The capital of Alsace and the capital of Europe, Strasbourg has had a turbulent history as a border city, the subject of territorial, political and military disputes for centuries. The city has been annexed and ceded many times, alternately coming under the rule of Germany and France. For a long time, it was the symbol of a divided and unstable Europe. That is why it was chosen as the seat of the European Parliament, the Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe.
Today, Strasbourg lives its Franco-German dual identity as a valuable asset, capable of reconciling French sophistication with German pragmatism. Perennially poised between the past and the present, Strasbourg has developed into a city rich in nuances and new trends: cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic on the one hand, due to the presence of students and workers from all over Europe, ancient and majestic on the other, thanks to the charm of the old city, with its historic buildings and imposing Gothic cathedral. Strasbourg has managed to reconcile its Alsatian soul with all the cultural, linguistic and architectural influences it has embraced over time.
The city glows with colour and lights in the summer months but transforms into an enchanted village in December during the Christmas markets.
A visit to the city of Strasbourg can only begin with its imposing and beautiful cathedral. Built with pink stone from the Voges Massif, Notre Dame Cathedral dates back to 1220 and is an absolute masterpiece of Gothic architecture: “amarvel of grandeur and gracefulness“, as Victor Hugo called it.
The cathedral leaves visitors speechless: take a look at its richly decorated portal, on which episodes from the Life of Jesus and figures of King Solomon with 14 lions are carved, the large rose window on the façade and the bell tower tow ering 143 metres above the city. Take your time to admire every detail of the façade, which can be compared to the largest picture book of the entire Middle Ages, thanks to the hundreds of carved statues recounting pages from the Bible and the Gospel. Moreover, the pink stone changes hue depending on the light, the time of day and the colour of the sky: in the warm light of summer sunsets, the cathedral is cloaked in an enchanting atmosphere.
A visit to the interior is also a must. Here, in addition to the beautiful stained glass windows, which create intense plays of light and colour, you can admire an incredible astronomical clock from the Renaissance period. Every day, at 12.30 p.m. on the dot, the mechanisms of this complex clock start working and you can watch the procession of the apostles before Christ, while a rooster crows three times.
Finally, you can climb to the top of the spire to admire the view of Strasbourg from above. After the 332 steps of a strenuous spiral staircase, you reach a panoramic terrace: on a clear and windy day, you can even see Germany.
Undoubtedly, Petite France is Strasbourg’s oldest and most famous district, which has remained intact despite the passage of centuries. It was once the place where tanners’, fishermen’s and millers’ shops were concentrated, due to the abundance of water from the Rhine River.
Today, it is the most photographed and picturesque corner of the city, a strip of land in the middle of the water, a pedestrian island that divides the river into five arms: strolling unhurriedly to discover the most romantic views, you can admire the cobbled streets, the perfectly preserved old buildings from the 1500s, with their sloping roofs, pastel colours and half-timbered façades.
The atmosphere is so romantic that it has earned this district the name Little Venice of the North.
The city of Strasbourg was built on the waters of the Rhine River and taking a canal boat tour is definitely the best way to see it from a new perspective.
There are several tours, of different durations, that will take you on a discovery tour of Strasbourg: some only go along the canals through the historic centre, particularly in the Petite France, others go as far as the European institution buildings.
La Petite France is connected to the rest of the city by Les Ponts Couverts, three very scenic bridges, once covered, linking three medieval fortified towers. These structures served to reinforce the defence of the river routes in case of attack.
Walking in this area you will have a wonderful view of the city, with a picture postcard panorama that becomes even more magical with the evening lights.
Right in front of the covered bridges is the Vauban Dam: at the top of the building is a belvedere offering a wonderful view of the canals.
The dam, named after the military engineer who designed it, was designed to defend the city in the event of a siege: by closing the arches and sluices, the water level would rise and all the surrounding fields would be flooded. In this way, the enemy armies were stuck in the mud.
This is a must-see attraction in Strasbourg, to be admired especially in the warm light of sunset or at night with the enchanting reflections on the water.
The Cathedral Square is the nerve centre of Strasbourg and some of the city’s oldest and most beautiful buildings stand here. The most striking is surely Casa Kammerzell, which belonged to a wealthy cheese merchant.
This incredible half-timbered house, built of wood and fitted with 75 windows, is a true masterpiece of Alsatian architecture. Both the façade and the interior are decorated with mythological figures, animals, warriors, frescoes and spiral staircases. The ground floor was once used as a warehouse while the first floor housed private flats.
Today, the maison houses a luxury hotel and a fine restaurant serving traditional cuisine with a view of the cathedral, one of Strasbourg’s most affluent and famous restaurants.
Just a few steps from the cathedral is a lively square, named after Gutenberg, the German printer who invented modern printing and lived in Strasbourg for about 10 years, from 1434 to 1444. In the centre stands a statue erected in his honour.
In the Middle Ages, the square was the political and administrative centre of the city and still houses the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a Renaissance building in which the free city council met until the Revolution.
