Travel guide: Explore the historic and cultural highlights of Luxembourg City

The tiny Grand Duchy’s elegant capital is all too often skirted over by travellers, but it has sights, art and history that far outstrips its size...

5 mins

The drama and beauty of Luxembourg’s capital often comes as a surprise to the first-time visitor. The Grand Duchy – the world’s only sovereign nation whose head of state is a Grand Duke – emerged in 963 AD when Count Siegfried built a castle on top of the Bock cliffs. Today the Bock and Old Quarter – a UNESCO World Heritage site – perch on a sandstone plateau high above the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers, and wandering its upper and lower cities is like strolling through history.

The grand architecture of the old town is testament to Luxembourg’s longheld wealth, not to mention a location that led to half of medieval Europe coveting the city. French influence in the capital dates back centuries – and numerous invasions – but it wasn’t until the 1600s that the military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban transformed the city into one of the most impressive fortifications on the continent.

However, the Grand Duchy’s overriding influence is Germanic, the capital thriving under the Holy Roman Empire and Habsburg Dynasty until the country gained independence in 1867 and its walls were torn down in exchange for its freedom.

While Luxembourg has its own discrete language and culture – of which locals are rightly proud – it remains a pot-pourri of European influences, and not just because of its history. Today, the city is a hub for Europe’s legal, financial and political institutions; and in stark contrast to its old quarter, the glassy high-rises of ultra-modern Kirchberg now glare back across the valley. This area’s museums and its parks of quirky sculptures and installations shouldn’t be glossed over by visitors, and even here you can still find relics of the capital’s old fortifications. The city’s business focus also has a bonus for travellers, as it ensures that it empties of many of its visitors and cross-border workers at the weekend, meaning you can pick up a room for a fraction of the weekday prices.

The evening light in Luxembourg City (Shutterstock)

The evening light in Luxembourg City (Shutterstock)

People enjoying outdoor dining in Luxembourg City (Shutterstock)

People enjoying outdoor dining in Luxembourg City (Shutterstock)

How to spend a short break in Luxembourg City

The Old Quarter and its attractions are easily explored on foot. Take in the double-arched Pont Adolphe Bridge and Passerelle viaduct, then wander to Constitution Square to see its 1923-built war memorial, topped by the gilt statue of the ‘Golden Lady’ (Gëlle Fra). The latter was lost for decades after the invading Germans tore the monument down in 1940. It only reappeared 41 years later, found in pieces beneath a local stadium – a mystery that remains unsolved. The figure atop the obelisk now is a reproduction.

Next, head east to the cavernous Notre-Dame Cathedral, a heady mix of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture. You also can’t visit the Grand Duchy without paying homage to the Grand Ducal Palace, the city residence for the Grand Duke of Luxembourg; however, guided tours are only offered during summer (July and August). Indeed, the city is full of culture. At Lëtzebuerg City Museum, you can ride a glass lift through 1,000 years of history, then lose yourself in the National Museum of History and Art, or visit the Casemates, a maze of underground chambers and passageways built in the 1600s and later used to store supplies. The Pétrusse portion had been closed since 2015 and only reopened this summer.

Leaving the historic centre behind, head west to Villa Vauban. This elegant park-set building features a particularly fine collection of 17th-century works by the Dutch masters. Of course, if you prefer your art to be more experimental, drop south to the Casino Luxembourg gallery, or head east to Kirchberg where MODAM serves up a thrilling collection of contemporary art in a glass-fronted building atop the old ramparts. Just next to it also lies Fort Thüngen, where you can explore the capital’s origins, the history of its walls and its military past at Musée Dräi Eechelen.

Read next: 14 hot museum openings for 2023

Notre-Dame Cathedral in Luxembourg (Shutterstock)

Notre-Dame Cathedral in Luxembourg (Shutterstock)

Around the Alzette there’s an abundance of heritage buildings, parks, fortifications and riverside paths. Lose yourself in the romance of it all, caught in the loop of the river, then pause for a leisurely coffee or lunch at Place d’Armes before following the Chemin de la Corniche, a walking trail along the ramparts with far-reaching views over the ravine. Drop down to the bottom of the gorge at Stierchen Bridge and amble along the riverside path to Klouschtergaart and Luxembourg City’s very own ‘Little Mermaid’, Melusina, a bright-purple ceramic statue contrasting the lush tree-lined river. Continue to the Grund district, where the city’s medieval labourers and craftsmen once lived, and which is now home to a slew of chic eateries and bars. Save your lungs on the way back up by taking the lift to the upper level of the old town.

