Buschur! When visiting Strasbourg in France, this is what you may be greeted with, a language that is neither French or German. Instead, it means “hello” or “bonjour” in a regional language called Alsatian.
Over the centuries, the city of Strasbourg could easily have been in Germany. The city is famous for being in the epicenter of European history, located on the French-German border. With plenty of things to do, beautiful architecture and places to see, it is no wonder that both countries wanted the city so much.
One of the most beautiful cities in the world, this guide covers things to do Strasbourg France, what to see, eat, where to stay and much more.
Warning: Now, if you are thinking of going to Strasbourg on a day-trip from Paris, let me stop you right here. Just because the city is easily accessible from Paris (2 hours by high-speed train) doesn’t mean you should. It is like visiting New York and going to Boston on a day trip.
There is so much history in Alsace and culture in Strasbourg that you would sell yourself short if try to squeeze it into a day trip from Paris. Its charm and vibe is completely different from Paris, and there is so much more to see around the French region of Alsace Lorraine.
Just my 2 cents, but let’s explore why you want to at least stay a couple of nights in Strasbourg, shall we? Allons-y!
1. Notre Dame de Strasbourg Cathedral
One of the oldest gothic cathedrals in France and the world, along with the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. With its elaborate astrological clock and red sandstone surface, a visit to the Cathedral is a must.
Construction began in 1015, and it was largely completed in 1432. At 142 metres (466 feet), the Cathedral in Strasbourg was the world’s tallest building for centuries, before it was surpassed by St. Nikolai’s Church in Hamburg.
During the middle ages, it was considered the tallest structure in the world. Heavily damaged by U.S. and British jets in World War II, renovations were only completed in the early 1990s.
At certain times of the year, there is a light show in the evenings, so be sure to check their schedule.
2. La Petite France
No list of the top things to do in Strasbourg could be complete without the historic center called La Petite France. These quaint little streets and half-timbered buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries. If you like Instagram, this is where you will spend all your time. This is probably the most photogenic area, in a city that is quite photogenic in general.
Located on the west bank of the Grand Ile, the area was named not for patriotic reasons, but because of a syphilis hospital, then called Franzosenkrankheit (“French disease”) in German. Talk about spoiling the romance!
3. Grand Ile and Les Ponts Couverts
The Grand Ile is the large island that is in the heart of the city, and who can have an island without a few bridges? This area is dotted with many small bridges, some dating from the medieval age.
Les Ponts Couverts are a set of three bridges and four towers that were erected in the 13th century. The island is officially recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. You can walk across the Pont, which is usually open between 9-7pm. Access is free.
4. Barrage Vauban
Right next to Les Ponts Couverts is the Barrage Vauban, which is a barrage constructed in 1690.
It is basically like an artificial barrier that, in the event of an attack, can be lowered to raise the level of the river. This would flood all the lands south of the city, making them impassable to the enemy.
This defensive measure was deployed in 1870, when Strasbourg was besieged by Prussian forces during the Franco-Prussian War.
5. European Parliament
Another interesting thing to do is to visit the European Parliament building. This modern building is the official seat of the EU, where the ministers sit. It was chosen as a point of pride for France while also demonstrating the EU reconciliation with Germany.
Meanwhile, parliamentary committees were to have their meetings in Brussels in Belgium and the Secretariat (its staff) are based in Luxembourg. This is all quite controversial since obviously it costs quite a bit of money to transfer people and resources to Strasbourg once a year, when Parliament is seated.
So visit it while you still can, because this modern building could soon be abandoned in favor of Brussels if costs continue to spiral!
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6. Central Squares and Pedestrian area
Strasbourg has a large pedestrian shopping area, with many charming squares such as Place Kleber and Place de la Republique. There are several well-known shops in this area as well as restaurants with open-air terraces that are always open to customers. Put on your walking shoes and warm up your credit card!
