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Guide to Luxembourg

Luxembourg is the second richest country in the world. Such financial might for a tiny place. What other claims can this small nation have to call its own?

Luxembourg is the capital city of the country (technically, the Grand Duchy) of the same name.  It is also the most populous city in the country, with around 120,000 inhabitants, accounting for around 20% of the total population of the country.


Despite the relatively small size of the city and the country, it has played an outsize role in modern European history.  It serves as one of three official capitals of the European Union, and was an original signatory and one of the driving forces behind the EU, OECD, NATO, the United Nations, and many other unifying bodies and organizations the world over.

As a country, it enjoys a very high GDP, and ranks as the second-richest country in the world.  The capital city, accordingly, enjoys a high standard of living, is centrally located in Europe, and consequently is a frequent destination for tourists.

A Note on Luxembourg

Before we go any further, it’s worth taking a brief detour to explain a bit about Luxembourg as a name.  

For travelers who are unfamiliar, it can be a bit confusing to always have clarity on what is meant by the name.  

Specifically, there are three Luxembourgs – the country itself, known as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg; the canton or province of Luxembourg, one of 102 such cantons in the country. 

And thirdly, the city of Luxembourg, sometimes called Luxembourg City, which is the country’s capital, the capital of the canton, and located within the canton of Luxembourg.  

Unless otherwise specified, we’re generally talking about the city in this travel guide.

The History of Luxembourg

Like many cities in this area of Europe, Luxembourg can trace its earliest settlement roots to some period in the first few thousand years BC. 

 It was more formally developed, with a fortified tower, during the Roman period of the early centuries AD.  By approximately 1000 AD, the city was developing, with a church, market, and other amenities.

France gained control of Luxembourg around this same period through a land treaty.  The next several centuries saw it as an important military and strategic location.  

Luxembourg was then conquered again and became part of the Burgundian Empire, and subsequently the Spanish and Austrian Empires.  

By the mid-1500s, Luxembourg was considered to be one of the most heavily fortified locations in all of Europe.

Despite this, it continued to change hands many times in the intervening 100-150 years. 

 By the late 1700s, it was occupied by France and brought under French control.  The end of the Napoleonic Wars saw the country turned over to Prussian control.

In 1890, due to the death of then-Grand Duke William III, who had no male heir, Luxembourg’s national sovereignty was established formally, with the capital set to be Luxembourg City.  

Despite a doctrine of neutrality as a country, Luxembourg City and the country  were occupied by Germany during the first World War and the second World War.

After the second World War ended, it abandoned its neutrality and served as a founding member of many international organizations that laid the groundwork for some of the most stable European and global alliances that persist to this day.  

Many of these organizations have headquarters or important administrative offices in Luxembourg City in the modern era.

What to See and What to Do in Luxembourg

Now that you know a little bit more about the history , it’s useful to know what to see in Luxembourg when you visit.  

There are many attractions, both historic and cultural in nature, such that finding what to do is quite easy.  

Plentiful sights and locations offer a glimpse of the past, as well as a distinct blending of cultures befitting the various nationalities that have played a role in that past – France, Germany, and Spain among others.  Some of the most popular things to do and places to see include:

  • The Luxembourg Cathedral of Note Dame (not to be confused with the one in Paris, but still quite impressive in its own right).
  • Remains of the fortifications of Luxembourg, which were largely removed and dismantled in the 1850s and 60s from their peak levels.
  • General Patton’s grave, along with the graves of over 5,000 American war dead from WW2, located at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial.
  • The Gelle Fra War Memorial.
  • Neumunster Abbey.
  • The Grand Ducal Palace of Luxembourg, where the head of state resides.
  • The Old Town district, including the Place d’Armes square.
  • Numerous museums, including the National Museum of History and Art, Luxembourg City History Museum, the Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art, and the National Museum of Natural History.
  • The Grand Theatre of Luxembourg and the Theatre des Capucins, along with the newer concert hall, the Philharmonie, are active music venues.
  • Many art galleries also dot the city, including the AM Tunnel, Villa Vauban, and Casino Luxembourg.

Get an idea of some of the other great cities and towns we visit with the cruises City of Lights and Swiss Alps in the Itinerary Highlight section

*NOTE: As of 2020, Viking Cruises will no longer be calling at this city, however, we will be making an important stop at the American Cemetery just outside the city.

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