Kirchberg has a very different vibe to the historic centre. When you cross the Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge over the Pfaffenthal Valley onto a separate plateau, views of Kirchberg’s skyscrapers open up before you. It may be just a twenty-minute bus or tram ride, but it feels like you’ve been catapulted into the future. Kirchberg is not only the capital’s business and EU hub, but the art-filled spaces of Parc Central are filled with avant-garde sculptures and installations. Seek out ‘The Knotted Gun’ (replicas of which now scatter the world), the bright yellow staircases of ‘Dendrite’, which lead nowhere, and the abstract ‘L’Africaine’. Book a walking tour to hear the stories behind the art.

Luxembourg City by night is unmissable. Treat yourself to an evening at Luxembourg Philharmonie, an iconic building of glass supported by over 800 white steel columns. It’s the home to the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra and also showcases the best of the Duchy’s up-and-coming talent. If you prefer more informal settings, there are plenty of bars and restaurants offering live entertainment along with food and drink. Head for Rocas café-théâtre, or Bei der Gare for great jazz evenings. Best of all, visit in December when the city’s is ablaze with Christmas lights and its cobbles take on a magical quality all of their own.

Four top things to do in Luxembourg City

Pétrusse Casemates (Shutterstock)

Pétrusse Casemates (Shutterstock)

1. Visit the UNESCO-listed historic centre and Pétrusse Casemates. Make sure these are both your focus if time is limited, as they will be the highlights of your trip.


2. Walk the Museum Mile or ‘Museumsmile’ as the city dubs it, which lets you stroll the art, culture and history of seven fascinating museums in the city.


3. Eat local Luxembourgish fare at the cosy Am Tiirmschen restaurant, where Luxembourg favourites are staples on a hearty menu.

4. Drink up. Dating back to medieval times, Luxembourg has a long tradition of brewing. Don’t miss the funky Big Beer Company, which is set within the old Mousel brewery building.

Where to stay in Luxembourg City

The Pont Adolphe is still sometimes known as the ‘New Bridge’ (Shutterstock)

The Pont Adolphe is still sometimes known as the ‘New Bridge’ (Shutterstock)

Small and intimate: Hotel Parc Beaux-Arts

Situated in the heart of the city’s old town lies Parc Beaux-Arts. It oozes character, with original architectural features that include wood panelling, exposed stonework and beamed ceilings. Combined with art and Italian design, you’re sure to fall in love with this pretty boutique hotel.

Mid-range: Sofitel Le Grand Ducal

You’ll find Le Grand Ducal just outside the historic centre. Expect contemporary style and regal service befitting the hotel’s name. Overlooking the Alzette and Pétrusse valleys, it claims to have some of the finest views in town, best enjoyed with breakfast on the top floor.

Best address: Le Place d’Armes Hotel

Seven houses have been joined together to create an enchanting hotel. Wander the maze of staircases and curved corridors to one of 28 eclectic rooms and suites. There’s also fine dining at La Cristallerie, with its Art Nouveau stained-glass windows and fin-de-siècle ambience.

Essential travel information

Population: 130,000

Currency: The euro (€), currently €1.18 to the £UK.

International dialling code: +352

Getting there: Ryanair flies direct from London Stansted to Luxembourg from £26 return, taking around 75 minutes. Luxair and British Airways  fly direct from London City and Heathrow respectively.

Getting around: Public transport is free throughout the city (and across the entire Duchy) for tourists and residents alike. This includes trains, trams and buses. Much of the city is walkable.

Festivals: Luxembourg Kizomba Festival – Kizomba is a style of music that originated in Angola. It also means ‘to party’, so head to Kirchberg’s LuxExpo The Box in April to do just that.
Summer in the City – Free concerts, street art, an open-air cinema and markets from June to September. 
Luxembourg Art Week – This November art fair sees cutting-edge art, sculptures and installations across the city.
Winterlights Festival – The city is lit up throughout December. Enjoy Christmas markets, a funfair, ice-skating and seasonal concerts. 

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