8 ways to get the most out of Strasbourg

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Kerry Walker

Kerry Walker

Capital of Alsace, Strasbourg* has big city sights and a small-town soul. You'll be blown away by the storybook looks of its historic centre, whopping Gothic cathedral and canal-riven Petite France neighbourhood.

Top tips for getting the most out of a visit to Strasbourg, France © Sina Ettmer - Adobe Stock Image
Top tips for getting the most out of a visit to Strasbourg, France © Sina Ettmer - Adobe Stock Image

But this is equally a city on the move, home to the glittering high-rises of the EU Quarter and France's biggest mosque. The city fizzes with students and artists who zhuzh up the nightlife, live music and cultural scenes.

And urban slips seamlessly into outdoors in one of France's greenest cities, with parks and gardens spread along the banks of the River Ill, humming with walkers, joggers, cyclists, families and picnickers when the sun's out.

Identity-wise, Strasbourg moves to its own beat, mixing up French and German influences in its dialect, architecture, food and wine as only it knows how.

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Gawp at Strasbourg's Gothic cathedral

Hogging the limelight, Strasbourg Cathedral, or Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg is an absolute knockout. Squeezing into every pic of the city, this goliath of a Gothic cathedral is capped off by a 142m-high spire.

The world's tallest cathedral for 227 years (from 1647 to 1874), it took almost 350 years to build, with the finishing brick laid in 1429. Hewn from pink sandstone from the nearby Vosges mountains, the cathedral is a riot of flying buttresses, filigree spires and impish gargoyles.

Notre Dame Cathedral looming over Strasbourg © Maria Sbytova - Adobe Stock Image
Notre Dame Cathedral looming over Strasbourg © Maria Sbytova - Adobe Stock Image

Inside, you'll be dazzled by a kaleidoscope of medieval stained glass. For more insight into its history and architecture, pick up an audio guide at the nearby tourist office for a self-guided spin.

Arrive in good time to catch its ornate Renaissance astronomical clock in action; its parade of animated figures performs at 12.30 pm on the dot. You'll find other ecclesiastical treasures in the neighbouring Musée de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame, which is heavy on Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance sculpture.

Explore historic Grande-Île

Grande-Île is the historic heart of Strasbourg's UNESCO World Heritage site; a maze of cobblestone lanes, wonky, half-timbered houses and café-lined plazas on the banks of the River Ill that's especially fetching when lantern lit by night.

Marvel at medieval Maison Kammerzell (on the left) © H-AB Photography - Adobe Stock Image
Marvel at medieval Maison Kammerzell (on the left) © H-AB Photography - Adobe Stock Image

The cathedral is the scene-stealer, but you'll also want to clock the neighbouring 15th-century Maison Kammerzell; fairy-tale stuff with its intricate wood carvings and leaded windows.

Grande-Île is full of sparkle during December's Christmas markets but otherwise, come on market day to see it at its atmospheric best. On Saturday mornings, catch the fish market on Place du Marché and the farmers' and antique market on Rue de la Douane.

To spot landmarks from the water, hop on a Batorama tour (boats depart from the pontoon behind the cathedral).

Eat like an Alsatian in a winstub

Give the crowds on Place de la Cathédrale the slip and dive deep into Strasbourg's warren of back alleys to pin down a good old-fashioned winstub (wine tavern) for lunch or dinner.

A quick toddle from the cathedral, La Vieille Enseigne keeps its menu seasonal and regional, with hearty Alsatian faves like choucroute garnie (sauerkraut with lashes of sausages and salted meats) and tarte á l'oignon (onion tart).

A five-minute stroll north, Le Clou is warm, wood-panelled and ever so cosy. Here you can dig into classics like presskopf (pig's head terrine), baeckeoffe (mutton, beef and pork casserole) and fat wädele (pork knuckles).

But if you only eat one thing in Strasbourg, make it flammekueche (tartes flambée), thin, crisp Alsatian pizza, topped with fromage blanc or crème fraîche, onions and lardons.

Binchstub does some of the best, using local farm ingredients (try the one with goat's cheese, thyme and honey).

Dive into the past at the municipal baths

You can make a very graceful splash at Strasbourg's recently revamped Bains Municipaux just east of Grande-Île. Originally designed by German city planner, architect and painter Fritz Beblo, the municipal baths wing you back to the glory days of Art Nouveau.

