I learned some really interesting and unexpected facts about Luxembourg when I visited to see the Christmas markets this year. Even though it’s located in western Europe, it had a lot of its own characteristics which set it apart from neighboring countries. Here are some of the things you can expect when you visit Luxembourg yourself.
Luxembourg is Very Expensive
The first observation I made when I landed was quite unexpected. I knew there were several really expensive countries around Europe, such as Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark; I didn’t realize Luxembourg fit in the same category. I certainly didn’t budget for what I found there. Meals were comparable to what you’d expect to pay at a touristy restaurant in London, Prague or Rome, but prices in Luxembourg aren’t for tourists.
The minimum wage in Luxembourg is over $13 an hour, and the average monthly salary is around $5,500! The real estate and cost of food directly reflect this. The average rent for an apartment in town is around $2,500 per month, and the average meal is about $20. My saving graces during my visit were the sausages at the Christmas markets. These ranged from $4-$6.50 depending on the flavor and size you get and were also really delicious – so much so that I ate one for nearly every meal. Otherwise, about the only other place to eat on a budget are kebab shops.
I was surprised to see that gas was cheaper than in surrounding countries. The Berchem service station, located just a few miles south of the city center, is the largest gas station in Europe, serving up to 25,000 customers per day. Now I understand why my trans-Europe Flixbuses always pass through Luxembourg.
Public Transportation is Free
A few months ago, I read that Luxembourg was becoming the first country in the world to have free public transportation. I figured this would be a big boon for my budget during my visit, but I was disappointed. It’s true that Luxembourg is becoming the first country with free public transportation, but that starts on January 1st, 2020. I visited five weeks before that.
As it was, a single ticket (valid for 2 hours) for any of the public transportation (buses or trains) was only €2 ($2.20), and a 24-hour ticket was €4 ($4.40). That included the bus from the airport. As such, the cost of transportation was actually the smallest part of my budget when I visited. Well, technically I didn’t spend anything on accommodations as I Couchsurfed the whole time. The hostels were all fully booked and the cheapest hotels were well over $100 a night.
A Quarter of the Daily Population Doesn’t Live in Luxembourg
Luxembourg is one of the least-populated countries in Europe with less than 600,000 people, yet every day an additional 200,000 workers come in from surrounding countries, primarily France, Germany and Belgium. Luxembourg has one of the best quality of life indexes in Europe, but it also is one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in.
It isn’t just the 200,000 daily commuters who are foreigners in the country. A massive 46% of the country’s residents are expats. This was readily apparent in the four days I was there. While my first Couchsurfing host was a local, my next two were from Spain and Bangladesh. The restaurants in town had a huge range of cuisines catering to all the cultures living there…but I didn’t have the budget to sample them.
Most Citizens are “Quint-Lingual”
Yeah, I coined that word, but it just wouldn’t sound right to merely call Luxembourgers bilingual. The locals grow up learning French, German and Luxembourgish in primary school, and then English in secondary school. Many also learn an additional language, especially if their family wasn’t from Luxembourg. Expats who come in primarily learn French, but can also learn the other three languages while maintaining their home language. The Luxembourgish language is similar to German and French (a German base with a French twist, as my Couchsurfing host put it). If you plan to live there, it’s possible to get by in the country just speaking French.
Since Luxembourg became a Grand Duchy in 963 AD, the country has been controlled by the Dutch, the French, the Spanish, the Austrians, the French again, the Prussians, the Dutch again, gained independence in 1890, and was occupied by the Germans during both world wars. Parts of the country have also been sectioned off to the surrounding countries over the centuries. The result is a cultural diversity comparable to cities like London and Rotterdam.
An Impregnable Fortress
While on the free walking tour in Luxembourg City, I was fascinated by the massive fortress that surrounds the central hill of Luxembourg…except that hardly any of the fortress still remains. Only one of the original 23 gates still stands. As a lover of urban ruins, I was fascinated by what remained of the fortress, which was still quite extensive, even though I didn’t even have a chance to see the underground tunnels.
The Romans built a fort in this location during their Empire, but it wasn’t until 963 when Count Sigfried built the first castle. The fortress was enlarged several times over the next several centuries until 1867. In all those years, it never fell by force. It was once taken over peacefully, and another time surrendered from starvation after a prolonged siege.
After the Austro-Prussian war and the fall of the German Confederation, the Second Treaty of London was signed which ordered the dissolution of the fortress and reaffirmed the mandate that Luxembourg remain in perpetual neutrality, as decreed by the first Treaty of London in 1839.
It took 16 years and a small fortune to dismantle 15 miles of tunnels and 10 acres of castles, battlements, batteries and barracks. Thankfully they didn’t destroy everything and the remaining fortress structures and tunnels were given UNESCO World Heritage designation in 1994.
Luxembourg is Really Clean
Similar to what I saw in Switzerland earlier this year, Luxembourg is a very clean city. It doesn’t have the trash, graffiti or animal droppings so common in other cities, and you also won’t see any homelessness. Well, I did see one drunk guy who could have been homeless, but I didn’t see anyone just lying on the streets. As to the cleanliness, I don’t know if the city employs a team of cleaners to keep things spotless, or if the citizens take responsibility on their own.
I’ve been really surprised by the cleanliness in some of the countries I’ve visited in my travels. In Albania, there were hundreds of older women on the streets before sunrise every morning making the city spotless, and Poland seems to have employed their entire homeless community as janitors (considering you see hundreds of cleaners and very few homeless people). This is so different from the US cities I grew up in.
My Thoughts on Visiting Luxembourg
Overall, I really liked Luxembourg. The biggest drawback for me was the cost of meals and accommodations, although I did manage to find Couchsurfing hosts for all three nights I was there. The Christmas markets were also really nice, perhaps not quite as nice as Germany, but still enjoyable.
It’s not often I visit a location that I don’t feel the need to return to, but I don’t think I’ll need to return to Luxembourg unless my travels actually take me there someday, even though there were a few activities I didn’t get a chance to do like exploring the tunnels of the fortress. We’ll see.
If you want to learn more facts about Luxembourg, I’d recommend taking the TwentyTour Free Walking Tour of Luxembourg City. A free walking tour is always the best way to learn about a city when you first arrive so you know what to see, where to eat and other facts you wouldn’t otherwise learn about, especially when they’re given by a local.
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Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in the world, but there are still quite a few things to do there. Here are a few other ideas for how to spend your time in the country.
- A Guide to Visiting Luxembourg on a Budget
- Visiting Vianden Castle from Luxembourg City
- Which Christmas Market in Luxembourg City is the Best
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.