Stuart Forster experiences Luxembourg’s National Day celebrations in Luxembourg City.
The centre of Luxembourg City, the capital of the world’s only Grand Duchy, becomes a vast party zone each year on 22 June, the eve of the head of state’s official birthday. After residents and visitors celebrate through the night, it may come as no surprise that the national holiday, 23 June, tends to be a fairly quiet day.
A hub for hard work
Luxembourg has a reputation for being a hardworking business and administrative hub; the European Court of Justice and European Commission are both headquartered in the city, along with a number of international businesses. Yet people let their hair down at this time of the year.
The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, gears up for one of Europe’s largest street parties on the afternoon of 22 June, with stages for live music and outdoor bars being built. As a result, this can be one of the most rewarding times of the year to visit the landlocked nation of 537,000 inhabitants.
Displaying the national colours
In the run up to Luxembourg’s National Day you’ll see many shop windows decorated with the red, white and blue of the flag. Tricolours are hung from lampposts and buildings. Balloon artists sculpt animal shapes and create inflated hats from sausage-like balloons in the national colours.
The celebrations are surprisingly inclusive. Forty-four per cent of this country’s inhabitants have foreign origins yet people from all ethnic groups and walks of life are involved in the preparations plus the big day. Locals say this is recognition of the popularity of Grand Duke Henri and his family.
Henri, who has reigned over this constitutional monarchy since 2000, was actually born on 16 April 1955. Since back in 1961 the head of state’s birthday has been celebrated officially on 23 June, as the date in summer provides a high probability of dry, pleasant weather.
Street parties on 22 June
People from around the Grand Duchy flock into the city centre on the evening of 22 June, so, if you plan on dining in one of the Old Town’s restaurants it makes sense to reserve a table. Locals are proud of their culinary traditions. Meeting with friends and eating and drinking is an integral part of the celebrations.
Over the course of the past three centuries Luxembourg has been under Spanish, Austrian, French, Prussian and German rule. In degrees, they have all influenced the region’s kitchen. Luxembourg, you may well hear, has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any nation on the planet, so there’s plenty for discerning foodies to explore.
Meeting Luxembourg’s Grand Duke
As darkness falls on 22 June people you’ll see people gathering outside of the Grand Ducal Palace, the duke’s official residence. The building, which was the town hall between 1572 and 1795, is in the heart of the city. Uniformed guards parade outside of the Gothic style façade yet the mood remains largely relaxed. Anticipation rises and people call out for Grand Duke Henri and his family. The mood of expectation grows with the arrival of military bands, who perform on the march. The palace gates open and the ruling family come out to meet the people, smiling and shaking hands before walking through the city.
Members of the emergency services plus scouts, guides and municipal organisations from around the Grand Duchy then participate in a parade illuminated by flaming torches. This gives you an opportunity to observe and applaud a procession of historic fire-fighting vehicles, marching bands and decorated floats celebrating aspects of life in Luxembourg.
Children dress in 19th century costumes, motor cycle enthusiasts display their bikes and you’ll also see people in medieval style clothing. The good-natured event is regarded as essential viewing by city residents, who line the streets, cheering on participants and calling out to those they know.
Fireworks over the Adolphe Bridge
After the procession concludes people make their way towards the Adolphe Bridge, which spans the Pétrusse Valley, on the edge of the city. Some head into the cafes and bars while most crowd together in the park overlooking the gorge, awaiting a lengthy and spectacular fireworks display above the bridge’s famous arch, which was built between 1900 and 1903. The show is synchronised with classical music piped out over speakers.
For families the fireworks tend to mark the end of the day. Yet for many people the night is still young. Within the old town people meet and dance on the terraces of cafes, where music plays long into the night.
Temporary bars open on cobbled lanes and people socialise in the streets and while sitting at beer garden style benches. Rock bands perform on the stages that were constructed earlier in the day with audiences swaying and dancing to their beat. You can party right through the night if you want.
The city remains quiet the following day, as if it’s nursing a collective hangover. The vast majority of shops remain closed for the duration of the National Day. Yet if you don’t party too long into the morning you’ll be able rise and hear the report of the 101 cannon shots marking the Grand Duke’s official birthday and view the military parade.
The Visit Luxembourg website has more information about the Grand Duchy’s attractions.
Luxembourg City Tourist Office provides information about walking tours and cultural events in the nation’s capital.
Railbookers offers a five night holiday by rail to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The holiday includes all train travel from London, Ebbsfleet or Ashford, two nights’ central 4-star hotel accommodation in Luxembourg, a night in Antwerp and two in The Hague, including breakfast. Call +44 (0) 20 3327 3551 for more information.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
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