Last Updated on 9th November 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Located to the east of the landlocked country of Luxembourg, Echternach is the oldest town to be found anywhere in the region, and as such is filled with oodles of history and things to see and do, including well over two thousand years worth of history to uncover. Close to the German border and best known for its ancient abbey, here’s a quick guide to the very best things to do in Echternach!
A brief history of Echternach
First founded in the middle ages, Echternach is a fairly small town with a population hovering around just five and a half thousand residents. That being said, the Luxembourgish settlement still has a surprising number of attractions considering its relatively small size.
The actual story of Echternach all began back in 698 when a Benedictine Abbey was established by Willibrord on a piece of land which was once inhabited by the Romans. Soon enough, a thriving community sprung up around the abbey and so the historic town was born.
Why you must visit Echternach on your next Luxembourg trip & how to go!
If you want to visit Echternach for yourself, then it couldn’t be easier from the nearby cities of Trier or Luxembourg city itself. Best seen when the sun is shining down and you can enjoy the abundance of nearby outdoor pursuits on offer, a visit to Echternach can easily be combined with a visit to the nearby town of Beaufort and the tiny settlement of Larochette. Buses run on a regular basis between Echternach and Luxembourg City and take roughly an hour each way.
5+ Best things to do in Echternach
#1 Abbey of Echternach
Echternach came to be thanks to its abbey, making it the town’s very raison d’etre. First founded in 698 by Northumbrian missionary Saint Willibrord, now the patron saint of Luxembourg and once bishop of Utrecht, there has been an abbey has been on site for centuries.
During its heyday, the abbey was best known for its richly illustrated manuscripts and stunning architecture. Today the ecclesiastical building is probably the most popular attraction in town (though much of it now houses a school and so cannot be visited by the public).
Instead, you can still admire the beautiful façade and Rococo architecture from the abbey’s exterior. The best time of the year to visit the abbey is on Whit Sunday when a dancing procession is held through the tow in Willibrord’s honour, culminating in a grand finale outside the walls of Echternach Abbey.
#2 Abbey Echternach Museum
If you’re interested in ecclesiastical history, then you will most definitely want to head to the Abbey of Echternach museum. Located right by the church, in the abbey’s former vaulted cellars, this cultural hub gives a good insight into the history of the abbey, town, and of Luxembourg itself.
The museum is well noted for its extensive exhibitions on scriptorium (illuminated manuscripts featuring gold lea and extracts from the bible) and is a must-see for those who wish to learn more about the medieval history of Euope, with a particular focus on the impact that the church had on the dissemination of kowledge.
#3 Prehistory Museum
In the centre of the city (2 Rue des Tanneurs), the prehistory museum chronicles many archaeological finds which have been discovered in Luxembourg and beyond. Situated in a 15th-century building, the Hihof building, the structure was once used to house a grammar school. Since 1984, it has been home to the museum dedicated to preshistory.
#4 Dënzelt & Echternach Town Square
Echternach’s main town square is filled with traditional Luxembourgish architecture and looks onto the rolling green hills surrounding the ancient town. Spires, turrets and sloping rooftops create a beautiful ambience and from here, you can wander along all of the little side streets Echternach has to offer.
The most striking feature of the main square is most definitely that of the ‘Denzelt,’ a former Palace of Justice whose roots date back to the middle ages. Parts of the building possibly go back to the 14th-century, and as such the Gothic Denzelt building is well worth a look at on any trip to Echternach.
#5 Villa Romaine (Roman Villa)
On the fringes of the town, the remains of a Roman villa can be found. Dating back two millennia, the remains of what was once a sumptuous palace, or perhaps a grand house comprising of seventy rooms can be seen. The foundations of this once great villa were only discovered by accident during the 1970s as a nearby artificial lake was being constructed.
Today, there’s the ancient walls to wander around, as well as several exhibits and displays about life during the Roman Empire in this part of Europe. Elsewhere on site, there’s a complete reconstruction of a Roman Garden, featuring dozens of varieties of ornamental and medicinal plants. The Roman Villa is open every day during peak season, with the exception of Mondays.
#6 Echternach Town Walls
The fortified and crumbling town walls were once the settlement’s main form of defense against invasion. Once upon a time, the walls comprised of twenty towers and gates. Today, just five of the original towers survive, as well as several chunks of wall. Two towers can be rented out in the form of guest houses, and the walls are well worth a visit, if only to explore more of Echternach’s medieval past…
#7 Hiking & Echternach Lake
The area surrounding Echternach is known as ‘Mullerthal‘ and is often referred to as the ‘Little Switzerland of Luxembourg’ thanks to its abundance of stunning scenery and great hiking trails. One of the very best things to do in Echternach includes heading to the town’s crystal lake for some pedal boating or fishing (unfortunately swimming in the lake is forbidden!).
#8 Echternach Christmas Market
Each year, on a weekend just before Christmas, much like many other tiny towns dotted across Europe, Echternach hosts a Christmas Market featuring festive treats, vin chaud (hot wine), and stalls selling various artisanal goods. For a taste of Christmas Markets in your own home, check out my Christmas Market mulled wine recipe.
Where to stay in Echternach
While you can always enjoy the oldest town in Luxembourg as a day trip from Luxembourg city, if you truly want to get in touch with nature and get a local’s feel for the city, then you’ll want to book an overnight stay.
For the ultimate luxury experience, be sure to check out the rooms at the five-star Eden Au Lac(which is a little out the way and will require your own transportation). Otherwise, this four-star hotel is more than luxurious and is placed right in the heart of town, making it perfect for some Echternach sightseeing.