Like all of Alsace, Colmar has been German and French at various times throughout history. Before that, the region belonged to the Roman Empire. As a result the city is full of ancient treasures, which saved it from destruction during World War II. Even the bad guys couldn’t bring themselves to bomb the half-timbered houses and historically significant buildings.
The city center is small enough to visit on foot, and you can amble through this itinerary in a day. But there are enough sights, shops, and eateries to keep you fascinated and well-fed for two or three days.
Stop by the Tourist Office at the Unterlinden Museum on Place Unterlinden for information and a city map.
The Unterlinden Museum is an excellent starting point for your tour of Colmar. The recently renovated cluster of historical buildings and new construction connects via an underground gallery. This incredible architectural feat includes a canal, a public square with windows looking down into the new gallery, enclosed courtyards, fountains, and gardens.
Must-see exhibits include the 16th-century Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald located in the former convent’s chapel. The new Ackerhof building displays 20th-century art; the old Belle-Epoque-style bathhouse is now the Schongauer Café.
After the museum, hop on an open-air tourist trains for a tour of Old Town presented in several languages, including English, through individual headsets. Pick up information about the Little White Train (Le Petit Train Blanc) and Little Green Train (Petit Train Touristique de Colmar) from the office of tourism. The routes, cost, and presentations are similar, but the trains depart from different locations. The white train runs only from April through September; the green train runs year round.
After your guided train tour, walk the pedestrian-friendly streets. Many buildings lining the cobblestone streets date back to the Medieval and Renaissance periods when Colmar was an important commercial hub and center of art and culture. The sturdy, 16th and 17th century half-timbered houses seem more German than French.
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From the Place des Martyrs, near the Unterlinden Museum, take Rue Kléber to Rue des Têtes. Turn right/south to reach number 19 to gaze up at the 111 heads adorning Maison des Têtes, which is now an inn and restaurant. Farther along Kléber, turn onto Rue des Boulangers and walk to the Gothic-style Dominican Church on Rue des Serruriers/Place des Dominicains, worth a brief visit.
Rue des Serruriers curves into Rue de l’Eglise and Collégiale St-Martin on Place de la Cathédrale. This striking red sandstone edifice has never been a cathedral, but it stands on a square with that name and residents refer to it as Colmar Cathedral. Spend a few minutes appreciating the tiled roof and Gothic style, then step inside to view medieval altars and statues, and have a look at the impressive Baroque organ.
Take a shortcut from Saint Martin’s Church to Rue des Marchands by following a narrow walkway that runs next to the noteable Maison Adolph at 16 Place de la Cathedrale. Auguste Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty in New York City, was born in 1834 in the building at 30 Rue des Marchands, which now houses his museum. Inside are scale models of the artist’s work and mementos of his life.
Farther down Rue des Marchands, at the intersection of Grand Rue, you can’t miss the 15th-century Old Customs House (Koïfhus, Ancienne Douane) topped with a beautiful tile roof. The building has a long history that starts in the Middle Ages. Climb the stone steps for a striking view of Old Town’s streets lined with half-timbered houses.
From Place de l’ancienne Douane, behind Koïfhus, take Petite Rue des Tanneurs to Quartier des Tanneurs (the tanners’ quarter). This trendy neighborhood for business professionals was once a busy district for leather workers who used the upper floors of the houses for drying animal skins.
Petite Rue des Tanneurs leads to Quartier de la Krutenau (La Petite Venise), a district right out of a storybook. Half-timbered houses and restored shops line the narrow streets and canal off the River Launch, and many restaurants overlook the water. Little boats (barques) leave from the Saint Pierre Bridge and offer a unique view of Colmar from the canals. In the past, fishermen stored and sold their abundant catches in this neighborhood along Rue de la Poissonnerie.
To book a suitable hotel or other accommodation in, or near Colmar, you can use the map below, which shows current prices for hotels and apartments. To book further afield, then just enlarge the map (+/-) to see more properties or, if you are headed for a particular region, enter your preferred resort/town/village in the ‘Where are you going?’ box.