The Grand Dutchy of Luxembourg – to give it, its full title – is a small landlocked country in central Europe. And if I’m fully honest, I’m not 100% sure why I had it in my mind that I really wanted to travel there. Yet I did, so my girlfriend (Holly) and I went for a short weekend in the easily memorable named capital; Luxembourg.
There is a great amount of charm to this well-off (it has the second-highest GDP per-capita worldwide behind Qatar) European enclave. Picturesque, clean streets and a great pace of life in this city make it a pleasant place for visitors to stay.
The city of Luxembourg is small by many city standards with just over 116,000 residents. It is a city though with a great deal of histroy that can be linked all the way back to the Roman era. When you look at a map of Luxembourg you can see why Roman towers and vast walls were built here to fortify Luxembourg as a stronghold against invasion.
The city has the joy of natural geography when it comes to fortifications. Steep surrounding cliffs that fall away into valleys make it a great place for ancient army generals to use as a base. So while parts of those old fortifications, and structures, still exist in the present day, the city has moved away from being a military stronghold to a financial one; becoming the tax-haven of choice for many mega-rich corporations such as Amazon.
One thing is clear. Holly and I do not fall into that mega-rich category. But that didn’t stop us enjoying a short one-night break one June in this quaint city. That brings me to my first point about Luxembourg. It’s not a super-cheap city. When visiting from the UK, you can expect prices to be similar to back home. There is a very good reason why a lot of people in Luxembourg are so well off (4.9% of the country’s population are millionaires according to a Credit Suisse report in 2019)!
The next point to consider is the weather. For us, picking a trip in June proved to be an extremley good call. Luxembourg is known for being an very wet country all year round. So we gave ourselves a fighting chance of getting decent weather by coming in the summer months. Average highs in June reach around 21°c which, in the sun, provide a nice temperature to walk around in. When we were there though, these temperatures were closer to 25°c.
The next thing to note is that Luxembourg has three official languages; French, German and Luxembourgish. Students in Luxembourg learn all three at school with English coming in a distant fourth. Most of the time you’ll see German and French language used for signposts and administration while Luxembourgish is used for conversation. However, if you are like us, and you struggle with another language, most of the time you can be understood with some basic – if disjointed – French or German and a whole heap of English.
A final thing to note is the currency. As you’d expect, Luxembourg is on the Euro, so stock up before you head out. At the time of writing £1 would get you about 1.12 Euros.
As I’ve already said, I was not sure what it was about the country that drew me to it, but I’m extremley glad I went. The multi-cultural feel of the city (almost half – 43% – of Luxembourg’s population are foreign residents) with influences from all of its surrounding nations make for an eclectic mix.
Its small size also adds to its charm. Being somewhere where everything is so ‘local’ makes for a very different travelling experience.
And even though Luxembourg can be costly to visit, I’m going to do my best, in this blog, to guide you in a way where you’ll see the city without spending a fortune.
So with our bags packed and ready to go, we set out to see what Luxembourg did have to offer us – on a tight budget – and to find out what it is that makes this place tick.
One of the joys of travelling to Luxembourg is that it is so close to the UK. So while you can drive there (via the ferry) through France – or even take the train – for me, the best way to get to Luxembourg is by air.
There are a couple of options to get to the Grand Duchy from the UK. The first is EasyJet who fly from London Gatwick and the second is Ryanair from London Stansted. However, Holly and I chose to fly with their national flag carrier, Luxair.
Luxair carry out their operations from London City Airport. For me, being based in Kent, this meant getting to the airport was a simple train journey to Woolwich Arsenal then a short hop on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to London City.
The flights were not especially cheap I have to say. Not to say that they were too expensive either, but probably a bit more than you’d expect. For a return flight in June we paid £146.80 each.
The journey itself is very short coming in at just over an hour. Boarding the small aircraft (only a couple of seats per aisle), travellers with cabin backage bigger than a backpack had to hand over their bags at the foot of the plane to be stored below during the flight. Fortunatley, given that we were only going to be in Luxembourg for a single night, we were able to live out of our backpacks, and therefore kept them with us.
