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Luxembourg - A City of Hidden Depths

August 29, 2023

A view of a volcano and plants

written by Victoria Ilott

When I say hidden depths, I do mean it literally. I am fortunate to have been to the country of Luxembourg twice in the recent past, but somehow managed to elude the city itself, until now. In brief, my first time was to the tiny town of Echternach in July where I had a lovely alfresco lunch in the square before hiking through Wollefsschlucht - or Wolf Gorge. This is a natural sandstone formation that weaves through trees and shadows, into caves and hollows up stone steps to reveal breath-taking views over forests and provides a silent sanctuary the whole way except for the echo of your footsteps. 

Hardly worth mentioning was my second trip; I was just off a main road at the back of the business district. Arriving late at night and having to set off early in the morning (as I was just in Transit), I saw nothing, did nothing and had no real connection to the place. 


Now, third time lucky, I arrived in Luxembourg in the height of summer, to spend what in Britain was August Bank Holiday weekend, but what in Luxembourg was just a regular few sunny summer days. After consulting Park4Night, which has become my best friend, I parked our retro Concorde motorhome in a free area in the suburb of Dudelange-Usine. At first glance it looked to be a rather industrial, rundown area that would make most people carry on driving but after blinking again you could see it was actually very hip and happening. Old warehouses were adorned with fairy lights and colourful murals brightened up the dark walls and windows; inside were eateries, bars and shops along with a craft brewery (called Twisted Cat). The streets that came into view were petite, with slate grey and pastel-coloured houses and dotted in between were things of interest like an art installation, or an old telephone box turned into a free library. I was able to get a feel for the place quickly, and it had a safe, chilled vibe to it not dissimilar to The Baltic Triangle in Liverpool, UK. 


Taking the train was as easy as it gets. Firstly, it is free (as is all public transport in Luxembourg), so no drama or fights with ticket machines as can be standard when using public transport anywhere and the electronic boards clearly indicated what train was going where and when. The trains are beyond comfortable with plush racing green padded seats with leather armrests and red pleated curtains. It was a nice way to relax and see some of the villages and green spaces passed by out of the window before arriving at Gare Central. Door to door journey takes about forty-five minutes. 

With no prior research done or sense of the layout of the city I walked up Avenue de la Liberte to the right of the station, taking in grand administrative buildings, clock towers and white paved squares filled with kiosks selling drinks and ice creams. I crossed bridges that gave spectacular views into the gorge and the jagged cliffs on either side plus a glimpse of the houses dotted amongst the rocks and trees. You could make out winding paths and little roads that kept disappearing and reappearing at intervals and at the very bottom a trickle of water that was lit by the sun and had a silvery green shimmer. 

Unknowingly I was in the new town and soon passed high street stores I recognised on the other side of the road with a huge department store dominating the junction, and banks and other commercial businesses here and there. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied spires and cobbles to my right - the start of the old town I presumed - but veering to my left a stately park was right ahead with a huge fountain in full flow at the gates and I was enticed in. The park was simply called Parc de Ville. Beyond the fountain were floral displays, huge old trees, statues and monuments to historic figures of Luxembourg and various street performers including a Jamaican reggae band and a juggler. A lot of people were having picnics or just lazing about, and it was pleasant to walk through this well-tended, and deceptively large park. 

At the top of the park what can only be described as Las Vegas meets a fun fair you might remember from your childhood presented itself - loudly. It is a pop-up theme park for the summer and has rollercoasters and other big, bonkers rides plus hook-a-duck and a camel derby. There are flashing lights and DJs down one aisle, and then a monochrome champagne bar down the next playing jazz. I spotted a vegan restaurant next to a candyfloss stall and then Octoberfest seemed to have started early in an area all to itself. You could buy a motorbike by the entrance and win a fluffy unicorn at the exit. One glass of champagne and zero unicorns later, I left.

A bark scorpion glowing in the dark

Wandering back to the city I crossed into Ville Haute and into the big square containing the tourist information office (where I got a city map) and the Hotel de Ville with flags flapping proudly on all sides. All the narrow streets surrounding were made up of buildings in now pale, but once pronounced colours, and art was hanging in-between the roofs on either side - some were showing off metal butterflies, others paper lanterns, some abstract wire lattice displays. 

Having done without a map so far I decided to keep it tucked safely in my handbag for tomorrow and spend the rest of the day just wandering aimlessly and seeing what turned up. This is often the best way I find of seeing a city; just getting lost in it for a while. It was easy to see the combination of rustic French atmosphere combined with Bavarian architecture but finished with bright, airy pavements. Luxembourg City is one of the cleanest cities I have seen in a very long time. There was not a piece of litter to be seen, no dog muck, not even dust on any of the streets in the old town, the park, the new town and not even around the station. They should be very proud of themselves. 


Map in hand I ventured back into the city for round two, this time with an outline of a plan to see the rest of the old town and then explore the gorge. Remembering clearly how to get to the Cathedral Notre-Dame I circumnavigated it to see its impressive structure from all sides then carried on past the National Biblioteque until I found my feet sloping downwards and without really trying on one of the numerous small pathways that lead you from the top layer of the city down into the multiple depths below. Once in the gorge it is a thing of fairytales; quaint houses on cobbled streets lead onto streams and stone bridges; weeping willows hide views of churches until you almost walk into them; hidden crumbling steps climb past vines then descend into gloomy shade where you might find a gold memorial, the bottom of a turret, or my favourite thing - a pink tiled mermaid sculpture called 'Melusine' by artist Serge Ecker. 

After some time wandering around I became a bit disorientated and felt like Jennifer Connolly might have in the film Labyrinth; one minute I was going down a staircase but ended up at the top of a fort, then after walking the ramparts in the fresh air and sunshine suddenly found myself in a garden in a cul-de-sac listening to birdsong in almost darkness. Being in the gorge was fascinating and there was something unexpected to see at every turn. Every now and again a small bar would appear which was perfect for a beer, a coffee or a snack. The menus were distinctively a mixture of French and German with Bratwurst and Moules featuring next to each other accompanied by mostly Belgium beers. It is certainly a workout exploring Luxembourg City, but it is very easy to navigate. There are tourist information staff on the streets to ask if you need help and there are signposts everywhere. 

Although a tiny country and a small city by default, even in the height of summer when all neighbouring countries are filled to the brim with tourists, Luxembourg feels spacious, relaxed and you are never bumping into people. It seems that Luxembourg isn't on a lot of people's radar - but it should be.

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