Nestled in the middle of the Alps sits the little Principality of Liechtenstein. This tiny double-landlocked country (1 of only 2 in the world… the other being Uzbekistan) has a population of around 37000 people and one of the highest GDP’s per capita in the world!
An EFTA member it shares many similarities with Switzerland as well as Austria, the neighbouring countries that it has shares open borders with. It’s often been recognised internationally besides for being just ‘little Liechtenstein’ for its incredible views throughout the country, its low to no taxes and its very small community based way of life.
In August of this year I took a day trip from Zurich, Switzerland to Vaduz and Malbun within the principality. I was visiting a friend who lives in Zurich over a long weekend and had a free day. So decided to pay the 4th smallest country in the world a visit, I was not disappointed by what I saw, who I met whilst there and can easily say that so far Liechtenstein is my favourite country from where I have visited in Europe.
Only being in Liechtenstein for the day, I had a short period of time there so knew that I could only do so much. The weather can make or break your experience of the place, especially if it is raining, luckily I got pretty good weather for most of the day, it just started to rain as I left to head back to the train station in Sargan.
In this article you can find out more of how to get there, what there is to do there as well as some interested facts that I learned when I was there.
Getting There and Getting Around
Staying in Zurich, I took a train from the HB Zurich over to Sargans in the east of Switzerland, a couple of miles from the Swiss/Liechtensteiner border. I booked my tickets through the Train Line website which produced a travel itinerary based on the dates that I set and the times that I wanted to set off and return back, being in this part of Europe it came as no surprise that the train tickets were expensive, especially considering the relatively short journey that it was. The train tickets came to a whopping £60 return which is a lot consider it only took about 45 minutes each way.
Be it an expensive journey, the views and experience however made up for that, on a spotless double deck electric train the journey took you around the south side of Lake Zurich passing through some of the outer city farmland and past some stunning natural sites before pulling into Sargan station where you need to get off. To look at the train tickets yourself if you wanted to make the journey the way I did, click here
From Sargan the next mode of transport you have to take is a bus. Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein does have a singular rail line connecting it to the Swiss mainline however the service is very in frequent compared to the very regular and widely networked bus route, so was the preferred method.
When you exit the train station at Sargans, assuming you are coming from Zurich, exit the train station side and by the square go to the ‘Liechtenstein Bus’ bus stop. You can spot a Liechtenstein bus from a mile away as they are a bright fluorescent yellow colour and have ‘Liechtenstein Bus’ printed all over them.
On board you can buy single and day tickets which must be paid for in Swiss Francs, the currency of Liechtenstein, I tried to pay with Euros at first as I had some on me as well and wasn’t able to do so. Alternatively you can pay with debit card. I picked up a day ticket as I knew I would be using the bus a bit during my trip to hop between the different places and from memory it was about 12CHF, not a bad price considering the location and the fact that I used it to get to and from the train station in Sargans as well as a few stops in the Liechtenstein itself.
My best advice for using the service is get the day ticket, pick up a timetable that are in English and German printed leaflets from the bus and when at the bus stops just pay attention to what is displayed on the front. If all else fails when you see a bus pull up just ask the driver for the next ticket to wherever you want to go. More information on the bus service click here (German only)
Sargans to Vaduz the takes around 15 minutes, there are quite a few bus stops on the way, but with the modern bus’s having display screens you could see how far away you were and what the next stops were. You could immediately sense the community spirit of the place from the moment you got on the bus as the driver was waving at pretty much everyone he drove past on the street!
When you are in one of the towns or the capital Vaduz, the easiest way (and best way in my opinion) to get around is to just walk, in a country the size of Liechtenstein it doesn’t take much time to get anywhere. You can also get taxis around but can be rather expensive according to the locals.
What To Do When You Are Here
The capital was where I spent most of my time on my day trip. It is where 6000 of the population live and you would compare this countries capital to more of a quiet town.
The bus dropped me off on the main road, just one street off the pedestrianised street called ‘Stadtle’. On the road you can find most of the main landmarks and attractions of the capital such as the Parliament Building (also known natively as ‘Landtag’) the Kunstmuseum which has on display some very interesting Liechtensteiner pieces of art, as well as various cafes and brasseries. There are some very interested sculptures installed out on the main street which are pretty eye catching, can’t say I am a big fan of art pieces, but even these left me rather impressed.
You can’t just walk into the Parliament building so the most you will normally see is the outside of it. The Kunstmuseam you certainly can visit, there is a free section to the building and a paid section, that cost just a couple of Francs to go in… well worth a visit!
