The 15 Best Things to Do in Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg, France

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Strasbourg is one of the most populous and interesting cities in Northern France. A gateway to the Alsace region, with its vineyards, storybook villages, castles perched on hills, and Franco-German cultural roots, Strasbourg is an ideal first stop in the area. While lesser-known to tourists than Bordeaux, Lyon, or other larger French cities, it has plenty to offer—from history to architecture and museums. Keep reading for 15 of the best things to do in Strasbourg, especially on a first trip.

01 of 15

Visit Strasbourg Cathedral

The great organ and Rose window of Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg / Strasbourg Cathedral
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Pl. de la Cathédrale, 67000 Strasbourg, France
Phone +33 3 88 21 43 34

A masterpiece of Gothic architecture, Notre-Dame Cathedral rivals its more famous counterpart in Paris. Completed in 1439, it looms majestically over the Place de la Cathédrale, a major city square. Particularly memorable for its dizzyingly tall Gothic spire—reaching some 465 feet skyward—and for its pink sandstone facade, this was the tallest building in the world until the mid-19th century.

Inside, you'll find luminous, well-preserved stained glass (including a rose window) dating to the medieval period, fine statuary, and a nineteenth-century astrological clock whose moving sculptures offer a spectacle known as the "Apostle's Parade" daily at 12:30 p.m. The Cathedral is awash with festive lights during the winter holiday season and hosts one of the region's largest traditional Christmas markets.

02 of 15

Amble Around Little France

Petite France area in Strasbourg

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Petite-France, 67000 Strasbourg, France

Probably the most photogenic neighborhood in the city, the area known as "La Petite France" has a fairy-tale-like charm about it. Meandering riverside paths, half-timbered houses from the 16th and 17th centuries, and balconies overflowing with brightly-hued flowers all contribute to the appeal. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage site within the old city, the area was once bustling with commercial activity, serving as a major hub for fishermen, tanners, and millers.

Today, it's lined with restaurants, cafés, and quaint inns, and in the warmer months, it's a favorite spot for dusky before-dinner drinks or dinner with riverside views.

03 of 15

Shop and People Watch at Place Kléber

Central place Kleber in Strasbourg. Decorating of the huge christmas tree. Hi resolution night panoramic view. France.
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Pl. Kléber, 67000 Strasbourg, France

The largest square in central Strasbourg, Place Kléber is an excellent place for window shopping, people-watching, and (in warmer times) enjoying a coffee or beer on one of the cafe-brasserie terraces that spill into the square.

Situated in the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as "Grande Île" (Grand Island), the square features several handsome and historic facades. These include half-timbered houses with typical Alsatian architectural details and l'Aubette 1928, a recently renovated building constructed in a neoclassical style during the 18th century and whose interiors were designed by three avant-garde artists in the late 1920s. Today, the leisure complex, comprising cafes and bars, dance hall, and other rooms, is considered a masterpiece of early twentieth-century abstract art and design. The interiors of the Aubette were re-opened to the public in 2006 and now host contemporary art exhibits and other events.

04 of 15

Visit the Palais Rohan and Its Museums

Palais Rohan
Murat Taner / Getty Images
2 Pl. du Château, 67000 Strasbourg, France
Phone +33 3 68 98 51 60

A major destination for arts and culture in Strasbourg, the Palais Rohan is home to three important sites: the Fine Arts Museum, Archaeological Museum, and Decorative Arts Museum.

The palace, completed in 1742, was designed to mimic the grandiosity of Parisian mansions and features fine neoclassical elements both indoors and out. It was once home to the powerful Rohan family.

The onsite fine arts museum (Musée des Beaux-Arts) opened at the palace in 1889. Its permanent collection boasts many paintings from masters including Rembrandt, Raphael, Corot, Courbet, and Fragonard.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in archeological history and artifacts, the Musée Archéologique makes for an interesting visit, while the Decorative Arts Museum holds a collection that includes delicate ceramics, furniture, and ornate old clocks.

