapologetically claimed as a photoshoot background- how could you not. If you only see ONE thing in Colmar, please make sure it is Rue de Poissonnerie in La Petite Venise- this is the insanely colorful and cute street, straight out of every fairytale that matters. If you can tear yourself away from this cuteness, go see Église Saint-Martin (St. Martin’s Church), a remarkable Gothic monument in the center of town. Everyone was very friendly in Colmar, but kept to themselves; many of course were tourists as well, but most coming only from as far away as Germany. I loved the vibe of Colmar, and while there is not an extensive amount of activities available, it is a perfect place to go for a few days to just relax and enjoy its effortless beauty and charm.
To stay: Romantik Hotel Le Maréchal – On Lauch river in the Petite Venise neighborhood of Colmar, this elegant hotel built in 1565 is only a 12 minute walk from Gare de Colmar train station. Again, perhaps this seems like a romantic snuggle haven for couples, and while it indeed does serve this purpose, it can also be an excellent getaway for the solo traveler looking to experience the antique side of Colmar. I would highly recommend the breakfast at this hotel; while it is not one of the cheapest, it serves a delightful variety of local favorites, specialties, along with coffees and champagnes to keep even the least of morning people happy.
To eat: Walk into the city center towards St. Martin’s Church and sit down at any of the cozy brasseries and restaurants, all offering delicious Alsatian favorites; I tried the Roesti dish at a Brasserie in central Colmar- this is a delicious dish with mixed meats, cheeses, onions and other things mixed and baked together and served in a hot iron skillet. After dinner, enjoy an espresso and dessert at one of the cafés near the river as the sun sets, or on your way back for the evening.
This place is straight out of snow-white, I swear. Cobblestone streets, colorful houses (almost every single house), flowers on flowers on flowers, birds singing, and hardly anyone to be seen, let alone annoying tourists (am I an annoying tourist?… awkward.) Eguisheim is one of many small villages dotting the region of Alsace, near to Colmar; it just happens to be one of the best, however- certainly the prettiest, and if I haven’t yet convinced you of its charm, it is also one of the most famous places for winemaking in this region. 😉 Eguisheim is easily reachable from Colmar by car/taxi (about 10 min drive), and you can visit it for the perfect day trip; I was only there for a matter of hours, and even though I would have loved to stay longer, I already felt like I got to know a bit of this village’s lovely personality.
Favorite Wine-Tasting Venue: Joseph-Freudenreich – A bit smaller than some of the hyped-up wineries in Eguisheim, this venue is incredibly quaint and personal. Bring out your inner connoisseur to taste from a varied menu of locally made specialties, then sit in the sunshine surrounded by flowers and sip your carefully-selected Gewürztraminer or Pinot, even take some bottles home for an almost ridiculously-reasonable price.
To eat: Pop into any place along the narrow streets, they are all terribly precious and the food will be delicious, featuring local specialties! I chose a small restaurant with private terrace and (once again) had a warm goat cheese Tarte Flambeé, though with slightly different ingredients than some others I had tried.
I could have easily spent at least a week or two exploring many of the villages around Colmar, though don’t worry if you are a bit strapped for time- I visited all three of these destinations within a long weekend, and did not feel rushed. I cannot wait to go back!!