Luxembourg is primarily known for three things: castles, banks and beverages. It’s so small that the country’s full name doesn’t fully fit within its borders on most maps, and a weekend is plenty of time to get to know the capital (take Sunday off and you can conquer the whole country). For such a small place it still manages to be topographically diverse, and while it’s certainly fairytale-esque, it’s the juxtaposition of farmland and medieval castles that makes this a city worth seeing.
If you’re going for the grape, this is a good time of year to do it; the Moselle Valley harvest celebrations take place in autumn. Spring is less tourist-laden, plus you’ll also get to see some great flora and fauna. The national motto sums up the proud atmosphere of the area: Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sin (‘We want to remain what we are’). Luxembourg’s residents are said to go to bed earlier than most of their European neighbours, but here are a few attractions and events to fill two or three not-too-sleepy days.
Luxembourg City was built on a headland, so the views of the surrounding valleys and forests are spectacular; stroll along Chemin de la Corniche to take it in. Luxembourg City’s fortress, built in 1744, has since been (mostly) dismantled, but the citadel within, dating right back to 936, can still be partially seen. The foundations underneath the castle were excavated and a 23-kilometre network of tunnels, the Bock Casemates (Montée de Clausen Clausen, +352 22 28 09, open Mar-Oct) were built. Over the years they’ve been used to shelter soldiers, as an artillery factory, as a slaughterhouse and bakery, and to protect 35,000 localsduring World War I and II. For a more detailed account, head to the Luxembourg City History Museum (14 rue du St-Esprit, Old Town, +352 47 96 30 61), or the newly opened Musée dräi Eechelen (5 Parc Dräi Eechelen, Clausen, +352 26 43 35), which is located within a former fortress.
Also make time to visit the Grand-Duc Jean Musée d’Art Moderne (3 Parc Dräi Eechelen, Clausen, +352 45 37 85 22), Luxembourg’s Modern Art Museum, created by the same architect who designed the Louvre pyramid, Ieoh Ming Pei. The space is fantastically bright and airy, and while the permanent collection of works is small, the regularly changing exhibitions of sculpture, site-specific installations and photography are rarely short of breathtaking.
Close to the museum is the Philharmonie (1 place de l’Europe, Clausen, +352 26 32 26 32), which could hold its own against other great concert halls of the world; its modern, minimal design makes it look like a gigantic white UFO.
If you’re seeking to venture out a little further, the town of Vianden, to the north of Luxembourg City, is probably the country’s most romantic spot.
To the south of the capital lies the vineyard-laden Moselle Valley. The 1,000-year-old Château de Bourscheid (1 Schlasswee, +352 99 05 70), between Esch and Ettelbrück, makes you feel like you’ve walked straight into an old Germanic fairytale, overlooking the Sûre River and surrounding farmland.
Eat and drink
It’s down to the country’s small population more than anything else, but it remains a fact that Luxembourg has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the world. Two of the best are just metres apart, down on the banks of the Alzette in the cobbly, picturesque Grund area. Try Kamakura (4 rue Münster, Grund, +352 47 06 04) for fantastic, traditional Japanese fare or, just across the road, there’s Mosconi (13 rue Münster, Grund, +352 54 69 94), where classic Italian ristorante dishes get the fine-dining treatment.
It’s not all amuse-bouches and painstaking presentation, though; there’s plenty in Luxembourg for those with more modest dinner budgets. Wäistuff Restaurant (4 rue de la Loge, +352 27 47 80 59), in the old town, is the place to go for kniddelen, a Luxembourgish comfort food involving heavy, gnocchi-like dumplings and your choice of several different (but essentially very similar) rich, meaty sauces. There’s a decent selection of grape on offer, and dishes cost around Dhs77 each – not bad considering they’re enough for two to share.
The city’s nightlife may be decidedly more muted, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend an evening in style. European hipster- types will feel at home at Interview (21 rue Aldringen, +352 26 20 09 12), which is all dark wood, vintage light fixtures and gently apathetic reggae tunes. Like all Luxembourg establishments, the lax smoking regulations are taken full advantage of, but the open front means you’ll escape the stench of nicotine during the summer months.
Down in Grund, Café des Artistes (22 Montée du Grund, +352 46 13 27) has a similarly bohemian vibe, with vintage posters on the walls and live piano tunes adding a touch of class most nights of the week. Across the road, Scott’s Pub (4 Bisserweg, +352 22 64 75) is one of the rowdier places in town (especially if there’s sport on) and not half as tacky as the anglicised moniker may suggest. Okay, so the drinks list includes a three-litre ‘hop tower’ (around Dhs144; that’s €30, plus a €20 deposit), but the small riverbank terrace is the perfect spot for a thoroughly refined quaff.
Where to stay
With its on-site art gallery and stark white lobby strewn with objets d’art, Hotel Simoncini (6 rue de Notre Dame, +352 26 26 29 00) is the ideal base for a weekend of culture-led exploration. The rooms are less flashy than the communal areas but very comfortable, while the near-constant tinkling of the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral means it’s unlikely you’ll snooze through your morning alarm call.