I’m a planner, at least to whatever extent an unorganized list-maker with only a slight sense of direction can be. Solo traveling is completely out of the picture for me; I swear I wouldn’t make it anywhere (and on time) without F. But, for this reason, my pre-trip ritual is scouring the Internet for blogs about my destination and cramming everything that sounds remotely interesting and how to find it onto a page in my journal. So by the time our summer tour of cities along the Mosel took us to Luxembourg for the afternoon, naturally, I had written my notes – because honestly who has any clue what there is to do in Luxembourg without notes. Who really knows much about Luxembourg, period? To introduce you to this sweet little country, I’ll share a quick list of what I now know about Luxembourg before I dive into the post.
- Banks, banks, banks
- It’s super tiny. One of the tiniest countries in the European Union. 57 mi. x 35 mi.
- Walking and hills.
- Throughout its history, everyone important has wanted to rule Luxembourg – the Bourbons, Habsburgs, Hohenzollerns, and the French – and that’s why the culture is so cool
- Everyone there is automatically cooler than me because most people are at least trilingual!
We arrived in Luxembourg City after a quick drive from Trier – if you are standing in Trier and looking in the direction of Luxembourg, the hills you see are Luxembourg. After driving aimlessly through the different parts of the city and looping back around, we found the parking garage we had been looking for and started walking in the direction that felt right. Minutes later – but still too far to turn back around – I realized my journal with its meticulously researched page about Luxembourg was still in the car. We were flying blind.
We wandered through the streets of Quartier Gare and down to the bottom of Vallée de la Pétrusse, which was an excellent stroll and the beginning of a day full of climbing. And then we wandered back up the hill, stumbling into the back of Luxembourg’s Notre Dame. Built in 1621, it is the only cathedral in Luxembourg and its crypt is the final resting place of the Grand-Ducal family. Like the city itself, the cathedral is not the biggest or flashiest in Europe, but it is beautiful and worth the stop to see its stained glass and both its Gothic and Renaissance architectural elements.
Directly across from the Cathedral lies Place Guillaume II, affectionately known to the locals as Knuedler – a reference to the monks of the Franciscan monastery that once stood there, but was torn down during the French Revolutionary Wars. Twice a week – on Wednesday and Saturday – there is cool farmer’s market until 2 PM. I love a good farmer’s market, and luckily our day trip was on a Wednesday. Not so lucky, the fact that we showed up at quarter to 2 and the vendors had already begun to pack away their things. Despite missing the market, I could still imagine how cute the square would be if it weren’t full of garbage trucks and boxes… Most importantly, Place Guillaume II is the location of the Tourist’s Center and the maps. Yay maps! I don’t know what I would have done without the map. The center of the city wasn’t so bad, but the roads to the Grund were a maze of hilly, twisting streets that usually led to a dead end or the bottom of a hill you weren’t supposed to go down. Not sure about you, but I’m not a fan of unnecessary hills and/or stairs.
To the east of the square, down a side street, is the Palais Grand-Ducal and Chambre des Députés. From there to the Grund you just follow the narrow, cobblestone streets down the hill to the Alzette River (or take the elevator I wish I had known about). The Grund is one of the oldest parts of the city and is known for its restaurants, bars, and nightlife. Since I wasn’t going to be in Luxembourg for the night, I was drawn to the Grund for its views and how picturesque it looked in pictures. It doesn’t disappoint. Not only is the area itself very photogenic, but it gives you a glimpse of Chemin de Corniche, a street known as “Europe’s Loveliest Balcony”.
While I didn’t make it to the Bock or the Casemates – the ancient fortifications and tunnels that made Luxembourg so secure – the Grund did offer some great views of its cannon holes. The Bock was so good at defending the city, it was declared the “Gibraltar of the North” by a French general after it withstood a seven-month siege during the French Revolutionary Wars. Also located in the Grund is the Mur de Wenceslas – a remnant of the original Luxembourg Fortress – and Neumünster Abbey. The Abbey has had a long history of destruction, rebuilding, and repurposing. After ceasing to function as an abbey, it was a Napoleonic police station and prison, Prussian barracks, and a Nazi prison for resisters; now it’s a meeting place and cultural center for the city.
With the historical portion of our Luxembourg tour over, we – but mostly F – were interested in seeing the modern quarter of the city, Kirchberg, which is home to many European institutions. From the bottom of the Grund we started walking towards the shiny, glass buildings, which seemed logical. Upon reaching the other side of the Alzette River we were at the bottom of another giant, seemingly insurmountable hill and could not even see the huge, shiny buildings anymore. Faced with the question of left or right, I chose right. It turns out that ‘right’ was probably the more unnecessarily difficult way of getting to Kirchberg because the next thing I knew we were on a dirt path winding through the forest and then never-ending stone steps and finally a giant grassy field. Still no huge, shiny buildings in site. No way this how European politicians get to work! After walking through Fort Thüngen, we were greeted by this beautiful view of the city across the valley, the Mudam – the modern art museum – and finally the shiny glass buildings. We walked around the first area of Kirchberg – Quartier européen Sud – which is home to the Chambre de Commerce Luxembourg, Philharmonie Luxembourg, the Robert Schuman Building of the European Parliament, and a lot of benches. After a short sit on one of these benches, we realized that we just couldn’t make it any further, no matter how much we wanted to see the European Commission or Court of Justice. With the sad realization that our afternoon in Luxembourg had to end right then, we hopped on a bus – hoping it would take us to the train station – and began the trip to Metz.