Luxembourg is number five on the list of most expensive countries to live in. If you’re a cheapskate, is it possible to have a good time there?
Yes, absolutely! Luxembourg has a huge number of free or cheap things to do that will keep you busy. Plus it’s loaded with gorgeous scenery that makes it worth the trip.
Castles, Castles Everywhere
If you’ve always wanted to go to a storybook castle, Luxembourg is loaded with them. There’s an estimated 130 castles, a big accomplishment in a country that’s about the same size as Rhode Island and just a little bit bigger than Tokyo. And most of the castles are either free or incredibly cheap to visit. Here’s a few notable ones. You can find more on the Visit Luxembourg website. Check before your visit to make sure they’re open; many close for the winter.
Vianden Castle is the real-life version of the hilltop castles pictured in fairytale books, or gothic novels. It’s the castle in the film Shadow of the Vampire, among several others. The castle, which sits on ancient Roman foundations, was restored from ruin in the 1970s. Don’t be put off by the stuffy, old-school website. The historic center at the castle tells the story of the region from its Roman days onward in an immersive, in depth way that few other historic sites match. Admission to the castle is only 7€. Below the hilltop is the village of Vianden, which has an equally storybook feel.
That’s right, castles, plural. If you like creepy abandoned ruins and your traveling companion likes perfectly preserved buildings, you’ll both see something you like at Beaufort Castles. And if you’re a Papa Roach fan, you’ve seen the medieval castle in their video for None of the Above. The medieval castle was abandoned and left to fall to ruin once the Renaissance castle was built. The price of admission to the Renaissance Castle is 10€ and includes a guided tour. The price of admission to the Medieval Castle is 5€ and includes a shot of the local liqueur.
Like Vianden, Castle Bourscheid was a hilltop castle that was abandoned and left to crumble until the 1970s. Unlike Vianden, Castle Bourscheid has been only partly restored, leaving an intriguing mix of ruins to explore. The scenery that surrounds it is breathtaking too. It’s only 7€ to enter with audio tour, and 5€ if you skip the audio tour.
Wine: Tasty, Plentiful and Cheap
The eastern side of Luxembourg runs along the Moselle River (or Mosel River, depending on what country you’re in), an area that has been known for its wine for thousands of years. There are vineyards in the region that can trace their history all the way back to the Roman era.
Luxembourgish wines are rarely exported. Some of the popular varietals, like Auxerrois and Elbling, aren’t very common outside of the area. It also has its own type of sparkling wine, called crémant.
Our favorite winery in Luxembourg was Alice Hartmann. They have great wine and they know it; they won’t sell you any less than half a case, and mixed half-cases are not a possibility. If you want their sparkling wine expect at least a year on their waitlist; friends told us that you can only get on the list if someone dies. (Which sounds like a great plot for a murder mystery, but I digress.)
Domaines Vinsmoselle is the 900-pound gorilla of Luxembourgish winemaking. They make several different brands at various price points and their wine is available everywhere.
We also enjoyed Mathis Bathian, which has a gorgeous tasting room, and Cep D’Or, which is laid back and fun with great views of the river.
There’s at least 40 more winemakers beyond the ones we’ve mentioned here. You can go wine tasting or pick up a bottle at the grocery store; it’s easy to find a great bottle for 10€.
Fun, Free Things to Do in Luxembourg City
The city of Luxembourg is built around a gigantic river canyon, which gives it picturesque views. There are also some nifty options to get from the top to the bottom of the canyon and vice versa.
The Panoramic Elevator of the Pfaffenthal is the sort of thing that would easily cost $20 to ride in some other location. It’s a glass elevator that drops 71 meters from the top of the canyon to the bottom. The top is located on a cantilevered glass-bottomed pier (exciting for some, intimidating for those of us who have a fear of heights!)
You can also get from the top to the bottom via the Pfaffenthal-Kirchberg funicular. It’s free and goes up 40 meters in 63 seconds.
Get your ‘gram on by walking around the city. The city has been landscaped and developed to offer access to remarkable views all around. There are also remarkable parks worth a wander.
Delicious Dining Stops
We had some incredible meals in Luxembourg. They weren’t cheap but we still felt like we got value for money.
Our favorite restaurant was Chiche, which was founded by a Syrian refugee. The food was delicious and the service was friendly. We wound up running into people we knew here. That’s in part because Luxembourg is that kind of place; even if you only know five people you’ll run into them everywhere.
Gandhi had some of the best Indian food we’ve had in Europe. It was also surprisingly budget-friendly.
The European Museum Schengen
This may only be of interest to history and government nerds like us. But if you are that kind of nerd, read on!
The reason people can travel between European countries without a visa isn’t because of the EU. It is because of something called the Schengen Agreement. It was signed on a boat in the river just off the town of Schengen, at the point in the river where the German, French and Luxembourgish borders meet. It began as a little agreement between Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France and Germany, and hardly anyone else paid it notice. But now, it’s a really big deal.
Schengen has a free museum on the river dedicated to the agreement and the countries that participate in it. It has everything from the hats of the uniforms of the various customs officers to passports of every member country. If you nerd out on this kind of thing it will be an hour or two well-spent. The park on the river across from the museum is lovely and offers great views.
If you wanted to, from here you could walk to both Germany and France.
What’s Near Luxembourg?
If you’re in Luxembourg, you can also easily day-trip to some really interesting places in nearby countries.
Trier, Germany is just across the border from Luxembourg. It is notable for two reasons: it’s got some of the most amazing Roman ruins in Germany, and it was Karl Marx’s hometown. The tourist office even sells zero euro bills with his face on it.
Among its many other Roman ruins, Trier has the best-preserved Roman gate in the world. It’s a legendary story of adaptive reuse; it survived as long as it has because people kept finding different purposes for it. The city also has Constantine’s old throne room and some spectacular churches.
Strasbourg, France was a hot spot for Protestant thinking in the 1500s. If the name sounds a bit German for a French city, that’s because over its history it has been German, French and independent. It has a beautifully preserved medieval town and a spectacular cathedral. It’s well known for having one of the best Christmas markets in Europe. It’s about an hour by train from Luxembourg City if you get the right train.