The principality of Liechtenstein is one of the smallest and least visited European countries. That didn’t stop my curiosity about this microstate tucked between Switzerland and Austria though. Quite the contrary.
We took the train from Zurich main station to Sargans, Switzerland, and from there the bus to Vaduz, Liechtenstein – this bus runs almost through all Liechtenstein before reaching its final destination in Feldkirch, Austria, making three countries in less than an hour.
If it weren’t for the flags announcing our entrance in Liechtenstein as we crossed the Rhine River, we would say we were still in Switzerland: the same green fields and breathtaking Alpine views, the same immaculate nature and spotless villages, and even the same supermarket chains presented themselves before our eyes.
But the two neighboring countries share even more: the same currency, the Swiss franc, and the same dialect, the Swiss German, as well as a customs union, or free trade agreement.
Around 1,5 hours after leaving Zurich, we arrived in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, just in time for lunch. We sat on the terrace of the Brasserie Burg, right in the center of the city pedestrian area and below the castle.
I had a vegetarian burger and my boyfriend an omelet. The food was good and they have a lot of vegetarian options in the menu. The prices are about the same as in Switzerland, so definitely not cheap, but the standard for one of the richest countries in the world.
After lunch we decided our first stop would be the Vaduz Castle. It took us around 30 minutes to climb our way up through a quiet and green walking path, while enjoying incredible views over the city and the Rhine Valley.
We could also learn more about Liechtenstein with the help of several information signs spread along the way to the castle. These signs tell the history of the country and display interesting facts about its culture and economy.
With an area of only 160 square kilometers (24.6 km long and 12.4 km wide) and a population of around 37,000 people, Liechtenstein is the fourth smallest country in Europe and the sixth smallest in the world.
It is one of only two double-landlocked countries in the world (the other being Uzbekistan), since it’s surrounded entirely by two other landlocked countries – Switzerland and Austria.
The territory that constitutes modern Liechtenstein was bought by the Liechtenstein dynasty, a noble family from Austria, in 1699 and 1712, and elevated to principality in 1719. In 1806, Liechtenstein became a sovereign country, but it was not until 1818 that a member of the princely family first visited the territory. And only in 1938 the family actually moved to Liechtenstein, making the Vaduz Castle its official residence.
Nowadays, and despite its small size, Liechtenstein is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with its citizens enjoying one of the highest living standards on the planet.
Here are some other interesting facts about the principality:
- Considered a tax haven in the past, Liechtenstein has more registered companies than citizens.
- The country has no Army since 1868.
- The literacy rate in Liechtenstein is 100 per cent.
- The principality has also one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
- Half of the country is covered by mountains, the Alps, which makes it a great winter destination.
- Liechtenstein has no airport, with the nearest large airport being Zurich, in Switzerland.
Finally we reached Vaduz Castle. Standing 120 meters above Vaduz and surrounded by beautiful, bucolic scenery, this fortress is the symbol of Liechtenstein. It’s also the residence of the princely family and therefore cannot be visited, but it’s still worthy of a look from the outside.
Princely vineyards and old town
The next stop on our day trip to Liechtenstein was the private vineyards of the Reigning Prince Hans-Adam II, where you can also visit the wine cellars of the Prince and taste some princely wine.
We then made our way back, strolling through the narrow and picturesque streets of the old town, which was once the centre of Vaduz.
Museums and… more museums
Fast forward to the present and the modern centre of Vaduz, the Städle is the main pedestrian street, where you can find everything that makes a truly European capital: shops, restaurants, cafés, hotels and museums – a lot of museums!
This tiny city of little more than 5,000 habitants, where everyone knows each other, houses nothing less than six major museums.
The most impressive of which is the Museum of Fine Arts, whose distinctive building from the year of 2000 is a masterpiece itself. This state-run museum houses a significant collection of modern and contemporary art and regular temporary exhibitions, as well as special exhibitions with pieces from the private collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein.
Right next to the Kunstmuseum, the Hilti Art Foudation museum opened in 2015 as an extension to the Museum of Fine Arts. The Hilti Art Foundation is one of Liechtenstein’s most important private art collections. Its cubicle building showcases modern and contemporary art from the last 130 years.
The National Museum tells the story of Liechtenstein through archeology, history, art, culture, and a natural history collection. Its building, dating back to 1438, was used in the past as princely tavern, customs house, and seat of the government.
The Treasure Chamber shows a selection of items that belong to the Princes of Liechtenstein and other private collections, including the Apple Blossom Egg of Fabergé, and original moonstones collected by the Apollo 11 and 17 missions.
Finally, located under the same room are the Postal Museum and the English Building Art Space.
The Postal Museum tells the history of the country’s postal service, while the English Building Art Space, more than a traditional gallery, is an important meeting point for the contemporary art scene in Liechtenstein, from exhibitions to installations, performances, and other projects.
Liechtensteiners are proud of their vibrant cultural life, and, from what I saw, they certainly have all the right to be.
The last stop of our visit to Vaduz was the government district, which is in fact only one square, the Peter-Kaiser-Platz.
The German-American architect Hansjörg Göritz designed the modern square and parliament building, where the 25 members of the national parliament meet since 2008.
Next to the parliament, you can find the government building, dating from 1905.
I’m a sucker for contemporary art and architecture, so I must say I really liked Vaduz government district and its unique parliament house.
Before catching our bus back to Zurich, we still had time for a quick visit to the neighboring Vaduz Cathedral, a neo-Gothic church built between 1868 and 1873.
All in all, I really enjoyed our time in the capital of Liechtenstein, and would certainly like to visit again and explore more of the country. From beautiful nature and a picturesque old town, to a busy modern center, with a vast cultural offer and significant architecture, Vaduz has all the qualities of a European metropolis in a small, exquisite package.
Have you ever visited Liechtenstein? What did you find mos interesting about this small country? Share in the comments section below.
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