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Why Liechtenstein

I was in Zurich for 1 week with flexibility. With Liechtenstein just 90 minutes away by public transport, I could not resist the chance to add to my country count. While there are other ways to reach Liechtenstein, the train from Zurich is by far the easiest way. 

Because the country is so small – just twice the size of Disney World, I first considered a day trip. But after chatting with some well-traveled friends, decided to spend the night.

May 23, 2023: Vaduz

From Zurich´s Hauptbahnhof station, I took the train to Sargans, which took 1 hour and was quite scenic. At Sargans, I boarded onto the waiting neon green LIE Mobil bus. On the bus, I crossed the Rhine River and reached country 87, Furstentum Liechtenstein. 

While Liechtenstein is independent, it has a customs union with Switzerland so no border checks or stop of any kind. Switzerland handles some external affairs. Unlike Switzerland, which is made up of democratic cantons, Liechtenstein is a monarchy. The monarch is known as the Prince. Much of the culture of Liechtenstein revolves around having a monarchy and residents seem to be quite proud of it. Perhaps this is because they are the 2nd wealthiest country per capita (more than double that of Switzerland).  

The Prince descends from the House of Liechtenstein, a prominent Austrian noble family. The family still owns much land and many palaces in Austria. The family also at one point owned more than 5% of Czechia. What is now known as the country as Liechtenstein was an inconsequential territory acquired in a land deal in the 1700´s The land was so inconsequential that the Liechtenstein family did not even visit it until the early 1900´s when a member stayed for 3 days and then left back to Austria. 

However, everything would change during World War II when Austria was invaded by Nazi Germany. The Liechtenstein family fled to their country, where they enjoyed the protection of neutral Switzerland. The castle, which was set to become a tourist attraction, became the primary residence of the Prince and his immediate family. 

Vaduz Castle is undergoing a renovation

Since then, the Prince has stayed in the castle to rule the country. However, most of the family members eventually returned to Austria. The current Prince lived in Vienna until he inherited the throne. Funnily enough, he still works full-time as a banker and essentially moonlights as Head of State and Government. This has worked out quite well for him, as the Prince is the wealthiest royal in all of Europe (yes, he is richer than the British Royal Family).

The Prince has 4 children. The eldest, the Crown Prince, lives in Liechtenstein where he also works as a banker but also has begun to assume governmental responsibilities. The other children live in Austria.  

I took the bus to the capital city of Vaduz (pronounced Va-dootz), population 5,500. The bus dropped me off in the government center which includes an administrative building as well as the Diet (Parliament) which has some powers to propose and approve laws. 

The Government Center of Liechtenstein

I walked to tourist office, a couple buildings away. There, I purchased the 29 CHF 2-day Adventure Pass, which is a book of free and discounted things to do in the country. Compared to the Zurich Pass, the Adventure Pass was far more encompassing and included more than just discounted entry to museums such as souvenirs, food and access to the country´s bus network. 

The weather was rainy, so I decided to spend today milking the Adventure Pass for all its worth and spending the second day hiking in the mountains when the sun was supposed to come out. 

My first order of business was obtaining a passport stamp in the tourist office. A passport stamp is not needed to enter Liechtenstein, as there are no border checks with any of its neighbors but they will stamp passports for a 3 CHF fee… or for free with the Adventure Pass. According to the tourist office, the stamp is official and would therefore not invalidate your passport. 

Next, I walked across the street to a bakery to obtain my free pastry. I got an apple turnover. 

Also in the vicinity was a souvenir shop which gave me a free magnet and a free glass of wine made from the Prince´s estate. I think the pass has almost paid itself off already!

Next, I visited 4 museums in Vaduz: the mediocre Postal Museum, the mediocre Art Museum the impressive Treasure Chamber, and the impressive History Museum. All the museum exhibits were exclusively in German, but luckily the History Museum provided an audio guide which could translate. 

The castle is just above Vaduz and is not open to the public…except for a single day in the summer when the Prince invites everybody over for wine.

Since the castle isn´t open to the public, there is a movie shown once a day in the country´s only movie theater, narrated by the prince, that shows the inside of the castle. A ticket is normally 10 CHF but is free with the Adventure Pass. 

At this point, I have seen almost everything in Vaduz. After getting lunch, I peeked into the cathedral with its royal box before walking north along the Rhine. 

