No matter how much planning or preparation I do, I am always surprised by and thankful for those unexpected moments on any trip. They can happen anytime and anywhere, even on the most predictable of trips. That’s exactly what happened to me a couple of months ago as I once again joined Viking River Cruises for a fun Christmas market sailing along Europe’s rivers. Journeying from Paris to Prague, I had the great opportunity to visit a variety of cities and towns, enjoying the festive cheer as well as the sights that make them fun to visit any time of the year. One stop in particular though was a surprise, a surprise because I never suspected how much I would enjoy my brief time in quirky Luxembourg. A pit stop as we transitioned from Paris to our ship in Germany, that afternoon spent touring one of Europe’s smallest but most interesting countries was a personal highlight of my trip. I’ve been trying to think of ways to present Luxembourg to you all, to help share this newfound love and thought that to really do it justice, I need to showcase what makes it so very unique.
Luxembourg has a lot going for it, even though it’s the least populated of all the EU countries. Actually, maybe it’s thanks to this sparse population that it has evolved over time into being what I think is a model society. The country has the richest citizens per capita in the EU and the lowest crime rate. Things are good in Luxembourg, and walking around the capital city I couldn’t help but be reminded a little bit of Iceland. There too the culture feels warm and friendly. You get the sense that you can go anywhere and do anything and it would be fine. There isn’t the kind of distance between leaders and the people as exists certainly here in the US and in many other countries around the world. There’s a certain level of trust and a friendly attitude, and it’s a wonderful thing to experience, if only briefly.
Strangely Important Role in World History
You really need a guide to truly appreciate this quirky country, which thankfully Viking always provides on tours. A British expat, Steve has lived in Luxembourg for more than 30 years and during that time has become an expert in all things Luxembourgish (real word, look it up). Starting with the language. There are three official languages in the Grand Duchy: French, German, and Luxembourgish, although French seemed to be most common from my brief interactions. Thanks to its prime position, it has been traded from one empire to the other for centuries, usually bearing the brunt of incredible warfare and violence. Luxembourg City is also one of the three official capitals of the European Union and it was in the Luxembourgish city of Schengen where in 1985 an agreement was signed creating the border-free Europe we know and love today. Luxembourg has been a quietly important city for a very long time, which is why I’m still shocked that it took me 40 years to visit.
Deceptively Easy To Visit
Germany and France are two countries where I’ve spent a consider amount of time exploring over the years, especially Germany. Thanks to their size and incredible histories, I think it’s impossible not to find new and interesting things to do and experience almost anywhere you go. I’m still a little surprised then that I never visited Luxembourg, situated smack dab in between these two giants of European travel. The same location in the heart of Europe that led to centuries of warfare today means it’s incredibly easy for modern travelers to visit. Whether you’re traveling by car or train, there is a multitude of ways to reach and explore Luxembourg, making it the ideal add-on to a longer trip around the Continent.
More Than Luxembourg City
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed spending the day exploring the capital city, but visitors also need to make a point to explore the rest of the country. While admittedly small, it’s not a micro-nation and is nothing like visiting Andorra or San Marino. No, there are things to see and do outside of the main city and personally, I’d love to return and experience them all. Closest to Luxembourg City is a solemn but beautiful place, the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial. One of many found in Europe, the cemetery is the final resting place of more than 5,000 American service members, most of whom lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge. Granted to the United States by Luxembourg in perpetuity, the memorial is a surprisingly beautiful way to honor these brave souls with the stark white tombstones set against the verdant green grass and nearby forest.
Roughly the same size of West Virginia, the country isn’t enormous but it’s not small either. After exploring the area around Luxembourg City be sure to visit the other regions of the country including the Ardennes, Little Switzerland and the Moselle. Outdoor activities reign supreme here and there are many amazing hiking paths, cycling routes and other ways to enjoy the country.
Luxembourg is its own place, meant to be visited independently just as you would France or Germany. Combine it on a longer trip, but don’t skip it, don’t ignore it and be sure to give yourself enough time to see why this is one of the most interesting countries in Europe.