Commonly being mistaken for being the smallest nation in the world (at 2,586 square kilometres, there are a handful that are tinier than it), Luxembourg nonetheless packs a lot of awesomeness into its postage stamp-sized footprint.
Sandwiched between France, Germany, and Belgium, it is easy to drive through on your way to the larger nations in Europe, but those willing to brave the high prices here will be rewarded with fabulous palaces, castles and cathedrals that rival many others throughout the rest of the continent.
Languages: Luxembourgish, German, French
What To Do
Begin your time in Luxembourg by visiting the heart of this Grand Duchy at the Grand Ducal Palace. This palatial building serves as the residence and workplace of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, though it has served many functions over the years, as it has been used as a city hall, governor’s residence, and as a tavern for German soldiers during the Second World War.
The latter use took its toll on the furniture and art collection, leading to a lengthy restoration that took decades to complete. Guided tours are available in the summer, but be sure to show up early in the day to ensure that you can secure one, as it can get busy here during July and August.
Once you have finished admiring the streets of the remarkably well-preserved old city of Luxembourg, head out into the countryside towards Vianden Castle. Dating back to the 10th century, this formidable keep has the distinction of being one of the largest fortified structures of its type west of the Rhine River, a fact that will have enthusiasts exploring its grounds for hours on end.
Indeed, the defensive construction and positioning of this castle was so superior, anti- Nazi resistance fighters were able to hold it against an offensive waged by the Waffen SS in 1944. While its Gothic-inspired architecture will have you snapping away, don’t forget the turn your camera lenses in the other direction, as its position on a lofty promontory affords it spectacular views of the sanguine town from which it takes its name below.
The aforementioned battle was far from the only major engagement in Luxembourg during WWII, as a visit to the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial will reveal. Some of the bloodiest clashes during the Battle of the Bulge took place in this nation, with over five thousand American service members falling in combat. Their graves are marked by simple yet powerful white crosses, evenly spaced over 50 acres of land, including that of decorated general George Patton.
Those looking for solace after such a sombre sight may find it at the Abbey of Echternach, which is a Benedictine monastery founded by St. Willibrord. He is considered to be the patron saint of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, but the occurrence that brings in tourists and pilgrims in the present day is a dancing procession held on Whit Tuesday, a church holiday observed eight weeks after Eastern Sunday. This event is the last of its kind in Europe, so be sure to include this cathedral on your itinerary if you are traveling in Europe in the weeks following Easter.
Luxembourg isn’t a nation often dropping in conversation when it comes to the best wine nations in the world, but it ought to, as it resides in a place similar to many famous French wine regions. Following the Route du Vin is the best way to acquaint yourself with the nectar that comes from the grapes of this tiny nation, as not only are there a variety of vineyards (over 50 in total) that offer a range of exquisite wines made brilliant by over 2,000 years of prior experience, there is also a museum in Ehnen that gives you the background info on a wine industry that has largely flown under the radar in the modern age.
What To Eat
Despite its small geographic size, Luxembourg has a number of distinctive dishes that you’ll want to sample during your time here. Judd Mat Gaardebounen is considered the nation’s primary meal (though it hasn’t been officially labelled as such), consisting of smoked pork collar and broad beans in sauce made with the stock that results from boiling the aforementioned meat. The best place to try this meal is in Gostingen in the nation’s southeast, where it emerged in the 16th or 17th century.
If you find yourself at a market or fair during your time in Luxembourg, be sure to try to get your hands on some Gromperekichelchen. These toasty treats are potato pancakes that are studded with onions, shallots and seasoned with parsley.
Those searching for a uniquely Luxembourg dessert will want to tuck into a Quetschentaart, which is a pastry that is commonly found at bakeries and restaurants across the country. Made with freshly ripened plums at harvest time (September), the flavour of this delightful tart will prove to be the perfect end to any one of the meals that you will have in this country.