With ancient castles, fortified walls and scenic forests, it’s easy to see why Luxembourg was on our bucket list.
Luxembourg is the world’s last remaining grand duchy, meaning it is headed by a Grand Duke. The nation is landlocked between Belgium, Germany and France, and with an area of just 2,586 square kilometres, it is one of the smallest sovereign nations in Europe. It’s also very easy to navigate since the country is only 82 km (51 mi) long and 57 km (35 mi) wide.
You may not realise, but Luxembourg is home to a small wine-growing town in the south with a very well-known name - Schengen. Yes, the Schengen Agreement was signed here in 1985, which enabled participating countries to lower their border restrictions. This now makes travel with Europe so much easier.
We arrived in Luxembourg via a 3-hour train ride from Belgium using our Eurail pass. It was a direct train line and a very comfortable journey.
You can, of course fly into the local airport which is just a few kilometres outside Luxembourg City. Or if already in Western Europe, just drive, as many tourists do.
Getting Around (And How To Save Money)
The centre of Luxembourg City is so small you can really walk around it quite easily. But if you are going further afield the Luxembourg Card can be used on all the trains and buses. They even have a Family Card for 2 to 5 people for just €48 for 2 days. That will give you unlimited national public transport and free entrance to more than 60 museums and tourist attractions.
This will make it much easier to explore the country, top to bottom. And to reach the vistas outside the city, trains run very regularly.
Where To Stay
Those on a budget will find the Youth Hostel situated on the lush outskirts of the city centre a convenient option. We stayed in a quadruple/family room with 2 bunk beds and a private bathroom. The room included bed linens and breakfast.
The room was adequate, although without air-conditioning was quite warm. The breakfast provided bread, typical cold meats and cheeses, cereal and fruit - quite good for a hostel.
There was no Wi-Fi in the room, but we could access it free of charge in the common areas, and there was ample seating areas perfect for that.
It was a decent walk into the city, all uphill, so be prepared. You can hike up the hill to the main road and also catch a bus. We walked the whole way with our two kids and it was an enjoyably scenic walk.
The hostel offers a shuttle to the airport and central train station. It was about €2 per adult to the train station and the kids were free.
In addition to our city stay, we opted for a couple days in the charming countryside and took a train to Kautenbach for a real glamping experience in the Ardennes.
Luxembourg ranks 2nd in Europe for Internet connectivity and is considered to be the most successful municipal Wi-Fi network in Europe. You can use the HotCity Wi-Fi network throughout Luxembourg City and surrounding towns. It even just worked out in the campsite in Kautenbach (near the main building). This is perfect when you don’t want to rack up a big roaming mobile data bill from your telco.
Many cafés and hotels also offer free Wi-Fi, so you’re never far away from your Facebook friends.
What To Do
While we were in Luxembourg we were lucky enough to have caught the 674th annual Luxembourg fair, Schueberfouer. In recent years the fair has grown to comprise of 184 attractions including 27 major rides, 13 children’s rides and 54 restaurants and snacks bars. It now attracts over 2 million visitors, which makes it the 3rd largest fair in Europe. So yes, it was busy. I was so pleased to be able to time our visit just right. Imagine this has been going for 674 years!
We also enjoyed a walking tour throughout the city checking out all the historic buildings and spotting animals along the way (even real turtles in a clothing store). Our guide, Mark, helped make the learning process fun for the kids and was tremendously informative.
A real highlight for us was walking through the underground fortress. The views of the walls and surrounding region were phenomenal.
Outside the city we found equally rich history and picturesque landscapes. We explored Vianden in the northeast, a beautiful little town with a cable car and charming castle on top of a hill - Château de Vianden.
Kautenbach was a tiny village with not much to see and do, but a landscape that instantly relaxed our minds.
What To Eat
With a noticeable German influence, an array of sausages are often found on the menu at lunch or dinner.
During our time at the Luxembourg fair we also enjoyed Gromperekichelcher, which is basically a tasty potato hashbrown – a dish unique to Luxembourg.
Situated in front of the Grand Ducal Palace, the Chocolate House is a delightful restaurant for lunch or afternoon tea. We enjoyed a savoury meal of quiche with salad, but the highlight was definitely the chocolate spoons. Yes, spoons.
We chose a flavour of chocolate and out came a hot cup of milk in which we dunked the chocolate spoon in.
If you are impatient like my daughter the melting chocolate was partially sucked off the spoon leaving a cup of mostly hot milk. Or you might prefer my husband’s patient approach of leaving the chocolate to marinate and ooze into the milk, creating one delicious hot chocolate drink.
What Language Do They Speak?
There are three languages recognised as the official languages of Luxembourg: French, German, and Luxembourgish. Each language is used as the primary language in certain spheres. The majority of hotels and restaurants use German, street signs are in French, while people talk to each other in Luxembourgish.
While they speak Luxembourgish it is not the written language, French is. Can you imagine growing up here? The first years of primary school are in Luxembourgish, before changing to German, while in secondary school, the language of instruction changes to French. To graduate from high school you must be proficient in all three languages.
Then on top of that, most people will also learn English. We did not have any trouble communicating with people in Luxembourg. I think they are amazing.
Why Is It Family Friendly?
We didn’t have enough time to discover all the numerous things Luxembourg had on offer for families and kids. We wanted to go south and visit Parc Merveilleux Bettembourg, a leisure and fairytale park, but we ran out of time. We also had plans to visit, Robbesscheier in Munshausen so the kids could do workshops like shoeing a horse, producing honey, and harvesting hay, but we ran out of time.
If that isn’t enough to convince you of Luxembourg’s family friendliness then the activities we did do should.
Our walking tour around the city was focused on what animals could be spotted on the historic building we visited. The camping grounds we stayed at had 2 playgrounds, nature walks and fishing. Vianden had an exciting (and incredibaly scenic) chairlift, and then there was the overall friendly disposition of the Luxembourgers. Tip: don’t try to make any jokes about burgers, they’ve heard them all before (Josh learned the hard way).
Luxembourg is a relatively safe and modern European country with effective law enforcement. We never felt unsafe walking the streets or even sleeping in a tent. The majority of the city centre is only open to pedestrian traffic, which is ideal for kids that like to dart back and forth between parents.
Nowhere else in Europe have we found such a city of contrasts from it’s modern architecture standing side-by-side with the UNESCO heritage sites, to the bustling city and it’s untouched, secluded countryside. I definitely want to return to explore more of this gorgeous little country, it’s history and it’s future. And while it may be small in size, there’s no doubt that it’s big on choices for family holidays.