Once onboard, the flight was extremley smooth. Comfortable seating fills the cabin space and, despite it being such a short trip, we were even served a light breakfast of a croissant and orange juice. A nice touch that we were not expecting.
Arriving in Luxembourg, you’ll notice that the airport is pretty small. That really shouldn’t come as any great surprise given the size of the nation you are stepping foot in. It is, however, conviently located just over five miles away from the city centre. This means that any journey between the city and the airport can be done very quickly (I’ll cover more on this aspect of the trip later on).
Where to stay
When choosing somewhere to stay in Luxembourg there are a few things to consider. Firstly, I found that AirBnB listings for the centre of Luxembourg proved to be very expensive. And for those that were more affordable, for a short trip, were actually located accross the border in France!
The second thing to note is that there are quite a few options for hotels in the city. Many do cost quite a bit of money (remember Luxembourg is not a cheap or poor country by any means) so may not be ideal for a cost-effective getaway.
With that in mind, we were looking for a bargain and somewhere that would suit our sleeping needs without breaking the bank. We ended up selecting the Hotel Parc Plaza.
Let’s be honest straightaway, this is primarily a business hotel. It doesn’t come with any fancy bells and whistles. You won’t be finding a swimming pool here, nor a world-class restaurant.
But you will find great service, comfortable surroundings and clean rooms.
The hotel is almost in the heart of Luxembourg. Situated just to south-west of the city, the hotel is a few minutes walk from a couple of Luxembourg’s main attractions, including the Adolphe Bridge (which can be seen clearly from the hotel grounds).
The price of the hotel is reasonable. For a one-night stay here in June, Holly and I paid just 116 Euros (around £102) – booked via Expedia – for a standard double room which included wireless internet and a double bed. This price did not include breakfast, although it was available at the restaurant.
Despite no breakfast, I felt that Hotel Parc Plaza did provide value for money. You can pay a lot more elsewhere in the city for not much more. For me, it was more important to save our money on our accomodation, so we could enjoy it further enjoying everything Luxembourg had to offer.
Getting to city centre from the airport in Luxembourg is very simple.
The Eurobus takes visitors just 30 minutes to travel the short distance from Luxembourg Airport to the city centre or central railway station. It’s probably the best bet in terms of travel to and from the airport, as it is now free of charge (public transport within Luxembourg has been free since 1 March 2020), and extremely regular (busses arrive at the airport every 10 to 15 minutes).
The bus stop is located nearby the airport arrivals exit. The buses are also easily identifiable. Just look for the Eurobus logos on the side of the vehicles. Once you’ve located them you can catch any of the buses numbered 9, 16 or 114. These all take you to the city centre and take about the same length of time.
Once you are in Luxembourg, you’ll notice that the city is very small. You certainly won’t need to hire a car here, unless you plan to go elsewhere in Luxembourg or to a neighbouring country.
Its small size means that you can walk anywhere within the city within a very short space of time. If you are staying on the outskirts as we did, then you’ll be able to walk across the city comfortably in 30 to 40 minutes at a slow pace.
Not only is it easy to walk, but some of the best activities in Luxembourg are the walks along the walls and around the streets within the confines of the city’s borders. From experience, these are some of the safest, cleanest streets I have ever stepped foot in, in central Europe.
Having arrived in the city on the bus our first stop, even before we had dropped our bags at the hotel, was to go to the Ascenseur du Pfaffenthal.
This 75m public elevator provides riders with a stunning panoramic view of the Alzette River Valley. Opened in 2016, riders can start at the top, or the bottom, to get the views. From the top you can take the sights in further from the viewing platform just at the end of the long walkway leading to the lift.
The top level of this elevator is located just through the Parc Fondation Pescatore at the north-end of the city. Once you descend down the lift, a journey that takes only around 15 to 20 seconds, you’ll come out on the Rue du Pont; cobblestoned streets that are a reminder of a Luxembourg of yesteryear compared to the more modern buildings viewed at the higher parts of the city.
This is a great way to start a trip to Luxembourg. First off, the views you get here are some of the best the city has to offer. Secondly, in most other cities you would pay a heafty price for such views. However, here the trip is free! During our stop at the lift, we managed to get our photos from the viewing platform and ride the elevator – all in the space of about 20 minutes! There was no queue to speak of, so this afforded us plenty of time, and space, to take it all in.