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05 of 15

See the Covered Bridges and Fortified Towers

Old fortified towers around the edges of Strasbourg, France

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One sight that's arresting and picturesque both from the water and up close are the covered bridges ("ponts couverts" in French), composed of three bridges flanked by fortified medieval towers, all of which were erected during the 13th century on the River Ill.

Flowing through the Petite France district, the three old bridges traverse the four channels of the Ill River then run through the city. During the medieval period, they were covered with wooden rooftops used as defensive protection for the soldiers stationed on them during battles. Although they were removed in the late 18th century, the name stuck.

06 of 15

Sample Some Traditional Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut plate garnished with Alsatian
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Since an important aspect of travel is tasting local food and drink, you'll want to make sure to try the dish that's probably the most associated with Strasbourg (and the Alsace region more generally): sauerkraut. This simple, fermented cabbage recipe, generally made with white or purple varieties of the cruciferous vegetable, is delicious and satisfying, especially when accompanied by wintery dishes such as smoked sausages, boiled or roasted potatoes, salted turnips, and a glass of white Riesling wine, another specialty of Alsace.

Most traditional French brasseries and restaurants specialized in Alsatian cuisine will serve their own versions of sauerkraut. Two restaurants reputed for their excellent versions are Porcus (also renowned for its sausages and charcuterie) and the Maison des Tanneurs, situated in a historic half-timbered house in the Petite France district.

07 of 15

Glide Around the Barrage Vauban

The Barrage Vauban illuminated at night, Strasbourg, France

Hans-Peter Merten / Getty Images

Pl. du Qur Blanc, 67000 Strasbourg, France
Phone +33 3 88 52 28 28

Just upriver from the medieval covered bridges and fortified towers, the Vauban Dam was built around 1690, to plans created by the engineer of the same name. It has a panoramic terrace area from which visitors can take in sweeping views of the city and the network of canals connecting to the Ill River.

Views of the dam are especially dramatic and memorable at night when the entire structure is bathed in multicolored lights that reflect on the River Ill. Consider embarking on an after-dinner boat tour that takes you around the dam, past the covered bridges and towers, and other parts of old Strasbourg.

08 of 15

Visit the Inventor of Printing at Place Gutenberg

Gutenberg monument in Strasbourg
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Pl. Gutenberg, 67000 Strasbourg, France

If you're at all interested in the history of books and printing, head to Place Gutenberg to see a statue dedicated to Johannes Gutenberg, the legendary inventor of moveable type. Gutenberg lived in Strasbourg during the beginning of the 15th century, and the city proudly claims a stake in his revolutionary technology, which would lead to books becoming much more available and affordable.

After paying homage to Gutenberg, explore the square and its surrounding streets, lined with shops and boutiques. The area abounds with mid-range shopping options, whether you're looking for clothing, accessories, fine food items, or gifts.

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09 of 15

Feast on Flammekeuche, Alsatian-Style Pizza

Flammekeuche, Alsatian-style pizza

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One typical Alsatian-style dish that's both budget-friendly and delicious is flammkuchen (in German) or tarte flambée (in French), a thin-crusted, pizza-like tart that's found widely in Strasbourg and the greater region. Typically topped with ham, onions, mushrooms, and other ingredients, the base is generally white rather than tomato-based and is often made with sour cream or creme fraiche.

Ideal for lunch or an informal dinner, flammkuchen is delicious with a side salad and a beer or crisp glass of white Alsatian wine. You can also find dessert versions topped with apples and calvados or other sweet ingredients. In Strasbourg, top spots for excellent flammekeuche include Flam's and Binchstub, both restaurants specializing in the dish.

10 of 15

Soak Up Some Cheer at Annual Christmas Markets

Christmas market in Strasbourg, France

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While most people choose spring or summer for a trip to France, Strasbourg is hard to beat during the winter holiday season when it comes to warmth and cheer. It's famous for its enormous Christmas markets, which generally spring up in late November and run through Dec. 25 or even the new year.