7. Boat cruise on the Rhine River
Take an hour-long cruise along the Rhine River, which goes past all the main sights of the city. With headphones, you can listen to commentary in any language you want (even Alsacien!). The departure point is near the Notre Dame Cathedral, just behind Palais Rohan.
8. The Museums
There are many museums in Strasbourg, but with the town’s beautiful architecture, I confess, we were more taken on our last visit with sightseeing than visiting museums. However, if you choose the following museums are excellent:
- Palais Rohan – Palais Rohan is the former residence of the prince-bishops and cardinals of the House of Rohan. The building today houses 3 museums, the Archaeological Museum (Musée archéologique), the Museum of Decorative Arts (Musée des arts décoratifs) and the Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des beaux-arts). Access is free.
- Musée Alsacien – The Alsatian Museum contains over 5000 exhibits from pre-industrial and early industrial Alsace. It also includes the reconstruction of the interiors of several traditional houses and has a collection of artifacts documenting the everyday life of Alsatian Jews.
- Musée Historique de Strasbourg – Museum dedicated to the history of the city, including everything from military equipment to paintings and sculptures from the Middle ages to the 18th Century.
9. The Sausages and Choucroute
You cannot come to Alsace and not have some sausages and choucroute on your bucket list of things to do. Heavily inspired by the German Rhineland next door, this dish is a classic in Alsace and the ultimate comfort food.
Choucroute is pickled cabbages cooked in white wine, similar to the German sauerkraut. If you don’t eat sausages, you can also pair the Choucroute with salmon or trout. You can read more about foods and drinks in Alsace here.
10. Vineyards on the Alsace Wine Route
Wash down your meal with some local Reisling white wine. The area is also renowned for its world-famous Alsace Wine route, producing many different types of wines. To make the most of your visit, here are some options that should book in advance, so that you don’t miss out.
11. The Beer
If you don’t enjoy wine, try some beer. Alsace is the main beer-producing region in France, with many breweries and microbreweries based around the Strasbourg. There are many different beers, so don’t be afraid to ask your bartender for a recommendation.
How to get to Strasbourg, France?
It takes a little under 2 hours to get to Strasbourg by high-speed train, from either Paris or Frankfurt. The city is the seat of the European Parliament (which you can visit) and other European institutions. The city also has a small international airport, with flights from neighboring cities in Europe and Northern Africa.
How many days should you stay?
I would recommend spending at least 2 nights in the city. Some people try to squeeze this all in a day trip from Paris, but I don’t recommend this. It is so different from the other parts of France and there is so much to see, that I recommend at least 2 days of visiting, including the day you arrive.
What day trips are recommended in the area?
Yes, there are many lovely villages around as well as a wine route. You can visit the Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle, wander through nearby villages of Ribeauvillé, Riquewihr, and Kayserberg. I recommend taking a tour to make the most of your visit.
When to visit?
Strasbourg is lovely at any time of the year. There is a famous Christmas market in December which is magnificent, but if you don’t like crowds, it is better to go at another time of the year.
Summers are warm and lovely, but beware the tourists. With fewer crowds, Fall or Spring are absolutely lovely in the city. Note, there is a mini-Oktoberfest or “Fête de la bière” in Strasbourg, influenced by its German neighbor.
Where to stay?
The pedestrian area in the city is quite walkable, so anywhere around there is quite accessible. The city is usually considered quite safe to walk around at night, but as in all things, common sense applies!
I would recommend staying between Strasbourg Cathedral and the train station, such as:
- €€€ – Le Kleber Hotel
- €€€€ – Hôtel Gutenberg (modern interiors)
- €€€€ – Hôtel & Spa Le Bouclier D’or (old world charm)
- €€€€€ – Hotel & Spa Regent Petite France
If you do happen to be in Alsace in December for the Christmas markets, be sure to make a stop in Lyon as well. Lyon has an excellent light festival running the 2nd week of December, so I definitely recommend making a stop there as well.
So have you been inspired to travel to Strasbourg? If you enjoyed that article, you can read more about visiting Alsace here. A bientôt!