The next stop in Luxembourg should be to the Casemates du Bock; a vast series of fortifications, underground tunnels and galleries that can trace its origins back to the 1600s.
The rocky cliffs provided natural fortification for the city and over the centuries the Bock was attacked – and rebuilt – time and time again, following invasion attempts from the likes of the Burgunsians, Habsburgs and Spanish.
Warring continuted here until 1867 when the Treaty of London was signed. This lead to the demolition of the majority of the fortifications.
Now the ruins of the old castle and underground network systems are a tourist attraction.
There are a few interesting points at the Casements du Bock. Some of which can be seen from the city’s streets like the Pont du Chateau – a multi-layered footbridge, built in 1735 that replaced an old drawbridge between the cliffs of the Bock – as well as the inside of the Casements themselves.
To gain access to the Casements – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994 – you need to be on street level. That’s the very top. Here you’ll find a small entrance way that leads inside. There is a small fee to pay – just 7 Euros per adult (around £6.20) – and it’s worth it.
Inside, you’ll have access to a portion of the remaining 17km of galleries and tunnels dug into the cliffs. Many of the tunnels lead to viewing gallery areas where you can look out over different parts of the Grund below.
While we found a lot of the interior of the Casements to be very similar to one another, the views out certainly make the trip worthwhile. You can easily spend between one and two hours walking the tunnels and taking in the sights without noticing the time going by.
Having viewed the Grund from the Casements du Bock, we decided to go and explore it properly by foot.
This area is one of the most picturesque parts of Luxembourg, and provides great walks that run alongside the city’s walls and into its old quarter near the river.
Holly and I found this area stunning. It was extremley peaceful and the walks in the sun were extremely enjoyable. Again this whole activity can be done without spending a single Euro!
A tip here is to make sure you stop to look at Niemenster Abbey. This yellow-coloured house of worship is easy to spot as its spire sticks out high into the sky above the other low-lying buildings that make up the area.
You’ll also want to venture down to the river banks of the Alzette. During our time here we spent a short while taking in the sun on the riverbank and saw a couple having their wedding photos taken. I’m sure they will make for a wonderful series of pictures that won’t be forgotten easily in this beautiful location.
If you find yourself in Luxembourg you can’t help but notice there are a number of bridges that pass over the cliff tops and across the valley. One such bridge that stuck out to us was that of the Pont Adolphe.
It may, from the outside, look like any other bridge and you’d be right in thinking that. The Pont Adolphe does indeed provide cars and pedestrians with a way across the valley at its highest level. However, it was the walkway underneath the street that made us want to go and see it.
The 154m suspended deck – opened in 2018 – is a walkway for pedestrians and cyclists alike. While this area is designed for its functionality, it does also allow you to gain further views out across – and along – the valley for free.
Another tip here, and something we enjoyed greatly, is to take a walk in the park that runs along the valley below the bridge. This park is a steep climb down some stairs located towards the centre of Luxembourg, so being actively fit is a must! However, once you are down there you do get some great views up at the city from below.
While Notre Dame in Paris may have suffered a catastrophic fire and face many years of rebuilding, there is another impressive catherdral, of the same name, open in the centre of Luxembourg; the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Luxembourg
The Cathedral – whose name roughly translates as Cathedral of Our Lady – dates back to the early 1600s and remains a working place of worship to this day.
Located along the main Place de la Constitution roadway, this Cathedral caught our attention as we walked past. Built in the familiar yellow coloured stone, that appears to be present throughtout Luxembourg, this multi-towered cathedral draws you into its doors along the pedestrain walkway.
Inside, there are many stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible, as well as a series of impressive stone pillars helping to keep the high ceilings raised.
As mentioned, this is a working cathedral. This does mean that, during a visit, services could be taking place. This is not to say that you cannot enter the building (which is free, although donations are welcomed) so long as you are quiet and respectful. A quick look around was sufficient for us and then out we went.
