In the Old City, cliffs whose tunnels shielded defenders overlook the former prison Neumünster Abbey in the Grund, now a trendy cultural area.
LUXEMBOURG CITY, Luxembourg — Our requirements for a European city in which to celebrate a milestone birthday were simple: It needed to be walkable. Oldworld charm was a must. And a sense of history and culture was imperative.
The Old City of Luxembourg, named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994, checked off all the boxes for my partner, Doug, and me.
We booked a three-night stay at the Hôtel Vauban on Place Guillaume II, or William Square, and asked for the Vauban room, overlooking the Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Luxembourg.
Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, a 17th century French military engineer and marshal, extended and reinforced the imposing fortifications surrounding Luxembourg City, a.k.a. the Gibraltar of the North, so we felt immersed in history from the moment we unpacked.
Church bells awakened us every morning, and we threw open our French windows to see what was happening on William Square.
When we arrived, the city’s Portuguese community was hosting an all-day festival, with couples in traditional costumes dancing the vira and boisterous vendors serving fried dough filhóses and beer. On Wednesday morning, local farmers arrived with crates of oranges and fresh produce to sell at the weekly market.
Every afternoon, we stopped at the Palace of the Grand Dukes on Rue du Marché-aux-Herbes to watch the changing of the royal guards, who strutted with a stiff military gait and presented arms with rifles held in whitegloved hands.
We always looked to see whether the palace flag was flying, which signaled Grand Duke Henri Albert Gabriel Félix Marie Guillaume, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa and their children were in residence. His royal highness, who became grand duke in 2000, is quite a celebrity, and formal pictures of the grand ducal family appear on postcards sold at gift shops.
We discovered the city’s breathtaking views on the Chemin de la Corniche, dubbed the “most beautiful balcony of Europe.” From the serpentine walkway along the edge of the upper Old City, we gazed down at the Grund, once an infamous penal colony and now home to trendy bars and restaurants as well as arts and entertainment venues.
To the northeast, we admired the Bock promontory, the natural fortification where Siegfried, count of Ardennes, erected his castle of Lucilinburhuc in 963, laying the cornerstone for the country. The rugged cliffs harbor the Bock Casemates, a network of man-made tunnels and chambers that sheltered the city’s military defenders and residents during wartime.
After shopping at posh boutiques along Grand Rue, we joined the evening crowd on historic Place d’Armes, also called the Parlor of the City, to listen to contemporary bands performing in the central pavilion.
On our last night, we splurged on a gourmet French dinner at Le Bouquet Garni, a favorite of the grand duke. Seated at a table beneath 500-year-old wood beams, with a window overlooking the palace, we felt a little like royalty ourselves.
A VINTAGE CANNON sits near an artillery opening in the Bock Casemates, a centuries-old system of man-made tunnels in the cliffs of Luxembourg City.