A Weekend in Liechtenstein
Back in March, a blogger friend of mine (the lovely Sara Somewhere) convinced me to take a spontaneous weekend trip with her.
As we live in Mulhouse, we're close to the Swiss and German borders, and not even too far from Italy, so the options are fairly plentiful. But she wanted to go not to Zurich, or Munich, or Lake Como, but to Liechtenstein.
If you haven't heard of it, that's fine. It's a micro-state, the second-least visited country in Europe and the sixth smallest in the world, behind spots like Vatican City, Monaco and Tuvalu. This tiny country of less than 40,000 people is sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, and it is actually one of the only doubly landlocked countries in the world, meaning that you'd have to cross two borders to reach the ocean (the other is Uzbekistan).
I have to admit, I agreed to join Sara for the trip simply because of the novelty. The ability to say, "Why, yes, I've been to Liechtenstein." So, we embarked on the planning. And it turns out that novelty has a bit of a price!
Read on to learn about our trip and my impressions of Liechtenstein.
How did we get there?
First, we woke up at 3h45 to catch a 5h15 Flixbus from Mulhouse to Zurich. Then, from Zurich we took a train to Sargans, another town in Switzerland, before hopping on a 30-minute bus to Vaduz, the main city in Liechtenstein. The whole journey cost around 50 euros per person and, all in all, with hour-long breaks between each leg, took about 5 hours.
Where did we stay?
I'll be honest, there weren't too many options for chic boutique hotels and crazy party hostels. So, we chose the (relatively...) affordable Swiss Youth Hostel in Schaan, another town just north of Vaduz. Sara had already stayed in one of these before (they're a chain) and vouched for the quality. For about 50 euros per person for one night, we had a nice and spacious 4-person (all-female) room with a pretty view, clean bathrooms and a shower with incredible water pressure, and access to a tasty breakfast buffet.
What the heck did we do in Liechtenstein?
10h30: When we hopped off the bus in the center of Vaduz, we headed straight to the Tourism Office to get our bearings and get more information about the Adventure Pass. We had decided to splurge for a two-day pass (29 CHF), which gave us free access to some museums and some other fun goodies. Liechtenstein is a semi-constitutional monarchy, with a Prince and all, so of course we had to don glitzy paper crowns and take pictures in the throne at the Info Center. We also got our passports stamped, which was included in the Adventure Pass! (Unnecessary and unofficial, but fun nonetheless.)
11h: Then, we walked down the main street, or the Städtle, looking for a spot to sit down and have a coffee and a pastry. We landed at the Balu Bäckerei Konditorei, where I practiced my beginner German (the principality's official language is German) and ordered a cappuccino and a delicious beignet filled with apricot jam, which promptly spilled all over my pants.
11h30: The weather wasn't perfect, with clouds and rain in the forecast, but we took advantage of a break in the gloominess to make the trek up to the Schloss Vaduz, or the Vaduz castle. The walk provided some lovely views, even though the castle was surrounded by scaffolding and is unaccessible by the public because the royal family actually still lives there.
13h: Lunchtime rolled around, and we wracked our brains to find a suitable spot, as there really isn't an abundance of restaurants. We ended up at Engel's Restaurant, which offered both local cuisine and Asian cuisine. We had a beer and some pretty tasty Chinese food. It was nice, but we also started to realize just how expensive this country really is. Due to the limited options and the prices that are comparable to Switzerland without necessarily the quality, even the simplest meal (main + drink) ran us about 25 CHF per person.
14h: After lunch, we headed to the Kunstmuseum, as the entrance fee was covered in the Adventure Pass. There was some interesting modern art to look at, although naturally I didn't understand everything. However, I especially liked the interactive section where you could relax in bean bags and draw (how old am I, again?) while looking out at a Fernando Botero statue entitled Reclining Woman.
15h15: Across the street was a cute little souvenir shop called Hoi-Laden ("Hoi" means "Hi" in German, which I just find so cute). We stopped in to do some shopping (I bought a very tasty bar of chocolate), and we picked up a free fridge magnet and tried a free glass of wine at their tasting bar, courtesy of our Adventure Passes.
