With more than two-thousand years of rich history, a double UNESCO listing thanks to its charming, preserved quarters and home to one of Europe’s best Christmas markets, exploring the city of Strasbourg is a highlight of a visit to the Alsace region of France.
The city can be a bit of a shock when you arrive; it’s like a mini-Paris that’s grittier and busier than the quiet surrounding villages.
But get into the old town, and it doesn’t take long to become enamoured– especially once you catch sight of the gargantuan cathedral with its intricate facades that reach sky-high, or the boats gliding down the canal under flower-flocked bridges.
Here are the best things to do in Strasbourg, France.
Go on a boat cruise in Strasbourg
When planning what to do in Strasbourg, one of the first things on your itinerary should be a boat cruise through the city along the River Ill.
These hour-long experiences give a great overview of the city so you’ll know which areas to go back to later, include an audio tour and have dreamy photo-ops from the water.
Some of the Strasbourg attractions that are passed along the route are:
- Palais Rohan- Tours start from Rohan Palace, which was originally home to the four cardinals of Rohan before becoming city hall, then an imperial and royal palace. The architecture was inspired by Parisian townhouses, and it now holds several museums including the Decorative Arts Museum, Archaeological Museum and Museum of Fine Arts.
- The European Parliament- This 60-metre high, circular tower hosts meetings for the Members of the European Parliament, which have been meeting since the 1950s to oversee the EU’s legislative processes.
- The Covered Bridges- The ‘Ponts Couverts’ are on the edge of the Petit France district, and despite the bridges not having any roofs since the 18th century they’ve kept the name. They’re marked by four towers that date back to the 14th century.
Visit the Strasbourg Cathedral
The Strasbourg Cathedral is truly the heart of the city, and thanks to its 142-metre-tall bell tower it can be seen from miles away in every direction.
Dating back to the Middle Ages, it rests on the foundations of an old Roman basilica. The cathedral’s impressive spire was completed in 1439, earning it bragging rights as the tallest monument in Christianity for hundreds of years up until the 19th century.
Its magnificent rose window measures 14 metres in diameter, making it one of the largest rose windows in Europe.
This is hands-down the best place to get a birds-eye view of the city, which guests can experience by climbing 332 steps up a spiral staircase up to a panoramic platform 66 metres above the square.
When the weather is good, it’s possible to see all the way to the Vosges and Germany’s Black Forest.
Back on ground, the Strasbourg astronomical clock inside the church is the main draw. Big crowds gather at noon every day to see this Renaissance masterpiece and mathematical wonder, which was constructed in the mid-1500s by a team of Swiss clockmakers.
The experience starts with a short film about the incredible calculations involved in making the clock, as well as the significance of its decor. The show concludes with the Procession of the 12 Apostles at precisely 12:30 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased at the church entrance, starting at 11:30 am every day.
The historic centre is where the cathedral and Palais Rohan are, and is connected to the city by 21 bridges and footbridges. Its beautifully-preserved buildings earned it a spot on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
There are lots of shops, restaurants and cafes here, and highlights include the Kammerzell House which is a former merchant’s house featuring a steep roof and crown glass windows dating back to 1427, and Ancienne Douane which hosts a restaurant and farmer’s market along the river banks.
Wander through Petite France
The most picturesque part of Strasbourg’s old town is Petite France, beloved for its picturesque canal, half-timbered houses, narrow streets and window boxes bursting with flowers.
Formerly a tanners and millers district, it features homes dating back to the 16th century, the Covered Bridges, and the Vauban Dam which was built in 1690 in the event the southern edge of town needed to be flooded. Today, there’s a beautiful panoramic terrace at the top which has great views of the district and canals.
Enjoy wandering through the narrow streets, admiring the half-timbered houses and enjoy a coffee or great meal at one of the restaurants overlooking the water.
Enjoy five star dining
As the birthplace of foie gras (invented in 1780 by a cook of the Marshal of Contades), Strasbourg knows great food. In fact, it’s home to seven Michelin-starred restaurants including Au Crocodile restaurant which has been named the ‘best restaurant in the world’ multiple times.
Other incredible dining spots are 1741, Umami, le Jardin Secret, Buerehiesel, Les Funambules, and Les Plaisirs Gourmands.
A great way to get a taste of the local flavours is to join a food tour featuring traditional Alsatian dishes, or a cellar visit with wine pairings:
Visit Strasbourg’s second UNESCO site, Neustadt
The Neustadt district (‘new city’) was created between 1871 and 1914 after the Prussian annexation, tripling Strasbourg’s size.
It features tree-lined avenues, large open squares and exquisite landscaping, the homes and buildings are a mix of Art Nouveau and neo-Baroque, and it was designated as a UNESCO site in July 2017.
Get into the festive spirit at the Strasbourg Christmas market
Even Scrooge can’t help but get into the seasonal spirit at the annual Strasbourg Christmas market, when the old town is transformed with twinkling lights, the smell of spices like cinnamon wafts through the air, and carolers hit the streets.
Strasbourg’s market dates back to 1570, making it the oldest in France and one of the oldest in Europe. The main attraction is in Place Kléber, where a 30-metre tall decorated tree proudly stands in the square.
Billing itself as the ‘Capital of Christmas’, there are handmade gifts and ornaments, traditional treats like mulled wine and biscuits called bredle.
The Christmas market is typically open from the end of November until December 24th.
Day trips from Strasbourg
Strasbourg is also a great base for exploring the picture-perfect Alsace towns, which are like something straight out of a fairytale complete with hilltop castles, medieval clock towers and winding cobblestone streets.
Colmar is just a one hour drive, and one of the most famous parts of the whole region thanks to its pastel streetscapes, canal in Little Venice, Christmas market and even a replica of the Statue of Liberty (the sculptor who created the famous monument in New York was born in Colmar).
Other Strasbourg day trips worth doing is heading up to Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg which is perched high on a 757-meter-high rocky spur surrounded by thick forest, visiting the absolutely adorable towns of Ribeauvillé, Kayserberg. and Riquewihr, and going on a winery tour in Eguisheim.
It’s easy to see all of these as a self-drive tour since they’re very close together; otherwise, book one of these guided tours of the towns in Alsace:
Globe Guide tip: If you plan on doing a couple of city tours and visiting museums, it’s worth buying a Strasbourg Pass which also provides free entry and discounts to other attractions throughout the Alsace. Click here to book
Where to stay in Strasbourg
There are lots of great accommodation options in Strasbourg, from quaint B&Bs in the heart of Petite-France to more modern hotels.
I stayed at Hotel des Vosges and found it to be a great mix of both, as it’s large and has on-site dining and events spaces yet feels like a boutique hotel with its Art Deco style and restored features (like the old fashioned elevator) dating back to the 1930s.
Staff are friendly and helpful, and the Hotel des Vosges is located across from the Place de la Gare train station, parking nearby and is only a 15 minute walk from the Strasbourg Cathedral. Click here to book
Hotel Gutenberg: This hotel has an outstanding location right near the Cathedral, and rooms blend modern amenities with some classic touches. Guests love the large, clean rooms and helpful staff. Click here to book
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