A few weekends ago, after visiting my teacher in St. Gallen, in northeastern Switzerland, I decided to jump on the train and keep going east… all the way to a whole new country. The Principality of Liechtenstein is a microstate located between Switzerland and Austria, filled with mountains, farmlands, factories, and just over 38,000 inhabitants.
Some interesting facts about Liechtenstein:
- They speak a dialect of German that is similar to Swiss-German. (When I arrived at the hotel, the front desk greeted me with the Swiss word “Grüezi!”.)
- They also use the Swiss Franc for currency.
- They still have a prince, though the country is otherwise a democracy.
- Because the country is so small and has no military, Switzerland is responsible for its defense and also represents its interests internationally.
- Switzerland has accidentally invaded Liechtenstein several times in recent history, when Swiss soldiers got lost in the woods during training exercises and crossed the border into Liechtenstein by mistake. In response, a spokesperson from Liechtenstein said, “It’s okay. It’s not like they came in with attack helicopters.”
- During the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, Liechtenstein sent 80 men to fight in Italy. Not only did they suffer no casualties, they ended up returning with 81 men because they made friends with an Italian guy who decided to come home with them.
Liechtenstein is the third microstate I’ve visited, after Vatican City and San Marino.
Since I was already in St. Gallen, I took the train to Sargans, Switzerland, close to the border. From there, I boarded the 211 bus, which cost 4 francs and took me directly to the capital Vaduz in around 40 minutes. If I’m not mistaken, there’s no way to travel to Liechtenstein by train. The only options are to take a bus from either Switzerland or Austria.
In Vaduz, I got off at the bus stop Vaduz-Post and waited for another bus to go to Triesenberg, a small village in the mountains.
Where I stayed
Before my trip, I’d seen multiple travel guides strongly recommend against staying the night in Vaduz. And I was confused, because why would you not stay in the capital city? Wouldn’t you want to be close to the center of everything?
After the bus pulled up in Vaduz, though, I understood. The reality is that Vaduz isn’t a lively, urban capital, the way one might think of Vienna or Berlin. It was very small and very suburban, filled with single-family houses and farmland. Aside from one street on which Vaduz City Hall, the Liechtenstein tourism office, the national museum, and the art museum are concentrated, the rest of the town is just… a place where people live and work.
I stayed the night at Hotel Restaurant Kulm, located in the mountaintop village of Triesenberg. It was only a short 10- or 12-minute bus ride from Vaduz. I arrived right around dinnertime and was delighted by the sweeping valley view from the balcony.
I also had dinner that night at the hotel. The food was nothing to write home about. The service, though, was very nice, as was the view from the table. There were a few other guests dining there, but it was fairly quiet and peaceful.
One other thing to note about this hotel is that the walls are very thin. At night, I could hear the guests next door humping and later snoring. Fortunately I slept well despite all the noise and woke up naturally early the next morning–which meant I got to watch the sunrise from the balcony.
After breakfast, I walked around the town of Triesenberg for a bit, just taking in the sights. It was early Sunday morning, and nary a soul was around.
Then it was time to pack up and head down to Vaduz.
Hiking up to the castle in Vaduz
I had to head back to Geneva in the afternoon, so I only had time to do three things in Vaduz.
The first was to hike up to Schloss Vaduz, the prince’s castle. I didn’t realize that it was closed to visitors, but the hike in itself was incredibly rejuvenating. It lived up to that cliched adage of it being more about the journey than the destination.
Heart issues run in my family, so the steepness was challenging for me at times. I walked slowly and rested plenty along the way. Along the trail, there were educational signs about Liechtenstein’s history in chronological order, so I also spent a fair bit of time reading.
Aside from the castle, there was a large green pasture and a bunch of horses just hanging around.
Liechtenstein National Museum
This was my favorite part of the whole trip. This is a museum that covers everything Liechtenstein–not just the history, culture, religion and contemporary ways of life, but it also had exhibits on costumes and nature. The cost of admission was 10 francs.
When the staff asked me if I wanted an audio guide, I instinctively said no because I don’t like having them in my ear. But once I entered the exhibits, I discovered that all of the descriptive text was in German only. I can understand basic German, but this was way beyond my grasp. I instead focused on looking at the artifacts, and even that took a good two hours to get through the whole museum.
They had archaeological finds.
And costumes that look straight out of Star Wars.
And surprisingly colorful medieval books.
And mannequins from the depths of hell.
And a taxidermied wolf that instructed you to stroke it.
And a taxidermied wild boar that also wished to be stroked.
And the world’s largest comic book strip about Jesus.
And this household witch.
And portraits of all the princes of Liechtenstein.
The gift shop at this museum was fantastic. They had everything that you could possibly think of. I bought Liechtenstein-themed socks and a shot glass.
Liechtenstein Tourism Office
This place was right next door to the national museum. For three francs, you can get a special stamp on your passport. (I did the same thing in San Marino!) This is also a great place to shop for souvenirs–lots of wines, oil, vinegar, and little tchotchkes.
Liechtenstein is apparently pretty well known for its vineyards. I bought a bottle of sparkling wine here for 17 francs.
After that, it was time to head home. I left Liechtenstein in the early afternoon and was back in Geneva by early evening.
What a gem of a country–filled with abundant nature, friendly people, and a sense of calm, which is so invaluable these days. Danke, Liechtenstein! Hope to see you another time.