15h30: The wine tasting didn't stop there. Liechtenstein has been producing wine for over two thousand years, and our Adventure Passes allowed us two glasses at the Prince's Cellar, or the Hofkellerei des Fürsten von Liechtenstein. We made our way there through the sun-lit vineyards and discovered that there was a wine salon happening that weekend – forget the Adventure Pass, they handed each of us a tasting glass and we went to town! We tried many different wines, and really enjoyed a sparkling Riesling from Liechtenstein in particular. We also met a lovely woman who gave us some recommendations for the next day... more on that later!
17h30: Finally, we set off to find our hostel and put our backpacks down (with a cheeky McDonald's Chicken Paprika sandwich along the way).
20h: We rested for a while before asking the guy at the front desk if he had any recommendations for traditional restaurants. He pointed us towards Scanaua, a restaurant and bar in Schaan that was more trendy than traditional but still tasty. We found the public transportation to be easy and accessible in Liechtenstein (and included in the Adventure Pass!), so we took a quick bus ride to the restaurant. Once we arrived, we had a drink and ate some nice garlicky ravioli, mushroom toasts and wagyu beef meatballs. When we got home, we collapsed into our hostel beds, exhausted after such a long day.
9h: After a tasty and filling hostel breakfast, we headed out in the gray drizzle to visit das Rote Haus, or the Red House, a landmark in Vaduz that was built in the 14th century. It was pretty, and I can imagine that it would be even prettier on a sunny day, with the vineyard in full bloom and the castle looming behind sans construction.
10h15: Our next stop was the Postmuseum, as Liechtenstein is well-known for its postal history and stamps – they've been issuing their own postage since 1912. It was a quick but interesting visit, and I found the next building (the Treasure Chamber) to be markedly cooler. This dark room, more of a hallway really, features rare and precious items from the Princely Collection. We weren't allowed to take pictures, but believe me when I say the Fabergé eggs and lunar rocks collected by astronauts on Apollo 11 were fun to look at!
11h: On to the Landesmuseum, or the history museum. Admission was included in the Adventure Pass. There were some cool artifacts, and luckily there was an interesting exhibit on Chinese calligraphy on the ground floor for Sara, but I must admit, I would have been a little disappointed to have paid the 10 CHF fee only to not be able to read a single plaque, as everything was in German. I understand that it's the official language, and maybe there was an audio guide with translations that I missed, but even the tiny Postmuseum had all the information written in German, English and Chinese... We had a tea in the museum café and moved on.
12h: Next, on the recommendation of the woman we'd met the day before, we hopped on a bus to a city higher up in the mountains called Malbun. 30 minutes of beautiful views later, we arrived and wandered around the ski town. We ate lunch at Hotel Turna, where finally we were able to try authentic (even though I hate that word) Liechtenstein food. This meal was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, and the price reflected that. But no matter, Sara and I basked in the wintry surroundings as we devoured our Schnitzel and Käsespätzle (a cheesy dumpling-noodle hybrid that was denser and chewier than its Alsatian counterpart, and I mean that in the best way possible.)
14h30: Also included in our Adventure Pass was a ride on a ski lift in Malbun, the entrance to which was right next to the restaurant. It was absolutely terrifying and bitingly cold but offered panoramic views of the town and the valley in which it was nestled, and we laughed all the way up and down.
16h: Back in Vaduz, we took a few final pictures, including of the Vaduz Cathedral, before boarding the bus for the journey back to Mulhouse via Sargans and Zurich. By the time we got home that evening around 10 p.m., we were exhausted but happy.
What were my final impressions of Liechtenstein?
In terms of overall impressions of Liechtenstein, I'm glad we went. It was easy to get around, with pretty views and fresh mountain air, and our hostel was nice, while the Adventure Pass was a great way to organize our visit and see a variety of museums.
The wine salon, the walk up to the castle and especially the trip to Malbun (and the food there!) were some of my favorite moments, and it was super fun to explore a new – and novel – place with Sara. We had never traveled together before, and it turns out that our personalities complement each other super well as travel buddies, not just as friends!
However, there were some aspects that I didn't love, and I don't think I would jump to go back immediately. First of all, the prices were simply astronomical, and I think that you could find similar food and perhaps even more beautiful views and a wider range of activities and restaurant options in Switzerland for comparable costs. Tourism makes up a large part of their economy, and I think it felt forced at times when everything seemed to be commercialized: buy Liechtenstein chocolate! and wine! and alcohol! and fridge magnets! and...! and...!
But anyway, you can make your own decision about visiting Liechtenstein! If you do, or if you have already, I hope you enjoy(ed).