The biggest of the traditional markets, which have been staged in the city and greater Alsace region since the 16th century, is found around Strasbourg Cathedral. Still, there are also smaller ones set up around the city, particularly in town squares. Some 300 wooden chalets warmly illuminate the streets, selling traditional treats such as pretzels, crepes, sausages, and mulled wine, as well as holiday gifts and decorations. This is an essential Strasbourg experience.

11 of 15

Stroll and Picnic at the Parc de l'Orangerie

Parc de l'Orangerie, Strasbourg

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Parc de l'Orangerie, 67000 Strasbourg, France
Phone +33 3 68 98 51 02

Strasbourg's largest and oldest park is a wonderful place for a stroll on shady tree-lined paths or for a picnic overlooking the park's many flowerbeds, fountains, artificial lake, gazebos, and sculptures. Built in the 17th century, the sprawling green space boasts 3,000 trees, dozens of varieties of flowers and plants, and wild birds, including storks. The park is also home to the elegant Pavillon Josephine, which hosts exhibitions and other events, restaurants, and a bowling center.

To save on eating out for lunchtime one day, stock up on bread, cheese, fruit, and other goodies from local markets, then sprawl out on a bench or the grass for an inexpensive al-fresco meal.

12 of 15

Visit the Historical Museum of Strasbourg

Courtyard at the Historical Museum of Strasbourg, France

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2 Rue du Vieux-Marché-aux-Poissons, 67000 Strasbourg, France
Phone +33 3 68 98 50 00

For an excellent overview of Strasbourg history, pay a visit to this history museum overlooking the River Ill. Scaled city models, paintings, objects from daily life, military uniforms and weapons, and archaeological artifacts from the fascinating collections here, which tell the story of Strasbourg life and society from the Middle Ages to the mid-twentieth century.

The museum includes several new rooms and displays, including those dedicated to Emperor Napoleon's visits in the early 19th century. The building itself dates to the 16th century and features fine architectural details despite its former function as a slaughterhouse.

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13 of 15

Admire Saint-Thomas Church

Saint-Thomas Protestant Church in Strasbourg, France

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11 Rue Martin Luther, 67000 Strasbourg, France
Phone +33 3 88 32 14 46

Nicknamed "the Protestant Cathedral," the majestic Eglise Saint-Thomas is the city's primary Lutheran and Protestant church. Sitting on the foundation of churches that once stood here as early as the 6th century, the current one is emblematic of Alsatian Gothic architecture, with its pink sandstone exterior, long nave, and cupola.

The choir houses the mausoleum of the Marechal de Saxe, which is considered a masterpiece of Baroque funerary art from the 18th century. The interiors also boast two fine organs, frescoes and delicate stained glass.

14 of 15

Roam the European Parliament and District

European Parliament, Strasbourg

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All. du Printemps, 67070 Strasbourg, France
Phone +33 3 88 17 40 01

Some may find the European Union and its inner workings dry and bureaucratic, while others will find it all fascinating. Brussels may be the main seat of European institutions. Still, Strasbourg is also a capital: the city is home to the European Parliament, Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights. It's in the northern French city that many of the most important EU policy decisions are made.

Visit the boldly futuristic European quarter to see all three buildings, housed in contemporary buildings with striking facades and architectural details.

15 of 15

Take a Day Trip to Nearby Colmar

Aerial shot of the city of Colmar

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Just a 50-minute train ride south from Strasbourg, Colmar is widely known as one of the prettiest towns in Alsace. It's a major stop on the "Alsatian Wine Route," studded with vineyards, riverside towns on the Rhine, and dramatic castles.

Take a day to explore Colmar and its seemingly timeless half-timbered houses, brightly-colored facades, meandering canals, and charming winstubs (winery-taverns serving traditional Alsatian food and wines). If time allows, take a boat tour to take in the town from the vantage of the water, and see the legendary Isenheim altarpiece, a treasure housed at the Musée d’Unterlinden.

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The 15 Best Things to Do in Strasbourg, France