So while all of the above activities can be enjoyed all year round, this next one is very specific to a couple of days of the year. And as luck would have it we managed, by total chance, to coincide our trip to Luxembourg with the country’s national celebrations.
Arriving on June 22 meant that we were in time for the start of the National Day in Luxembourg activities. Lasting until the end of June 23, these annual celebrations were origianlly meant to celebrate the birthday of the Grand Dutchess Charlotte. However, as her birthday was in the winter (January 23) it was decided that it would be postponed each year for five months to the summer and has remained that way long after her reign ended in 1964.
The festivities start on the evening of the National Day (June 22) and it seems like all of the city’s residents come out to enjoy the fun as the streets were packed. Food and drink stands are scattered around the main centre of the Place d’Armes, and live music is performed from the early evening all the way into the night.
It was a fantastic night. The whole event is really good natured and we didn’t witness any trouble at all. There was a great variety of music too that will suit all tastes from some really talented singers. The pick of the bunch for me was a young lady called Lumi R. She has a tremendous voice and belted out some classics from the likes of Stevie Wonder.
As the night continued and the music came to an end, the crowds started flocking to the valley edge. Naturally, without knowing what we were heading towards, Holly and I followed. Asking someone what everyone was going to see, we were told it was the start of a firework display from the Adolphe Bridge.
Space was going to be at a premium, so we headed back to our hotel’s grounds – Hotel Parc Plaza – that overlooked the valley out towards the bridge.
Grabbing a drink from a tent set up in the grounds, we took our place down by the edge of the valley and found a space amongst the bushes. Words can’t fully express how impressive this show was. Stunning choreography of the fireworks made for a beautiful show of colour and light.
A quick warning. Don’t watch the fireworks from the floor of the valley below the bridge as their remains can be found in abundance the next morning. This means you’ll be in for quite a shower should you be present during the display!
Where to avoid
Let’s put it this way. Luxembourg is an extremely safe city. From my experience there I would not really have an issues being out on its streets late at night. You are really not going to feel in danger.
And while you can pretty much fit everything the city has to offer over a busy weekend, you may need to know what things could be missed, if push came to shove. So with that in mind, one you can miss without losing out on too much sleep over is the Gëlle Fra.
The Monument of Remembrance – to give it its proper name – is a war memorial dedicated to those who volunteered for service in both World Wars as well as the Korean War.
Looking up at the 21m high obelisk, you’ll notice a bronze figure at the top. This figure is a representation of the goddess of victory, Nike. At the foot of the monument there are also two bronze figures representing the soliders who died during the various wars.
Situated in Constitution Square in the Ville Haute quarter of the city, the monument is a stylish war memorial, but also something you can walk past without feeling you are missing out on too much by not stopping to read its plaques.
Great places to eat
When it comes to places to eat in Luxembourg I’m going to have to cheat a little. You see, during our stay here, we didn’t really sample many of the local restaurants due to the National Day celebrations.
Saying that, we did stop for a lunch at one point on the Place d’Armes, which is home to a number of bistros and eateries. Sadly I cannot remember the exact name of the restaurant we ate at.
Restaurants down the Place d’Armes can vary in price. There are high end restaurants (price-wise anyway) such as Brasserie La Lorraine that specilises in French and Mediterannean cuisine. This resturant did look like a nice spot to grab some delicious food, but can set you back in excess of 100 Euros for two people (with three courses and drinks).
A few doors down from here you’ll also find the chique-looking Le Grand Cafe; a bullish french restaurant specilising in red meat. The burgers and steaks here looked fantastic, and could make for a perfect spot to eat for those with a bit of time to spare.
If, however, you travel as we did – on the National Day celebrations – I’d urge you to try the various street food vendors for a bite to eat and something to drink.
When we went out into the street parties there were numerous vans and stalls set up selling hot dogs, burgers other local foods, while many also sold soft drinks and alcohol.
Most of these stands were located in and around Place d’Armes and the Square Jan Palach in the heart of the city, to go alongside the entertainment on show.
We grabbed a burger and fries – very decent portion sizes – from one such stand, purchased a drink or two and joined the festivities and celebrations as we wound down our time in the rich surroundings of Luxembourg.
Lumi R (singer / songwriter)