In the neighbourhood: Esch-sur-Alzette
With a population of some 36,177 (2022), Esch-sur-Alzette or in Luxembourgish Esch-Uelzecht is the Grand Duchy’s second city, located in the south-west of the country.
Despite its industrial past, almost 54% of it is dedicated to forests, green spaces and parks, and it is home to some great examples of art nouveau, neo-gothic and art deco styles of architecture, as well as the former rejuvenated steelworks site at Belval. You can read more about this architectural icon here.
This year it is a European Capital of Culture and has been hosting a number of festivals, concerts, performances, and exhibitions under the banner Esch2022.
A little background...
The name “Asch” first appears in records in 1128. In 1328 Jean L’Aveugle (John the Blind, the first Count of Luxembourg and King of Bohemia from 1296 to 1346) conferred the status of Free City on Esch. Its location made it the target for invasion and attack and in 1677 the city’s fortifications were destroyed by Louis XIV, but by 1841 it had been granted Grand Ducal status as a canton.
For a long time it was still considered a farming town, but in the 1880s iron ore was discovered and the mining and steel production population grew the city exponentially. It went from a population of just over 1,000 in 1827 to having one close to 30,000 by 1930.
At its peak production, the steel industry of the area produced 6.4 million tonnes per year and employed 29,000 people. Today only 4,000 are employed in the industry, producing 2.3 tonnes made from recycled scrap. The blast furnaces shut down in the 1970s, the last mines closed in the 1980s and the works at Belval finished operating in 1997.
Today they are home to the University of Luxembourg, several research facilities (with some 1,500 people working in research) and the national archives.
Esch-sur-Alzette has been and is home to many notable Luxembourgers, including Pierre Brassener, a founder of the steel company ARBED, Camillo Felgen, DJ and TV producer, and Gust Graas, an abstract painter and former director-general of RTL.
It was also home to author and playwright Nico Helminger, painter and sculptor Max Kohn, and numerous sports people who competed in the Olympics. Perhaps the most famous is footballer-turned-politician Emile Hamilius. It’s also produced an archbishop of Luxembourg (Fernand Franck) and a Prime Minister (Victor Thon), as well as a European Court Judge (François Biltgen) and more recently, the former leader of the Green Party, François Folmer.
Property prices in the second city are less expensive than in the capital. According to Wort Immo the current price per square metre of real estate in the area is:
Apartment (new) €9,426
Apartment (old) €6,838
House (new) €6,573
House (old) €5,606
Shopping & Services
For groceries, there’s a Delhaize supermarket and Proxy, plus an Aldi in Belval. In town you’ll find a Cactus, Carrefour Express and another Delhaize Proxy, plus Epicerie Rita Ines at 7 rue de Neudorf.
Further out of town you’ll find a Smatch at 60 rue d'Ehlerange and another Cactus supermarket close to KulturFabrik on Rue de Luxembourg.
You can pick up speciality Asian foodstuff at Asie Express at 371 Route de Belval, and organic produce at Naturata on the same road at No 70. Victus Sabotic Shopping offers Balkan foods at rue Romain Fandel.
Furniture stores include Smets and CASA, and clothes shops include Cop Copine, Esprit, men’s clothing at White House, and Promod. WeltButtek sells a variety of gifts.
There are too many shops to mention in this article, so it’s best to take a stroll along rue de L’Alzette, the longest pedestrian shopping street in Luxembourg.
The Belval Plaza shopping centre has jewellery shops, several cafes including a Golden Bean, a Delhaize supermarket, hair stylists T-Hair and RyanHair, an Etam and H&M, and several clothing shops, plus Snooze for burgers and Urban for an after-work drink.
There are several primary and pre-schools in Esch, you can find a full list of them here. Likewise, there is a good selection of secondary schools, including an International School (the campuses are in Esch and Differdange), which offers the European Baccalaureate in English, French, German and Portuguese. You can find a full list of secondary schools here.
The University of Luxembourg has a campus at Belval, including the arts, humanities, science, technology and communication.
If you want to learn a language you can do so with the city commune at a number of school sites. It costs between €100 and €150 to enrol in a year’s course in Luxembourgish, German, French, English, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and Russian. Classes start at A1.1 level and progress to B1 level.
If you want to practise your language skills then language cafes with conversation tables are organised by the Esch Adminitration.
If you’re looking for a creche near Belval, you can try Creche Les Angelots, Nursery Les Petits Dinosaures, or Creche Belval d’Heemelmaus. In or near Esch town you’ll find Creche Cochinella (in two locations one also providing after-school care), Creche de Butzeneck, and Creche Nascht – but there are some 17 in total so you won’t be short of childcare options.
