Liechtenstein is one of the tiniest countries in the world. Nestled between Switzerland and Austria, it is only about 25km long and 12km wide. It has a population to match of only around 40000 people, but don’t be fooled, this country is a powerhouse, with the 2nd highest GDP per capita in the world (behind Qatar for those wondering). When planning our itinerary, we pretty much had to drive right through the area. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to stop and learn a little about this country I didn’t know much about, and see the things to do in Liechtenstein.
We had just had an amazing picturesque drive through Switzerland when we arrived in Liechtenstein in the mid-afternoon. We went straight to the capital of Vaduz and had a walk around the centre. To be honest, there isn’t a whole lot there to do, but since I like to walk and look around rather than spend a lot of time in museums, this suited me perfectly.
I have to point out there are a couple of museums if you are keen to explore them. The Liechtenstein National Museum not surprisingly focuses on the history and culture of Liechtenstein. The Kuntsmuseum Liechtenstein showcases modern art and the Postal Museum helps explain why for some reason Liechtenstein became well known for it’s postage stamps. (Even better, entrance to the Postal Museum is free.)
While wandering the main street, it is unlikely that you will be able to miss the castle looming up on the hillside above the city. This is Vaduz Castle. There were originally five castles in Liechtenstein, today only two remain. This one is the current residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein and the rest of the royal family. It is not open for the public to visit, but you can walk up the hill to have a closer look if you want to.
We did have a quick look at the impressive St Florin Cathedral (sometimes called Vaduz Cathedral) as we walked around. Built in the 1800’s, the most memorable feature is the lovely spire set against the mountains in the background. For a Catholic cathedral, I found it to be strangely plain inside. That may be because it was only given “Cathedral” status in 1997 by Pope John Paul II.
Liechtenstein – and the royal family – made most of it’s money by building banks. As we walked around the city, it seemed like every second building was the big new headquarters of yet another bank. The city is modern and clean and spacious. It had quite a nice feel to it.
Before leaving Vaduz, we made a visit to the supermarket. Not very touristy, you may think! If we thought prices were expensive in Switzerland, they had gone up a notch even from that here in Vaduz. A coffee at a cafe was 7.50CHF ($10.50AUD/$7.35USD) and fuel was 1.70CHF/L ($2.38AUD/$1.67USD). We stocked up on snacks and an easy dinner to allow us to stick to the budget.
Next stop was the mountain-side town of Triesenberg where we stayed at the Hotel Restaurant Kulm for the night. We had one of their “cheap” double rooms right up under the eaves of the building. It had absolutely stunning views out over the valley into Switzerland which made up for the deficit of a shower – only a bath with a shower hose. To some cultures this may be normal, but to me it was strange. Breakfast was included in the room rate, and another bonus was the free car parking. If you are here with a car, then the country is so small you can get anywhere you need to be in no time, so not paying for parking is a great perk.
We decided to go for an early evening walk around this little town. Again, there is not a lot to actually do. There’s a cute little Pfarrkirche Triesenberg and the cemetery to check out – I actually liked this one more than the Cathedral – but really, the thing here is the view. I just couldn’t stop looking over the valley to the snow topped mountains on the other side, or watching as life went on down below.
In our room that night I had a look at one of the brochure I picked up at the Tourist Information Centre in Vaduz. It was mostly spruiking a new five-day hike through the country that is being launched later this month (May 2019). Basically they have mapped out and signposted a path to take over five days and 75km that will allow you to see almost all of the country’s attractions and historical sites. They have set up a service to transfer luggage each day too, so that it does not have to be carried while walking. It actually sounds like a great idea to me – and I think on foot would be the perfect way to explore this little country.
The brochure also pointed out a few more attractions I had not previously come across, so bright and early the next morning, we would be out again to explore.
One of the places I had seen mentioned was Gutenberg Castle. After visiting Mainz, Germany, the place that the Gutenberg printing press was invented, earlier in this trip, I had to go check it out. It is located in the town of Balzers, and, with such great views, I could actually see the castle sitting on top of a hill from our hotel (Liechtenstein really is tiny lol)
We hiked up the hill to see the castle – to discover there was not one piece of information in English. I had to Google to find out more. This is the only other castle still standing in Liechtenstein. Built in the 13th century, it had been privately owned until the country bought it a few years ago. The person who was living in it at the time negotiated to stay there until her death.
The castle has been recently turned into a museum. It can only be visited by guided tour. The bailey (outer courtyard) can be visited for free all year round, and it offers yet more fantastic views around the area. During the summer it is also possible to visit the chapel and rose garden on Sundays free of charge
Right next door there is an impressive church, the Pfarrkirche Balzers. Even though we had to hike back down for the castle, get in the car drive around to another carpark and walk a couple of hundred metres to the church, we also stopped in to have a look! It is beautiful on the outside, and the graveyard is immaculately kept and quite pretty too. It’s interesting to see that many of the residents have only a few select surnames. Unfortunately the church is quite plain once inside, and a bit of a let down after the outside.
Next stop was back up in the hills (okay, mountains!) again – in hindsight we should have done this first – to the town of Malbun. I had seen mention of the Sareis Cable Car for a scenic view and lots of great hiking.
Both those things are probably true, but really this is a ski resort – and we were visiting right in between the winter and summer seasons so it was like a ghost town. Only a few days later and the summer season would have started. It didn’t look a whole lot like summer though, with what to my very amateur eyes looked like a thick covering of snow over everything. We even had to be a little bit careful walking in some places as ice had formed on the road. So Malbun was a lovely, quiet, pristine, ghost town! Looks like an amazing place to visit in season though!
We had one more place to visit before leaving Liechtenstein – the Princely Wine Cellars! Yes, the monarch produces his own wines, and I just had to check it out. Wine has been grown here since the 1400’s, and this winery claims to have been in existence since 1436 when the land was gifted to the predecessors of today’s royal family. Today there are vineyards all over the country, and there were numerous different types of wines produced here for sale. It was also possible to buy whisky or other spirits made here too.
Since it was still kind of early, Simon was driving, and at 9CHF ($12.50AUD) a little expensive, we didn’t do a tasting, but did spend only slightly more to purchase a bottle, so will give it a go sometime soon.
And less than 24 hours after we had arrived, we were driving over the border into Austria to end our visit to this European micro-nation.
I would likely visit again, but I think next time I will do something like hike through the country.
Liked this post? Share with your friends and pin for later
Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.