The first things that surprised me in Luxembourg was how small the railroad station is…
By Jim Ferri
After you’re traveling about Europe by train, moving in and out of some of the grand railroad stations on the Continent, the first thing you notice when you arrive in Luxembourg-Ville is just how small the station is.
That’s appropriate, one would guess, since the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, squeezed between Belgium, France and Germany, is so small its name can’t even fit on most maps of Europe.
Enjoy Luxembourg’s Numerous Michelin-Starred Restaurants
Perhaps that’s why its capital, Luxembourg-Ville, is one of the least-known capitals of any European country, which really shouldn’t be the case since Luxembourg has one of the highest GDP per capita of any country in the world. It also has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any other nation in the world, attesting to Luxembourgers love of good food.
Today many of us remember Luxembourg only as the subject of the satirical 1950’s novel and movie “The Mouse That Roared.” Others, especially older backpackers, recall it as the European base for cheap Icelandic Airways flights from New York in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Enjoy the Duchy’s Unique Flavor
But now the Duchy has revived its roar, not as a hub for cheap international flights, but as the banking and administrative center for the European Union.
While still retaining its provincial ambience, the population of the city of Luxembourg has now grown to about 100,000 thanks to the EU, although more than 60% of its inhabitants are from elsewhere in Europe. This gives the city a unique flavor, and the fact that Luxembourgers speak three languages – Luxembourgish, French and German (as well as English, by many) – serves only to intensify it.
But it’s the visual perspective, not the linguistic, that makes the city of Luxembourg appealing. While its Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, transports you back centuries, the new part of the city thrusts you into the future with stunning buildings designed by world-renowned architects. But rather than clash, the new and the old parts of town coalesce well and actually enhance the travel experience, something I hadn’t expected when I visited recently.
Travel Guides I Recommend for Luxembourg
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Belgium & Luxembourg I enjoy these guides and find them quite informative. Buy this one and you get Luxembourg for free (although you’ll need to pay to travel there).
Lonely Planet Belgium & Luxembourg Here’s another guide that provides a wealth of down-to-earth info.
The Foodie Guide to Brussels To be truthful, I haven’t read this guide but since Luxembourg, like Brussels, is such a foodie destination this would seem to be a good companion guide to either of the above guidebooks.
A Great Walking City
Thanks to its size Luxembourg is a great walking city. It’s relatively easy to get around but since the old city is such a warren of streets you can get disoriented fairly easily; you may only be a block or so away from where you had been earlier without realizing it, so it’s good to keep referring to your map.
Start a walk in the center of the old city at Place Guillaume II, home to its Hôtel de Ville, or the nearby Place d’Armes, whose former status as a parade ground has given way to sidewalk cafes. Just a block east of Place Guillaume you’ll find the 16th-century Grand Ducal Palace, the first city hall. Behind it is the picturesque Marché-aux-Poissons, the oldest section of the city, where the Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art is nestled in a row of 16th-century houses.
A City of Outdoor Art
A block to the south is the diminutive Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame, which, while certainly not qualifying as a great European cathedral, is interesting nevertheless for its stained glass and the tapestries that adorn its walls. Next to it is the National Library where out front you’ll find a brightly painted elephant statue, one of a series of similar artworks you see all over the city. There is outdoor art all over the city; I especially liked the statues of revelers dancing on the Place du Théâtre.
One of the most popular self-guided tours in Luxembourg is a walk along, and through, the city’s impressive casements, which once sheltered thousands of soldiers and their horses. Today approximately 10 miles of the original network remains.
It appears that other historical parts of the city continue to be discovered, as well. I was walking through Old Town one day and when I turned a corner found an archaeological dig underway, excavating an old foundation that had been discovered while repaving the street.
From the old city you can walk to the “Red Bridge” on its north side, which brings you across the deep gorge that surrounds the city. Go across it to Kirchberg, the stunning ultra-modern “European quarter” of European Union organizations and banks. The mélange of modern buildings is quite remarkable and beautiful and is easily seen via one of the city’s green hop-on/hop-off buses.
The most well-know piece of architecture in Kirchberg is the Musée d’Art Moderne, also known as Mudam, an I.M. Pei masterpiece. Built within the walls of an old fortress, the innovative building – a beautiful piece of art in its own right – follows Pei’s designs of the innovative glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, and his later extension to the German Historical Museum in Berlin.
It is, said Pei, the final work in his “European Trilogy.”
If you go:
P.O. Box 1001
Tel: +352 42 82 82 10