If I’m being completely honest, I only really added Luxembourg to my itinerary as it seemed like an off the beaten track country to include and it added another country to the list I have visited. Having not read up on the country particularly, I wasn’t expecting much- all I really knew of it was that they were the whipping boys of international football and a hub of EU buildings and banks. What a pleasant surprise it was when I got there to discover the charm and beauty that is Luxembourg.
The first thing to note is its size. As far as cities go, particularly capital cities, Luxembourg City is tiny and I do mean tiny. I had pretty much walked all of it in just over a morning and even had time to sit and relax in parks and on grassy verges on the way. The views around the city however were spectacular and the old and the new mixed seamlessly together. Around the outside were the old UNESCO listed Wenzel fortress walls, which were very easy to roam and explore at will and the corniche at the top is described as ‘the most beautiful balcony in Europe’, as it gives amazing panoramic views of the city.
The city centre was just as charming, small, quaint and host to a variety of little shops and winding, intriguing passageways which allow you to wonder for hours, exploring different nooks and corners of the city and to enjoy the charming and bohemian cafes and bars just waiting for you to drop in for a drink!
Another thing I loved was how little English was spoken! I am as guilty as any other English tourist of relying on the locals speaking English rather than their mother tongue, so it was good to force myself to try and speak a bit more French. My French pretty much consists of ‘Je ne sais pas parler francais’ and then random lyrics from Lady Marmalade, neither of which would be particularly helpful in me getting around! It was surprising however, how quickly the odd word came back to me which at least made me feel like I was immersing myself in their culture a little more. Rest assured however, there was always someone nearby who did speak English if you were ever in trouble.
However, it should come as no real surprise that Luxembourg City is an expensive place to visit seeing as it is such a financial and political hub. Locals walk around finely dressed, and most of the shops flash designer labels in their windows and epitomise class and sophistication. However, this need not particularly matter too much as a visitor as the city has been set up very well to provide free visitor or tourist activities. The self-guided walking tours give great views around various parts of the city and transport is cheap (€2 for 2 hours travel or €4 for the whole day). However food was expensive, most restaurants were not set up with backpackers in mind and one lunchtime I found myself searching all over for something to fit my limited budget- the nearest thing I could find was a €8 bowl of soup, or a €10 extra value meal in McDonalds! I couldn’t bring myself to eat a McDonalds on day 5 of my trip, so it was fortunate that I eventually found a reasonably priced footlong sandwich chain instead!
I did also find a lovely little restaurant in the centre of town on my last night that served main meals for €9.50 (before 6pm) called Urban. From the outside it looked like it should belong on the Torquay seafront and be full of stag and hen do’s – but once inside it was lovely, quaint and just what you would expect from that part of Europe. Another big plus was the price of beer! Yes its slightly more expensive than the rest of central Europe but the rise is not as steep as other commodities, and a pint of Bofferding is well worth a try.
There was also a limit to the amount one could do in Luxembourg which correlates with it’s size. I spent 2 and a half days there and bar a few things, I pretty much saw everything. I missed the Bock Casemates which are basically a small labyrinth of tunnels built in the old city fort walls which although sounded interesting, I was told, by many, that they simply were not worth the €6 to get in!? There was also a giant futuristic observation deck which had just attracted a huge queue of Spanish tourist groups so I avoided that! In my opinion, no more than a weekend is needed to fully explore all Luxembourg has to offer, and an extra bonus is that because most visitors are there on business the hotels and restaurants apparently drop their prices for tourists over weekends!
Nowhere was the peace and tranquil nature of this city more evident however, than at the U.S.A. World War 2 Memorial Cemetery, about a 10 minutes bus ride out of town. It is a huge,open green space, with a fittingly imposing war memorial ,surrounded by 5,000 headstones, dedicated to the American soldiers who lost their lives in WW2, mostly at the Battle of the Bulge. The rows of white crosses are simply laid out, so that people can walk amongst them and pay their respects.
It is not actually clear to me what type of person are currently attracted to Luxembourg City! Most of the people I met were either cyclists having a break on a European cycle trip, or travellers using it as a ‘stop off’ between Germany, France and Belgium, and were only staying for a night. There is clearly a fine line between whether they need to pump up tourist activities and attractions to gain more visitors, and therefore run the risk of losing the quiet nature of the city, but I certainly think there is room for more people to stand up and take note of what Luxembourg has to offer. You can’t blame the locals for not singing the city’s praises from the castle walls though, I wouldn’t mind living in a beautiful quiet city which was not overrun with tourists and still have the highest per capita income in Europe (and only second to Qatar in the world)!