Cities to visit near Luxembourg
The most important thing to do at the start of the year is to plan your holidays. It’s part of most people’s survival plan for getting through the rest of the cold winter.
If you can’t wait until summer, here’s a few city break destinations not too far from the Grand Duchy. You can keep your carbon footprint down by driving or better still, taking the train to many of these cities.
Belgium & The Netherlands
Explore the cobbled streets of Maastricht and the lovely Vrijthof Square. Browse books in the nearby Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore, a 13th century Dominican church converted into a shop, which The Guardian called the "best bookstore in the world".
Take a quiet moment in the Basilica of Saint Servatius or light a candle in the Basilica of Our Lady, walk around the fortifications to spot Hell's Gate built more than 800 years ago. There's also a Natural History Museum that contains the remains of dinosaurs and giant turtles, an aquarium and a working beehive.
Just outside the city, you can visit the town of Valkenberg with its famous castle, velvet caves, cable car and year-round toboggan ride.
An even larger number of European Institutions are housed in Brussels but that’s not all the city has to offer.
The UNESCO listed cobble stoned square of Brussel’s Grand Place, surrounded by sumptuous guildhalls is a good place to start, just make sure you’ve been to the bathroom, otherwise the Manneken Pis (just off the square) will have you crossing your legs.
You can take a virtual tour (with headset) that takes you back to the Grand Place in the 17th century with dramatic cannonball fire. There’s even a version for kids under 12 years. You can pick up your headset from the City Museum, which houses art, sculpture, and monuments from the 13th century onwards, and the original 400-year-old statue of Mannekin Pis.
The Gothic Cathedral Notre Dame du Sablon contains a Madonna statue with healing powers. There’s a Botanical garden, costume museum and of course the Royal Palace, the official residence of the Belgian Royal family.
There’s plenty to keep kids interested including a comic strip mural art trail, which will also take in some amazing art deco architecture, including the Comic Strip Centre. The Hergé Museum has all things Tintin.
Outside town to the north, families can visit Atomium, an odd silver structure designed in the form of an iron crystal magnified billions of times. Five of the spherical rooms have exhibits including one on air travel and another on the surrealist art of René Magritte. Nearby, Mini-Europe allows you to take a whistle-stop tour of Europe’s capitals in miniature including the Berlin Wall and a chiming Big Ben.
The Brussels Card gives you access to museums and tourist sites, free public transport and discounts on bars and restaurants.
Setting of the European Parliament for six months, Strasbourg is a great place for a short break. The city's Cathedral Notre Dame soars over the old town and kids will love its famous astronomical clock.
The clock has animated figures which come out each day at 12.30pm to present the stages of life, from childhood to old age, who all "parade past death," according to the city's tourism website.
Nearby Place Kléber, with its water fountains, is a good traffic-free space for kids to run about while you stop for lunch. If you like a bit of history, take a stroll around Petite France's narrow canals flanked by half-timbered houses. Try an Alsatian delicacy or sit in a cosy beer snug.
Children can run off some steam in the Parc de l'Orangerie, which boasts several play areas, a lake where you can rent boats and a free mini-zoo with flamingos, monkeys, goats and the ubiquitous stork, the symbol of Strasbourg.
Strasbourg has a tram system and a 24-hour 'trio' ticket that provides unlimited travel for three people. It costs less than €10. Children under five travel for free.
A bit further afield but full of charm, Dijon makes for a great family break. Perhaps seen as more of a summer destination, there is, however, still lots to enjoy in the winter months, with the bonus of a string of beautiful historic villages and towns nearby.
The Musee de la vie Bourguignonne (free entry) has life-size displays of how the streets, shops and a family kitchen might have looked like in Burgundy a few hundred years ago.There are plenty of hands-on activities to keep the children entertained, such as dressing up in 19th century clothes or colouring in pictures of one of the display scenes.
