In September I ventured out to the Kingdom of Liechtenstein. This tiny sovereign kingdom is nestled between Switzerland and Austria. And by tiny, I truly mean tiny. Of course, its bigger than say the Vatican City, but you can basically drive from top to bottom of the country in an hour. Most folks do a day or half-day trip here either as part of their journey to Austria/ Switzerland or as a pit stop on their way between the two nations. There are no trains stations or airports or ports in the country. The only way in and out is by car or bus.
Liechtenstein speaks German, uses the Swiss Franc and has one of the world’s highest per capita GDP as well as lowest unemployment rates. Oh yea and beautiful landscapes that turn into winter sports hotspots. While most do stop here without staying the night, it is worth considering, even though most accommodations including AirBnBs are expensive. The scenery and weather here is just stunning.
I managed to see two Liechtenstein cities in a period of about 5-6 hours.
I do recommend you take a trip here to check it out. Either on your way between places or carve out a half-day to full day. It is beautiful, tiny, fascinating in its history and formation and very quaint. Also very friendly locals despite few who speak English, but everyone I came across, especially in Balzers where I ended up being the only tourist, said hi or nodded and smiled (that per capita GDP might be a factor honestly)!
From Zurich Airport
I flew into Zurich International Airport and at the train station I bought a roundtrip fare from Zurich Airport to Vaduz Post (the main bus stop in Liechtenstein’s capital city of Vaduz) for around 85 Francs. I will elaborate below, but use this roundtrip ticket wisely and it will be the only ticket you really need. From Zurich Airport Train Station I took the train to Zurich Main Station. From there I took one of the many trains (every half hour or so) to Sargans, Swiss border city to Liechtenstein. There are both Local and Express trains, both take around 50 minutes to just over an hour. Given my timing, I ended up on a local train heading to Sargans but managed to hop on an express on the way back. Doesnt really matter as the Swiss landscape is beautiful.
Once you arrive at Sargans, exit the open-air station and proceed to the bus area. There are maps at the station to tell you which bus departs from which stop in the bus plaza. For Liechtenstein you will take bus #11. You can buy one way tickets directly from the driver for I think 5 Francs (cash only), or since I already had a roundtrip Swissrail ticket, I presented it to the driver and hopped right on. Bus #11 comes around every half hour. It takes around 20-25 minutes, including stops, to reach Vaduz Post. Dont worry, you will know when you’ve crossed into the Kingdom, its right after you cross the bridge over the river and you see the Liechtenstein flag flying high and proud.
TIP: If you buy the roundtrip ticket to Vaduz, I recommend you first head to Vaduz, then take the bus back towards Sargans and stop along the way. This is allowed as it is considered part of your “roundtrip” fare to and from Vaduz. I think it will work the other way as well, but I did it this way and had no problems with the drivers. Headed to Vaduz first, toured around then hopped on to go to Balzers, then hopping back on for the Sargans train station.
- After arriving in Vaduz, I first went to the The Liechtenstein Center, for some general information, but really to pay 3 Francs for the passport stamp.
- Liechtenstein has a famous postal service and is known for producing stamps. There is a Stamps Museum (currently under renovation, temporary location is inside the National Museum (stamps exhibit is free, museum is not). I checked it out. I thought it was pretty neat, albeit a very small exhibit but my late father collected stamps and it is indeed very cool because stamps are a way to represent a country and culture but also commemorate history. Oh, and of course to ensure mail gets to where they need to go!
- I also passed by the Parliament Building, which was getting a facade facelift but also had its modern extension which goes into the mountain behind it (foreground of featured image on right).
- Afterwards, I did the short and easy 20-minute hike up to the Vaduz Castle, which is the official residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein so it is not open to the public. Along the trail there are boards with brief information on the history and establishment of Liechtenstein, the royal family and the castle. It is definitely worth the hike despite not being able to enter the castle premises. But the top offers panoramic views of Vaduz, Liechtenstein and the surrounding Alps.
- On my way down, I passed the very futuristic looking Center of Arts and Communication which was closed on a Saturday. I also passed the Vaduz Town Hall and weekend Antiques market. It was around 5PM by this point and the general day trip and passing by tour crowds were beginning to head out.
- I returned to the Center to buy some local chocolate and small batch Gin which stopped all production in 2017, so indeed I will treasure my 100ml bottle of craft Alpine Liechtenstein Gin.
- I walked around for a bit longer before catching the bus. I stopped by the St. Flores Cathedral. As well as a Monument to Liechtenstein’s famous composer Josef Rheinberger.
- After taking in the views and snapping a few more shots, and visiting the public restroom across from the Liechtenstein Center, I boarded Bus #11 to Balzers.
- I hopped off the bus at Balzers, Mälsnerdorf stop. A short 10-15 minute walk/ hike up a hill and past some vineyards is Burg Gutenberg (Balzers Castle). A reconstructed castle perched on a hill overlooking Balzers and the alps. The castle itself is ok, and only the front courtyard was open when I came, you cannot go further inside. But I was all along with the castle and views all to myself, it was surreal. At the bottom of the hill on the other side is Balzers Cathedral.
- There was nothing much else to do except take photos and soak in the beautiful views and breathe in the fresh alpine air.
- I then walked back down the gravel path but noticed a side path that seemingly lead right down to the cathedral, which was the correct assumption. I arrived at the Cathedral as Saturday evening mass was beginning and to my surprise the church bells suddenly started ringing at around 6:30PM, and it was magical to listen to the bells ring as people filled in the pews and the Alps shone a golden hue in the sunset.
- I then walked around Balzers towards a local restaurant I found online. I was one of few people on the streets and the only foreigner.
- 20 minutes later I arrived at Restaurant Falkins, a local pub where no one spoke English, with a menu only in German, and oh so good homemade Liechtenstein food. I ordered some local beer, and the national Liechtenstein Dish: Käseknöpfle (a dough-like pasta dish, kind of like gnocchi or like German Spatzle) with apple sauce and garnished with fried shallot, it was so good. Dinner came down to around 26 Euros, which is expensive, but comparatively speaking for both Liechtenstein and neighboring Switzerland, one could do worse, especially in tourist-centric Vaduz. NOTE: the restaurant’s entrance is a bit hidden, its not off any main road. Google Maps is correct but you have to circle around back of the building it takes you too and the entrance is unassuming in the corner, open the door and take the stairs to the second floor and just open and enter. It is welcoming and warm inside, but they will also be a bit surprised to see a tourist!
- I definitely loved Balzers more than Vaduz. Less commercial, less touristy, far more local and the views here were in my opinion a whole lot better.
- I finished dinner at around 7:40PM and headed to the bus stop and waited for a 7:50PM bus back to Sargans. Hopped on, then on to an express train back to Zurich. I stayed overnight at the Ibis Budget Zurich Airport before taking the tram to the Airport Sunday morning for my flight home. All on the same roundtrip ticket I originally bought.
A fascinating, wealthy, beautiful and charming little kingdom nestled in Western Europe, Liechtenstein is definitely worth checking out for any discerning traveler. It is easy to explore, albeit at the same prices as Switzerland which is expensive. If you are truly short on time and had to choose, I’d go to Balzers.