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Aerial view of Saint-Paul church in Strasbourg, France.

- © Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock
Strasbourg
Strasbourg

The Venice of Alsace

Strasbourg in short

European capital, Christmas capital, City of Art and History, UNESCO-listed historic centre, Strasbourg is undeniably a city of history and culture, looking to the future. If the cliché of tradition versus modernity is too often used, it's hard not to attribute this expression to the capital of Alsace.

With its rich history and extraordinary heritage, largely inherited from the Middle Ages, the city is situated at the crossroads of Europe, and Strasbourg has long succeeded in bridging the gap between different cultures and different eras. It has managed to preserve and enhance the best of both, as demonstrated by the interest shown in protecting its architectural heritage. From and its cathedral to the European Parliament, the city of Strasbourg is like an open book on the History of France, but above all on the History of Europe, of which it has become the best ambassador.

Aerial view of Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, France.

- © Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock

Strasbourg's rich cultural heritage can be seen everywhere. Notre-Dame Cathedral, Petite France, Grande Île, Maison Kammerzell... but when it comes to Strasbourg's heritage, Alsatian culture is never far away, reminding visitors that respect for tradition is just as important as an open mind. With its Michelin-starred chefs, typical recipes found nowhere else and top-quality regional produce (beer, sausages, etc.), Strasbourg is the place to be for gourmets and bon vivants. With its world-renowned wines, oenologists are not to be outdone.

And as if it wasn't famous enough, come winter, the city becomes a favourite destination for Christmas lovers, who wouldn't miss Europe's biggest and oldest Christmas market for the world. Whether you're planning a short break as a couple, a week with the family or an Alsatian road trip with friends, Strasbourg is a sure bet. It's got it all!

Canal of Strasbourg's old town with its traditional houses in the heart of Petite France, Alsace, France.

- © Pajor Pawel / Shutterstock

What can I do?

Museums, discovery areas, parks and gardens - Strasbourg has no shortage of cultural venues and places to relax. Among these, the Palais Rohan is as elegant as it is full of attractions. This former residence of the prince-bishops, built between 1732 and 1742, houses the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Decorative Arts. It's hard to believe that a place like this can satisfy the curiosity of so many visitors.

Another monument is the Musée de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame, which since 1931 has been housed in buildings dating from the 14th and 16th centuries. Inside, visitors can admire masterpieces of sculpture from the Middle Ages, most of which come from Notre-Dame cathedral, works of 15th-century Rhenish art and some very fine stained-glass windows. The museum also houses decorative art objects from Strasbourg and a collection of still lifes by Sébastien Stoskopff.

At the Musée Alsacien in Strasbourg, you can discover the very essence of the region's folk art through painted furniture, costumes, folk ceramics, toys and religious and secular imagery. The museum is housed in old Strasbourg houses, with some rooms featuring reconstructions of typical Alsatian interiors.

Pont Couvert and Towers historic bridges in Strasbourg - Alsace, France.

- © Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock

The Vaisseau is a centre where children can discover science through 6 worlds made up of 130 interactive elements that they can test, handle and explore in the company of their parents. Construction, the human body, water, the animal world... all these subjects will no longer hold any secrets for them.

Strasbourg has plenty of green spaces. For a bucolic break, the Jardin Botanique, located in the heart of the city one kilometre east of the cathedral, with its 3.5 hectares is the green lung of the centre, where you can discover more than 6,600 species of plants installed either in the tropical greenhouse, in the 207 m² cold greenhouse or outside. The Jardin des Deux Rives is located on either side of the Rhine and symbolises the friendship between France and Germany. Plant exhibitions, concerts, events and shows (circus, dance) take place here throughout the year.

There's almost everything to see in the capital of Alsace. The historic centre of the Grande Île, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been designated a Town of Art and History. It is home to a rich architectural heritage spanning from the Middle Ages to the present day. Our two eyes are not enough to contemplate it all.

Even so, if you had to make a selection of sites, places or monuments not to be missed during a stay in Strasbourg, the cathedral would obviously top the list. A masterpiece of Gothic art, Strasbourg's Notre-Dame cathedral is all lightness and elegance. From its façade, a giant picture book set off by hundreds of sculptures, to its pink colour, which changes constantly with the light, its stained glass windows from the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries and its astronomical clock dating from the Renaissance, everything is awe-inspiring.

A visit to the Maison Kammerzell kills three birds with one stone: you get to see the most beautiful house in Strasbourg, have a bite to eat in its restaurant and get information from the Tourist Office right next door. The main attraction of the visit, however, is the house itself, whose carved half-timbering on the upper floors dates back to 1589. In the 15th century, shops were housed in the arcades of its ashlar ground floor.

Maison Kammerzell is a historic building located on the cathedral square in Strasbourg, Alsace, France.

- © Sergey Kelin / Shutterstock

Located on the banks of Strasbourg's Grande Île, Petite France is the most picturesque district of old Strasbourg. Built flush with the water, this suburb was once home to fishermen, tanners and millers. Today, a visit here reveals some magnificent historic houses dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, whose sloping roofs open onto granaries where hides were once hung out to dry.

