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One of Europe’s tiniest capitals, Luxembourg City still manages a perfect blend of centuries-old architecture, trendy hotels and chic bars and restaurants – and the cherry on top is its stunning setting on the edge of two spectacular gorges.
The Upper and Lower Old Town areas of central Luxembourg are compact, and walking is often the best way to negotiate the confusing tangle of narrow cobbled streets. An 80-metre lift connects the two levels without the need to tackle any steep inclines. For destinations such as the business hub of the Kirchberg Plateau, leg power is only recommended for the hardiest hikers.
Taxis in Luxembourg are relatively expensive and cannot be hailed on the street, but a dense network of bus routes covers the entire city at regular intervals, with a handful of services operating the more popular routes through the night. Single tickets are available, or a ‘long duration’ ticket will give you unlimited access to ride all day. All public transport is free if you buy a Luxembourg Card, a tourist-friendly option that also gets you free entry to every museum in the country.
Reflecting its status as a European business hub, hotels are often more expensive and usually busier during the week. Rates can drop significantly at weekends, providing some unexpected bargains. For pampering on an intimate scale, Parc Beaux-Arts (1 rue de Sigefroi) is a lavish boutique hotel in an Old Town house with individually decorated suites. Run by the same group, Parc Belair (111 avenue du 10 Septembre) has a chic retro interior and sits on the edge of a peaceful park with a lakeside café.
Ultra-modern luxuries are to be found at the Sofitel Luxembourg Le Grand Ducal (40 boulevard d’Avranches), which boasts an eighth-floor restaurant and cocktail bar that offer arguably the best views in town. More affordable is Hotel Simoncini (6 rue Notre-Dame), which provides designer comforts in the heart of the Old Town, while the Meliá Luxembourg (1 Park Dräi Eechelen) has all mod cons in a convenient spot beside the MUDAM, Luxembourg’s museum of modern art.
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Those looking to listen to cool sounds while sipping on a chilled cocktail should make a beeline for the Rives de Clausen district, a street of a dozen bars and clubs with competing décor and DJs, all open into the early hours. As the name hints, Rock Box (2 Rives de Clausen) goes up to 11 on the musical amplification; Maria Bonita (7 Rives de Clausen) salsas down the Brazilian route; while King Wilma (15 Rives de Clausen) has a prehistoric bones theme designed to appeal to Flintstones fans.
Several bars in the Old Town are frequented by those in the know: Go Ten (10 rue du Marché-aux-Herbes) creates a sense of serenity with moss and wood bark in abundance; chic Zanzen (27-29 rue Notre-Dame) is very popular with the local after-office crowd. For live music, Den Atelier (54 rue de Hollerich) hosts regular rock gigs, while Philharmonie (1 place de l’Europe) caters to the more classically minded.
For the better dining bargains, follow the local lead and make lunchtime your main meal, when even the classiest joints offer reasonably priced ‘menus du jour’. Booking ahead is recommended at the best places. Le Sud (8 Rives de Clausen) boasts fabulous high-end French cuisine and a spectacular setting on the fourth floor of the former Mousel Brewery. Mosconi (13 rue Münster) consistently serves up what is hailed as some of the finest Italian food found outside Italy.
For a subterranean experience, Caves Gourmandes (32 rue de l’Eau) dishes up fine French bistro fare in a medieval stone cellar. Chiggeri (15 rue du Nord) is a popular and trendy eatery with a wide-ranging menu – including the artery-busting tartiflette, an overdose of meat, cheese and cream. Elegantly designed and meat-free Mesa Verde (11 rue du St Esprit), meanwhile, is the must-visit place for both vegetarians and fish lovers.
It may be small, but Luxembourg’s shops cover all tastes and all budgets. If chic designer stores are your thing, both Grand-Rue and Rue Philippe II are lined with top-end boutiques where you’ll find all the familiar exclusive names. For more down-to-earth needs (and prices), try the Auchan shopping mall on the Kirchberg Plateau, which has around 60 shops under one roof, many of them high-street fashion chains.
Luxembourg’s most famous manufacturer is arguably House of Villeroy & Boch, in operation since 1748. Their flagship city centre outlet (2 rue du Fossé) is the place to satisfy all your porcelain and glassware desires. Chocoholics should make a beeline for Oberweis (16 Grand-Rue), purveyors of the nation’s favourite chocolate treats since 1964. The ground floor of this glittering palace of sweet treats is a chocolaterie and patisserie, and there’s a restaurant and tea room on the two levels above.
Top 5 sights for first-timers
MUDAM (Museum of Modern Art)
This fabulous creation of Chinese-American architect I M Pei (also responsible for the Louvre’s glass pyramid in Paris) is worth visiting whatever your views on contemporary art. The polished white limestone and glass galleries would be just as stunning even if they weren’t filled with an ever-changing series of daring temporary exhibitions.
