It defies pigeon-holing as simply a historical city, a financial centre or home to various European institutions. It is all of those things simultaneously, juggling multiple identities and proudly combining with panache history and modernity. Luxembourg, with nearly 125,000 inhabitants is a trilingual city (Luxembourgish, French and German), a charming capital and a very European destination, as encapsulated in various landmarks.
The Wenzel Circular Walk, described by the Council of Europe as an “outstanding cultural itinerary”, covers a UNESCO World Heritage site and links the upper and lower towns, taking walkers through a thousand years of history in 100 minutes. Luxembourg was one of the most heavily fortified cities in Europe. The route starts at the Bock Promontory, first built upon in 963, where you can admire its underground casements, the ancient wall constructed by Duke Wenceslas in the 14th century, the city’s fortifications, modernised by Vauban during the occupation by France in the 17th century, and views over the gorges and Alzette valley.
Luxembourg’s district of financial and European institutions is located on the Kirchberg plateau, in the north-east of the city. The city owes its European role to the Luxembourger Robert Schuman, widely regarded as one of the fathers of the European project alongside Jean Monnet. The European Court of Justice, the European Court of Auditors, the Secretariat of the European Parliament, the European Investment Bank and Eurostat, the European statistical office, are all based in Kirchberg, which is also the banking and financial district. Other attractions include the Mudam museum, the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg and the Musée Dräi Eechelen.
Grand Duke Henri, a political science graduate of the University of Geneva, where he met his wife, lives in the Grand Ducal Palace, his family’s residence since 1890. Constructed in the Flemish Renaissance style in 1573, the palace served as Luxembourg’s town hall until 1795 and then its government headquarters from 1817 to 1890.
Situated in the lower town, straddling the Alzette river, this district is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, and the mediaeval, pastoral surroundings are ideal for strolling around, with frequent stops at the terrace bars and restaurants.
What gives the museum its distinctive flavour? Is it the Chinese-American influence of its architect? IM Pei is truly a master of the art of marrying together the ancient and the modern and of playing with tensions and contrasts. Mudam here in Luxembourg is the third major cultural project by Pei in Europe, after the Louvre Pyramid and the German Historical Museum in Berlin, and is a textbook example of this skill. Made from stone and glass and embedded into the ruins of a former fortress, it subtly and elegantly evokes the city’s historic buildings, such as the Grand Ducal Palace. Mudam has a permanent collection and also hosts temporary exhibitions.
The Musée National d’Art et d’Histoire (MNAH) holds some real treasures, including a splendid watercolour of Luxembourg by Turner. The beautiful archaeological collection is made up largely of objects from excavations in Luxembourg and the surrounding region.
By turn a Benedictine convent in the 17th century, a police station, barracks and a prison, Neumünster Abbey (also known as Neimënster) is today a cultural centre with a varied and ambitious programme. The abbey is set amid beautiful romantic gardens.
One of the most beautiful terraces from which to admire the city is that of the Musée d’histoire de la ville de Luxembourg, which can be reached by panoramic glass lift. The museum, which is housed in four former wealthy middle-class homes – completely renovated and dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries – presents Luxembourg’s cultural and historical heritage.
In Luxembourg, browsing and shopping often start on the Grand Rue. However, various districts also offer an extraordinary wealth of shopping opportunities. Pedestrian zones and public transport make it very easy to get about and pleasant to stroll. One entertaining route is to follow the establishments with warrants to supply the court; a list can be found on the Luxembourg monarchy’s website.
Luxembourg City Tourist Office: www.lcto.lu
Luxembourg is one of the three capitals of the European Union, alongside Brussels and Strasbourg. The Grand Duchy's European vocation dates back to 1952, when the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the forerunner of the European Union, established its headquarters there.
Today, Luxembourg hosts the Secretariat of the European Parliament, three annual sessions of the Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers), the European Court of Justice and General Court, the European Court of Auditors, the European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund. Other less well-known institutions such as Eurostat, the Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union and the Publications Office are also based there. Overall, some 9,500 civil servants of the European Union work in Luxembourg.