Day Trip to Dinant and Luxembourg
[Dinant, Belgium / Luxembourg, Dec 20, 2019]
My second day was entirely taken up by a bus tour to Luxembourg I booked on GetYourGuide.com. This is where being an early planner almost got me in trouble. When I originally looked for tours to Luxembourg back in September, nothing was on the schedule for my dates yet. I wasn’t sure if it was just too early or they don’t do tours in the winter at all, although I had a feeling tourism is still plentiful during the cold months. I researched taking the train to Luxembourg and doing it on my own, but the train schedule left me with way too many hours in Luxembourg. Also, there were no direct trains and I worried about screwing up the change of trains along the way. So I waited, which for me is hard to do. Finally, at the end of October I looked again and lo and behold, there was a tour to Luxembourg on the Friday I was going to be there. Lesson learned – 3 months in advance is sometimes too early to book tours!
The tour started off in Dinant, a town in Belgium about 56 miles (90 km) southeast of Brussels. It’s located in the Upper Meuse valley between the river Meuse and the Condoz plateau. Because the area between the river and the rockface is so small, the town expanded into a long, thin town along the river shore.
The city’s main landmark is the Church of Notre Dame de Dinant. High above the church is the Citadel of Dinant, which was built in the 11th century. You can see its walls in the photo below. You can either climb the 408 steps carved into the rock or take the cable car, which you can also spot on the right side of this photo. Unfortunately, the citadel was closed during our visit.
Dinant was a site of major battles during both world wars. Charles de Gaulle, a French army officer who led the French resistance against the Nazi in WW II, was wounded near Dinant in WW I. He became president of France from 1959 to 1969. There is a statue commemorating him by the bridge.
Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, was born in Dinant. To celebrate this, the town has a small saxophone museum as well as numerous decorative saxophone statues sprinkled throughout the city.
Lucky for me, I wasn’t the only solo traveler on the tour. I chatted up a Chinese gal who was also here by herself. It turned out that she was a college student in Ireland and had come to Belgium by herself to explore. We hung out for the rest of the day – it was nice to have someone to take my photo so it’s not all selfies. We walked around Dinant together to spend the rest of the free time we had in the town.
On our way out of town, we stopped by one more landmark. The Bayard rock is said to have been split in two by the hoof of Bayard, a giant horse carrying the 4 sons of Duke Aymon in their legendary flight from Charlemagne. In reality, the rock was split by the soldiers of Louis XIV after the conquest of Dinant in order to build a road there.
You can see from the photos that the weather was gloomy. It rained through the early afternoon, although luckily it was just light rain and not a downpour.
We got to Luxembourg a bit before 1 pm; our tour guide lead us to the main square, Place d’Armes, and gave us some free time to explore and grab some lunch. I was excited to check out the medieval fortification of the town, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.
My new travel friend and I walked around the Christmas market in the square, then popped into one of the restaurants for lunch. I had traditional Luxembourg dumplings in cream sauce and a glass of wine. The wine was cheaper than the bottle of water we also ordered!
We still had some free time after lunch, so we headed back to the Christmas market we saw on the way to the main square, where we paid 5 EUR to ride the Ferris wheel. It was still raining at this point and the cabins were covered with plastic to protect from the rain. This made it hard to take photos!
However, I did manage to stick my hand outside of the plastic and take some decent pics although I could not see what I was doing.
And then it was time for the walking tour, which lasted about an hour and half.
Great views of the city opened up as we walked towards the fortification.
Interesting decorations on this street!
We made our way to the Grund district in the valley, on the banks of the Alzette River.
Our first stop was the National Museum of Natural History, which, after many moves, is now located in what used to be the Saint Jean’s Hospice.
Next was Neumünster Abbey, a Benedictine Abbey that’s been many things throughout the years, including a prison, soldier barracks and a police station. It’s been open as a meeting place and cultural center in 2004. In researching this blog post, I read that Bulgaria and Romania signed their Treaty of Accession to the European Union here at Neumünster in 2005. The fortification of the old city was quite obvious from here.
By now we were all the way down to the river bank. I thought we’d had to drudge up some stairs to get back up to the city center, but our tour guide took us on the Grund elevator, which connects the Grund district by the river with Plateau du Saint-Esprit (the courthouse complex) at the top.
It was getting dark by this time and the clouds that covered the sky most of the day broke up just enough for the most magnificent sunset!
At this point we were right in front of Cathedrale Notre-Dame, and we finally had a chance to see it up close and even go inside!
The Christmas market nearby was still going full-swing, and we had a little bit of free time again before the bus headed back to Brussels. I took the opportunity to grab a glass of mulled wine and people watch as the last bit of daylight dissipated.