Even with a population of around 37,000, it seems none of Liechtenstein’s residents – apart from HSH Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein – live in its capital, Vaduz. In fact rarely does it seem anyone born in the principality ventures into the capital of the sixth smallest country in the world unless they have a very good reason for doing so.
When I kept receiving perplexed looks from restaurant staff night after night during my three days stay in Vaduz back in June 2014, I thought that Liechtensteiners were generally not very welcoming to foreigners. But when a local bus driver asked me “why on earth have you come to Vaduz? There’s nothing to do here”, the penny finally dropped; the people of Liechtenstein (who are actually rather friendly once you find them) are simply not used to tourists choosing to come and stay in their country. Most tourists who do venture into Liechtenstein tend to be either Alpine hikers or coach-day-trippers merely passing through on their way to neighbouring Switzerland or Austria. This is a real shame as Liechtenstein is a rather lovely country and Vaduz is particularly picturesque.
Yet, it is fair to say that Liechtenstein is to blame for not enticing more tourists to stay. Liechtenstein isn’t really renowned for anything in particular (apart from being a tax haven), but it does have a few potential and unique tourist attractions if only it marketed them more effectively worldwide. It does pride itself on its breath-taking Alpine walks and the Fürstensteig trail in particular is absolutely stunning, albeit not for the faint hearted. The country is also one of the few left in Europe to have a ruling monarchy with His Serene Highness Hans-Adam II, the present ruling Prince of Liechtenstein being HRH Queen Elizabeth II’s eighth cousin. The Prince however is not entitled to take a place on the line of succession to the British throne as he and his family are devoutly Catholic and only Protestants can lawfully rule Britannia. Although very much loved and respected by his people, evident from the many royal portraits adorning practically every interior wall in the country, Liechtenstein doesn’t seem to have made the most of Prince Hans-Adam II as a tourist attraction in the way Britain has with the Windsors. As a consequence the Prince is relatively unknown beyond the country’s borders and most tourists to the country are unaware there is even a royal family in residence.
Apart from a trek up the hill to take a peak at the official royal residence of Vaduz Castle and a walk around the country’s capital city that is smaller than London’s Westminster, there isn’t really much else to see and do in Vaduz other than to sit down with a coffee and people-watch, an activity that requires some skill and a lot of patience as rarely does one spot anyone in Vaduz at all!
Resigned to the fact that people-watching wasn’t the most fruitful activity in Vaduz, I decided to visit one of the country’s museums, the Post Museum.
The museum was small, but passed half an hour pleasantly. Entry was free, but let’s face it, even if there was an entrance fee the museum probably wouldn’t make much money from it anyway due to the lack of foot-fall through the city.
Liechtenstein is a philator’s paradise with a steady business in postage stamp production specific to the country. The Post Museum has a large collection of stamps on show and blown-up reproductions of more recent prints displayed on the pavement outside the museum.
Most tourists who do venture into Liechtenstein usually only have time to buy a postcard and stamp to prove to friends and family that they have ventured into another European country. This shop in particular along Städtle does very good business as a result.
As I left the Post Museum I heard the hoot of a horn and the hiss from the brakes of a large vehicle parking up nearby. A coach full of tourists had arrived!
But, as is the case with most coach parties to Liechtenstein, it wasn’t staying long. This party had been given an hour to stretch their legs, buy a souvenir and take a few photos, not enough time to walk up Schlossweg and visit Vaduz Castle up on the hill. A rather good scale model of the castle can be found in the centre of Vaduz which seems to satisfy tourists seeking a taste of Liechtenstein culture and consequently dissuading them from going beyond the city’s Coach Terminal to find any more.
I however, did have the luxury of time and the pleasure to visit the real Vaduz Castle and go further afield into the city.
Walking back down Schlossweg to the city below I came across some more stunning homes against a beautiful Alpine backdrop.
A large number of dwellings in Vaduz display interesting murals often depicting historical scenes giving an insight into what the country’s first settlers were employed in.
Other murals pay homage to God.
On my final day in Vaduz the streets seemed even more eerily quiet than usual.
As I walked to the bus station I noticed all the shops and banks were closed and a number of shrines to the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ had been laid out on several doorsteps.
Then from seemingly nowhere, I finally spotted some people. A large group of people. A large procession of people, coming my way! It was the Christian feast day of Corpus Christi and as Liechtenstein is a devoutly Catholic country, the day was a religious holiday where the whole country came out to celebrate.
And when I say the whole country came out to celebrate the feast day, I really do mean the whole country…
…including HSH Hans-Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein and his family.
So, the moral to the story is, if you want to meet the people of Liechtenstein or just want to meet anyone at all in Liechtenstein, then visit the country on a religious feast day.
Liechtenstein doesn’t have an airport nor a train network, so I travelled to Liechtenstein via Zurich. I caught a train from Zurich HB to the Swiss-Liechtenstein border town of Sargans (a small number of trains depart from Zurich HB to Sargans daily). This journey took just over an hour. From Sargans I took the distinctive green Liechtenstein bus that meets the train. The journey from Sargans to Vaduz took around twenty-five minutes.
The only public transport in operation in Liechtenstein are those green buses, but they are regular, cheap (you can pay the driver when boarding) and reliable with good connections across the country. Route maps and timetables can be found here albeit in German only.
Fürst class hiking across Liechtenstein’s stunning Fürstensteig trail