It's a terrific place for post-sightseeing relaxation. Come to swim laps under domed ceilings or relax in the Roman Baths with their hot and cold baths and sauna. And the outdoor infinity pool is pretty special, with its sauna, gardens and incredible views of the cathedral's spire.

Prefer to bathe in beer? At Taaka Beer Spa, you can go for a bubble in a larch bathtub brimming with malt, hops and brewer's yeast. While you're bathing, they'll bring you beers crafted by local microbreweries.

Stroll canal-woven Petite France

One of the joys of Strasbourg is going for an aimless amble, or balade as the French say, in its narrow back alleys and along its quays. And there's no finer place to do just that than in Petite France.

The pretty houses of Petite France © Galina Samoylovich - Dreamstime.com
The pretty houses of Petite France © Galina Samoylovich - Dreamstime.com

Crisscrossed with canals, this insanely pretty district looks like something Disney dreamed up, with rows of half-timbered houses in brilliant pastels casting reflections into the water. The street names nod to the medieval artisans that once plied their trades here (tanners, lacemakers and the like).

To see the canal-laced district from above and get a great shot of the Ponts Couverts (Covered Bridges), head up to the panoramic terrace of the Barrage Vauban (Vauban Dam), a masterpiece of 17th-century military engineering.

The district is swamped in summer, so come in the early morning or evening to dodge the biggest crowds.

Keep it sweet

Strasbourg has a serious sweet tooth, which makes it hard to resist the flurry of patisseries, chocolatiers, macaron shops and confectioners huddling down its historic lanes.

For a taste of Christmas year-round, nip into cinnamon-scented Mireille Oster for exquisite handmade pains d'épices (gingerbread), shaped into hearts or studded with almonds, plums and morello cherries.

If you prefer eclairs, pastries, truffles and pralines, Patisserie Christian tempts. Or stock up on bredele (Christmas biscuits), featherlight macarons and kougelhopf (ring-shaped brioche cake) at the Maison Alsacienne de Biscuiterie.

If you're a massive chocolate fan, the Musée du Chocolat, just south of town, is the dream, with insights into the chocolate-making process, tastings and workshops where you can whip up your own chocolate bar or spread.

Go gallery hopping

Palais Rohan is the icing on Strasbourg's cultural cake. Housed in an 18th-century episcopal palace, this mini Versailles shelters three outstanding museums, devoted to architecture, decorative arts and fine arts (with masterpieces from Botticelli to Canaletto) under one lavish roof.

At the other end of the spectrum, the MAMCS (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art) displays fine art, graphic art and photography in a sleek glass-and-steel cube by the riverfront.

Here, Monet originals hang out with Magritte, Picasso and Rodin works. Strasbourg-born artists also sneak into the picture, with abstract wonders by Hans Jean Arp and compelling biblical scenes by Gustave Doré.

Just north of the centre in the stately Prussian Neustadt district, the Musée Tomi Ungerer zooms in on Alsatian artist, writer, cartoonist and local legend Tomi Ungerer (1931 to 2019).

Housed in the lovely Villa Greiner, the collection presents 8,000 original drawings, sketches, sculptures and posters from children's book illustrations to political satire.

Raise a glass to Alsatian wine

Strasbourg is but a cork pop away from the vineyards of Alsace. For a deep dive into winemaking traditions, hook onto the 170 km Route des Vins d'Alsace.

One of France's most magical drives, it swings through the wooded foothills of the Vosges, ticking off castles, caves (wine cellars) open for tastings, and one insanely pretty half-timbered town after the next (top billing goes to Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé).

The route begins in Marlenheim, just west of Strasbourg, and weaves its way south to Thann.

Enjoy wine tasting at the Cave des Hospices - photo courtesy of Cave des Hospices de Strasbourg
Enjoy wine tasting at the Cave des Hospices - photo courtesy of Cave des Hospices de Strasbourg

Back in town, go for a tour and tasting among the ancient, musty barrels of the Cave des Hospices, a brick-vaulted cellar from 1395 tucked away in Strasbourg's hospital.

Or for a primer on Alsatian wine, check out newcomer L'Alsace à Boire, a nouveau-chic wine bar and shop.

Bringing together the cream of Alsace's independent winemakers under one roof, this is a stylish spot to sip, socialise and discuss the finer nuances of rieslings, pinots, muscats and gewürztraminers.

Weather in Strasbourg

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall

The above guide shows the weather in Strasbourg. Find out more about conditions across the country in our complete guide to the weather in France.

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Kerry Walker

Kerry Walker
Posted on Friday 13th January 2023 in: City Culture Europe

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