48 Hours in Strasbourg, France: The Ultimate Itinerary

Strasbourg, France: Banks of the River Ill and Strasbourg Cathedral's Spire

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Strasbourg is the capital of northeastern France—a towering and historic city with a grand medieval Cathedral to prove it. It's also prized for its riverside areas dotted with half-timbered houses straight out of fairy tales, excellent museums, and distinctive local food and drink. Lest you're starting to get the impression that the city is stuck in the past, think again. As the seat of the European Parliament, it's a modern and international regional capital with plenty of contemporary energy.

Only have two days to see it? Follow our suggested 48-hour itinerary to see the very best of Strasbourg, from monuments and museums to eating out and architecture. Remember that you can always modify the itinerary to add different attractions or see the existing ones in a different order. It's adaptable to your budget and personal interests.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

Strasbourg Cathedral, facade

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9 a.m.: After arriving at Strasbourg train station or airport and dropping your bags at your hotel, head straight for Strasbourg Cathedral, one of the crown jewels of European Gothic architecture and completed in around 1439. Standing on the immense Place de la Cathédrale, a square framed by centuries-old buildings, admire the facade in pink sandstone.

Rising to 466 feet, this was once one of the tallest human-made structures in the world. With its rose window, soaring spire, and octagonal bell tower, the Cathedral is impossible to overlook. The three portals at the entrance are adorned with elaborate biblical statuary.

Heading inside, you can see the delicate stained glass of the rose window in much more detail, alongside other stained glass panels dating from the 12th to the 14th centuries. The pulpit, dating to the late 15th century, is also worth admiring.

The large astronomical clock, added during the Renaissance, is presented in a decorative 17th-century case. At precisely 12:30 pm each day, automata representing the 12 apostles and figures of daily life come to life in a mesmerizing show.

Meanwhile, the "Emperor Windows" in the northern nave features five glass panels depicting the lives of the 19 Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Some date to the medieval period.

10:30 a.m.: After visiting the Cathedral, admire the other impressive buildings on and around the square, including the Maison Kammerzell, a distinctive medieval building that was constructed in 1427 and remains remarkably well-preserved. The ornate stained glass, statuary, and frescoes are all worth admiring.

If time allows, explore the narrow old streets surrounding the Cathedral. This was the center of the medieval city, and today forms the heart of the Carré d'Or, or Golden Square—an area abounding with shops, restaurants, and numerous historic buildings.

12:30 p.m.: For a traditional lunch in a stunning dining room, consider reserving a table for lunch at the Maison Kammerzell, which houses a well-known restaurant.

Otherwise, head west to the "Petit France" area (where you'll be spending the afternoon) and choose one of the many inviting waterside restaurants. The Maison des Tanneurs, a restaurant in a half-timbered house circa 1572, is ideal for tasting typical regional dishes like sauerkraut, sausages, beers, and wines.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

The Petit France district, Strasbourg

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2 p.m.: Walk west via the Grand Rue to reach the area known as "La Petite France" (Little France), one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Strasbourg and a familiar subject of postcards and city brochures.

Situated on a delta formed of the five arms of the River Ill, the Petit France area is famous for its half-timbered houses perched alongside the river quays, most dating to the 16th and 17th centuries and adorned with plants and colorful flowers.

This was once a vibrant commercial capital in old Strasbourg, humming with traders, millers, fishermen and tanners, whose daily activities were centered around and fueled by the river waters. It's easy to imagine tanners laying out and drying large sides of leather on the balconies or fishermen loading wooden barges with the catch of the day.

Today, it's a popular spot for meandering strolls, memory shots, and al-fresco dining on the river. Wander along the quays, across the footbridges and through lush riverside parks, stopping for lunch (see suggestion above) or for a drink.

Place Benjamin Zix square, home to the previously mentioned Maison des Tanneurs, is a pleasant place to stop. So is the adjacent Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes, notable for its numerous historic houses and stone-paved streets.

4 p.m.: After exploring the area at your leisure, follow the river east along the Quai Saint-Thomas, then Rue de la Douane for around 10 minutes to reach the Musée Historique de Strasbourg. Housed in a 16th-century building that was once a butchery, the Flemish-style architectural elements of the facade are eye-catching. (Note that the museum is closed on Mondays.)

Inside, the permanent collections trace the history of Strasbourg from the medieval period to the mid-twentieth century, and visitors can take a free audio-guided tour to make the most of the visit. Scaled city models, objects from daily life, paintings, photographs, military and archaeological artifacts form the heart of the permanent collection.

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03 of 06

Day 1: Evening

Covered bridges of Strasbourg, France

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5:45 p.m.: As evening approaches, embark on a sightseeing river cruise on the Ill to see the city from a different perspective.

