It’s easier than you might think to visit Luxembourg for the day while visiting Paris. Luxembourg has a quaint, singular culture that Europhiles will enjoy learning about. (For example, did you know there was such a language as Luxembourgish, spoken by only about 400,000 people worldwide?) Here’s how to take a daytrip to Luxembourg, including train times, a suggested itinerary, and what to expect from your journey.
Trains to Luxembourg from Paris depart from the Gare de l’Est, in the 10th arrondissement of Paris. This station is on three metro lines (the 4, 5, and 7) and is just a few blocks from the Gare du Nord, with even more transit connections. There are plenty of amenities inside the station (food, coffee, magazines, retail, etc, as well as paid bathrooms and left luggage services). The only thing to be wary of is the noise level and the fact that there are few places to sit and wait for your train to be announced. For this reason, most people stand under the LCD departures screens to wait for the track to be identified. This can feel awkward for the tourist. You should also be wary of the notorious Paris pickpocket.
To look up departures in advance, you can either use the online booking tool of the SCNF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français, i.e. the French National Railway) or you can search the Bahn.de timetables (which are slightly easier to use). I used the Deutsche Bahn timetables for research, then used the SNCF site once I was ready to book and pay.
The TGV (intercity high-speed train service) runs direct from Paris l’Est to Luxembourg City five times a day and the trip takes a little over two hours. (In comparison, driving this distance would take about four hours.) Depending on how you want to spend your day in Luxembourg, you can choose between morning trains departing at 7:40am, 8:40am, or 10:40. We chose the 8:40am departure time, to put us in Luxembourg at 11:01am. To return to Paris the same day, you have a choice of leaving at 1:40pm (which would give you just a few hours in the city, of course), 5:10pm, 6:59pm, or 7:10pm. We chose the 5:10pm departure so that we could be back in Paris in time for dinner.
We booked in advance and printed out e-tickets to bring with us on our trip. Seats are assigned, and a seat reservation (+extra fee) is required. Pricing seems to depend on how far in advance you book your ticket, with some deals available if you plan early. We bought our tickets about 10 days before the day trip, and paid €404 for 2 tickets (about $450). Not a cheap daytrip! If you use the English version of the SNCF site, your ticket will come in English.
The TGV is comfortable and clean, though nothing about the second class service stands out. Many seats are faced backwards, and with both a lower and upper seating deck, a full train can feel very crowded, especially since the seats aren’t particularly large. You are welcome to bring food and drinks on board. There is wifi available on board for free and it works well (I was able to download a large audio file while on board).
France and Luxembourg are both part of the Schengen Zone (in fact, Schengen is the name of the town in Luxembourg where this agreement was signed), so you don’t need to show your passport on the train, but I recommend having it with you just in case something comes up while you are away from Paris.
Arrival at the main train station in Luxembourg City is very charming. The station has amenities (though not nearly as many as in a Paris station), such as a paid restroom, bakery, and a newsstand.
The train station is located just south of the city center. You can take a cab, a bus, or a very scenic 20-25 minute walk to get to the center.
Crossing over the Pont Adolphe affords beautiful views of the Luxembourg’s hilly terrain.
Once over the bridge, it’s just a short walk to the Bibliothèque Nationale (the national library of Luxembourg).
Adjacent is the Cathédral Notre Dame, built in the seventeenth century, and Luxembourg’s only cathedral.
Just north of here is the Place Guillaume II, the medieval town square. At the southern end is the Hôtel de Ville (city hall). The other sides are lined with cafes, statues, and trees. This is also where you’ll find the Luxembourg Tourist Office. Spidering out from here are pedestrian shopping streets where most major European brands (ie Sephora, Longchamp) are represented.
East of the square is the Palais Grand Ducal, the residence of Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Luxembourg is the world’s only remaining grand duchy. (A grand duchy is a small European sovereign country, common in central and eastern Europe before most were absorbed into the modern nation-state. Tuscany, Moscow, Kiev, and the German state of Hesse were all grand duchies.) It’s possible to take guided tours of Palais Grand Ducal in the summer.
Though it’s a small city (just over 100,000 people) Luxembourg is one of the European Union’s three official capitols (the others are Strasbourg and Brussels) and is also a major financial center. The GDP is among the highest per capita in the world, and several important EU institutions are here, including the EU’s Court of Justice. This means that there are a large number of fantastic fine dining restaurants here. We chose to eat lunch at L’Annexe, where we each had a 3-course set menu (I chose a butternut squash soup to start, followed by chicken Cordon Bleu, then a decadent deconstructed chocolate cake). Our bill came to €90.10 (about $105). Our servers spoke fluent English and much of the clientele seemed to be speaking English, too. Search for restaurant recommendations on Trip Advisor. Note that many restaurants are closed on Mondays.
After lunch, we only had about 3 hours left in Luxembourg. We decided to visit the Pfaffenthal Lift, a glass elevator that takes visitors from the Parc Pescotore to the valley below–it is not to be missed. The views from the viewing platform at the top are stunning.
From here it’s not too difficult to walk to Mudam (the Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean), a contemporary art museum built within the walls of Fort Thüngen, Luxembourg’s old city fortifications. We took a sort of roundabout way over the busy Pont Grande-Duchesse Charlotte, which afforded even more stunning views over the valley below. Going this way, along the Avenue John F. Kennedy, means you also get a chance to check out the Philharmonie Luxembourg.
Mudam is a little outside of the city center, but it’s definitely worth the trip and is a relatively easy walk.
Mudam’s entry costs €8. It takes about an hour to see all the exhibits, which have a fresh, young vibe to them. There’s also a fantastic giftshop and a cozy, quirky cafe.
Just as you enter the main exhibition hall is a fun installation by Bill Woodrow called Pond Life–a receptacle of coins, each imprinted with the words “without you there is no museum.” Guests are free to take a coin as a souvenir.
We spent some time exploring the fort after a coffee in the Mudam Cafe. We couldn’t find a throughway back to the city center through the park, so we had to backtrack to Avenue JFK and eventually ended up running for a bus (#7, with a stop in front of Fondation JP Pescatore) so that we could make it back to the station in time for our train.
Once aboard the train, we relaxed with wine from the onboard cafe car. A single-serve bottle of white wine cost €8.
All in all, this was likely the most expensive daytrip I have ever taken. All told, we spent €750 on train tickets, lunch + refreshments, museum entries, and shopping. If I could tweak anything about it, I’d probably take the 7:40am train rather than 8:40am, just to have a little more time to shop or visit another museum before lunch. I do recommend visiting Luxembourg as a day trip–it’s very convenient not to have to pack up your things and spend the night there, and the city is small enough that we got to see a lot of things in just six hours.