I took a fast-paced 8-day solo Couchsurfing trip through much of Switzerland and Liechtenstein to see the region’s historic cities, mountain views, and top-notch hiking without breaking the bank. Follow my blog in its entirety or click here for a travel guide to Switzerland.
Getting to Liechtenstein
From Lucerne, I took an hour train ride to the small town of Sargans in Eastern Switzerland, transferring in the tiny town of Thalwil. My 2nd train was quite empty except when a group of dozens of energetic schoolchildren hopped on to journey one stop over. Once I got off the train at Sargans, I grabbed some straciatella yogurt and a Kinder Bueno bar in a shop and hopped on a bright yellow Liechtenstein bus.
On the bus, I befriended the kind woman sitting in front of me who turned out to be from Indonesia, living in Zurich, and commuting twice weekly to work at a university in Liechtenstein’s capital. She helped me connect to Liechtenstein’s wifi which was super helpful and pointed out when we crossed a bridge with Swiss and Liechtenstein flags that indicated that we had officially entered Liechtenstein.
A Little About Liechtenstein
The bus ride to Vaduz, the capital and center of activity in the country, was less than a half-hour but took us through roughly half of the length of Liechtenstein. The western half of the country is a fertile green valley with a river forming the border to Switzerland, mountains surrounding in every direction, and nothing but cute small towns.
Once in Vaduz, I said goodbye to my new friend and popped into the Tourist Information Center to get help formulating my plans for the day. I found out where to get a locker, got bus schedules, got advice on what else to see, and took a photo on a fake prince’s chair.
Liechtenstein is the world’s 6th smallest country and is a kingdom ruled by a prince, who took power when his father (the duke) retired. Power is shared between the ruling family and an elected parliament – from what locals say, not too much happens politically and they copy a lot of what Switzerland does (the culture is quite similar to neighboring Switzerland). There was actually a recent vote in which the people could have chosen to take the duke’s veto power away, but they chose to keep it. There’s a great sense of respect for the ruling family dating back to a famine hundreds of years ago in which they fed all of the citizens. Agriculture used to be the economic driver of the country, but now industrial, tech, and banking jobs rule the land.
The country was formed when an Austrian duke bought the land – it’s actually the only country in the world to be created by a land purchase in the 1600s. The duke’s family didn’t actually move to Liechtenstein for decades, but now they live in a cool AF castle overlooking the capital of Vaduz which is visible from almost everywhere in town.
Most people come to the tourist office to get a “just for fun” Liechtenstein stamp in their passport, but I’m not that obsessed with passport stamps so I decided to save myself the 3 franc. On that note, a lot of people come to Liechtenstein just to cross another country off their list which I think is a shame! It’s a gorgeous and very unique country that definitely deserves a full day of exploration.
Since Vaduz is a very small town (Liechtenstein has no cities over a population of 6,000), I knew I could see all of its sights later in the afternoon. I first wanted to go up to the mountains and do a hike. The woman at the tourist office gave me a recommendation which aligned with what I’d researched earlier so I went on my way.
Walking in Vaduz
I had 40 minutes to kill before catching the bus for my hike, so I dropped my stuff off in a locker. I saw that the top row was $1.50 and the bottom rows were $2 so I excitedly placed my stuff in a top locker, thinking there was a discount for the extra lifting ☺ Turns out the top row was Euros and the bottom rows were francs haha! Liechtenstein uses the Swiss franc but the Euro is also accepted in a lot of places.
Free of luggage, I walked up into Mitteldorf, a cute residential area. This is when I started to notice that all the cars were Maseratis, Bugattis, BMWs, etc. and I really felt like I was in a hella rich country. The homes were stunning and a great mix of stately traditional and strikingly modern. I walked alongside the prince’s winery (Hofkellerei), where you can stop in for tastings; I was more interested in the gorgeous rolling hills covered in vines.
