Just a stones throw over the German border and into France sits Strasbourg. It’s the capital city of the Alsace region and just oozes charm, with the rather unique blend of French and German influences creating a warm, captivating city full of character and fairy-tale buildings. Visiting Strasbourg really should be on your must-see travel list!
This is an old city, with the first recorded mention of it dating back to 12 B.C. Located on the River Ill, the historic heart of Strasbourg is actually an island known as the Grande Île. Designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, the city centre is filled with quaint streets and breathtakingly beautiful buildings.
We visited mid-week in June 2017.
Travelling from Munich, we chose to book onto the TGV train. It’s a direct route, though it’s not particularly cheap – especially if you’ve been used to travelling through Germany using discounted passes like the Bayern Ticket.
Setting off from the Hauptbahnhof, it departs not long after 6am and arrives in Strasbourg just after 10am. At just shy of four hours travelling, it’s an easy train ride that gets you to France nice and early so you can make the most of your day.
If you’re looking to make this journey by train from any other part of Germany, it’s probably best to get to Karlsruhe first. Seat reservations will be required for the border crossing journey, but going by either the TGV or ICE trains will cost around €30 per person for the 40 minute journey.
Because seat reservations are required – and I cannot stress this enough – do book early. Prices rise closer to the departure date and you’re risking not being able to get a seat. This happened to us and we had to choose a First Class ticket in order to book! The early bird most definitely catches the worm here.
Many of the buildings in this city date from the 16th and 17th centuries. The half-timbered houses are perhaps the most iconic of the buildings here – and deservedly so. They’re utterly beautiful and though (arguably) the most picturesque photographs can be taken in the area of Petite France, when exploring the Grande Île you’ll find beautiful buildings around almost every corner.
Wandering through the city with barely an idea of where we were heading was the best idea we could have had for Strasbourg. And whilst I accept that just randomly wandering through unknown streets might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the city held so many unexpected surprises – it felt like every corner we took held something new to fall in love with.
I actually can’t think of anything better I’d have enjoyed in this French town.
We stumbled across the Spitaltor (above, top), a tower that formed part of the city walls expansion during the early 1200’s and gazed at St. Paul’s Church (above, middle) from a distance… We wandered up and down narrow streets and cobblestone paths, watching them spill out into courtyards or pavement eateries.
Using Google Maps just to make sure we’d not missed anything, we spent much of the day zigzagging around the heart of Strasbourg.
Naturally you’ll also find a good shopping district here and I swear that if you’re not in a cheese, bread or sweet shop – you’ll be looking at one. On our 33 degrees hot day, we didn’t dare go chocolate shopping though…
A quick tip for any British expat living in Germany – whilst you’re here, head to a supermarket like Monoprix. You’ll be amazed at the things you can easily find from home here! If you’ve got luggage room, it’s a great place to stock up.
Fancy seeing the city from a different perspective? Well, there are two boat tours journeying along the waterways around Strasbourg! Lasting either 45 minutes or 1 hour and 15 minutes, the Batorama offers a reasonably priced tour of the city (and a chance to rest your feet!). If you’re interested, consider checking with your hotel before booking – ours offered discount vouchers!
La Petite France
The Petite France, a picture-postcard quarter once home to tanners, fishermen and millers, is a haven of peace at the heart of the city. | Us.France.Fr
Filled with colourful flowers, beautiful buildings and set against blue skies… what more could I want?
Despite having seen this area of Strasbourg on Pinterest repeatedly, the photographs really don’t do it justice. With something so hyped up, there’s always the potential for disappointment – thankfully though, it didn’t. La Petite France is a gorgeous place to wander around.
The magnificent half-timbered houses date from the 16th and 17th centuries. Their sloping roofs open out onto lofts where hides were once dried. | Tourism-Alsace
Fun fact? La Petite France is actually named after a 16th century hospital which treated venereal diseases. In German, syphilis is known as ‘the French disease’ (Franzosenkrankheit) – and so the quaint name comes from a rather unpleasant infection. The more you know…
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg
The cathedral, “a gigantic and delicate marvel” in the words of Victor Hugo, can be seen from miles around. With its spire reaching a height of 142 metres, it remained the highest building in Christendom until the 19th century! | Us.France.Fr
The Gothic masterpiece is fronted by a large, open square – filled with tourists and lined with souvenir shops and eateries. It’s worth moving beyond the crowds though to get a closer look at the building itself, decorated with some wonderful sculptures and gargoyles.
Another interesting aspect of the cathedral is the astronomical clock, complete with a chiming skeletal representation of death and moving figures. Seeing it chiming in person will require arriving early and buying a ticket – but if you’ve missed out or don’t fancy the queues, there’s a look at the clock on YouTube.
Whilst you’re at the front of the cathedral, take a quick glance down the street. You’ll see the Kammerzell house (above, right). The ground floor dates from 1467, with the upper stories rebuilt in 1589 and decorated with inspiration from the Bible, Greek and Roman Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
Beyond the Grande Île
Stepping away from the historic heart of Strasbourg doesn’t mean you’ll be left with nothing to see. There’s the Place de la République, located in the German Quarter and edged by the Rhine Palace, the University Library (above) and the National Theatre.
Explore further and you’ll find the Parc de l’Orangerie – it’s the oldest park in Strasbourg and entirely free to enter. There’s a small collection of animals (which I wasn’t entirely thrilled by), the opportunity to rent a boat on the lake and there’s plenty of space for locals to come and relax. The small University Botanical Gardens is also free, though perhaps only suited for the botanical enthusiast.
Don’t forget to look up and check the chimneys – you’ll often see storks nesting on them! You can well understand why the stork is a symbol of the Alsace!
And finally, I couldn’t really finish this post on visiting Strasbourg without mentioning that it’s home to the European Parliament!
Looking for more ideas and inspiration for what to see and do whilst you’re in Strasbourg? Check out the list below!
- Canals and Cathedrals: What to Do and See in Strasbourg | On the Luce
- Strasbourg, France Is A Beautiful, Walkable City | Travelling Mom
- A short break in Strasbourg, France | Adventuring & Things
- How to Spend 2 Days in Fairytale Strasbourg, France | Adventurous Miriam
- 3 ways to explore the stunning city of Strasbourg France | Contented Traveller