Transport & parking
Well connected by road, rail and bus, Esch-sur-Alzette can be reached by the A4 and A13 motorways, but traffic in peak hours can be dreadful.
It has three railway stations on line 60 – Belval Redange, Esch-sur-Alzette and Belval Université. TICE buses 1 to 5, 7, 12, 13, 15 and 17 serve it as do RGTR lines 641, 603, 604, and 642. The 306 connects Esch to Cloche d'Or and Trier.
The city runs a Flexibus for residents in the Neiduerf and Park districts which collects you from home and drives to the station Monday to Saturday from 6.30 until 23.00. Reservations must be made no later than 30 minutes before your departure on 8002 20 20.
The Gaalgebus runs from the city to the green area of Gaalgebierg free of charge, seven days a week, every 30 minutes between 11.30 and 18.30. It can carry up to 8 passengers and is wheelchair accessible. Strollers can be accommodated.
The Sport-a-Kulturbus is aimed at young people and members of a sports or cultural association in Esch, who wish to go to their training or lessons by bus. It operates Monday to Friday taking a 40 minute loop from 16.00 to 22.00 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and starting earlier at 14.00 on Tuesday and Thursday.
There are several Vël’ok bicycle stations around the city and neighbouring municipalities. You can find a map of stations plus details on how to join the system here.
Sports & Parks
Up in the beautiful forested Gaalgebierg area, you’ll find plenty of walks plus the wonderful Escher Déierepark, covering two hectares and home to about 150 animals from 25 different species. You can feed some of the animals with fodder provided at the visitor centre free of charge, there’s also a café, picnic tables and play areas, plus cute little treehouses which you can rent out for overnight stays.
The municipal park Gaalgebierg is reached by footbridge from the city, and includes flower gardens, forest trails, a popular pétanque area near the café and playground, a football field, and tennis and basketball courts. The playground has some unusual equipment including a tyre spinner, and a swing for wheelchair users.
The name “Gaalgebierg” means Hill of the Gallows. The head of the locality (when Luxembourg was ruled by King Charles II of Spain), a man named Ortsvorsteher, erected the first gallows on the hill in 1676, and promptly sentenced the first Esch citizen to be beheaded and hung by his feet.
The Ellergronn Visitor Centre, 2km south of the city, sits on the edge of the nature reserve of the same name. Housed in the buildings of the former Cockerill Mine, it’s the starting point for several discovery trails and offers various activities for children. The centre includes an exhibition on the natural and historic heritage of the region, and houses the Cockerill Mine Museum, and an artisanal forge.
You can take bus line TICE 12 from town to reach the reserve which covers 110 hectares in a former open-pit mining area. The land has been reclaimed by nature and has rare and rich habitats including calcareous beech forests, ponds, alder-ash forests and dry lawns.
From the centre you can take the 12km “Natura 2000” Discovery Trail, which is marked with educational panels. The walk is divided into three shorter loops. Loop A covers Man and forest (5km), Loop B looks at Exploitation of the iron land (4.5km) and Loop C, Plant succession (2.5km). You can find more information on these walks together with a host of others, here.
You’ll find mountain bike routes at Ellegronn and the Terres Route Bike Park at the site of former open pit Lalléngerbierg, between Esch and Schifflange. There are numerous cycle paths and sports facilities in the Red Rock region, which are listed here. These include fishing ponds, carting, ninepin bowling and indoor trampoline centres.
You’ll find a fantastic skate park covering 1,700m² with ramps and other challenges between Bergem and Schifflange, open in summer until 22.00, with free entry.
You’re in the footballing heartland of Luxembourg which is a popular spectator as well as player sport. There are two main clubs CS Fola Esch (founded 1906, grounds at Stade Emile Mayrisch) and Jeunesse Esch (founded 1907, grounds at Stade de la Frontiere). Esch also hosted stages of the Tour de France in 2006 and 2017.
Escher Schwemm is the public swimming pool located near Parc Laval. It was modernised and enlarged in 2003 and has three pools, including one for small children, plus a 40m toboggan slide.
There’s also a wellness centre, and surrounding the baths is a recreational area with benches, an outdoor fitness park, and a water play park. The complex incorporates an open-air pool and the Club 5 restaurant. In addition to Parc Laval, you’ll find Parc du Domaine Schlassgoard near the city’s central square on rue Helen Buchholtz, and on the borders with Mondercange is the Lankelz forest.
