Travis makes fun of my fascination with tiny things. I’ve always loved browsing the dollhouse furniture section at the local craft stores, my most used cheese grater is only 2 inches tall, and I always cook with the smallest pot possible. Maybe that explains my fascination with visiting Liechtenstein, the sixth smallest country in the world. Covering only about 160 square kilometers, it has fewer than 40,000 inhabitants – smaller than most cities. You can actually drive from tip to tip in just over 20 minutes!
Double landlocked and sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland, Liechtenstein is only a couple hours’ drive from Andermatt, Switzerland and its star attraction – Teufelsbrücke, The Devil’s Bridge. We happened to find ourselves in Liechtenstein after visiting the bridge, and our route gave us a chance to see a new area of Switzerland we hadn’t yet visited. Considering the country’s diminutive size, it’s not surprising we’d stumble across Vaduz Castle, the home of the royal family.
From our home base in Fribourg, Switzerland, we drove over Oberalp Pass – the boundary between the cantons of Graubünden and Uri. In summer months, the area is popular with hikers. During our visit in mid-June, mounds of snow still clung to the slopes. The brightest spot of color was the a functional red lighthouse marking the the pinnacle of the pass at 2,046 meters.
Intending to draw more tourists to the area, the lighthouse stands near the headwaters of the Rhine River, which flows along much of the border between Switzerland and Liechtenstein. In Europe, the river’s length is second only to the Danube.
At one time, plans existed to sail a barge from the Netherlands, where the Rhine empties into the North Sea, all the way to Basel, where it would be taken apart and rebuilt at Oberalp Pass to serve as a museum.
Except for the lighthouse, the project never came to fruition.
Once beyond the pass, the clouds still alternately spit out rain ranging from mist curling down the mountain slopes to an outright deluge. Since I find that rough weather in the mountains just lends to their beauty and mystery, this suited me just fine. The drive is truly one of the most beautiful in Switzerland.
Since Liechtenstein doesn’t have any major airports, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll take the same route we did when entering from Switzerland. It’s an open border between the two countries, so mere minutes after crossing Luzisteig Pass, you’ll arrive in the town of Balzers, Liechtenstein.
Like Switzerland, Liechtenstein is stunningly beautiful. This shouldn’t be surprising considering they share the same alpine geography and similar medieval history. They also share the same currency and language. Unlike Switzerland, or any other country in Europe, Liechtenstein is entirely located within the alpine region. That means wherever you travel in the country, you’ll be surrounded by mountains.
From Gutenberg Castle, Vaduz Castle is less than 12 km away. It’s about a 20-minute drive by car, and is just a few minutes by car from the capital, Vaduz, which Vaduz Castle overlooks.
How to Get to Vaduz Castle
From Vaduz, you can reach the castle by car or by foot. The fastest and most convenient way to arrive is by car. The castle is clearly marked on Google Maps, Maps.me, and other popular navigation apps. Signs from Vaduz also mark the way. Just follow the signs for “Schloss Vaduz.” Parking is available just past the castle at the Parkplatz Schloss Vaduz. You can’t miss it.
Walking to it from the town of Vaduz is also an option, but the road up to the castle is a narrow two-lane road with nowhere to walk for pedestrians. Instead, we recommend taking the Haldenweg from town until it intersects with Schlossweg. The Schlossweg will spit you out very briefly on the main road drivers take up there, Furst Franz Josef Strasse, before you arrive at the castle. The entire trail is less than a kilometer and only takes 15-30 minutes.
Unfortunately public transit isn’t readily available to the castle.
The oldest parts of Vaduz Castle date from the 12th century. A century later, living quarters were added, and documents refer to “Vaduz Castle” as early as the 13th century. It wasn’t until 1712, though, that the castle was purchased by the Liechtenstein family, a noble family from Austria. Seven years later, it gained the status of an imperial principality.
The country is unique in that it’s still ruled by a hereditary prince acting as head of state, but the people share power. Since 1939, Vaduz Castle has been the official private residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein and his family. As such, it’s sadly closed to the public.
The structure of the castle is somewhat unique from other castles in Europe, with its squat semi-circular towers topped with aged wooden hoarding. The original entryway used to be over 10 meters above the ground, which partially explains the nearly windowless, solid stone base.
Since it’s not possible to visit the interior and the castle is surrounded by a tall iron fence, there isn’t much to actually do or see there. It isn’t possible to walk all the way around it up close or enter the locked gate.
Thinking we might catch some nice views of the castle from above on the hillside, we parked the car in the designated lot about the castle and walked back down the hill with Touille, our dog. We set out on the Quadretschaweg, an inviting gravel road nearby. The cool drizzle and fresh air felt fabulous while Touille chased sticks and stretched her legs.
The trail continues for some ways along the hillside above Vaduz. You can also take the first right off the Quadretschaweg and hike uphill, first to the Bänkle Vaduz observation deck, and above that, to the Burgruine Schalu castle ruins.
As always, we didn’t have as much time as we wanted to explore. We could’ve happily spent the entire day traipsing all over the Liechtenstein mountains, but we still had a 4+ hour car ride home. We’d like to return to Liechtenstein, especially to do more hiking in the mountains. If we win the lotto, maybe we can rent out the entire country for a day!