The small yet mighty Luxembourg has tonnes to brag about yet has consistently maintained a fairly low international profile. Known above all else for its high GDP, fantastic wages, and tax breaks, this country is well-known among business-minded internationals. It does, however, have far more to offer than its financial perks. Bordered by France, Belgium, and Germany, and with a large foreign population and extremely tolerant policies, this country really is a melting pot of cultures.
Furthermore, despite the small size of their country, Luxembourgers have retained a strong national identity and a well-deserved sense of pride. So, let’s take a closer look at what this somewhat mysterious country is best known for.
Covering just 2,586 km², Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in Europe – in fact, it’s barely larger than Rhode Island (which covers 3,140 km²). Plus, with a population of 613,894 (as of 2019), it’s also one of Europe’s least populated countries; however, as we’ll see, the attractive way of life in Luxembourg is drawing in permanent visitors, causing this population to rise at a faster rate than those of neighboring countries.
Don’t let Luxembourg’s small size and population fool you into thinking it’s not a key economic player – it’s actually one of the richest countries in the world, and its GDP per capita (a measure of the monetary worth of a nation divided by its total population) has been consistently ranked as the highest (or one of) in the world for years. The wealth of the country is reflected in other ways too – for instance, the minimum wage is the highest in all of Europe (at a whopping €2,142 per month in 2020 – anyone fancy relocating?).
With these kinds of salaries, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the standard of living is high in Luxembourg. This is highlighted by the fact that Luxembourg City, the country’s capital, has more Michelin star restaurants per capita than any other city in the world. If you’re there and fancy some top-notch dining, check out this handy Michelin Guide for Luxembourg.
Perhaps Luxembourg is on to something here – pay your workers well enough to have a decent life, no matter what job they have, and there’s less chance they’ll resort to crime. It certainly seems to be working out well, as Luxembourg is one of the safest places on earth. In fact, it’s been ranked as the fifth safest country in the entire world, with the most common crime being pickpocketing rather than hardcore convictions.
Of course, the fact that it’s small means we’d be surprised if it was the crime capital of the world but, actually, even when population size is accounted for, this tiny country remains extremely safe. With just two prisons to hold the entire country’s fellans, and a police force of just 1,603 officers, you can certainly rest assured that crime is not rife in Luxembourg.
Luxembourg is widely known for looking after its working class thanks to its incredibly high minimum wage. Let it not be said, however, that Luxembourg doesn’t look after its upper class too – it’s actually a world-renowned tax haven for big businesses. Without boring you with the details, its favorable tax laws allow for tonnes of exemptions, which means that big corporations can make huge savings by legally shifting their profits from high-tax countries to low-tax countries (aka Luxembourg). The appeal has been so strong for corporations that, despite its tiny size, Luxembourg attracts almost as much foreign investment as the United States – pretty impressive, isn’t it?
In recent years, however, Luxembourg’s tax policies have been somewhat frowned upon by the international community. In 2014, what became known as the ‘Luxembourg Leaks’ (or ‘LuxLeaks’ for short) scandal revealed that hundreds of the world’s largest had been using subsidiaries in Luxembourg to avoid paying billions of dollars worth of tax via secret tax deals. Since then, Luxembourg has become more transparent in its tax policies, yet it remains to be seen how much difference this will make in the long term.
It is perhaps unsurprising that Luxembourg is a melting pot when it comes to languages – it is bordered by Belgium, Germany, and France, after all. However, Luxembourgers really have taken learning languages into their stride. Children are raised speaking the national language, Luxembourgish (Lëtzebuergesch), which is itself heavily influenced by French and German. Then, during primary school, German is taught, and, finally, during secondary school, French and English are taught… so many Luxembourgers end up speaking four languages – pretty cool huh?
Small enough to learn your way around, yet super safe and with great pay… plus it’s a tax haven and multilingual – no wonder foreigners are flocking over to Luxembourg in the thousands. Roughly half of Luxembourg’s population is made up of foreigners, and the Portuguese, in particular, are partial to the area, making up around a third of the foreign population (with the French being the next highest foreign population). This influx of foreigners makes for an extremely culturally diverse city and is partially responsible for Luxembourg’s rapidly growing population, and Luxembourgers are very tolerant of their new-found neighbors.
The high level of tourists in Luxembourg makes for one exceptionally culturally diverse country. In fact, the capital of Luxembourg (creatively named, ‘Luxembourg City’) has been awarded the prestigious European Capital of Culture award not once but twice (originally in 1995 and then again in 2007) – the only city to have ever managed such a feat.
The designation lasts for an entire year and throughout that year the city plays host to a series of cultural events, typically boosting the economy of the city as well as enriching its social and cultural vibes.
So, what does Luxembourg actually have to offer in terms of culture? Quite a bit actually. The City Of Luxembourg itself is a designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its impressive labyrinth of historical buildings and fortifications.
