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The Principality of Liechtenstein, one of the smallest countries in the world, can complete your journey, along with Austria, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, through a part of the world that seems as if it stepped right out of a Grimm’s fairy tale. Although one of the smallest in terms of both land mass and population, with only around 35,000 residents, Liechtenstein is also one of the wealthiest in the world per capita.
With its low taxes and concentration of banks, Liechtenstein is one of Europe’s financial capitals, which it makes a vacation there rather expensive, but the upshot of this is that your meals and lodgings are first rate when it comes to being pampered. This country is also one of the few constitutional monarchies still in existence, but since it is so small, the royal family tends to rub elbows with everyone else. Expect the royal treatment when you get here.
Nestled in the Upper Rhine valley of the Swiss Alps, Liechtenstein is also a great place to enjoy all manner of winter sports. This geographic location at first glance might seem to doom the country to harsh winters but southerly winds prevail, giving Liechtenstein a mild climate year-round.
Liechtenstein is also one of two countries in the world that are doubly landlocked. This means that the countries surrounding it, Austria and Switzerland, also have no oceans or seas bordering them. Uzbekistan is the only other country in the world that shares this feature, so now you can win a trivia contest when this question comes up.
Getting in, out, and about
While not a member of the European Union, so it doesn’t use the euro as currency, Liechtenstein is one of the signatories of the Schengen Agreement. For US travelers, this means that your passport allows you entry and the ability to move freely in any of the countries that are party to the agreement. For those travelers on a budget, this is particularly helpful. You won’t have to shell out massive sums to spend the night in one of Liechtenstein’s high end hotels. Making your excursion into the country as a day trip from either Switzerland or Austria can save you some money. Since there are no airports in Liechtenstein, even if you have the funds to enjoy the full scope of this vacation, you will need to fly into either Vienna or Zurich and take a train or bus into the country.
Your passport allows you entry into any Schengen Area country for up to 90 days within a 180 day period. After that, you must leave the Schengen Area or risk detention, fines, or deportation, with potential prohibitions on traveling there in the future.
If you plan on staying in the Schengen Area longer than the 90 days, you will need to apply for an additional visa. Another way to do this is to travel to a non-Schengen country, such as Ireland or Romania, where you don’t need a visa, and wait out the 180 day period before re-entry. However, the US State Department doesn’t recommend this option because many countries may deny you re-entry, so make your plans accordingly.
There are no restrictions on travel for those with HIV/AIDS. Whenever you travel to any other country, it is a good idea to make sure you are up to date on routine vaccines such as those for measles and tetanus. Consult with your local physician about any additional vaccines you might need when traveling to Liechtenstein, such as the Hepatitis A and B vaccines or a rabies vaccine (to protect against exposure to bats rather than dogs). These only become necessary based on your planned activities such as hiking in caves.
Given that Liechtenstein is a popular destination for winter sports activities, the US State Department highly recommends that you purchase mountain search and rescue insurance if you engage in any mountain activities that are by nature dangerous, including skiing and snowboarding.
If you run into any trouble, you need to keep two things in mind. The equivalent of 911 in Liechtenstein is 114 for general emergencies, 112 for health emergencies, 117 for the police, or 118 for fire emergencies. Also, Liechtenstein does not host a US Embassy or Consulate inside its borders. The nearest consulates are in Zurich and Geneva, with the closest US Embassy in Bern, Switzerland.
Liechtenstein shares its customs regulations with Switzerland, so if you are bringing anything in or out of the country that you are concerned about, consult the Swiss customs regulations before doing so. If you carry the equivalent of more than €10,000 in cash, you will need to declare it.
Liechtenstein is not commonly known as a tourist destination in itself, although travelers often include it as part of a larger excursion. Driving (slowly, don’t speed!) through Liechtenstein provides numerous breathtaking views, and can be a highlight of your entire trip. If you wish to drive in Liechtenstein, you will need to purchase a sticker called a vignette. Most rental cars will already have the vignette attached, but always check to make sure because the traffic fines can be pretty steep.
Speaking of steep, the mountain roads can be winding and you will probably need to put chains on your tires in many places. If you are on a mountain road and come to a turn, honk your horn to let anyone around the bend know you are coming. Remember that those going downhill typically have the right of way, so hang back if you hear a horn and are going uphill around a corner.
Here are a few additional highlights for a trip to Liechtenstein:
Despite its high prices, Liechtenstein also has something for the budget traveler making a day trip into the country, with numerous well-marked hiking trails that are supported with mountain huts if you decide to stay the night. Regardless of your budget, Liechtenstein promises to be an enjoyable side excursion that you can add to your bucket list of countries visited.
The traveler’s tongue
The official language in Liechtenstein is German, and you can easily get by with a cursory knowledge of this language. Alemannic, a dialect of German, is the main language which people speak, but they will understand you in German and switch to the standard dialect for you. English is also widely spoken, but do try to give German a try, and if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try learning a few Alemannic phrases. Your hosts will be delighted.
Despite their close proximity and cultural similarities to Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, Liechtensteiners are not German, Swiss, or Austrian. Referring to them as such would be seen as insulting. Liechtensteiners are predominantly Catholic, and this shows on Sunday mornings when the streets become nearly deserted. If you enter a church or cathedral, be sure to be dressed conservatively and remove your hat out of respect.
Money matters in Liechtenstein
Traveling in Liechtenstein is not cheap. If you stay in a hotel there, be prepared to fork out over $500 USD per person per night. The price can be well worth it because your lodgings will veer towards the 5 star variety with numerous amenities, including chef-prepared meals and beautiful gardens to wander through.
For more mid-range options, consider staying at a bed and breakfast, which can range from $100-$200 USD per person per night. Because of its tiny size, accommodations are limited in Liechtenstein, so make sure to book your room in advance.
Restaurants are also expensive in Liechtenstein, where you will spend no less than $15 USD on a meal, but more frequently they range between $40-$100 per person. The most common fare is German, Austrian, or Swiss –style cuisines. These high costs are offset by the fact that the food is generally high-end.
Liechtenstein uses the Swiss-Franc as its unit of currency, although many places do accept euros. Keep in mind that if you purchase things using euros, you will probably not be getting the best conversion rates, however. Since this country is a center of the banking industry, changing your money is easily done through numerous locations throughout.
C.W. Garay is an alumnus from the University of North Texas, where he received both his BA in psychology and an MA in English, specializing in creative writing, fiction. When not traveling he resides in Denton, TX, rated as the number one small town in which to live in the US according to Business Insider’s 2013 survey. In addition to writing articles on traveling, he also writes fiction under a pseudonym. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.