Follow in the footsteps of great conquerors

The most striking aspect of Luxembourg City is the capital’s medieval heritage, the best examples of which are found in the old town. This central district of wine bars, designer boutiques and sun-dappled public squares was once part of a dark, forbidding fortress that passed from one dynasty to the next. At its peak, the city boasted 40 forts, bastions, barracks, workshops, arsenals, stores and headquarters; it spread over one and a quarter square miles.

When Luxembourg was part of the Spanish Netherlands in 1644 the first defense tunnels were dug into the Bock cliffs, but the citadel was not entirely impenetrable. French King Louis XIV’s army successfully seized the area in 1684 and the royal engineer Vauban overhauled its defenses. When Luxembourg was absorbed into the Austrian empire in 1714, its army extended the underground network. Once they had finished, Luxembourg boasted 23 kilometers of tunnels in which soldiers could be housed. By the eighteenth century, the strategically-positioned citadel was walled in by three rings of fortifications, earning it the title “Gibraltar of the North”.

A living history

Everything changed when Luxembourg became a neutral state in 1867. Over sixteen years, the fortifications came down; the valleys were cleared, and the city began a new life. The city constructed elegant houses in Limpertsberg, Belair and the Bourbon plateau by the train station. A vast city park was made, where some of the fortifications can still be seen. As nature reclaimed the valley, artists including the English Romantic painter Turner flocked to the area.

In 1994, the old town and fortifications became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, ensuring that the ruins can be enjoyed by visitors for years to come. Day trippers can immerse themselves in this fascinating chapter of Luxembourg’s history by exploring the Bock Casemates, an atmospheric network of tunnels, the entrance to which is located on Montée de Clausen. A detailed installation outlines the tunnels’ different uses over the years, from military stores to WWII shelters.

Luxembourg City Tourist Office offers guided walking tours for groups, several of which cover the UNESCO World Heritage Site in depth. The Vauban Tour and Promenade UNESCO, UNESCO e-bike tour and UNESCO4Kids show how military and religious architecture have been harmoniously woven into modern structures. Visitors can also explore the area independently by downloading the UNESCO audio guide.

If you only have an hour or two, the best way to soak up the atmosphere is by strolling through the Petrusse and Grund valleys to the lush grounds of Neumunster Abbey. Look up at the Bock cliffs and the Corniche balcony, then follow the river to the City Youth Hostel, where ramparts continue up the slope to the Kirchberg plateau and Dräi Eechelen museum.

Find out more about Luxembourg City’s history at the City Museum’s UNESCO Visitor Centre, on rue St Esprit. View other UNESCO regions, traditions and sites in Luxembourg.

Your curiosity will propel your through some of the 23 of tunnels inside the Bock Casemates
Your curiosity will propel your through some of the 23 of tunnels inside the Bock Casemates, © Gauvin Lapetoule.

Things to consider before traveling

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Some tips to consider while traveling

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