Nestled into a valley between the Swiss and Austrian Alps lies the sixth smallest country in the world – Liechtenstein. Few people have heard of this German-speaking nation but its natural beauty leaves you speechless. This tiny nation is roughly the size of Manhattan and has a population of 35,000. It is the only German-speaking nation that does not share a border with Germany and its importance has only been recognized in recent years. Centuries ago, the Liechtenstein family was close with the Austrian Hapsburgs and this little portion of land was insignificant to the powerful families. In 1938, the country achieved the recognition it deserved and Prince Franz Josef II became the first prince to have his place of residence in Liechtenstein.
Liechtenstein Things to Know
Language – German but most people speak English
Currency – Swiss Franc
Area – 61 square miles
How to Get There
Armed with little more than a Eurail pass, my passport, and a fully charged camera, I naïvely made a solo day trip from my home in Germany to Liechtenstein. Unfortunately, this meant going from a night on the town to waking up at 3 in the morning to catch my early train that left at 5. I was fortunate that Germany didn’t require reservations on its trains because I hopped from one to the next to get to Liechtenstein. My best friend on this trip was a handy iPhone app called Rail Planner. All I had to do was enter my start and end destinations and it told me what trains I needed to take to get there. The hard work was done for me; I just had to follow its guidance. If you don’t have a pass that lets you ride the trains for free, you can purchase tickets at the little red kiosks at any German train station. They are also in English and are very simple to use. Be sure to print out a timetable and it will tell you when your train arrives, departs, and what platform it will be on. Such an easy system! There are also information desks at most train stations and lots of people speak English to help you with your route.
The train ride from my home in Heidelberg was beautiful. I watched the sun rise over the Ulm cathedral and spent hours twisting through the morning fog in the countryside. After nearly six hours of train travel, I arrived at the Buchs main train station in Switzerland via a local train. From there, I could see the Rhine River and I knew that directly beyond that lay Liechtenstein. I just had no idea how I was going to get there because trains did not run in to Liechtenstein. After a little bit of asking around, I learned that the best way was to take one of the busses. So I quickly hopped on the bus and sighed with relief as we crossed over the river into Liechtenstein.
This was the 34th country that I had visited and it was a great milestone for me. Not only was I the only person I knew that had been to Liechtenstein, but also this was the first country that I traveled to on a solo trip. Later that month my grandparents told me that they had been to Liechtenstein so that burst my little bubble. Regardless, this tiny mountain nation enthralled me unlike any other.
I was so excited to hit the ground running that I mistakenly exited the bus at the first stop. It wasn’t until the bus was speeding away that I realized I was still two miles away from the center of town. Instead of waiting for the next bus, I began walking in the direction of town and took a good, hard look around.
All around me, the Alps soared up to their snowy peaks. The grass in the fields was green even though it was still February. I embraced the warm sun on my face that I hadn’t felt in Germany in months. I felt free. Small, tidy houses lined the back roads as I walked closer to this small nation’s capital. Apparently the citizens of Liechtenstein had voted recently to give their prince even more power because he was doing such an excellent job of ruling over them. I probably would have done the same because the further I walked, the more I fell in love with the country.
Things To Do
An hour later, I finally reached the capital and discovered that it wasn’t busy at all despite the fact that it was a Friday. I could tell that they didn’t get lots of tourists and I was happy to have the city all to myself. I strolled down the main downtown, past souvenir shops and odd sculptures until I reached the tourist center. For only €3 I received my very own stamp from the Principality of Liechtenstein. I was so excited you could’ve sworn I won the lottery. The woman who helped me was very friendly and recommended that I climb up to the castle for a view over the whole country. I politely thanked her and went on her way.
The castle Schloß Vaduz stands imposingly on the mountain looking toward the west. Visitors are not allowed inside but many people choose to hike up the mountain to see the same vistas as the prince. The capital city gets its name from the castle, which is visible from nearly everywhere in Vaduz.
Just visible from the tourist center was the steeple of the Cathedral of St. Florin. It is considered a cathedral because it is a seat of a bishop. Churches are the backbone of Europe so I make it a point to go inside of every one I have the opportunity to visit. As I climbed up to it, I was afraid it was closed because there was construction around the entrance. But I pushed on the door and was pleasantly surprised when it easily opened.
Colors from the stained glass windows sparkled through the windows and danced across the white walls. It wasn’t an enormous church but its simple style was very striking. To top it all off, I had the entire place to myself. I wandered around the apse and even sat in one of the pews to reflect (and rest my aching feet). Once I felt slightly more energized, I headed back out on the road.
There are several museums in downtown Vaduz. The Liechtenstein National Museum tells about the nation and the Liechtenstein Museum of Fine Arts is home to a plethora of artwork. The Postal Stamp Museum is a unique museum that teaches the history of Liechtenstein’s postal service and showcases a large number of postage stamps from the past and present. More information on tourism in Liechtenstein can be found at http://www.tourismus.li/en/.
The sun was slowly beginning to sink down over the Swiss Alps and I knew that a trip up to the castle wouldn’t be feasible if I wanted to return home to Germany that night. I bought a Döner Kebab from two friendly older gentlemen and ate it on my way back to the Buchs train station in Switzerland. It was sad to leave but I’ll always remember my first solo trip to lovely little Liechtenstein.