Long-term Benelux resident Tim Skelton gives you an insider’s tour of one of Europe’s lesser-known destinations, a micro-capital that proves size isn’t everything.
Outside of the hotels, you won’t find many places to grab a super-early breakfast, but somewhere you can start the day with a light snack or a croissant is Golden Bean (23 rue Chimay, 2620 3660). Locals swear by its coffee, which they claim is the freshest and best in town. Those more disposed to starting the day with something sweet won’t regret seeking out Chocolate House (20 rue du Marché-aux-Herbes, 2626 2006). The star turns in chocolatier Nathalie Bonn’s cocoa-laden emporium are ‘chocolate spoons’, designed to be stirred into hot milk until they dissolve to form an unctuous and warming drink.
To burn off those calories, take a stroll around the Old Town. The streets here should stay pleasingly quiet until the shoppers arrive, allowing you to appreciate the two adjacent main squares: Place d’Armes and Place Guillaume II. A market sets up on the latter several days every week, and cafés with terraces surround both. A few blocks south is the smaller Place de la Constitution, which has superb views of the Pétrusse Valley, one of two gorges that slice through the heart of the city. If you’d like more exercise, take the steps leading down to the wooded valley floor, a quiet haven where you can briefly forget you’re in the centre of a European capital. You can follow the paths all the way down into the Grund district, and take a lift back up to the Old Town.
To get to grips with Luxembourg’s turbulent past, dip into the National Museum of History and Art (Marché-aux-Poissons, 479 3301). It traces the country’s development from its Bronze Age origins around 14,000 years ago, and pride of place goes to a 1,800-year-old Roman mosaic. Casino Luxembourg Forum d'Art Contemporain (41 rue Notre-Dame, 225 045) hasn’t been a gambling hall for many years, but it does host changing exhibitions created on a range of themes by local contemporary artists. If all that culture makes you peckish, Oberweis (16 Grand-Rue, 470 703) makes unbelievably good handmade chocolates, as well as serving up a range of sweet and savoury pastry snacks.
Lunch in Luxembourg is considered the most important part of the day, and most restaurants are busy, especially on weekdays. A hidden gem, Epicerie Paul (36 rue Philippe II, 227 104) is tucked at the back of a grocery store, but its pastas, salads and daily changing specials are always worth hunting down. It's very popular, so arrive before noon or after 1pm to avoid the rush. Another good lunch option is Downtown (12 rue Chimay, 2620 3707), a modern café offering salads, bagels and substantial homemade burgers that will challenge anyone with a merely modest appetite.
After lunch, hop on one of the many buses that will take you over the Alzette Valley to the Kirchberg Plateau. This is where you’ll find the striking Museum of Modern Art, Mudam (3 Park Dräi Eechelen, 453 7851), a masterpiece of white limestone and glass created by I M Pei. It hosts a variety of regularly changing exhibitions. Next door, the equally impressive (but much older) stone fortress, Fort Thüngen, is home to the Musée Dräi Eechelen (5 Park Dräi Eechelen, 264 335) – named for the three ‘acorn’ sculptures adorning its facade. The museum recounts the violent story of the city’s fortifications – there’s even a real French guillotine inside – but the real centrepiece is a huge copper model of the city, made in 1903, showing how it looked in 1867.
Back in the Old Town, there’s still time to check out the shops. If you’re searching for a bargain, try the streets south of the Pétrusse Valley leading to the station. But if it’s exclusivity you’re after, you need Grand-Rue and Rue Philippe II. Both are lined with designer boutiques with price tags that sometimes seem like telephone numbers. Admire your new purchases by heading for an aperitif that comes with a fabulous panoramic view. The Coco Mango cocktail lounge is on the eighth floor of the Sofitel Luxembourg Le Grand Ducal (40 boulevard d’Avranches, 248 771), and looks out over the entire Old Town and both gorges. For a preprandial drink with a Mexican twist, Mamacita (9 rue des Bains, 2626 2396) knocks up a mean cocktail, and has an extensive range of tequilas.
At dinner time, if you don’t want to fork out for the Michelin-starred Mosconi (13 rue Münster, 546 994) – one of the best Italian restaurants outside Italy – check out the equally refined but more affordable creations at its minimalist chic annex, Mi e Ti (8 avenue de la Porte-Neuve, 2626 2250). A long-term favourite with locals is Chiggeri (15 rue du Nord, 229 936), a sprawling eatery serving high-class French food on its second floor, and hearty down-to-earth Franco-Belgian fare on the two floors below. For classic French cuisine, try L'Adresse (32 rue Notre-Dame, 2785 8468), a bijou Parisian-style bistro with simple furnishings, and (usually) Edith Piaf crooning on the stereo.
The city’s top nightspot area, particularly on weekend evenings that can stretch almost until dawn, is Rives de Clausen, a street of a dozen clubs and bars that pump out the party vibes from competing sound systems. Popular with visitors and expats alike, Updown (28 Montée du Grund, 2620 2275) is a trendy bar beside the lower entrance to the lift, with a back wall hewn from solid bedrock. One of the best places to drink in the Old Town, Go Ten (10 rue du Marché-aux-Herbes, 2620 3652) goes for an organic Japanese feel, complete with leaves and real wood bark. Another good choice is Zanzen (27-29 rue Notre-Dame, 2620 1822), a chic and lively bar and restaurant near the casino.
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Written by World Travel Guide.