Most people’s view of Luxembourg might well be just the train station as your train stops to pick up passengers or drop them off on your way to Germany, France or Belgium, but there is a lot more to Luxembourg than just the train station or stopping here to buy petrol.
Like a lot of small countries and places like Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Gibraltar, Monaco, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg packs a lot into a small space, but unlike Hong Kong and some of the others, it is a largely rural country of hills and valleys.
One would think that given the number of European wars and disputes over territories over the centuries, that one of the bigger countries that surround Luxembourg would have claimed it as theirs, and there were times when Luxembourg did come under the control of some of these countries, and it would have happened of not for a large amount of luck and no doubt clever negotiations.
Following on from the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 when Napoleon was defeated and forced into exile to the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, Luxembourg was given the status of a Grand Duchy by those who fought in the Battle of Waterloo. The battle was led by the Duke of Wellington, but alongside him was the young Prince of Orange, who would also become the King of the Netherlands.
Whoever was King of the Netherlands also held the title of ‘Grand Duke of Luxembourg’, so while Luxembourg was independent it also had strong Royal connections with the Dutch Monarchy.
In 1830 Belgium gained its independence from Dutch control and then made claims to Luxembourg, but while Luxembourg some of its lands to Belgium, it kept its independence as a Grand Duchy and kept its own language too – Lëtzebuergesch (Luxembourgish) still the official language of Luxembourg today along with French and German. Many people will also speak English too.
To give you a feel for the Luxembourgish language – these are the numbers one to ten –
1 – eent, 2-Zwee, 3- Dräi, 4-Véier, 5 – Fënnef, 6 – Sechs, 7-Siwen, 8 – Aacht, 9- Néng, 10- Zéng
While Good Morning is Gudde Moien and Hello is Hallo. It is still a living language, even though there are just 500,000 to 600,000 or so people who speak it.
In 1890 the Dutch King Wilhelm III died, and his next in line to the throne was his daughter, Wilhelmina who became Queen of the Netherlands. Under Luxembourg’s ‘Salic Law’ (under the Law at that time, but since repealed) the head of state had to be a male, not female and so a new Duke was appointed, this one being Adolph of Nassau. His descendants still rule today.
During both the First World War and Second World War, Luxembourg was invaded by the Germans who took control over the country as they moved to take over Belgium and France.
WHAT TO SEE –
The main city capital of Luxembourg is Luxembourg City, a city with around 115,000 people out of the total Luxembourg population of 576,000. The whole country is just 82 kilometres (51 Miles) long by 57 kilometres (35 miles) at its widest point.
As you would have noticed most Châteaux, Citadels and Fortifications around the world are built on high ground with commanding views over the lands, rivers, ports or oceans below them – and here in Luxembourg City, the high ground, called Le Bock on the ridge escarpment is where a massive fort complex was built – with some of its foundations and Wenzelsmauer Wall sections laid down as early as 963 AD.
The original Fort was dismantled between 1867 and 1883, with the stone used in other buildings – an instant quarry as it were, but beneath the Bock there are the Casemate Tunnels. Here in a labyrinth of tunnels, some 17 kilometres of them, mostly built in the 1700’s there is a dungeon, prison and even an archaeological Crypt. During World War II when Luxembourg City was bombed, the tunnels were used as bomb shelters by around 35,000 residents to protect them from the bombs above.
Most of Luxembourg City is located high above the Alzette and Péttrusse River Gorges, and from the Bock there is a long promenade that runs along the cliff edge – Le Chemin de la Corniche – which they describe due to its position running along the cliff top as “Europe’s most Beautiful Balcony”.
The two main old districts of the city are called the Grund and the Vieux Ville (Old Town) and it is here that you find most interesting sights to see. You can find walking tours, just wander yourself to discover the city or even hire a bike.
In Luxembourg City there is a Hop on-Hop off Bus that can take you to many of the sights to see and you can catch this at the Place de la Constitution or the Main train station – Gare Centrale, where you can also buy a Luxembourg Card- which gives you both transport and access to a number of Museums and places of interest throughout Luxembourg.
In the Grund in the Gorge area are many small stone houses, some built almost into the cliff sides and small terraced gardens, laneways, restaurants, cafés and a scattering of Vineyards. A Natural History Museum is here too and also the Neumünster Abbey that is used as a Performance Space. There is also a small tourist train – the Pérusse Express that takes you on a 1 hour tour of the Grund area and also to parts of the Pétrusse and Alzette River Valleys
In the Old Town there is the old stone built Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) where the Crypts of the Grand Dukes down through the ages are located and the Cathédrale Notre Dame with its spires and nearby the 16th century Grand Ducal Palace, open for tours in the summertime. The Old Town market plaza, Place Guillaume II where markets are held and National Tourist Office is located and the Place d’Armes with its small cafés are also here too.
