A trip to Luxembourg? Are you crazy?! Don’t be too hasty, says travel blogger Arwen: the capital city is a charming (and filling!) destination for a weekend trip, and maybe even a return visit.
Luxembourg City has a bad rap. Some friends and I were planning a trip to visit Christmas markets and spend two days leisurely poking around in a new European city.
When deciding on a location for this weekend romp Lux had a lot to recommend it – a fantastic deal on rooms at the swanky Sofitel just a short walk from the centre of town, frequent and cheap direct flights from London City airport, and more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than anywhere else on earth.
I was convinced but absolutely everyone to whom I mentioned this plan said we were crazy to go. Everyone from people who had never been to Luxembourg to people who currently live there told me ”it’s small and boring”; “there are better Christmas markets elsewhere”; “there’s nothing to see”; “don’t waste your time”. Poor little Luxembourg! Someone has to stand up for the birthplace of my maternal ancestors.
As it turns out the Lux Christmas Market in Place d’Armes was on the small side (my only recent basis for comparison being the one in Hamburg two years ago which was much bigger, although the glühwein in Lux was just as good) but it had no shortage of food stalls, almost all of which we sampled.
Beyond that, Luxembourg City was very pretty and pleasant to stroll through (minus the torrential rain we battled all weekend) and between the museums, shopping, live music at the market and amazing food everywhere it offered plenty to keep us busy and entertained.
Ville Haut and the Grund
Luxembourg City is divided into two main neighbourhoods, the high town and the low town. The high town (Ville Haute) is where the pedestrian centre of the city is located along with many of the museums, the main shopping district, restaurants and markets. To escape the rain on Saturday afternoon we ducked into the Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art in the centre of the old city and caught a temporary exhibit celebrating the life and work of Luxembourgish artist Foni Tissen. He was quite prolific and his painting style ranged from classic to surreal.
The museum building itself is worth seeing. It is built into the cliff so the lower floors have a cave-like ambience and you can enjoy the view between floors on one side and out over the cliff on the other side from the museum’s glass elevator.
There are plenty of bars and restaurants scattered around the high town but kitchens close early (it was basically impossible to find food on Friday night past 10 pm without resorting to a kebab stand or Micky D’s) and many establishments and shops are not open on Sunday at all.
The Grund or low town is located in the valley below the centre of Luxembourg City and can be accessed via an elevator through the cliff or on foot. On Sunday we strolled from the high town down along the ancient city walls into the valley and along the banks of the Alzette River past colourful row houses and cute shops and restaurants. Unfortunately we didn’t know that we should have visited the Grund on Saturday night – apparently the nightlife is great – an oversight I will remedy if I ever find myself in Lux on a weekend again.
The Grund is very picturesque and just as historic and well preserved as the high town but it has a bit funkier and more comfortable neighbourhood vibe. It is the part of town you would want to live in if you moved to Lux.
The Lux Christmas Market in the Place d’Armes is small but equipped with all the essentials:
- a stage for live bands playing Christmas music,
- stalls selling ornaments (which always remind me of Christmas in Germany – my Mom still has all the beautiful ornaments she and my dad collected there) and other Christmas-themed items,
- glühwein or mulled wine (delicious at any time of the day),
- freshly made waffles with powdered sugar, strawberries and fresh whipped cream,
- German wurst of all shapes and sizes served with a side of fried potato pancakes and apple sauce,
- bubbling gruyere fondue which we never sampled but which smelled amazing, and
- the feared Feuerzangenbowle which literally translates to ‘fire-tongs punch’ but which we dubbed ‘the fire bowl of death’. The Feuerzangenbowle is prepared in a cauldron suspended over a small burner. The bowl is filled with glühwein and a large lump of sugar is held over the bowl with a pair of tongs. The sugar is soaked with rum and set alight and more rum is poured over it and into the bowl until the entire lump has melted and caramelised into the wine below. The resulting drink is served in mugs and packs a powerful punch.
Drink and Dine
Despite the embarrassing quantity of treats we sampled at the Christmas Market we also managed to test out the following fine establishments.
Les Caves Gourmandes
Rue de l’Eau 32 L-1449 Luxembourg
Thierry Duhrs opened his second restaurant in Luxembourg just below his first (which has a Michelin star) in a romantic but not at all cheesy cave-like setting. Everything we ordered was absolutely delicious which explains how we were able to put away three courses even after everything else we had eaten at the Christmas market earlier that day. A great dining experience – I highly recommend it.
La Table du Pain
19, Avenue Monterey L-2163 Luxembourg
This is one of the few places open early on a Sunday and was the perfect spot for breakfast. As you enter the shop downstairs you are greeted by freshly baked pastries of all varieties and pots of jam and honey and other lovely things for sale. If you head upstairs you will find cosy tables and a long menu of moderately priced selections. Beware of the portions though – everything is bigger than it sounds and we had more bread baskets and pastries than we knew what to do with. The fried eggs and bacon were delish.
8 Rue Chimay L-1333 Luxembourg
Good place for lunch on a rainy Saturday. The free amuse bouche and dessert were a nice surprise and helped to lift our soggy spirits. The fresh take on traditional Lux cuisine was lovely and while the large wine list featured a lot of vintages out of our price range we were able to find a nice red that didn’t break the bank. Service was very friendly even though they weren’t always able to help us translate tricky ingredients on the menu from French into English.
12 Rue de la Boucherie L-1247 Luxembourg
A multi-level, not too crowded, low-key restaurant and bar that stays open until 6 am on Fridays and Saturdays. A good choice for drinks with a group when you’d rather talk than dance.
Sofitel le Grand Ducal 40 Boulevard d´Avranches L-1160 Luxembourg
The bar on the 8th floor of the Sofitel le Grand Ducal just across the bridge from the centre of town is surprisingly swish and modern and boasts great views of the high town. Drinks are expensive but when you’re staying in the hotel you can’t beat the convenience of stopping off there for a nightcap. When we arrived on Friday night SocGen was hosting a holiday party there – the Lux bankers, after multiple bottles of champagne and cocktails, were highly amusing.
14 Rue du Curé L-1368 Luxembourg
Very cute shop for wine and cheese tasting. They will prepare a platter of cheeses for you to sample and recommend wines for pairing. What could be better?
Thus, for two days we ate and drank our way through charming little Luxembourg. My advice would be not to visit while on a diet because you will either fall off the wagon completely or miss out on a lot of great food!