Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A Backpacker's Guide to LUXEMBOURG.

Luxembourg seems to be one of Europe’s forgotten countries.  Whilst its neighbours receive masses of visitors throughout the year, Luxembourg rarely features in travel itineraries.  In fact, I even struggled to find a guidebook.  But for me, this element of mystery added to the appeal of this tiny nation.

Modern Luxembourg is based on a long and often turbulent history.  It remains the world’s last surviving ‘Grand Duchy’ (a nation ruled by a duke or duchess) and has managed to maintain full sovereignty and a unique culture noticeably different from its larger neighbours.  Never have I heard a more fitting motto than ‘We want to remain what we are’.

Multilingualism is central to Luxembourgish culture.  The country is officially trilingual - French, German and Luxembourgish (a Germanic language with a French twang) all hold equal status.  And fascinatingly, all three languages seem to be used interchangeably – you could go into three shops and be addressed in a different language in each.  A majority of Luxembourgers speak also speak good English.  As a language, Luxembourgish is difficult to perfect, but even the most rusty attempts of saying Moien (hello) are always greeted with a warm smile from locals.

Luxembourgers are very proud of their unique heritage

The capital of the Grand Duchy goes by the same name – Luxembourg – so for this article I’ll refer to it as Luxembourg City.  As with the rest of the country, I was baffled by the lack of tourists as this UNESCO-listed city is unbelievably pretty.  I'd go as far as saying it's one of the prettiest capitals of Europe.  The old town is split between the fortified Upper Town, built strategically on a sheer-sided sandstone outcrop, and the lower town of Grund which straddles a gorge of the Alzette River.  Both are equally beautiful and well worth exploring on foot.

Alzette River, Luxembourg City

Due to the country’s high GDP, Luxembourg can unfortunately be a bit pricey.  Prices are comparable to those found in London.  Expect to pay around EUR 22 per night for a hostel dorm, EUR 12-18 for a main course in a mid-range restaurant and EUR 8 for a fast food meal.  Food was my main expense, but I managed to keep costs low by eating mainly at the hostel – Luxembourg City Hostel offers a free breakfast and good quality, cheap food for lunch and dinner.  If you plan on making lots of journeys and visiting lots of attractions, the Luxembourg Card is a good way of saving money.  For more advice on how to keep travel costs low, see this post.

On the flip side, public transport is cheap to use and widely available throughout the country.  Flights to Luxembourg from the UK are also exceptionally cheap – I only paid EUR 20 for a return ticket!  

Pretty streets of Luxembourg City

History is hard to miss in Luxembourg

Luxembourg City is small - it's possible to get a good overview of the historic centre in a day, but allow two days if you want to see the museums and galleries.  There are lots of great places which can be explored through day trips from the capital:

Vianden – A small town in the north of the Grand Duchy.  Luxembourg’s most impressive medieval castle towers above the very charming streets.  From the capital, take the train to Diekirch and then catch the local bus to Vianden.

Echternach – Luxembourg’s oldest town.  Echternach is small, but very picturesque.  It works well when combined with a trip to Vianden.  Take local buses from either Luxembourg City or Diekirch.

Trier (Germany) – A small UNESCO-listed city in the German Moselle Valley.  A trip over the border is cheap and easy and Trier is fabulous.  Come here for the beautiful cathedral, the impressive Roman ruins and colourful market square.  A train from Luxembourg costs only EUR 9.80 return and takes just 50 minutes.

Trier market square 

I’ve given Luxembourg a 'backpackability' score of 4, meaning it is mostly suitable for backpackers and budget travelers.  For a more detailed explanation, see this post.

Luxembourg remains largely undiscovered by mass tourism.  This means it lacks the party atmosphere of other European destinations, but gives visitors a ‘real’ insight to an undiscovered and uniquely beautiful nation.  It’s a small country with a very big heart.

Elis Griffiths. x

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