Luxembourg is an attractive country with a green and picturesque landscape of rolling hills and valleys, and many close-packed man-made historical sites - including a relatively large number of castles. The latter betray the country’s historical importance brought about by its strategic position right at the very heart of continental Europe. Despite its compact size, visitors may be surprised to discover it boasts an impressive variety of natural forests, vineyards, and striking sandstone rock formations, all of which are conveniently located within an easy striking distance of one another.
The national capital, technically known locally simply as Luxembourg, the same as the country, but usually called Luxembourg City (Ville de Luxembourg) to avoid confusion, is split into a number of distinct districts, divided by the spectacular gorges of the Alzette and Pétrusse valleys. To the northwest is the delightful old town centre (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), complete with elegant squares, imposing churches, shops, casemates (underground networks of tunnels used formerly for defending the city), and winding, cobblestone streets; to the northeast is the more modern area on the Plateau du Kirchberg, home to Luxembourg's renowned international finance businesses, and to shopping malls and entertainment complexes. Proud of its role as a founding member of the EU, Luxembourg sees itself as playing a prominent position in European affairs and a number of European Union institutions are also based here on the plateau. To the south is Gare, the railway station area containing shops and budget hotel options. Separating the three main upper districts is the Pétrusse Valley, now parkland, and, by the banks of the Alzette River, the lower town districts of Grund and Clausen. The former is home to a number of bars, restaurants and museums; the latter is principally home to Rives de Clausen, the city’s primary nightlife area among the younger crowd.
While Luxembourg City is the only urban area in the country of any significant size, and also where most of the business is carried out, the remainder of Luxembourg contains a wide variety of smaller towns and villages, and other attractions, each with its own charms. The most popular destination outside the capital is medieval Vianden in the northeast, with its cobbled main street and a large hilltop castle that is the envy of many in Europe. Vianden also hosts a range of festivals and events throughout the year, many recreating its historical past. Echternach, founded in the 7th century, is the oldest city in the country, with a picturesque centre dominated by an abbey. Echternach is also a convenient base for exploring ‘Little Switzerland’, a tiny region of rocky outcrops, cliffs, cascades, and forests, criss-crossed by walking trails that are a haven for hikers and mountain-bikers. On the southeastern border with Germany, the Moselle Valley enjoys a unique microclimate that has given rise to Europe’s smallest major wine-growing district, producing award-winning whites and sparkling wines.
The northern half of Luxembourg is dominated by the beautiful landscape of the Ardennes, an area of high plateau into which deep, steeply-sided wooded valleys have been carved out over time, another perfect landscape waiting to be discovered by walkers of all abilities.