Luxembourg City also has an excellent art gallery, the National Museum of History and Art (MNHA) located on the Marché-aux-Poissons, with paintings by Picasso, Cézanne, Turner and other masters.
For modern art, look for the MUDAM, the Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art.
To get more of an understanding of Luxembourg’s history head to the Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg, and for a beautiful formal garden square head to the Place de la Constitution. This is where you will also see a memorial to those who died in World War I and formal gardens where you can look down to the Pétrusse River at the bottom of the gorge and get a view over the treetops.
Directly opposite the Place de la Constitution on the other side of the Gorge is the Spuerkeess building that looks like a castle. Inside the Spuerkeess building is a Museum of Banking, tracing the history of one of Luxembourg’s main commercial activities – Banking and Finance. Here too are the Am Tunnels that were dug out to create an underground safe route for carrying money from one Bank Building to another.
Luxembourg was greatly affected by the two World Wars when it came under the occupation of the Germans. In the Place de la Constitution you see the memorial to the First World War and those who died here. In the Second World War Luxembourg Jewish and Roma people were interned and then thousands were sent to concentration or work camps in German. Of the 3700 Jews that were deported, some 1200 of them would die and the story of these times is revealed in a Museum Memorial of the Deportation, located in the old train station where they would have been packed into closed box cars, located at Gare de Hollerich at 3a Rue de la Déportation.
In the last months of the war in December 1944, the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ took place in the Ardennes – the Forested region that straddles the border areas of Luxembourg in the north and Belgium. This was one of the most deadly of all battles that were fought, a last ditch effort by Hitler to attack the Allies, while most of their troops were fighting in France in the south and the Netherlands to the north.
Just outside of Luxembourg City there are two War Cemeteries – one being American and the other German.
In the US Military Cemetery there are over 5000 soldiers buried – most marked by a white cross where the soldier has been identified but many marked with a stone pillar, the sign of an unnamed and unidentified soldier. The US Military Cemetery is located at 50 Val du Scheid in Hamm, just outside Luxembourg City.
The other Military Cemetery is the German Cimitière Militaire Allemand in Sandweller.
Following the War, Luxembourg returned to peace and it was one of the foremost proponents of establishing a peaceful and prosperous Europe. This ultimately led to the establishment of the European Economic Community, now called the European Union, and a number of the EU Institutions and buildings are based in Luxembourg City in the Kirchberg Plateau area. You will also find the Mudam Modern Art Museum/Gallery here as an extension of the restored Fort Thüngen.
OUTSIDE LUXEMBOURG CITY –
Being a small country, it is possible to take day tours to see the countryside, vineyards, rivers, towns and villages outside of Luxembourg City, but many people also look to stay in some of the smaller towns and villages too.
One of the most famous rivers is the Moselle River that forms a border with Germany Moselle wines famous around the world.
Here you can see a number of villages that are located beside the River next to vineyards that run up the ridges on each side of the River.
The best place to head to is the town of Remich on the Moselle River where you could stay or catch a riverboat tour that takes you along the river, or if you have a car just follow the river and take your time to stop at wineries if open and villages that look interesting. Places to the south of Remich along the River include Bech-Kleinmacher, Schwebsange, Remerschen and Schengen, and to the north of Remich, Ehsen, Wormeldange, Ahn, Machtum and the town of Grevenmacher. If you look under hotels on this website – search under any of these village and town names to discover some interesting places to stay.
Hiking and Nature -
If you like hiking and nature then head south of Luxembourg City to the interesting town of Echternach, an ancient town with great atmosphere and even the ruins of a Roman Villa. There are gorges to hike in as well as Bicycle paths, a lake and kayaking here too, as well as a number of small villages to see around here too.
There are also many other places too, including in the Ardennes in the north where a serious 104 kilometre hiking trail called the Escapardenne Trail is located.
Wherever you are in Luxembourg you will not be far from nature and good walking trails.
For castle Châteaux, the best places to head to are the villages of Ansembourg , Esch-sur-Sûre, Bourscheid and to the Vianden Castle in the village of Vianden in the north of Luxembourg. All of these villages are picturesque so seeing an ancient castle only adds to the enjoyment.
War Memorials –
The Ardennes in the north is where the main battles took place in World War II, and in the town of Diekirch there is the large Musée National d’Histoire Militaire with lots of memorabilia and displays.
The other famous town here in the Ardennes region is Ettelbrück, where the main plaza square is named Place Patton, named in honour of the US General George S. Patton who led his soldiers here in the Battle of the Bulge. He died in a car crash shortly after the battle and he is buried in the US Military Cemetery in Luxembourg City.
Cross Country Skiing – Luxembourg does have snow in winter but it doesn’t have the high alp areas of France, Switzerland or Austria, so skiing is restricted to some cross country skiing and tobogganing.
OVERALL – Luxembourg has the beauty of the countryside, the wineries and small villages and certainly a fascinating history too being the only Grand Duchy in the world.
I hope you have a good time here in Luxembourg.