It’s easy to get transported to the past in Luxembourg City, where the ancient fortified city walls are open for public exploration, the surroundings are verdant thanks to myriad public parks and cantilevered gardens hug 17th-century relic Neumünster Abbey.
So much so that you might not realize that after climbing one of the city’s many scalable hills that you’ve wandered into the Luxembourg City History Museum, its elevator’s modern glass panels laying bare a virtual time portal. Over the course of several floors, you can explore archaeological finds that trace from the Middle Ages all the way to the industrial 19th century, a metaphor for the juxtaposition in this tiny Grand Duchy. Despite its medieval charms, the country is now a rich technological powerhouse with a reputation for unaffordability that can be off-putting—but don’t let that deter you from discovering a hidden gem that’s much easier to navigate than other European capitals like Paris and Rome.
Opt to stay at the Sofitel Luxembourg Le Grand Ducal—a five-minute walk from the UNESCO-listed Old Quarters—full of sweeping panoramas from many rooms as well as the top-floor Mu steakhouse. Four nights is an ideal time frame to explore all of the top sights in the country, which is even smaller than Rhode Island. Start with the underground defense system—the fortifications built in the 10th century were once known as the Gibraltar of the North—and meander past Parliament, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Grand Ducal Palace and the Golden Lady monument, which now pays tribute to victims from World Wars I and II and Korea.
Photo: Romain Negre
Photo: Alfonso Salgueiro Lora
History buffs can geek out with a 10-minute drive to Luxembourg American Cemetery, where Gen. George Patton and more than 5,000 U.S. soldiers are buried, most casualties of the Battle of the Bulge in the nearby Ardennes Forest. A quick drive from there, Diekirch’s National Museum of Military History is filled with restored tanks, military vehicles and weapons, and spry curator Benoît Niederkorn leads visitors through the space. Partially paid for and constructed by U.S. veterans, the life-sized battle dioramas bring some of the war’s most pivotal struggles to life.
To begin exploring the food and drink scene, grab a beer from the country’s second largest brewery, Diekirch, before giving in to your appetite at Brasserie du Cercle. Venison, homemade sausages, spaetzle, cabbage and ooey gooey raclette cheese make for some authentic local indulgences, or save the calories for a brunch at the café inside Mudam. That I.M. Pei-designed modern art museum’s exhibits are as digestible in a two-hour visit as its stunning spread of local cheeses, cured meats and pastries.
It’s good fuel to hit the road bound for Clervaux, home to one of the country’s most impressive castles. Inside is another stunning artistic display—war photographer Edward Steichen’s Family of Man exhibit, which toured the world for eight years before being installed in the American immigrant’s home country. More than 250 unnamed photographers from around the world contributed black-and-white images on the themes of fun, work and family, portraying the universality of human emotions. You’ll feel some of that joy in nearby Château d’Urspelt, a former castle that was used as an American field hospital before being converted into a luxury hotel. The beds are no doubt much more comfortable, and after a relaxing spa treatment or sumptuous three-course dinner, you’ll feel like royalty.
The castle tour continues 30 minutes away in Vianden, where a 9th-century feudal manor towers over a colorful cobbled village that seems plucked straight out of a Disney movie. Tour the restored property, hike the well-manicured trails or continue toward another medieval gem renowned for its hiking paths: Mullerthal. You’ll soon see why it’s called Little Switzerland, with quaint half-timbered houses and an impressive abbey. The fascinating Roman ruins of Trier (including the UNESCO-listed Porta Nigra) await across the border in Germany—a short drive away—or stay put with a glass of wine at Hotel de l’Ecluse, a funky, modern hotel whose restaurant has great views of the Moselle River and its terraced vineyards. The whites and sparkling crémants are crisp, vibrant and the ideal way to toast discoveries in both the city and the countryside. ◆
— Fares on trains, trams and buses will soon be waived to quell congestion.
— Traffic can be tight on weekdays because of commuters. On weekends, parking in many spots is free, but you’ll want to walk everywhere in the city.
— Signs for visitors are conveniently in English, perhaps owing to this country’s deep gratitude for American troops that helped liberate it during World War II.
Brasserie du Cercle, brasserie-du-cercle.lu; Château d’Urspelt, chateau-urspelt.lu/en; Hotel de l’Ecluse, hotel-ecluse.lu/en; Luxembourg American Cemetery, abmc.gov; Luxembourg City History Museum, citymuseum.lu/en; Mudam, mudam.lu; National Museum of Military History, mnhm.net/ng; Sofitel Luxembourg Le Grand Ducal, sofitel.accorhotels.com