Esch-sur-Alzette also has a shooting range, field ice rink, tennis centre, beach volleyball courts, and two sports centres. You can find out more about these, the facilities they offer, and opening times/prices here. You’ll find a comprehensive list of the many sports clubs in the locality here.
You will not be at a loss for something to do in Esch, which has numerous arts, music and creative venues. In 2022, the city is a European Capital of Culture with numerous cultural events taking place weekly. Esch-sur-Alzette is also home to the annual LGBTIQ+ Pride Week, which celebrates with a parade and a programme of events in July.
Théâtre d’Esch has a comprehensive programme of music and theatre including events for young audiences. It hosts international touring theatre groups and comedians. On the second floor of the building you’ll find art exhibitions.
Installed in an old slaughterhouse, Kulturfabrik is a creative hub which hosts exhibitions and live acts in its 4,500m² concert hall. It also has a cinema, bistro, rehearsal space for musicians and studio space for artists. You can view its agenda here and read more about the urban art tours it organises here.
If you want to see big name live acts and musical theatre then Rockhal in Belval should be your destination. It has hosted acts such as Queen, Pink, Sting and REM in the past. It has two concert areas, one equipped to hold 6,500. It is also a creation and rehearsal space for local musicians and dancers, has a media library, and offers training and workshops. You can check out the live acts due to play here.
Those interested in classical music can learn at the Conservatoire. The music school was established in 1926 and gained conservatoire status in 1969. It runs music tuition courses and theoretical learning as well as attainment of music qualifications.
You can find a list of cultural associations and community clubs here.
There are three cinemas in Esch – the Ariston, the Kinosch and the Kinepolis Belval. The Muncipal Library is one of the oldest in Luxembourg, founded in 1892, and has a selection of 60,000 books and media. You can borrow up to 5 books and 3 CDs/DVDs for 4 weeks, for free.
The Place de la Résistance, also known as "Brillplaz” is home to the National Museum of the Resistance and human rights. The square contains sculptures by Kamel Louafi. The museum (and war memorial) honours the victims of Nazism. It traces the history of Luxembourg between 1940 and 1945, under Nazi oppression, through the reactions of the people from passive resistance, active resistance movements, forced enrolment, strikes and work with the Allied forces, and includes photos, objects and artworks. It also records the fate of the Jews of Luxembourg.
The town hall square dates back to the 19th century, with the buildings erected in 1937. In 2005 redevelopment work modernised the city centre and with it created a great space for flea markets and festivals. Clear on three sides with a fountain marking the start of rue de l’Alzette, the square incorporates benches, games for children, and four cast iron plaques as a nod to Esch-sur-Alzette’s steel industry past.
The Cockerill Mine museum is the only Luxembourg mine with a well. Exploited by the Collart brothers from 1881 to 1943, and taken over in 1967 by John Cockerill, the museum houses miners’ tools, vintage lamps and helmets, archive photos and even some fossils found during extraction work. The museum is open Monday to Friday 8.00 to 12.00 and 13.00 to 17.00 and 8.00 to 12.00 on Saturday and Sunday.
The miniature Lankelz train runs over 1,350 km network with stations, bridges and tunnels. It runs from May to October on Sunday afternoons and you can find more details here.
Restaurants and cafes
Given its very multi-cultural population, Esch-sur-Alzette has no shortage of restaurants serving up different cuisine. It would be impossible to mention them all in this article, so we’ve picked a few of the ones that come highly recommended.
For Italian, try Como, which has risotto, pasta, fish and meat dishes on the menu and some value-for-money fixed menus for two. Moustache offers Luxembourgish, Portuguese and Italian aperitifs, king prawns and snails, plus an extensive Italian menu, including kid’s options and burgers. It would be hard not to find something you like.
For French fine dining try the six-course gourmand dinner at Postkutsch, or foie gras and Black Angus steak in the delightfully elegant surroundings of the terrace at Maison Lefevre. If you prefer burgers head to Grubers in Belval.
Restaurant Aagaman dishes up Nepalese and Indian specialities, and can regulate the spice content on request. Nonbe has Japanese tapas style dishes or a more formal dining menu on its second floor. Hanami Sushi has Thai and Chinese specialities in addition to Japanese sushi.
Esch-sur-Alzette and Belval also have plenty of bars if nightlife is more your vibe.
Esch has a centrally located youth hostel, by the central rail station, where an overnight stay will cost you from €27,70. The hostel has a bistro and panoramic terrace. For some pampering you can try the Seven spa hotel, with the suites providing spectacular views over the city, and relaxation that includes a Hamman and massage. The hotel restaurant also comes highly recommended.