Luxembourg: European travel de luxe

Why is everyone sleeping on Luxembourg as a travel destination in Europe? It deserves way more attention and consideration. 

For one, it’s the only country not only in Europe but in the whole world with free public transportation for everyone—residents and tourists alike. Yes, absolutely zero fares on buses and trams throughout the country. 

You hop on and hop off without needing to take anything out from your wallet and can explore as much of the country as you want without spending a single centavo for the commutes. How much savings does that lead to per day? Taking the unli-use cards for trains-buses-trams of Amsterdam and Brussels as peg, it amounts to €6.50-8, or P390-480. Multiply that by, say, a 4-day stay and you get an extra P1,560-1,920 to spend for other items for your trip or to keep in your pocket.

Luxembourg trams

A tram passing the annual traditional fair of Schueberfouer.

Oh and you’ll love riding the Luxembourg trams: they look like they came straight out of a sci-fi movie that’s set in the near future. 

Arriving in Luxembourg via rail from another part of Europe is a great way to start your sojourn in the city and the trams are the second half of the one-two punch—the good kind—of past and present that greets visitors. The first half is the central train station itself which disarms with its Baroque Revival architecture. 

Though nowhere near as grand and ornate as those in major European cities, it nonetheless exudes old-world charm especially from its iconic clock tower made up of sepia-toned bricks and green spire. The station’s relatively small size is actually one of its main strengths: it gives the building an intimacy and friendliness missing in its bigger counterparts in other cities. 

The country is a lot like that. It’s tiny, only about four times the size of Metro Manila, and the capital city, also named  Luxembourg, can be called quaint if compared to many popular city destinations in Europe. No massive palaces, no sprawling parks or plazas, no towering monuments. No hordes of tourists, too. With a population of less than 700,000, it’s cozy, even homey in a way tourist traps are not. 

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Passerelle bridge or the Luxembourg viaduct

Not that there isn’t much or enough to see and enjoy. The city of Luxembourg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the exceptional preservation of its vast fortifications and historic quarters. 

Here’s what UNESCO says: “The Old City of Luxembourg is located at the confluence of the Alzette and Pétrusse Rivers, on a very steep rocky outcrop which is somewhat of a natural fortification that only needed to be completed on the west side. Due to its exceptional strategic position, the City of Luxembourg was one of the largest fortresses of modern Europe which was constantly strengthened and reinforced as it passed successively into the hands of the great European powers.

“The city also retains the layout of its streets and many public buildings, important testimony of its origins and its development since the 10th century. Inside and at the foot of the ramparts, quarters where people lived and engaged in trades or crafts developed. They also kept places of worship, such as the Church of St. Michel, now a veritable museum of sacred art, or the Church of St. Nicolas, subsequently transferred to the sanctuary of the Jesuits, the present cathedral. The ancient Abbey of Neumünster is a landmark in the borough of Grund.

“Despite the dismantling of the fortress, the fortifications and the old quarters, today the city is a historical ensemble of prime importance. It is an outstanding example of a fortified European city and host to an exceptional variety of military vestiges illustrating a long period of Western history.”

Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge

The Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge across the Alzette river

The Pétrusse river runs through Luxembourg, smack in the middle. But unlike the Seine in Paris or the Danube in Budapest, it’s narrow and is not flanked by commercial districts. Accessible at the lower part of the city where the historic Old Quarters and ruins of the Fortress  stand, it provides visitors a vantage point to view Luxembourg’s beautiful, mesmerizing sloping cityscape. 

That vista becomes fascinating when the Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge comes into the picture. Built in the 1960s and now more popularly known as the Red Bridge (owing to its paint color), it’s a very tall steel structure with a minimalist design that connects two hills, with the city center on one hill and the site of the European Union institutions on the other, and looms high above the centuries-old settlement below.

Vianden Castle

Vianden Castle perched atop a rocky hill in the northeastern part of the country

Here is another one of those unusual past-and-present, old-and-new confluences that make Luxemburg delightful.

For a reverse, panoramic view of the city, there’s a several stories-high deck made with an elevator and a longish glass-covered platform that also serves to take visitors up and down the city center’s quiet lower level and bustling middle section. 

Vianden Castle, considered the most popular tourist destination in the country, replicates this worm’s eye view-bird’s eye view experience and it’s even more enchanting. Perched atop a rocky hill in the namesake town in the northeastern part of the country, the centuries-old castle and the similarly-aged tiny town below and the river that runs through it make for a fairy tale-like sight that truly captivates from either vantage point. 

La Philarmonie Theatre in the Kirchberg district of Luxembourg City

Luxembourg is an excellent base for  taking short trips to neighboring countries. A leisurely 40-minute drive on a scenic highway flanked by beautiful countryside dotted with small towns takes you to historic Trier, the oldest city in all of Germany. A two-hour train ride in the opposite direction takes you to Strasbourg, a city in northeastern France famed for its awe-inspiring Romanesque-Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral that has been standing since 1439 as well as its Christmas Market which is considered one of the grandest in all of Europe. Many other cities are within easy reach.

If that doesn’t whet your appetite for Luxembourg, perhaps these trivia will: the country’s official language is called Luxembourgish; the locals are called Luxembourger. The country is as delectable as that sounds. Stop sleeping on it. 

The new lifestyle.