The absolute microstate of it – a day trip to Liechtenstein

I am an unashamed box-ticker.

On my 30th birthday I made the decision to visit each and every European capital city before I hit my 40th. So when a budget airline released £6 flights to Luxembourg, I set about plotting to check Luxembourg City, Bern (Switzerland) and Vaduz (Liechtenstein) off my list in one fell swoop of a Sharpie, choosing Zurich as my base for all three.

If, like me, you find the pull of a microstate with its own passports stamps, alpine trails and bonkers history utterly irresistible, you might find this blog useful. Below is a bunch of information about Vaduz, Liechtenstein – how to get there, what to expect, what you can get up to and what it looks like!

Panorama of Vaduz
#selfie in Vaduz

 

How do you get to Liechtenstein from Zurich?

Getting to Liechtenstein from Zurich is easy-breezy, though somewhat expensive if you haven’t the appropriate rail cards for whizzing around Europe. That said, if you’re a geeky completionist like myself, we’re not talking megabucks for the opportunity of visiting this ridiculously pretty microstate.

Train from Zurich to Sargans (view of Walensee)

Take one of the many trains from Zurich station to Sargans on the Swiss/Liechtenstein border. If you’ve not got the right rail pass the fare is roughly 65CHF (that’s Swiss Francs – approximately €55) but for that you get an hour or so of spectacular views of the countryside and Lake Walen (Walensee).

Once in Sargans there’s a direct bus to Vaduz costing 5CHF return (so keep some cash ready for that), shuttling back and forth every 30 minutes or so.

Everything is well sign-posted and easy to suss out, and because Liechtenstein is part of the Schengen area and double land-locked within other Schengen countries, you needn’t worry about passport control or border checks.

Liechtensteiners use Swiss Francs and speak German.

Bus stop outside Sargans rail station

So what even IS Liechtenstein?

Obviously I’m thrilled that you’d ask! It’s the world’s sixth-smallest independent country, known for its medieval castle, alpine landscapes and cutesy villages linked by a network of trails.

How it came into being is a fascinating story! I won’t go into too much detail as there’s an extremely detailed nature trail/history lesson that you’ll want to check out when you get there, but here’s the tl;dr version: 300 years ago the Liechtenstein family embarked upon an 18th century version of BBC One’s Escape To The Country; quite fancying a seat at the parliament of the Holy Roman Empire, the Liechtensteins were on the look out to acquire land for the Holy Roman Emperor.

After years of searching, Anton Florian (Prince of Liechtenstein) eventually created their “forever home” by purchasing the teeny towns of Schellenberg and Vaduz (now the capital), knocking down the inner walls, re-doing the ancient plumbing and cobbling together a 160 square kilometre principality.

Anton got his seat at the table, and Liechtenstein, as we now know it, was born.

Main bus stop with Vaduz Cathedral in the background

What’s there to do in Vaduz, Liechtenstein?

Quite a lot as it happens! Certainly enough for a fully packed day-trip if the weather is on your side.

The main drag

You’ll arrive at a very unassuming bus stop and will have to cross the road to get to the main drag where you’ll find a shopping parade with an impressive town hall and the rather handsome Vaduz Cathedral (pop in to see some lovely stained-glass windows).

Town Hall and Vaduz Cathedral
Vaduz Town Hall

You should first head north (from the town hall) towards the tourist centre, a crucial stop for three reasons:

  1. Eyeing the fabulous selection of high-end tea towels, t-shirts and tourist tat that you’ll definitely want to purchase later. They do a lovely Liechtenstein mug.
  2. Picking up the essential 16-page tourist guide: “Liechenstein… experience princely moments” so you can, well… pick your promised princely moments.
  3. GETTING YOUR PASSPORT STAMPED!
Liechtenstein passport stamp

Yup – that’s right! For 3CHF the canny Liechtenstein tourist board will leave a permanent mark in your passport, showing everyone that you’ve visited one of the tiniest countries on Earth.

Liechtenstein Center – tourist office

Once stamped there’s also a throne and prop crown so you can sit out on the tourist office decking and lord it up over the entire kingdom. All 62 square miles of it. You can also buy crowns in the gift shop.

It’s then up to you which of the attractions you choose to visit. Here’s what I got up to…

Some well hung art

Before e-mails and the Internet ruined everybody’s lives, Liechtenstein had a very lucrative sideline in commissioning commemorative stamps. They’d issue them for absolutely every occasion with prints becoming highly sought after by keen philatelists. Because of this, there’s a surprisingly interesting Postal Museum.

I was there during the World Cup and so was treated to a footy related collection that made an unexpectedly large dent in my morning.

World Cup exhibition in the Postal Museum

Nearby there’s also the National Museum and, because the incredibly wealthy Liechtensteins LOVE art, the Kunstmuseum, which was well worth a visit before my favourite part of the day: a hike up to Vaduz Castle.

The start of the trail
Close up of Vaduz Castle

Vaduz Castle dominates the capital. You’ll see it from absolutely everywhere, and the only way to get close up and appreciate it is to trek up the hillside. The nice people at the tourist centre will mark out the most popular trail on your map if you ask them.

Vaduz Castle from the town

The 45 minute hike is a treat in itself – along the quiet path you’ll find waterfalls and wooden sign posts giving you an in-depth history of everybody’s favourite doubly-landlocked principality. NO SPOILERS but this drove the nerd in me WILD.

One of about 20 sign-posts on the trail recounting the history of Liechtenstein
Is it a bee?

As you climb higher you’ll begin to realise that, as well as stamps, the little-country-that-could has another big export… picturesque Windows XP desktop backgrounds.

Every single panoramic view without exception is verdant, dramatic and breathtaking, especially when you reach the castle and look out over the Rhine Valley.

One of the many vantage points with spectacular views of the Rhine Valley
Vaduz Castle
Vaduz Castle panorama

Unfortunately, the castle itself is off limits to visitors, else I’d have knocked on the door and badgered His Serene Highness of the Principality of Liechtenstein about joining the Eurovision Song Contest (something the government have teased on several occasions). But don’t fear – there are plenty more exceptional hikes and trails to follow after this point.

I, however, opted to descend into town for a meal before catching the bus back to Switzerland. There are a number of food and drink options from kebabs to-go to fancy French restaurants, but whatever you choose to eat it’s gonna be expensive because… Swiss Francs!

Given the chance again, I’d take a picnic and eat it in one of the meadows near the castle.

A windy road to the castle
Again with Vaduz Castle

So there you have it. Liechtenstein is an essential day trip if you’re in Switzerland, get the right weather, love a bit of European history and enjoy a hike. It’s up there in my Top 5 favourite European capitals and beauty aside it’s also a genuinely interesting tourist experience. DO IT!

My favourite photo of Vaduz Castle

I visited Liechtenstein on June 14 2018 when the weather was a sunny 25 ℃! I used a Nikon D750 and iPhone 8 for the photography.

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