Strasbourg is the ultimate European city. It has flavors of both France and Germany and sits right on the border of the two countries in the new Grand Est region of France. Geographically strategic, it was fought over for centuries between the French and Germans and Alsace and Lorraine.
The home of the European Parliament, this often-overlooked and surprisingly cosmopolitan destination hosts France's oldest Christmas market and features a stunning cathedral. And if you want more, the Black Forest and the legendary Rhine River are just at or just beyond the city's edge.
It can be hard to guess which country you are really in when visiting the city. The signs are in both languages; beer and wine are both tremendously popular and there's a common cuisine with dishes like sauerkraut in German or choucroute in French. And the architecture is distinctly German, almost Hansel-and-Gretal like.
This is one of the best regions of France when it comes to great cuisine, and that's saying quite a bit considering this is, well, France. The Alsatian dishes here have a boldness and earthiness that is reminiscent of their German roots, while there is attention to quality and detail that is the epitome of French gourmet philosophy.
Some local cuisine experiences you shouldn't miss include:
- Visiting a local winstub (wine bar) for the ultimate France/German experience. The wines that are most popular here are white, light and tart, such as Rieslings and Gewurztraminers. Alsatian beers are also wonderful.
- Sampling the local eau de vie. Literally meaning "water of life," this is fruit liquor to the extreme. Unlike many other country's liquors that are typically made with sugar, Alsatian eau de vie is sweetened entirely by fruit.
- Filling up on baeckoffe and coq au Riesling, some of the fabulous local specialties. Baeckoffe is a 3-meat stew of pork, mutton and beef marinated in wine and baked for hours with potatoes. Coq au Riesling is much like the better-known coq au vin but is made with Riesling. It is usually served over fresh-made spaetzle, a German noodle.
- Alsatian desserts and pastries are another specialty, with tarts made with all kinds of fruit from rhubarb to Mirabelle plums.
Getting There and Getting Around
You can fly into Strasbourg, or fly into Paris or Frankfurt and take a two-hour (from Frankfurt) or four-hour (Paris) rail ride into the city. Once you arrive in the city, there is a clean and reliable tramway line, as well as extensive bus routes. Check out the detailed information on traveling from London, the UK, and Paris to Strasbourg to prepare for your trip.
- Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral is one of Europe's most beautiful example of gothic architecture. The stunning pink sandstone façade is quite unique and breathtaking. Be sure to go inside for the intricate carvings and stained glass windows. Each day at 12:30 pm, visitors can see the 1842 astrological clock put on its special and lengthy show. The courtyard outside hosts the city's immensely popular Christmas market, one of the oldest in Europe.
- Petite France is Strasbourg's prettiest and most enchanting neighborhood. Stroll along its streets and walk over the bridges that cross the Ill River. Breathe in the scent of fresh-baked gingerbread from the bakeries in the half-timbered buildings where window boxes overflow with brightly colored plants that earned this city the prestigious four-flower ranking.
- Strasbourg’s Museums are concentrated near the cathedral, with 3 of them housed in the Palais Rohan, once the home of the mighty Rohan family.
- Just to the south-west, you come across Place Gutenberg, with a statue in the middle reminding you that the printer and inventor of moveable type, Johannes Gutenberg, lived in the city in the early 15th century.
- Shop and people-watch at Place Kleber, a busy square lined with popular shops and a hub of activity.
- If you are interested in the workings of the European institutions, make your way to the Palais de l'Europe, the home of the Council of Europe built in the 1970s, the European Parliament building opened in 1999, and the European Court of Human Rights. You can visit all these; get all the information and maps from the Tourist Office.
When to Go
Strasbourg's climate is very German. It can be quite cold and snowy in winter, but the city is at its most beautiful at Christmas time. Spring is a lovely time to visit as the flowers start to bloom. Summer can be warm but inviting. Fall is splendid, as the autumn colors come into their own.
Great Day Trips
This is a prime spot for excursions in France or Germany (which is just across the river). Some options include:
- Colmar, a charming Alsatian city, just a 50-minute train ride to the south. It’s famous for Mathias Grûnewald’s magnificent Isenheim altarpiece housed in the newly re-opened Musée d’Unterlinden.
- Route des Vins. Alsace is known for its wines, so take trips out to the picturesque wine villages with ruined castles dominating the countryside of the Vosges.
- Car enthusiasts should visit the outstanding Cité de l’Automobile, the National Schlumpf Collection in Mulhouse. The Bugattis, made locally, are stunning.
- Centre Pompidou-Metz. This outpost of the Pompidou Centre in Paris has superb regularly changing exhibitions. It's very near and makes a good add-on trip. As a bonus, it's in the charming city of Metz.
Edited by Mary Anne Evans