If you’ve been to Strasbourg you’ll know that one visit just isn’t enough. So when the opportunity to return for a night came up, I was straight on the DB website booking train tickets. As luck would have it, Strasbourg is just as wonderful at Christmas as it is in the summer. To get the full splendiferous effect, you’ll need to stay past sunset.
From that introduction, you’ll have gathered I really love this Alsatian city – and if you’re looking for travel inspiration, don’t forget to check out my earlier visit to Strasbourg. You’ll get an idea of just how beautiful this place is during its sunny summer days. For now though, it’s all about December.
We visited on the 30th November and 1st December 2017.
Titled as the Capitale de Noël, or the Christmas Capital, you’d be right to expect something a little bit special here.
With its famous Christmas Tree, illuminations, pretty wooden chalets, bredele cakes and hot wine, there’s always magic in the air at Strasbourg’s Christmas Markets. | Noel.Strasbourg.EU
There’s some easy to read information on the history of the Strasbourg Christmas Markets at their website, if you’re curious. For those less so but still mildly interested, it’s probably worth knowing that 1570 was the first year that the Christmas market appeared. That means Strasbourg has some of the oldest Christmas market traditions in Europe! You’ll get bonus points for knowing that this city’s markets were also the very first to be held in France (when that comes up in the Pub Quiz, mine’s a dark rum and coke please).
It’s important to remember that Strasbourg used to be part of the German Rhineland, so traditions you’d associate with both Germany and France mingle together here inextricably. It’s all part of the unique heritage of the area, which you’ll see in the food, the buildings and – of course – the Christmas markets.
Lit by thousands of twinkling, sparkling and glowing lights, Strasbourg looks magical when dressed up for Christmas. Once the sun has started setting, lots of little bulbs flicker to life and illuminate the streets and markets for all who visit.
One of the most striking visuals here is the massive 28 metre tall Christmas tree. Located at the Place Kléber, the decorated branches offer the perfect photo op. It’s very much unmissable (quite literally – the tree dominates the square!).
If you’re lucky and find the square just after a heavy rain shower, you’ll be rewarded with a view like this…
The Christmas Markets
Naturally, Christmas Markets look their most special in the evening – and Strasbourg is no exception. Though if you can’t spend the night in the city, it’s still a lovely place to spend the day.
Spread out over 9 different locations, visitors will find a mixture of arts, crafts and jewellery, Christmas decorations and traditional treats. We found some very unusual and unique things at these markets – but if you’re looking for something traditionally German, there’s a Käthe Wohlfahrt by the Cathedral too.
Each year Strasbourg invites a guest country to join in the festivities and host a market of their own. In 2017, a small market representing Iceland took its place at Place Gutenberg. For the curious, have a read of this article from Iceland Review. For me the highlight was the incredibly blue illuminated tree (below).
Market Food & Drink
With somewhere in the region of 300 chalets located around the city, you’ll have plenty of choice for browsing, shopping, eating and drinking. And as we know I love the latter two activities, let me tell you – some of the mulled wine here is brilliant. Practicalities first though.
Drinks are served in plastic cups and require a deposit. Depending on what your tipple of choice is, expect to pay between €3 and €5 on average for a drink, plus a €1 deposit. You can return these plastic cups to any stall that uses them and get your Euro back. We tried mulled cider as well as both mulled red and white wines. It’s worth trying drinks at different stalls, as though they’re broadly the same you’ll find minor differences.
We discovered the mulled red wine (vin chaud rouge) from a stand by the Cathedral was much less sweet than the German version we’ve become used to. Heading back to the same stall the day after though and the drink was just as sugary as in Germany! It turned out that the prior evening a Frenchman was in charge of mulling the wine – and the following day it was a German. I think there’s something to be said for regional and local preferences.
Our favourite drink came from a stall at the Terrasse Rohan. They only sold mulled white wine – a light and fruity blend which wasn’t at all sugary, accented with chunks of orange. We visited more than once! You’ll also get a lovely view over the river from here with plenty of space to linger in. Be sure to have a nosey around the stalls too, it’s mostly edible goods and even Maison Alsacienne had a chalet!
As with Colmar, it’s much more common to find things topped with bacon than it is to find bratwurst. Expect to see plenty of baguette portions slathered with cheese and bacon lardons!
Biscuits, pastries and cakes are never far away though. If you get on well with all manner of sugar infused goodies, make sure to check out the local gingerbread. It’s called Pain d’épices à l’ancienne and in particular you’ll want to find the one with crystallised sugar on top – it tastes like a ginger sticky toffee cake! So good.
Just to make sure your waistline takes a proper hammering whilst you’re here, stop by Mireille Oster for some more interesting and unique gingerbreads. It’s expensive (of course), but excellent. They’ve got a market stall at Place Broglie too!
The Strasbourg Christmas Markets run from around the 24th November til the end of December. Make sure to check all important dates before booking your trip!
If you’re planning on being in the area for more than a day, why not check out the Christmas Markets at Colmar too? It’s smaller and has a different atmosphere to Strasbourg but is very much worth a visit.
Bonus Foodie Tip
Entirely unrelated to Christmas but a must for chocolate lovers is Bistrot et Chocolat. Located in the shadow of the Cathedral, this cute place is open from 11am during the week and 10am at the weekend. Pop in for brunch, lunch or dinner – or stop for a hot chocolate to escape the snow, as we did.
Bistrot et Chocolat obviously prides itself on using quality ingredients, so you’ll find a seriously large range of freshly prepared hot chocolates made with the chocolate of your choice. And if you like it… well, you can always treat yourself to a bar of the Valrhona they’re using!
If you’re vegan, gluten intolerant or have any other allergies, this is also a great place to scout out for somewhere to eat. Their menu is clearly marked with quite a comprehensive list of allergens and their dishes of the day tend to be vegan, or gluten free… or both! Happy times!