Eventually, I reached the Prince´s winery where I was given a free wine tasting with my Adventure Pass. I received 3 glasses of wine. The sommelier grew up in Romania and now lives in Switzerland. She said that she would love to live in Liechtenstein but only citizens (and their families) can live in the country. As a result, there has been a real estate boom in the Swiss towns all along the Rhine and in western Austria. 

The wine cellars of the Prince. Note the Royal yellow and red flag

Slightly tipsy, I walked past the public pool (free with the Adventure Pass) and mini golf (normally free with the Adventure Pass but closed due to the rain) to the country´s only hostel. It is officially billed as a youth hostel, but I was the youngest person there by at least 40 years. Young at heart, I suppose?! 

I paid an extra 20 CHF for the dinner and went to bed early.

May 24, 2023: Malbun and A Surprise New Country

The weather cleared and the steep Alpine peaks have finally revealed themselves.

Because I purchased the 2-day Adventure Pass, I had another day of free use of the public transportation system. From the hostel, I caught a bus to Vaduz and then one to Malbun, the country´s only town not in the Rhine Valley. 

In the winter, Malbun contains the country´s only ski resort. But in the summer, the lift is open for scenic chairlift rides (free with the Adventure Pass). I arrived 2 weeks before the official start of the summer season, so the chairlift was closed and the town was empty. Still, there was plenty of hiking trails to explore. 

I continued down back to town until I reached the town of Steg. There, a middle-aged man named Max, who spoke only German, invited me to see his home. I went in and he proudly showed the Airbnb that he has built. He then invited me to his backyard for a beer. I accepted and we had a broken conversation in German/English. I always knew that English was a Germanic language, but I did not realize just how many German words I could recognize when spoken s.l.o.w.l.y. 

Tipsy and hungry, I bid Max farewell and continued to hike up the valley until I reached a mountain hut which served food. Like in most places in the region, I ordered the bratwurst because it was by far the cheapest thing on the menu. It was okay. 

I then hiked all the way back down to Vaduz. The walk down into the Rhine Valley was idyllic.

Back in Vaduz, I was picked up by Yao, a friend of a friend who works in Liechtenstein but lives near St. Gallen, Switzerland, which happens to be my next destination. Yao offered to take me to dinner and drop me off at a train station close to St. Gallen. 

Yao is from Malaysia but ended up working in Liechtenstein after business school. He said that living in small-town Switzerland was tough, especially since there were not many Malaysians around, but eventually found a partner and is much happier. 

Yao took me to the town of Hard, Austria for dinner. I had never been to Austria before, so this was my 88thcountry! Yao said that eating out in Austria is half the price as Switzerland or Liechtenstein for equal quality food. Together we ate traditional foods including schnitzel and spätzle.     

An unexpected trip to Country 88 with Yao

Hard is located on the shores of Lake Constance, the largest lake in this part of Europe. After dinner, we got ice cream and wandered the town´s lakeshore park.

Lake Constance, Austria

Then we headed back to Switzerland where I took the train to St. Gallen. 

Final Thoughts:

Liechtenstein is a hidden gem! Yes, the mountains are less impressive than Switzerland and there are no major must-see sights, but the country has a lot to offer despite its small size. That said, you have to enjoy exploring offbeat places because nothing will wow you. The joy of Liechtenstein is seeing the pride in the small: It´s not just a mini golf course, but it’s the only one in the country! It´s not just a winery, but it’s the Prince´s winery. The Adventure Pass, perhaps the best bargain in all my travels, was the key to unlocking the fun and absurdity of Liechtenstein. 

In my mind, I think Liechtenstein is best seen in 4 days: 3 days to walk across the country (with the middle day being a half day of walking paired with a half day of Vaduz sightseeing) plus a day in the mountains. 


2 responses to “Liechtenstein”

  1. […] After two days in Liechtenstein including a dinner in Austria, I arrived in St. Gallen on a train from St. Margrethen. The city center was quiet, but I could see the sleeping grandeur. On my walk to the Airbnb, I passed through a square completely covered in red carpet and containing red couches. This was so strange for Europe, ranking right up there with the millennial pink section of the Pamplona Cathedral.   […]

  2. […] a week in Zurich, Liechtenstein, St. Gallen, Appenzell, and Schaffhausen, it was my last day in Switzerland. Since it was finally […]

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