I walked back into town and boarded a bright yellow bus toward Malbun, the only ski resort in Liechtenstein and the furthest point into the mountains one can go in the country. I purchased a day pass for the bus system which was only 13 franc (single rides seemed to be between 4 and 8 franc so a great deal!) The ride took us up a steep hill with epic views of the Liechtenstein river valley, Vaduz, and Swiss mountains. We passed through the lovely towns of Triesenberg and Steg, a one-way tunnel, and plenty of curves before the bus came to the last stop in Malbun.
Best. Hike. Ever.
In Malbun, I stopped at a Tourist Information Center to figure out where to start the hike. I was instructed to start by the town chapel, so I walked through the tiny town (which is mostly upscale hotels and homes), stepped into the cute little chapel, filled my water bottle at a lifesaving fountain that was marked as having just been constructed a year before, and admired some colorful wildflowers before beginning my hike to Augstenberg, a peak overlooking the town.
Almost immediately, I began seeing marmots popping out of holes and running across the hills – it was super cute. The hike climbed slowly as it passed above the town and then turned into switchbacks before reaching the top of the hill. The elevation was much lower than I’m used to on Colorado hikes so I could move quickly; in less than an hour, I reached the top of my first peak: Spitz. This beautiful green mountain marked with a cross allowed me to see over the hill to the other side: the breathtaking valley of Nenzinger Himmel in Austria. There were literally mountains on every side of me – it was just incredible.
At this point, the hike got steeper and more precarious – a tiny path with large drops on each side. At one point, I had to do some literal rock climbing to avoid walking on a huge snow pile that didn’t seem to have any solid footprints and was on the edge of a super steep hill.
After another 40 minutes or so, I made it to the top point of my hike: the peak of Augstenberg which towers above Malbun and is the highest point in the area. I felt like I was on top of the world – the sky was perfectly clear and I had a 360° view of incredible mountain peaks spanning five countries: Liechtenstein, Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. Plus, I had it completely to myself – I had only passed two other groups of hikers on the way up and there was no one to be found at this moment.
Snow Is My Enemy!
I thought that it would literally and metaphorically be all downhill from here, but I turned out to be mistaken. The path down from the peak was quite narrow and steep. I was excited to see boundary markers – I was now passing back and forth across the Liechtenstein/Austria border. Before too long, I came to a building which I walked into and was shocked to find an open full-service restaurant! I had seen a total of about 5 people on the trail so I didn’t understand how they stayed in business 😱. The lady working there didn’t speak English, but I saw a couple desserts on the table that looked good and tried to ask her to explain what the options were and which was best. I gathered that it was called kurchen and it looked and sounded like cake so I just pointed to one and took my slice to go as I continued back down to Malbun.
Across from me were green mountains which looked like they had just recently lost their snowpack – it was simply beautiful. But this was when the hike turned from tranquil to terrifying. I passed several huge hillside snow piles that I had to walk across. Since the trail wasn’t used frequently, there weren’t very strong footprints for me to step into so I had to forge my own path and it was quite slippery. I was terrified of slipping and rolling down the hill and then it happened! Luckily, I didn’t move too quickly and was able to steer myself to the other side after sliding for about 100 feet. My hands felt frozen and really hurt as I climbed back up the hill on a snow-free part.
I unfortunately had to go through several more snow piles before I walked over a hill and reached the most terrifying one of all that required me to walk steeply downhill on a snow pile. I opted to get on my hands and knees and slide down which was the right choice. Finally, I was at a low enough elevation that snow was no longer an issue and I jogged down some switchbacks to the town of Malbun, where I waited for the bus.
My Visit To The Castle
After a half-hour bus ride back to Vaduz, I walked down the main street (Das Stadtle) and saw pretty much all of the town’s sights in a few minutes – the Cathedral, the Government Building where Parliament sits, the Town Hall. I passed some very upscale restaurants and bars where rich folk were chillin. I went inside Dolce Chocolates and successfully obtained a sample of chocolate bark – yum! It seemed quite expensive, so I shamelessly left without buying anything.