For lunch, you can taste the region's signature dish, Boeuf Bourguignon, while the kids run around the fountain-filled and traffic-free Place de la Liberation. Need to walk off that lunch? Then the Jardin de l'Arquebuse, Dijon's Botanical Gardens, is a lovely place for a relaxing stroll. Situated at the edge of the Gardens is the Natural History Museum (free entry).
Weather permitting, you can rent bikes or zip wire through the trees (ages six and up) at Parc de la Colombieres, which also has farm animals and a jungle gym.
Fancy something very different? In nearby Alesia, you can visit the new Gallo-Roman Museum , which provides children's audio guides in several languages, re-enactments from both the Gaul and Roman perspectives and the chance to try out sword fighting.
If your children are too small to appreciate the history of Vercingetorix, you can check them into the free crèche filled with toys and craft activities.
Bonn and Cologne
Much of Bonn was destroyed during World War II, but there are still some historical remains and the fantastic German National Museum of Contemporary History. The car of former Chancellor, Willy Brandt's, pieces of the Berlin Wall and a tiny fragment of rock from the moon are among the 7,000 objects on display.
You can also pop along to Ludwig van Beethoven’s birthplace which houses a permanent exhibition of objects from his life or inspired by it. The tour of 12 rooms will give you an insight into the great composer’s life. It’s open daily from 10am to 6pm. If plants are more your thing, then the Botanic gardens at the university hold some 11,000 specifies over 13 hectares, open daily in summer and Monday to Friday in winter.
Fans of pop art should head to the Museum Ludwig in Cologne which includes work from Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein as well as collections of abstract and surrealist art, including one of the largest collections of Picasso’s work in Europe.
If food is your guilty pleasure, visit the Chocolate Museum housed in a stunning glass building on the Rheinau Harbour. Nine exhibitions will take you on a fantastic journey through the history and culture of chocolate starting with the Aztecs and Mayans. Over the bridge you can visit the Mustard Mill, over 200 years old and now home to a museum giving guided tours.
History and architecture lovers will not fail to notice Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site, whose foundation stone was laid in 1248. During the Second World War the cathedral suffered severe damage from 70 firebombing hits. Fortunately, the medieval windows survived. Today it houses many amazing religious works of art including the epiphany and three kings’ shrines, paintings, sculpture and murals.
Kids will love Cologne Zoo, open 365 days a year, with its elephant park, hippodum, camels, monkeys, and aquarium. If you’ve got the stomach for it, older children will appreciate the world’s fastest, multi-launch rollercoaster, Talon, at Phantasia Land which is close enough to Bonn and Cologne for a side trip.
It’s not all finance in this chic city, you can gaze at some amazing architecture and relax in the rejuvenated harbour area or brush up on your history in the old town with its beautiful gabled houses.
Begin in Burgplatz and the last vestiges of the castle, a tower with sections dating back to the 13th century. The castle tower has a museum dedicated to the history of this port town and of inland shipping in Germany. In the corner of the square you’ll find a bronze sculpture showing a scene from the Battle of Worringen in the Middle Ages, when Dusseldorf rivalled Cologne. If you’re planning a night on the tiles during your city break, then the old town has more than 300 pubs, bars and night clubs, in an area known as Längste Theke der Welt or the Longest Bar in the World.
If it’s some high-end retail therapy you’re after, head to Königsallee and a kilometre long street filled with Chanel, Cartier, Tiffany’s, Burberry, Gucci, Prada and the list goes on.
For an art fix, head to the two venues that make up Cologne’s Museum of Modern Art. K20 is housed in a black granite building and has exhibitions on Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Pop Art and more with works from Klee, Kandinsky, Braque, Pollock and Warhol. K21 is housed in the neo-classical parliament building, with a glass roof and exhibits on modern art, prints and installations.
Families can head to Wildpark, an animal park east of the city set in a 200-year-old beech forest with walking trails and several species of deer, wild boar and raccoons. Also east is the Neander Valley, where the first Neandertal man was discovered in 1858. A museum dedicated to this has models, fossils and an exhibition on the evolution of man, with audio guides available in English.
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