A perfect example of Alsatian Gothic art, the choir of the church of Saint Thomas also houses a unique piece of Baroque funerary art from the 18th century, the mausoleum of the Maréchal de Saxe.

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All the must-sees

How to get there?

As the capital of the Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine (Grand-Est) region in north-eastern France, the city is accessible by all means of transport. By plane, bus, train or car, the city boasts a dense transport network. Once you're here, it's easy to get around by bike, or on foot.

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Where to stay?

The Alsatian city has no shortage of accommodation for visitors. Airbnb, bed and breakfasts and hotels are all on offer. Although the vast majority of visitors concentrate on the cathedral and Petite France areas, it's easy to get around on foot and enjoy the city's surroundings. Staying in a hotel on the banks of the River Ill and admiring the view of the half-timbered houses lining the water, gives you the chance to realise that life here is a long, quiet river.

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Practical information

When should you go?

The Strasbourg Christmas market is certainly the best known and most renowned in Europe. For over a month each year, the whole city is transformed into a huge Christmas village, with chalets selling handicrafts, Christmas decorations, food and regional specialities dotted around the city.

Illuminations, entertainment, shows and workshops delight children and parents alike. With several million visitors every year, the Christmas market is one of the main attractions in France during the month of December. As a result, it's often difficult to find accommodation during this period. If you want to make the most of this huge celebration in Strasbourg, don't hesitate to book your hotel several months in advance.

What to eat

For a number of years now, Strasbourg has been one of the leading cities for French gastronomy, with a dynamism that has made its reputation. Au Crocodile, Buerehiesel, La Casserole and Umami are all Michelin-starred restaurants that prove thecity's appeal to talented chefs.

Whether they follow the Alsatian tradition, twist it or revisit it, these chefs have a bottomless well of local recipes at their disposal, allowing them to express their creativity.

Alsatian cuisine, which originated in the countryside, is made up of dishes prepared from simple ingredients (potatoes, eggs, cabbage, etc.) that chefs have always known how to magnify. So it's impossible to stay in the Alsatian capital without sampling its famous sauerkraut, baeckeoffe (a dish of potatoes, pork, beef and mutton simmered in white wine), flammekueche (a thin tart topped with cream, onions and bacon) or foie gras pâté.

The Christmas festivities are accompanied by many specialities such as bredele (small Christmas cakes), Männele (a brioche shaped like a little man) and mulled wine.

Found throughout the region and in large numbers in Strasbourg, winstubs are the ideal place to discover traditional cuisine in a warm and festive atmosphere. These friendly inns serve pretzels (a savoury biscuit that has been the emblem of bakers since the 14th century), knacks (sausages that are inseparable from sauerkraut and village festivals, and which owe their name to the noise they make when they burst in your mouth), lewerknepfle (liver dumplings) and Roïgebrageldi (potatoes simmered with onion and bacon) accompany the legendary Alsatian beer, whose reputation is well established.

What to bring back?

Among the local specialities that stand up well to the journey, and can be kept long enough to savour the taste once back home, are pretzels, sausages, a few cheeses (or all if you're not afraid of asphyxiating the passengers in your car or on the train) such as Munster, white wine (among the best known are the 7 AOCs: Gewurtzraminer, Pinot blanc, Tokay Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sylvaner) that have made the region's wine reputation, but also Alsatian beer.

During the Christmas period, visitors often leave with their suitcases full. With traditional decorations, handicrafts, wooden toys, specially made Christmas biscuits and a wide range of culinary specialities on sale, there's plenty to choose from. We advise you to book several weeks in advance of your stay, as the restaurants are packed.

Safety

As with most cities in France, Strasbourg is not particularly dangerous, but you should remain vigilant during the Christmas markets. Otherwise, none of the city's neighbourhoods are dangerous, and the surrounding area is also very safe.

Public transport

Like most major French cities, Strasbourg has a fairly comprehensive transport network. Trains, buses, shuttles and trams make it easy to get around the city. On a more individual level, the velhop is the local bicycle network. There are numerous stations throughout the city.

Accessibility

The city is fairly flat, making it easy for people with reduced mobility or in wheelchairs. Beware, however, of the cobbled streets, which are visually very attractive but can sometimes slow traffic down.

As far as accommodation is concerned, you can find a list of professionals holding the Tourism and Disability label on the Tourist Office website.

lightbulb_outline Editor's tip

As in all major cities, it's best to avoid using your car to discover Strasbourg, as the traffic can be dense and the tourist escapade can turn into a nervous breakdown when looking for a parking space. If there's one time when this advice is an absolute golden rule, it's during the Christmas Market, when the streets are packed with pedestrians, and some of them are closed to traffic.

Another thing to avoid at this time of year is arriving in Strasbourg without having booked a hotel room and with the firm intention of staying overnight. To ensure that you have a pleasant stay in the Christmas capital without any disappointments, it's much wiser to book in advance.

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