If you are looking for a picture perfect town full of half-timber buildings, cobblestone streets, stunning cathedral and beautiful riverfront full of flowers then Strasbourg France is the town for you. The mixture of medieval and modern in this budding city add to its incredible charm. From the moment we arrived at the train station we were in love with Strasbourg. Riding through the streets in Strasbourg felt like taking a ride through old fairy tale stories. Each building and street were more picture perfect than the last.
We stayed in my absolute favorite Airbnb so far. Not only was it unique, comfortable and perfectly decorated but it was one block from the main square in Old Town Strasbourg. The location couldn’t have been more perfect.
As soon as we put our bags into the apartment I was dragging J. outside to see the town. I couldn’t wait to explore more of the enchanting town. A two minute walk brought us to an archway. When we entered it we instantly felt we had been transported back in time hundreds of years. The massive Gothic cathedral stands majestically in the center of the square. As impressive as it is, the surrounding half-timber buildings which house restaurants, small hotels and cafes fill the square with romance. We strolled through the square and down one of the old streets to find the river area. When it comes to perfect landscaping and floral design Strasbourg has it mastered, hands down. The planters hanging from the sides of the railings, running along the river were overflowing with gorgeous red, purple, yellow and white flowers. It was an explosion of color.
As we made our way back to the square music started making its way down the narrow streets. It was too beautiful to miss so we chose a cafe and sat down for a glass of Prosecco to listen to the music and people watch.
When you are in this region of France you have to eat in a Winstaub (an Alsatian tavern). They make incredible dishes (mostly meat based unfortunately for us vegetarians) using flavors special to the Alsace region of France. There is a ton of German influence here as well, with Germany being a short hour or so drive away. In fact in about 2 hours you can be in the Black Forest in Germany from Strasbourg. This was so tempting to me since I have always wanted to visit the Black Forest but instead we chose to spend our 4 days exploring Strasbourg and the towns around it.
One thing that makes Strasbourg so special is how it seamlessly transitions from the old town to a more modern area. As the town grew they held on to the charm by keeping outdoor eating areas, large squares for social gatherings and very walkable shopping. We spent our first full day in Strasbourg wandering from the old town area to Petite France. An old neighborhood which used to be home to tanneries and milleners. It is now filled with half-timber houses, winstaubs, cafes, christmas shops, and other tourist shops filled with gingerbread dolls. I don’t think it is possible to walk through this area and not feel like you are in the middle of an old movie. Everything is as it has always been.
We found a charming little shop that made incredible pasta and sauces which paired well with a recommended wine and voila, dinner! The tarte flambé was fantastic in Strasbourg as well. But nothing beat the delicious bakery treats and local chocolates. The coffee in Strasbourg is also some of the best I had in France, which was a welcome experience!
Wanting to explore the area we hopped on a train to Colmar one day. This short (40 minute) train ride is the perfect way to travel from one town to the next. The train is just a short walk outside of town, the path leading past an incredible Bretzel ( an Alsatian pretzel) shop that I couldn’t resist. The huge pretzel was covered in melted Asiago cheese. It melted in my mouth! Among the half-timber buildings, the cobbled streets, the adorable shops full of gingerbread men, Hansel & Gretel memorabilia, and other Alsatian treasures were chocolate shops, restaurants, cafes and winstaubs.
As we walked the streets, with a little river running through the middle in certain places, we couldn’t believe the beautiful flower boxes, artistically painted buildings, old scooters, and quaint little churches lining the streets. There is a river which runs past the city, similar to Strasbourg. This river is lined with colorful half-timber houses, which by law have to be painted a different color than any of its neighbors. This law creates the most perfect display of half-timber houses I have ever experienced. Colmar was so enchanting it feels as if the “real” world just melts away and you are left with the most perfect little village where problems are smaller and life is simpler. The people were all so friendly, beaming with pride for their beautiful town and incredibly helpful. We took a little train ride tour to get a sense of the history of the city, while I am not sure it was worth it, J. appreciated the break from walking and the opportunity to see some quirky buildings we probably would have missed otherwise.
Back in Strasbourg we shopped the street flea market, which happens on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It takes place just a few streets from the Cathedral (rue du Vieil Hôpital and place de la Grande-Boucherie). The sellers pack their tables and the areas surrounding their booths with antiques, quirky art and old books. Even if you aren’t shopping for anything it is fun to go and check out all of the treasures and awesome people. Grab a coffee and pastry across the street and spend the morning enjoying the atmosphere. On Saturday mornings you can find locals selling fruits and veggies too.
During the summer the city puts on a fabulous light show, the Illumination Cathederale de Strasbourg, on the side of the Notre Dame cathedral. It is free to everyone and shows twice a night. It varies every year but if you can make sure you catch it. It was incredible to see the lights play against the side of the gothic cathedral, which was incorporated into the performance. (This is a video of the moving performance.)
Another must is to see the astronomical clock. I had read that it was something we should see, but I really didn’t grasp how incredible it is. The current clock was built in 1843 and placed in the cathedral where it has been ever since. The astronomical clock offers a magnificent show of the different stages of life, which are personified by a child, a teenager, an adult and an old man, who pass before Death. Above this are the apostles who walk before Christ. There is a rooster who sings along with the Pillar of Angels who represent the Last Judgment. It is a stunning performance, especially when you consider the clock has been functioning perfectly since 1843. It accurately calculates Easter and Christmas every year, along with all of the other astronomical events. The tickets are 2 euro each, and you can start purchasing them at 11:30. The clocks show begins at 12:30. I underestimated the need to get there early to get a good spot to see the clock, so if your schedule allows get there as close to 11:30 as possible and grab a spot in front of the clock. There is a movie which shows before the clock goes off. The movie explains so much about the clock it would be a shame to miss it. Here is a great video of the clock as it strikes 12:30.
There are a lot of river tours which come into Strasbourg everyday. If you can plan your day around them, they tend to be heaviest from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They fill the square to see Notre Dame and then move on to Petit France. It is best to get to dinner as the restaurants open as they tend to get pretty busy and finding a table in the best winstaub’s can be quite difficult. People move a little slower in the mornings in Strasbourg so don’t expect early breakfasts or coffees. It is all part of the relaxed atmosphere of the town. We enjoyed just walking through the neighborhoods, discovering new streets, shops and restaurants as we strolled. It is all worth seeing.
Take a few days in Strasbourg to experience the best France has to offer. Get swept away in the charm of what France was in Medieval times and how it elegantly has joined the old with the new.