But why so heavily fortified? If you think about where Luxembourg is located, between three different countries, it makes sense that it would have been of key strategical importance in years gone by. In fact, the city originated as little more than a castle constructed on a very difficult-to-reach patch of rock. As the city passed through the hands of various rulers, more and more defenses were added, and these structures show hints of the French, Roman, Spanish, and even Prussian, designers.
Although the fortress itself was eventually dismantled in 1867, in accordance with the Treaty of London, its streets, gates, fortifications, and old quarters tell the tale of its past. Particularly impressive are the Bock Casemates – a series of underground tunnels constructed by Spanish rulers that stretch for kilometers underneath the city itself.
Overall, for such the capital city of a country that’s so developed in terms of economics and social issues, there’s a surprising amount of history contained within the City of Luxembourg.
It might sound somewhat unusual for a hopping procession to be designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site, but hopping really is a matter of honor over in Luxembourg. The hopping procession of Echternach occurs every year on Whit Tuesday and is in honor of the late monk St Willibrord who founded Benedictine abbey way back in 698. Spectators and pilgrims assemble en mass for the procession, which passes the tomb of the patron saint himself.
The third UNESCO attraction you’ll find in Luxembourg is actually a photography collection, known as ‘The Family of Man‘. Through a series of photographs, Edward Steichen explores what it means to be human, and common themes found throughout humankind. It strongly promotes peace and features more than 500 photos taken by people from various countries. The exhibition is on display at the picturesque Clervaux Castle. It costs just €6 for a standard adult ticket, but be warned that the exhibition is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays (except for bank holidays).
Okay, so clearly Luxembourg isn’t running low on its heritage sites, but what better way to let all that daytime culture soak in than with a dose of evening culture… in the form of a glass of wine. Luxembourg is home to Restaurant Chiggeri, which is known around the globe featuring in the Guinness Book of World Records back in 2009 for being the restaurant with the longest wine list – more than 1,700 in total!
On top of that, Crémant de Luxembourg, made in Luxembourg’s Moselle district, is a sparkling wine produced via a traditional technique, that hit the marketplace by storm back in 2015, but there are tonnes of other great wines just waiting to be sampled in Luxembourg.
Did you know that Luxembourg is actually a Grand Duchy? In fact, did you know that it’s the only Grand Duchy in the world? We wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t – we had no idea either. The full title of Luxembourg is actually ‘the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg’. But what does this actually mean? Well, it basically means that the leading monarch is a Grand Duke or Duchess (rather than a King/Queen, Emperor/Empress, etc.). In the aftermath of the Napoleon wars, Luxembourg gained independence from France and established itself as a sovereign grand duchy, which it has remained until this day.
And speaking of Grand Dukes… if you’re in Luxembourg on June 23rd, you’re in for a real treat. This date is known officially as National Day and is in honor of the Grand Duchess Charlotte who passed away in the 1960s (her birthday was actually January 23rd but June seemed like a better month for celebrations, hence June 23rd).
No matter where you are in Luxembourg, you’ll know that it’s July 23rd – expect to see fireworks, outdoor festivities, and live bands setting up throughout the country.
Given the glowing track record of this immaculate country that has never been on the wrong side of history and has an impeccable standard of living, it’s not surprising that Luxembourgers don’t want things to change. This frame of mind couldn’t be clearer from the country’s motto ‘mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn’, which translates to ‘we want to stay what we are’. This may be a small country, but it has a lot to be proud of, and its citizens know it.
However, despite its sense of national pride, Luxembourg remains an extremely tolerant country. As well as its welcoming attitude towards foreigners, Luxembourg has always been liberal in its views on homosexuality. In fact, the current prime minister, Xavier Bettel, is openly gay, which is not commonplace in European politics. There are also tonnes of bars, clubs, and events that aim to include people of all genders and sexual orientations,
Further evidence of Luxembourg’s tolerance is highlighted by its laws on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Despite the Grand Duke previously disapproving of euthanasia, he is now the Head of State and cannot overrule the law-making process, hence euthanasia is now legal. Overall, Luxembourg offers a unique blend of national pride and liberalism that sets it apart from other European countries.
So, there you have it, Luxembourg in a nutshell. As we’ve seen, there is more than this country than meets the eye. In many ways, Luxembourg brings together unique cultural balances. For instance, it offers a fantastic minimum wage but also provides tax breaks to the rich, whereas many countries favor just one class (often the upper). Similarly, it remains grounded in its traditions through events such as National Day and the hopping procession of Echternach, yet is extremely open and welcoming of foreign people and ideas.
With its high standard of living and impeccable safety record, it’s not surprising that people from further afield are keen to make Luxembourg their new home. In the years to come, it will be interesting to see how the expanding population affects this tiny country, and whether it manages to retain both its welcoming attitude and its strong sense of national pride.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.