The boat tours from Batorama offer an overview of the Grande Île area comprising the UNESCO World Heritage site. You'll glide along the waters closest to the Cathedral, flowing through Petite France, and on to Neustadt (New Town), the historic German quarter that you'll explore in-depth later on.

Particularly breathtaking at dusk are Strasbourg's Ponts Couverts (Covered Bridges), medieval defensive bridges over the Ill flanked by fortified towers. During the 13th century, they were covered with wooden roofs for additional defense. These were later removed, but the name stuck.

Meanwhile, the late 17th-century Vauban Dam is gorgeous when seen from the water and is illuminated with multi-hued lights after dark.

Depending on the season, the Batorama sightseeing cruise boats are either covered or uncovered, and audio guides are available in several languages. Reservations are required outside of the high season.

7 p.m.: It's time for dinner, so head from the Cathedral area (where the tour will have dropped you off) southwest to Place Gutenberg, another grand square named after the inventor of printing (an interesting statue depicting him is found on the square). Choose a restaurant on or around the square; for a traditional Strasbourg menu, try Aux Armes de Strasbourg, one of the city's oldest brasseries.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Palais Rohan, Strasbourg, France

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8:30 a.m.: Start with a breakfast of French pastries, omelets, coffee, and other fare at Café Bretelles, one of the best spots for a morning meal in the city center.

10 a.m.: After breakfast, stroll northwest and cross the river to reach the Palais Rohan, a majestic neoclassical building constructed in 1742, and once home to a prominent aristocratic family. Today, it houses three important museums: the Fine Arts Museum of Strasbourg, the Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Archaeological Museum.

It's best to choose one of the three collections for your visit since attempting to see all three won't allow you to appreciate them fully. The Fine Arts Museum is probably the best bet, with its collection of paintings from Old Masters, including Rembrandt, Fragonard, and Courbet.

1 p.m.: Next, head northwest once again to reach the Place Kleber, a major city square lined with fine houses and shops, and especially noteworthy for a quirky building known as Aubette 1928. The 18th-century building was renovated by three avant-garde artists during the 1920s, and their abstract designs are considered masterpieces from the period. Entry to the complex is free, and inside you'll find galleries, a theatre, and a cafe.

Hungry again? Settle in for lunch at the cafe within the Aubette complex, or snag a table at a brasserie on or around Place Kleber.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

European Parliament in Strasbourg, France

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3 p.m.: So far, you've focused mostly on Strasbourg's historic districts and sights, so it's time to see a more contemporary side of the city.

Take Tram line B or E (both have stations nearby Place Kleber) northeast to reach the European Parliament stop. You're now in the heart of the European District, the seat of the European Parliament, Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights. After Brussels, this is the most important site for European Union policymaking.

Start by admiring the metal, glass and wood facade of the European Parliament, whose elliptical shape seems to mimic the waters of the Ill. Built in 1999, it's often also compared to a ship.

Visitors can learn about the inner workings and history of the Parliament (and the European project) by visiting the permanent exhibit at the Simone Veil Parliamentarium, complete with touchscreen tables and a 360-degree theatre.

You can also take a free, 90-minute guided tour of the entire European district to get a more in-depth overview of its history, architecture, and current-day activities.

If time allows, consider a stop just south at the Parc de l'Orangerie, Strasbourg's largest park and green space. Boasting thousands of trees, flowers and other plants as well as ample space for picnics on the grass, it's a haven of greenery and wildlife—and one of Europe's oldest public parks.

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Footbridge in Neustadt, Strasbourg, France

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5:30 p.m.: To start your second evening off in style, take Tram Line E from the European District to reach the République station and square. You're now in the Neustadt, a vibrant area near the center primarily built in the early 20th century, when Strasbourg temporarily belonged to Germany. (It became French again following World War II.)

Famous for its diverse architectural styles—from 19th-century German to Art Nouveau, Italian and Neo-Gothic, the area is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Wander through its enormous squares, tree-lined boulevards, formal gardens and quieter corners to encounter a different side of the city. Place de la République, Avenue de la Liberté, and Rue Sellenick are among the noteworthy streets and areas to explore.

7:30 p.m.: For dinner in Neustadt, head to Les Innocents, a modern wine bar and restaurant with a fresh take on French and Alsatian cuisine (and a great wine list). Otherwise, there are plenty of good places for a casual or more formal meal in Neustadt and around the city center; this list and searchable database from the tourist office is a good start.

Fancy a nightcap to end your 48 hours on a celebratory note? Try places like the Academie de la Bière, where you can choose from among dozens of different European beers and ales. There are several locations around Strasbourg. For creative cocktails and excellent Belgian beers, try Les Frères Berthom, near the Cathedral.