3 Park Dräi Eechelen
Luxembourg City’s desirability as a strategic stronghold becomes abundantly obvious when you take in its breathtaking setting at the junction of two river gorges. There are views to be had all over, but some of the best are to be had from the Place de la Constitution, dominated by the Gëlle Fra, or ‘golden lady’ – the national symbol of freedom.
Place de la Constitution
Cut into a rock spur jutting into the Alzette Valley are an intricate maze of defensive rock tunnels that protected the city from invading forces. Built in 1745, at their peak the caverns were home to thousands of soldiers, along with all their equipment.
Montée de Clausen
Luxembourg City History Museum
Much of the space in this museum – which tells the city’s story since its founding in AD963 – is below ground level, with galleries cut directly into the rock. The several levels are linked by a massive glass lift that is a work of art in itself.
14 rue du St Esprit
Grand Ducal Palace
Modestly proportioned by European royal palace standards, this 1573 building was originally the town hall. It only became the Grand Duke’s city centre hangout in 1890. The restored interior is fabulously ornate, with vaulted ceilings covered in 16th-century frescoes, period furniture, sweeping staircases and crystal chandeliers.
17 rue du Marché-aux-Herbes
Top 5 sights for old hands
‘Am Tunnel’ Contemporary Art Gallery
This underground art gallery is owned by the National Savings Bank, and housed in a 300-metre subterranean corridor linking several nearby premises. The bulk of the space has changing exhibits by local artists, but one end is dedicated to Luxembourg-American photographer Edward Steichen, who captured the Hollywood glitterati on film during the 1920s and 1930s.
16 rue Ste Zithe
This grand white villa surrounded by well-tended gardens was built in the 19th century by a local glove manufacturer as his home. In the 1950s, it was the forerunner to today’s European Court of Justice, but is now one of the city’s best art galleries, hosting changing exhibitions.
18 avenue Emile Reuter
National Museum of History and Art
The highlight of the national history side of this double-themed museum is a huge Roman mosaic dating from the third century AD. The arts side houses the nation’s finest collection of fine artworks.
Musée Dräi Eechelen
With its commanding spot at the west end of the Kirchberg Plateau, the ‘Three Acorns’ fort once defended the city from the east. It now houses a museum covering the city’s fortifications. The prize exhibit is a huge bronze model showing the city in 1867, when the defences were at their peak.
5 Park Dräi Eechelen
Neumünster Abbey Cultural Centre
Before becoming an arts centre hosting various exhibitions and events, this abbey complex had a varied history. Founded in 1606, the abbey was closed by Napoleonic decree in 1796 and spent time as a police barracks, orphanage and hospital. It was even a prison before gaining its current role in 1985.
28 rue Münster
Countryside in the city
Take one of the many stone staircases leading down from the Old Town into the Pétrusse Valley and enjoy a time out from the city. The wooded valley floor and high rock walls dampen the traffic noise from above, allowing birdsong to rule the airwaves.
The self-guided Wenzel walking route is billed as ‘1,000 years in 100 minutes’. Named for Wenceslas II, Duke of Luxembourg from 1383 to 1419, it follows a scenic route through the upper and lower towns around what remains of the city’s fortifications.
If getting around on foot doesn’t appeal, opt for the modern two-wheeled way, by signing up for a Segway tour. The guide will lead you on a trip around the city sights, and all you have to do is lean back and forth to start and stop.
A walk in the park
When the 1867 Treaty of London called for the dismantling of the city’s ample fortifications, it led to the creation of a massive park circling two sides of the Old Town not protected naturally by gorges – a welcome Sunday retreat.
Few first-timers realise Luxembourg’s Moselle Valley is home to a well-established wine industry. To sample some in situ, head for Remich, 20 kilometres east of the city by regular bus. Several of the country’s largest wine houses are located there.
The ceremonies on Luxembourg’s national day are formal, but the citywide street parties the evening before are anything but. The festivities culminate in a massive firework display in the city centre.
Date: 22-23 June
Summer in the City
This summer-long series of musical events takes place across the city at a multitude of venues. Most events are free and many are held on outdoor stages. They cover all bases from classical to hip hop.
The country’s biggest annual funfair has been a tradition for centuries. With food stalls and thrill rides in abundance, it attracts a million visitors each year.
Venue: Champ des Glacis
Fête des Vins et Crémants
This celebration of the national wine industry takes place in a large circus big top during the last weekend in November. You pay for a glass on entering, but the subsequent wines are supplied free by the winegrowers as a promotion.
Venue: Champ des Glacis
The weeks leading up to Christmas become an endless succession of concerts, exhibitions and other events. Many take place in or around the centrepiece: the Christmas Market held annually on Place d’Armes.
Written by World Travel Guide