Nestled just across the German border in France is “the city of different roads” AKA Strasbourg – A real version of a fairytale town in the modern world and the best place to experience the urban side of France’s Alsace region.
With half-timbered houses flaunting the city’s German influence mingled with Parisian style palaces and French food, there is no dearth of things to do in Strasbourg. The city is just big enough to offer variety of all sort and small enough to feel cosy.
The history of Strasbourg is fascinating. The city has survived the French revolution, both world wars, Nazi occupation and has been tossed between France and Germany over and over again. Until it officially became a part of France in 1945 and the strong Frenchification begun. The city is still very much a bicultural with road signs in both languages and strong lingering influences of its German era.
My experience with Strasbourg has been a sublimely charming one. We visited Alsace during late summer and Strasbourg greeted us with beautiful sunshine and charming memories. I know we’ll be back and we’ll make sure this time it’s for the over the top Christmas celebrations.
How to get to Strasbourg?
Strasbourg is a little less than 500km away from Paris and the two cities are very well connected. There are flights, trains, car sharing option and affordable buses. If you’re like us and enjoy the comfort and freedom of a road trip, then take the French countryside road and relish over the views of French villages and mother nature. The ride shouldn’t take more than 5-6 hours depending on your speed.
How long to stay in Strasbourg?
We had 2 nights and 2 days in the city and we were able to cover a lot of things. Strasbourg is made up of several islands but a lot of the main attractions are concentrated on Grande Île (the large island in French) so it hardly takes you much time to walk between them.
The best things to do in Strasbourg
#1 Walking around Grande Île!
Strasbourg is an extremely pedestrian-friendly city. With wide walkways and generous cobblestone spaces dedicated to pedestrians, there’s no better way to discover the city than by foot. The Grande Île with its numerous attractions, 18th-century hotels and palaces, medieval churches and picture-perfect vistas is the ideal place to start your walk around the city. I personally planned out my own walking route between the main squares and I’d highly recommend repeating the whole route at night to witness the city’s nightlife.
#2 Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg
This enormous 15th-century gothic cathedral and its tall spire is bound to make a scene in every panorama of this charming city. The church has had an important role in medieval pilgrimage and has seen the history of the city unravel under its shadow. It took 3 centuries to build what was later described by Victor huge as a “gigantic and delicate marvel”.
Here’s where you find some of the most exquisite stained glass windows surviving the 12th to 15th century, the famous Astronomical clock made by Swiss watchmakers and artists and a great viewpoint of the city from its tower. The astronomical clock also puts up a show every day at 12:30 pm
- From April to September, every day from 9 am to 7.30pm
- From October to March, every day from 10 am to 5.30pm
- From June to August, until 10 pm every Friday and Saturday
- Individuals: 4.40€ for Adults – 2.20€ for Children(5-18) and students
- Apostles animation at the Astronomical clock: 1€
- Cathedral platform: 3.00€ (reduced 2.30€)
#3 Petite France
La Petite France is the historical hub of the city, from where the river splits up between different canals. It’s the most picturesque part of town with half-timbered houses, weirs, locks, a swing bridge, beautiful outdoor restaurants, cafe and souvenir shops selling all sorts of Alsatian handicrafts.
You can spend hours walking up and down the canals, taking way too many pictures and sipping on a drink with backdrops that fit into the most popular postcards of Strasbourg. A stroll around this neighbourhood is hands down my highlight of things to do in Strasbourg.
#4 Barrage Vauban & Le Pont Couverts
Constructed in 1686 tp 1690 Barrage Vauban or the Vauban dam was formerly known as the Great lock for its defensive function. The barrage was to enable, in case of an attack, the raising of the river water and thus flooding the south part of the city to prevent the enemy from reaching any further. Today its roof terrace serves as the best viewpoint of Le Pont Couverts. Entrance to the internal corridors and the roof terrace is completely free and definitely not to be missed.
