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Why you should visit Luxembourg instead of Europe’s major capitals

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Paris, London, Berlin and more may call to you, but they call to plenty of others, too

The thrill of visiting Europe for the first time combines an intoxicating journey through centuries of history with the satisfaction of finally making it to famous landmarks previously known only through postcards, books or movies. No other continent has so many relatively close bucket-list cities. Without flying, you could have breakfast at London’s St. Pancras Station, enjoy a picnic on the banks of the Seine and make it to Berlin for a couple of cold Pilseners before the evening is out.

It sounds wonderful, but there’s one huge caveat: You’re not the only person with romantic designs on these historic metropolises. The Brandenburg Gate loses some of its luster when you can’t get a photo that doesn’t contain the flailing image of someone else’s selfie stick. And unless you’re a true morning person, seeing the long-anticipated sites can turn into interminable experiences. Time moves at a glacial pace when you’re surrounded by herds of eager tourists at every landmark on your list. Iconic and instantly recognizable, the Eiffel Tower, for example attracted a formidable 6.2 million visitors in 2017. Thankfully, there’s a stunning city at the heart of Europe that gets consistently overlooked.

Luxembourg’s cityscape is unique, and it offers fine food and architecture as well

No other European capital looks like Luxembourg. Its multilayered cityscape, gorges and rivers resemble a movie landscape at first glance; roads and walkways snake their way around dense trees and precipitous cliffs. This complex topography led to it being dubbed the “Gibraltar of the north,” due to its impregnability. Tunnels and fortifications (the Bock Casemates) were dug into the rocky cliff faces and eventually became Fortress Luxembourg, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several bridges span the city’s valleys and rivers, including the Passerelle, the Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge and the celebrated Adolphe Bridge.

Squeezed in between France, Germany and Belgium, Luxembourg is the world’s only remaining grand duchy, meaning a country or territory whose official head of state or ruler is a monarch bearing the title of grand duke or duchess. As archaic as that sounds in the 21st century, it’s another intriguing curiosity about this small country, and the handsome Grand Ducal Palace, located in the capital’s Old Town, is available for guided tours every summer.

There are three official languages: French, German and Luxembourgish, the national language. English is also widely spoken due to Luxembourg’s position as an international finance center and its strong multicultural identity.

Luxembourg’s borders-straddling location means its cuisine is heartily Germanic with a dash of French finesse. Most restaurants aren’t coy about their portion sizes, either, so expect to be satisfied. For those with a sweet tooth, a visit to Nathalie Bonn’s Chocolate House of Luxembourg is almost compulsory. Located in a 15th-century building opposite the Ducal Palace, Bonn’s weird and wonderful creations have made it an institution.

The central Place d’Armes is where many festivals and markets take place. From there, it’s only a short walk to the soaring Cathedral Notre-Dame, a notable example of late-Gothic architecture. To truly appreciate Luxembourg, though, take a stroll along the Chemin de la Corniche, an elevated pedestrian promenade with remarkable vistas across the heart of Europe.

March is a travel writer based in Birmingham, U.K. Find him on Twitter at @JMarchTravel and Instagram at @secondcityscenes.

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