Place Kléber, just a few metres away from Place Gutenberg, is a popular square for Strasburgers. It is named after a famous French general, celebrated by the statue in the centre of the square. It is surrounded by impressive period buildings in rococo and art nouveau style. The most important is certainly the Aubette, a pink sandstone building dating back to 1770, where soldiers received their orders every morning.
Entirely pedestrianised and full of gushing fountains, this large square is the city’s meeting point for major cultural and traditional events, and at Christmas hosts the largest decorated fir tree in the city.
The Palais des Rohan is an immense princely residence in the heart of the city and one of the most important historical monuments of the Grande Île. In fact, this opulent residence, which has remained intact over time, is one of the most beautiful architectural achievements in France, thanks to the classical majesty of its facades and its sumptuous interior decoration. Having housed as many as four princes of the Rohan family, it is now home to three museums.
The Archaeological Museum traces the entire history of Alsace from prehistoric times through the Gallo-Roman era to the first centuries of the Middle Ages. The collections continue to be regularly enriched by the product of archaeological excavations carried out throughout the region.
The Museum of Decorative Arts, installed on the ground floor of the Palais Rohan, consists of two sections: the sumptuous flats of the cardinals of Rohan and the decorative arts collections of Strasbourg, focusing mainly on the history of applied arts in Strasbourg in the 18th century. The museum also presents a selection of mechanical toys.
The Museum of Fine Arts represents the most interesting pole: it offers a fascinating panorama of the history of painting in Europe from its beginnings until 1870 with Italian, Flemish, Spanish and French painters of the calibre of Giotto, Botticelli, Rubens, Canaletto, Tiepolo, Goya and Delacroix.
For those who have little time or are not interested in visiting the museums, we recommend taking photos of the palace’s magnificent exterior and courtyards.
Situated on the banks of the river in a typical 17th century house, the Alsatian Museum offers visitors a fascinating journey through the old buildings of Strasbourg, connected by stairs and wooden walkways. Various historical rooms have been reconstructed, such as the stùb (common room) of a farm, the kitchens, and the workshop of a pharmacist-alchemist, all accompanied by thousands of original objects of rural life in Alsace in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The visitor tiptoes through all the rooms. It feels like entering a house whose inhabitants have just left: creaking floors, furniture in every room and objects that evoke the life of a bygone era.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
As Christmas approaches, Strasbourg is adorned in its most magical garb. The streets, houses, church facades, windows and balconies shine with a thousand lights thanks to countless decorations, from the most traditional to the most original.
The city becomes a fairy tale thanks to its famous Christmas Markets, which have enveloped Strasbourg in a magical festive aura since 1570. 300 wooden chalets invade the streets of the old city centre with their load of gifts, Christmas decorations of every kind, shape and colour, traditional Christmas delicacies smelling of cinnamon and food stands to taste Alsatian cuisine.
Wandering around aimlessly browsing the stalls, listening to Christmas carols, admiring the spectacular illuminations will be like taking a trip into the Christmas spirit.
For those wishing to explore the city in greater depth, we recommend the Strasbourg City Pass, a block of coupons to detach, valid for 3 consecutive days from the date of purchase.
It contains free access to the canal boat tour, the astronomical clock and a visit to a museum of your choice from: Rohan Palace (with decorative arts museum, fine arts museum and archaeological museum), Oeuvre Notre-Dame Museum, Alsatian Museum, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, History Museum, Zoological Museum,
Tomi Ungerer Museum/International Centre of Illustration.
It also grants half-price admission to a further 6 attractions: a second museum of your choice (from those listed above), a climb up to the cathedral’s viewing terrace, a visit to the cathedral with an audio guide, a mini tram ride, admission to the Vaisseau, and a tour of the old town.
Strasbourg is a city at once ancient and traditional, cosmopolitan and modern. This translates into a mix of different neighbourhoods, in which it is almost always possible to find accommodation to suit all budgets and tastes.
When looking for accommodation in Strasbourg, you will find that you have a wide choice of hotels, B&Bs and flats, obviously more expensive in the centre near the Petite France and the Cathedral, but with excellent value for money if you move to areas just outside the centre, such as the Orangerie, the European Parliament district or the Krutenau.
In addition, the dense transport network allows for quick travel and connections, even for those who choose to sleep outside the centre.
The most convenient way to get to Strasbourg is to land at Strasbourg Airport, which is located 10 km by motorway from the centre. To reach the heart of the city, simply use the shuttle trains that connect it to Strasbourg station in 9 minutes.
If, on the other hand, you wish to travel by train, Strasbourg station is served by the TGV network: you can reach Paris in 1 hour 46 minutes. There are several useful train connections: 45 minutes from Karlsruhe, Germany, 2 hours 10 minutes from Dijon, 3 hours from Lille, 3 hours 50 minutes from Lyon, 4 hours from Brussels.
What's the weather at Strasbourg? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Strasbourg for the next few days.
Strasbourg is located on the Rhine River, 1 hour's drive from Baden Baden, 2 hours from Stuttgart and 1 hour 40 from Basel, Switzerland.
City Card allow you to save on public transport and / or on the entrances to the main tourist attractions.