#5 Rohan Palace
The 18th-century Palais Rohan was once built as the resident of prince-bishops and cardinals of the House of Rohan, an ancient French noble family. Through the years it has hosted French nobles and loyalties such Marie Antoinette and Napoleon and currently houses 3 museums:
- The Museum of Fine Arts
- The Archeological Museum
- The Museum of Decorative Arts
Check out the museum website for more info and price details.
#6 St. Paul’s church of Strasbourg (Église Saint-Paul de Strasbourg)
This 19th-century church was designed for the Lutheran members of the Imperial German garrison. It’s a small yet wide Protestant church and you’ll find the best shot of it looking at its main entrance from across the rive.
#7 Place Kleber
The Place Kleber is Strasbourg’s main square. It’s a big area surrounded by shops, cafe and restaurants and a main hangout place for the locals. The square is also the standing point of Strasbourg’s huge Christmas tree every year.
#8 Get a boat tour with Batorama
Strasbourg is surrounded by Rive Ill and thus is a perfect place to discover by boat. There are a few boat companies with Batorama is the most famous one.
#9 Grab a book at Librairie Kleber
I always love checking out a pretty local bookshop when I travel and Librairie Kleber is the perfect place to pick a guidebook or even French/German literature. They also have a great collection of English books if you don’t know French or German.
#10 Sit down for brunch at Hotel Graffalgar
#11 Place Gutenberg
Place Gutenberg is a square in Strasbourg named after the famous German inventor of the printing press, Gutenberg. His statue was erected to honour him who called this city home for 10 years of his life. Today you’ll find a carousel set up next to the statue and outdoor cafes and restaurants surrounding the square.
#12 Strasbourg museum of modern and contemporary art
On the left bank of River Ill is where you’ll find the Strasbourg museum of modern art which is one of the biggest of its kind in all of France. It’s contemporary looking glass structure is easily found next to the Barrage Vauban. It has a collection of over 18,000 work with numerous annual exhibition.
#13 Go for a stroll at Parc de l’Orangerie
If you’re up for a chill stroll or a picnic, Parc de l’Orangerie is the most beautiful and biggest park of the city. It has a great playground for kids, a petting zoo and yoga in the summer.
Strasbourg Christmas Market
Strasbourg gets nearly 2 million visitors for its Christmas market every year. It’s one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe and the biggest in France which has been held since 1570! Hotels get booked very fast for this time of the year, so make sure you make reservations way in advance. There are numerous Christmas markets in almost a dozen different places offering everything from the well-loved mulled wine to local food, snacks, souvenirs, and Christmas ornaments.
Where to stay in Strasbourg?
Luxury accommodation in Strasbourg:
- Sofitel Strasbourg: A boutique hotel located in the prettiest neighbourhood of the city, La Petite France.
- Cour du Corbeau – MGallery by Sofitel: Nested in a 17th-century building and 5 minutes walk from the cathedral
- Maison d’hôtes Du coté de chez Anne: Outside the hustle and bustle of the city center but easily accessible by tram
Mid-range accommodation in Strasbourg:
- Hotel Maison Rouge: A beautiful boutique hotel in Place Kleber, perfect for Christmas time
- Hôtel Gutenberg: Uniquely decorated rooms in the heart of the old city
- Hotel Hannong: Perfect location and idea for couples
Budget accommodation in Strasbourg:
- Ciarus Hostel: Amazing location, great staff and only a few minutes away from the Christmas market
- Comfort Hotel Strasbourg – Montagne Verte
Day trip to Colmar from Strasbourg
We took a day trip to Colmar when we were in Strasbourg. I had read so much about it and seen numerous pictures of the famous Le Petit Venice, but to be honest, after having visited Strasbourg, Colmar seemed just like a small copy of it. Even little Venice resembled La Petite France in Strasbourg. The town is certainly beautiful and charming, I just thought it was quite similar to Strasbourg and didn’t really hold a candle to it.