It’s probably fair to say that Liechtenstein rarely resides near the top of the quintessential must-see list of European nations. Perennially perceived as a mysterious, far-flung and – unfortunately – insignificant land to even the most avid globetrotters, it often finds itself struck from itineraries and cast into the shadows, despite its remarkably central location within Europe. Liechtenstein, as many will attest to being the only thing they know about it, is a minuscule micro-state wedged deep in the Rhine valley between Switzerland and Austria. With a mere 62 square miles to its name and two economic titans of central Europe entrapping it like a vice, this tiny principality sees relatively few people enticed to hike its lush green hills and scale its sensational mountains; only around 53,000 intrepid enter its borders each year to soak up its breathtaking vistas and bask in the chic opulence of its pristine urban landscapes. But then again, in a country with a population of just over 36,000 people, that’s not bad going.
While the whole nation can be covered in only a couple of days, don’t let its bite-sized proportions fool you. Those yet to be enlightened might suggest that Liechtenstein’s tourist-based offerings may not be particularly meaty in substance, but like a 6oz fillet steak, what meat there is is about as juicy and filling as it gets. If you find yourself zigzagging your way through the Alps bound for this unique, adorable little nation, here are 6 destinations not to miss to ensure you indulge in everything Liechtenstein has to offer.
In all likelihood the first town of any note you’ll reach when entering Liechtenstein from the neighbouring Swiss town of Buchs is Schaan, one of Liechtenstein’s largest and most populous town. While more functional and modernised than its little sister (and capital city) Vaduz.
Affectionately referred to by the locals as “Städtle” (small town), the capital of Liechtenstein has much to offer tourists, from modern art to outdoor cafes and boutique shopping. When in Vaduz, a visitor should be sure to check out Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein’s principal art museum, the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein packs a heavier artistic punch than one might bargain for. Some of the all-time greats from Picasso, Rodin, Magritte and Renoir – to name but a few – reside in this impressive collection that absolutely must not be missed by any visitor to Liechtenstein. Another iconic image of Vaduz (and by extension, Liectenstein) would be Vaduz Castle. The symbol of the capital lies on a hillside 120 metres above Vaduz and although you can’t actually go in the castle, guided tours of Vaduz give interesting insights into the history of the castle and the Princely House.
Triesenberg clings to the mountainside halfway up toward Liechtenstein’s skiing regions, so a quick bus ride up to this quaint little town is well worth it, if just for the stunning vistas alone. From here you can get acquainted with some alpacas at Triesenberg Alpaca and Lama Farm, or head to St Joseph’s Parish Church to mingle with the locals (and their impenetrably thick Allemanic German dialect!)
It’s no secret that, while Liechtenstein’s cities and towns strike a wonderful balance between the bustling and the cosy, the country’s real pride lies in its jagged, majestic landscape. Malbun, a tiny village in the extreme east of the country and thus within a stone’s throw of the Austrian border, is the beating heart of one of Europe’s most picturesque hiking regions. A lesser-known skiing town in winter, in summer Malbun becomes the hiking gateway to the highest reaches of Liechtenstein, including the most imposing mountain in the region – Sareiserjoch. From the centre of town, you can jump on the Sareis chairlift and ascend for spectacular views of both Austria and Switzerland, and of the lush, cavernous valley that stretches all the way back down to Vaduz. Grab a beer at Bergrestaurant Sareis and soak in how lucky you are from their spacious balcony high above Malbun.
Remarkably for such a small country, the natural wonders of Liechtenstein don’t just stop at mountains. On the way back down from Malbun, be sure to hop off the bus at the hamlet of Steg. Although the settlement itself is sleepy to say the least, it’s also the access point for Gänglesee, a long, thin azure-blue lake that offers a place for quiet contemplation amid the strikingly intimidating surrounding scenery. A barbecue or picnic at Gänglesee can be perfectly paired with a swim in its pure, fresh waters, assuming Liechtenstein’s famously-changeable weather doesn’t suddenly decide to frown upon you. Should you find yourself in the area in wintertime, fret not! The place turns into a wonderful place to ski, minus the crowds you’d get in, say, Gstaad or Chamonix.
If you have time on your jaunt around the world’s sixth-smallest country, you can head to the northern reaches of its borders, where you will be greeted by a handful of scattered small towns that make up the historic administrative area of Unterland. While all of Liechtenstein’s major towns and attractions are situated in the country’s corresponding Oberland region that comprises most of the middle and south, Unterland still has plenty to offer for those intrepid enough to make the short bus journey. While not as palpably dramatic as the landscapes of the south, the northern reaches of Liechtenstein still retain a certain beauty, due mostly to the deep-green rolling hills that undulate across the region, punctuated sparsely by charming Alpine farmhouses and barns. For those less experienced or less invested, Unterland acts as the ideal hiking alternative for those not yet ready to scale and traverse the peaks and ridges of Liechtenstein’s uncompromising mountain ranges in the south and east. From Unterland, you can amble back to Schaan at a comfortable pace in only a couple of hours, thus completing a circuit around this tiny, inconveniently-located but deeply rewarding country.