One of Europe’s smallest sovereign states, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is often overlooked by travelers in Europe. The capital, Luxembourg City, is well known as a world center of international finance, but behind the modern face of the city lies a rich history stretching back more than 1,000 years. The northern half of the country boasts some spectacular scenery, especially the Ardennes, a region of dense forests, deep valleys, and hilltop castles. Historic towns such as Vianden and Echternach are good bases for exploring the countryside and offer plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities.
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Luxembourg City enjoys a dramatic location, set atop hills and cliffs rising above the Alzette and Pétrusse valleys. The town grew up around a castle built on a rocky promontory, known as the Rocher du Bock, in AD 963. The castle was destroyed in the late 19th century by the city’s inhabitants, but some of the fortifications have been preserved, most famously the Bock and Pétrusse Casemates. These huge networks of underground defensive galleries, which date back to the 17th century, not only provided shelter for thousands of soldiers, but also housed workshops, kitchens, bakeries, and slaughterhouses. The Crypte Archéologique du Bock has displays and an audiovisual presentation on the history of the city’s fortifications. Luxembourg City’s Palais Grand Ducal has been the official royal residence since 1890. The oldest parts of the building, which used to be the town hall, date from the latter half of the 16th century. Nearby, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame was begun in 1613. Inside is a fine Baroque organ gallery by Daniel Muller. Two museums worth visiting are the Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art, which has a good archaeological section and a collection of ancient and modern sculpture and paintings, and the Musée de l’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg, which focuses on the city’s historical past.
Surrounded by medieval ramparts, Vianden, in the Luxembourg Ardennes, is a popular tourist destination. The main attraction is the 11th-century Château de Vianden. Its rooms feature a range of architectural styles, from the Romanesque to the Renaissance. A cable car takes visitors to the top of a nearby hill, giving superb views of the castle.
Located in Petite Suisse (Little Switzerland), a picturesque region of wooded hills northeast of the capital, Echternach is dotted with fine medieval buildings, including the 15thcentury turreted town hall. The star sight, however, is the Benedictine abbey, founded by St. Willibrord in the 7th century. The crypt of the abbey basilica (c.900) contains some glorious frescoes. There are good walks and cycle routes in the surrounding countryside.