One final stop I recommend calling into on the main Tourist office which is about 20 meters down from the Landtag. In here you can pick up free maps and information from the more than helpful staff (that spoke very good English) you can also pick up some Liechtensteiner merchandise, you can rent bikes from here too!
Another thing, which I did do here is get your passport stamped, due to Liechtenstein having open borders itself and the countries it neighbours also having open borders with the rest of Europe as part of the Schengen Agreement. It can be very difficult to prove you have actually been to the Principality, this stamp that you can pay a donation of 3CHF to get authenticates it!, you don’t need to worry about potentially voiding your passport if you get your actual in use passport stamped, as this has come from an official government building and is recognised… very similar to if you were to go to an immigration building for one of many reasons in another country and get a stamp for whatever reason… so don’t worry!
Having seen what I wanted to on the valley floor, I headed over to get some lunch. Being in a rush I popped into the local ‘Coop’ store that was around the corner from the Stadtle. We have Coop stores in the UK but the ones in Liechtenstein and Switzerland have loads more on offer and its a lot fresher and better quality too! I picked up a freshly made sandwich and walked with it…
One place I did want to visit in Vaduz was the princes castle, you can’t go in as its private property however the view from the road nearby offers some incredible views of the little country it sits above as well as neighbouring Switzerland, the best way I recommend seeing this is by walking up there! If you walk around the Brasserie Burg which is on Stadtle, up to Haldenweg then you can see a footpath called Schlossweg, follow this footpath up to the top and eventually it will open to one of the main roads and on the right is the castle.
It’s worth also stopping on the way up at the lookout point that has been built on the side of the cliff you are walking up. The platform offers an excellent view of the area and even has a fixed binocular you can put a Franc in to look out of!
At the top where the castle the most you can do is walk up the windy road near to it and get some even higher views of what is below.
After coming down from the Castle and walking around a bit more, including a stop at the souvenir shop to pick up a postcard, I got back on the bright yellow bus and headed over to Malbun.
Malbun Is famous for its ski resort more than anything else but during the summer season the ski facilities pretty much shut down. Instead the area is visited more by walkers exploring the open mountain sides. I do recommend visiting Malbun just for the drive up there, the drive involves some serious hairpin turns but you just keep going up and up, higher into the mountains. It is rather misty and cold at the top when you get out. I recommend spending an hour or so just simply walking around the area and taking in the fresh open spaces.
Don’t expect to be able to buy anything like drinks up there as all of the shops that are in use over the ski season board up over the summer period and it can feel like you are the only one around!
Coming back down from Malbun was an experience I will never forget, I happened to get caught up in the annual Ceremonial Cattle Drive, this happens at the end of summer every year and involves cattle farmers herding their cattle from high up in the mountains where they spend most of the summer to down on the valley floor, when at the bottom they are judged.
The cattle are herded along the main public mountain roads causing huge tailbacks of cars behind them! This was something that I absolutely did not expect and made the return journey (which only took about 15 minutes to go up) take about an hour to get back down. Was rather special to see people standing outside their homes watching this rather large herd, all with rather large bells around their necks slowly head down the mountain… for more information on the event click here
Having spent the day around this fascinating and stunning country and little piece of heaven it was time to catch my train back to Zurich, luckily the bus was able to shortcut around the cows path at one point getting back to Vaduz, before I caught another bus to Sarans to get my train back to Zurich
A Couple of Facts
When I was in the tourist office, I spent some time speaking to a local guy who worked in there and he was telling me some interesting facts of the country and things that have happened to it over the years.
Some of the facts he mentioned to me were…
– Snoop Dogg once tried to rent the entire country once for a music video, due to what he was planning to happen in the video, they Liechtensteiners said no.
– On the 15th of August every year a huge party is thrown at the Royal Castle and everyone is invited. The event, the national holiday is a combination of the Princes Birthday and something called the Feast of the Assumption.
– Swiss troops accidently invaded Liechtenstein in 2007 after getting lost in a storm. Switzerland sent a letter of apology which was the first time they found out they had even been invaded!
Be aware that some of the popular attractions are subject to alternating seasons, such as Malbun ski resort. Even in the alps there is not that much snow in August, especially in the lower altitude areas!
Pack a rain coat as some of the areas especially up in the mountains do get pretty wet, even during summer.
Be sure to pop into the Tourist Information Centre in Vaduz as you can pick up some free maps and get some information off some of the locals who work in there.
If you are only in Liechtenstein for the day and want to make the most of your time there, either bring a packed lunch or like I did get a freshly made sandwich to go with from the local Coop store, instead of spending a good portion of time in one of the Brasseries.