The capital, Luxembourg-Ville, is split into two districts: the delightful old center, complete with fortress towers, turrets and winding, cobblestone streets; and the modern downtown area on the plâteau du Krichberg – the Luxembourg version of Wall Street. The city’s history goes back to the year 963 AD, when Siegfried, Count of the Ardennes, had a castle named Lucilinburhuc built on a rock overlooking the River Alzette. It was the famous French fortress builder Vauban who, at the service of Louis XIV, later turned Luxembourg into one of his masterpieces, suitably known as the ‘Gibraltar of the North’. At its height, the fortress was girdled by three ring-walls studded with 24 forts and linked underground by a 23km- (15 mile-) network of underground tunnels. It survived until 1867, when it was dismantled according to the provisions of the Treaty of London. But many of the old fortifications remain well preserved to this day and, in 1994, the entire old part of Luxembourg-Ville was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Luxembourg City Tourist Office (whose main office is on the Place d’Armes) can provide details and maps for numerous walks taking visitors past the city’s medieval remains and historic sites. The underground tunnels, known as casemates, can also be visited. A special open-air tourist train called the ‘Petrusse Express’ offers frequent guided tours through the Petrusse Valley (from which many of the remaining fortifications can easily be viewed), giving visitors an insight into life in the former fortress, with commentaries in several languages. The train departs from underneath one of the arches of the Pont Adolphe viaduct. Tickets can be bought from the city tourist office. Most of the city’s historical sites are easily visited on foot and a walk through the Petrusse and Alzette valleys (which are spanned by several bridges) offers excellent views of the ancient fortifications. The city’s main square, the Place d’Armes, has a number of outdoor cafes and restaurants although, after redevelopment, the square has lost some of its ‘French’ charm. In the city center, the area known as the Grund, near the River Alzette, has many lively cafes and restaurants; it can be reached via a lift going down through the ancient rock (with the entrance located on the square Fëschmaart above). Other attractions in the city center include the recently renovated Palais Grand Ducal, the official residence of the Grand Duke, where visitors can observe the changing of the guard; the Place Guillaume (also called Knuedler) and its twice-weekly market (Wednesday and Saturday); and, near the Place Guillaume, the 17th century Notre Dame Cathedral. Art lovers will find numerous galleries in the capital. Interesting museums include the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of History and Art and the Museum of the City of Luxembourg (whose architecture interestingly combines the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ and which displays a very detailed and informative account of Luxembourg’s colorful history). The modern district on the plâteau du Kirchberg (reached via the Pont Grand Duchesse Charlotte – the most impressive of the many bridges in the capital) is expanding rapidly. Luxembourg’s main cinema complex, Utopolis, is located here, next to the country’s biggest shopping complex. The myriad of new modern office complexes being built on the plateau Kirchberg testify to Luxembourg’s reputation as a major international financial center. The country’s geographical position at the ‘heart of Europe’, its strict banking secrecy laws and fiscal legislation are amongst the reasons why there are some 12,000 holding companies, 1300 investment funds and over 220 banks based in the capital, making Luxembourg the country with the highest banking concentration in Europe. The Kirchberg is also home to numerous European institutions. Proud of its role as a founding member of the EU, Luxembourg sees itself as playing a prominent position in European affairs and there are a number of European Union institutions based in Luxembourg-Ville, including: the Commission of the European Community (including the Statistical Office – EUROSTAT – and the Publications Office); the European Court of Justice; the General Secretariat of the European Parliament; the European Investment Bank; the European Court of Auditors; and the Official Publications Office. The sessions of the European Council of Ministers take place in Luxembourg three months a year.
Luxembourg City Gibraltar of the North
In 1963, Luxembourg City celebrated it's "millennium". It had been a chartered city for one thousand years! Sigefried, Count of the Ardennes, erected a castle in 963 on the rocky promontory rising above the valleys formed by the meanders of the Alzette river. Evidence indicates that the natural fortifications of the site may have been used to protect Gallic encampments and Roman outposts for a thousand years prior to Sigefrieds arrival.
Over the centuries, this castle with it's adjoining city, set atop the rocky cliffs, was strengthened with numerous fortifications, walls and gates until it became known as the "Gibraltar of the North". Even the cliffs themselves were hollowed out to form a maze of tunnels known as the "Casemates".
Much of the old city (61k jpg) of Luxembourg still stands atop those fortified cliffs. Many of the ancient walls and gates have been restored. Today, you can walk along those fortifications or descend into the valleys of the Alzette and the Pétrusse through one of the old city gates (58k jpg). You can explore the narrow winding streets, pass the palace of the Grand Duke and pause for a drink at a sidewalk café at the Place d'Armes (44k jpg). You can even tour the Casemates (44k & 50k jpgs) beneath the city. It is one of the most beautiful and photogenic cities in Europe.
Beyond the Capital
Luxembourg is an attractive country with a green and picturesque landscape and many historical sites within easy reach of one another. The country is divided into five tourist regions. The central and southern part of the country that surrounds the capital, known as ‘the Good Land’, consists mainly of rolling farmland and woods. To the northeast is the Müllerthal, characterized by sandstone rock formations and forests, while the northern third of the country is the Ardennes, set in beautiful forested hills and valleys. South of the capital is the Land of the Red Rocks, so named from its ‘red earth’, rich in iron. The southeast frontier is marked by the Moselle Valley, famous for its wines.
Approximately 30km (19 miles) north of the capital, the Müllerthal region is frequently referred to as Luxembourg’s ‘Little Switzerland’. Hundreds of footpaths through densely wooded forests (many of which have vast expanses of needle trees), crystal-clear brooks and spectacular rock formations combine to make this one of the country’s most popular areas for walking and hiking. Coach tours to the Müllerthal, also known as the Germano-Luxembourg Natural Park, leave daily from the main bus station in Luxembourg-Ville. The main resorts are Beaufort and Larochette, both of which also have castles located on a hilltop offering good views. Another well-known resort in the area is Berdorf.