I walked back up through the nice neighborhood of Mitteldorf and came to the Red House, a lovely home with a tower built in the style of a medieval staircase. You can’t go inside (I think someone lives there?!), so I continued up the hill to Vaduz Castle, the home of the country’s ruling family. After 15 more minutes, I was there and got to admire the various castle buildings and some of the grounds. The interior of the castle is not open to the public, but apparently the prince holds an annual event in August where anyone and everyone is welcomed into the castle grounds for a party. If you come to Liechtenstein, come then!
Walking back down to central Vaduz, I passed some more impressive and unique architectural sights, got in some lovely views of the city, valley, and mountains, and then grabbed my stuff from the locker and waited for a bus to take me to my Couchsurfing host’s place in Schaanwald, the northernmost point in the country.
The bus ride from Vaduz to Schaanwald took me through basically the only part of the country I hadn’t seen yet: the northern valley which hosts the relatively large towns of Schaan and Mauren.
I had found out from someone I asked that my day pass for the bus didn’t include the zone I was going to but I decided to take the chance since it was so unclear when I purchased it (and because I seriously have a gene that makes me prone to risk-taking!). Unfortunately, there was a lady checking tickets on the bus; I was fine for now but worried that she would fine me once we entered another zone.
The ride was about 30 minutes and I enjoyed the people watching. The bus was mostly young, white, well-dressed people. The ticket checker ran into a young girl who was apparently a family friend and sat by her and chatted; luckily, this distracted her from me and I was able to get away with my petty crime.
Driving through northern Liechtenstein was interesting – there was really just the one main road we were on and there were upscale shops, salons, and even a large field of goats near the center of one town. It was all quite idyllic and I had a really exciting energy in me fueled from being in such a unique country.
I got off the bus at my Couchsurfing host’s place and was amused to find that it was the last street before the Austrian border. I was surprised to see that the border crossing had Swiss flags on it, which my host later explained was because Switzerland mans (and womans 😎) Liechtenstein’s borders.
Upon walking inside his place, I was amazed to see that for the second night in a row I was staying at a place with a gorgeous view. From his living room and balcony, you can see beautiful rolling hills, mountains, and fancy homes. My host graciously made me a hearty meal which we enjoyed on the balcony as the sun set over the mountains.
An Evening in Austria
My host offered to drive me to a town just across the Austrian border called Feldkirch. I was very curious about how he’d ended up in Liechtenstein and about the country in general so I asked tons of questions. My host was from Germany but got a job with a tech company that was one of the largest employers in Liechtenstein. He initially lived in Feldkirch and commuted but applied for a competitive lottery to live in Liechtenstein and was lucky enough to get it. He explained that people in Liechtenstein often drive across the border to buy things since the taxes are lower in Austria – there are limits on how much you can bring on a per-person basis, so people will try to bring their entire families for a shopping trip.
After a short 10-minute drive to Feldkirch, we parked and walked along the River Ill (it’s the illest river around 😂) to the town’s music school, where a live jazz band was performing. There were tightly packed picnic tables full of music students watching and lots of German chatter to listen to.
We then walked across a bridge into the center of the town. The first interesting thing we passed was the town’s electricity and water plant, which was smack dab in the middle of downtown. It was a beautiful historic building and I was able to peek in and see some hydraulic and mechanical stuff 😂 Outside, there was a human-made waterfall of sorts and an electric vehicle charging station.
We walked through the main streets of Feldkirch, passing lively bars and restaurants. I was amazed to see the only friend I’d made in Liechtenstein – the woman from the bus – sitting at one of the outdoor restaurants! We marveled at the coincidence and exchanged information so we could keep in touch – such a cute random encounter.
We walked up to the castle above town which hosts an upscale restaurant which we were able to step into and gawk at for a minute. There were wonderful views of the Old City below.
Next, we returned to the car and my host drove us up windy streets past some gorgeous homes to a hill overlooking the city. There were some youth drinking and smoking and it seemed like a lover’s lane kind of spot haha.
Finally, my host drove us back to his home; the Swiss border patrol waved us through back into Liechtenstein without any questioning. My host shared more about his work which is actually evaluating the environmental impact of products, overseeing any crises, and even volunteer firefighting for the company. It sounded like a super important job!
Wow – what a packed and incredible day! I crawled into bed and immediately fell asleep.