Strasbourg is a fascinating mix of Germany and France and combines their traditions, languages, architectural styles, and cuisines. The city has been tossed about between the two countries for centuries, but currently, it flourishes as a thoroughly modern metropolis in the Alsace region. It is considered the symbolic heart of modern Europe.
At the end of World War II, the victors and new world powers encouraged the Council of Europe to set up their headquarters in Strasbourg. The thinking was that the city was well-located on the border marked by the Rhine River and seemed a reasonable place for reconciliation and friendship. It would be the symbol of a peaceful Europe. As a result, Strasbourg also became the official home to other European institutions, including the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights. Today, the city holds dual titles: Capital of Alsace and Capital of Europe.
Strasbourg has an abundance of modern tourist attractions and an excellent public transportation system. You could spend several days visiting the city’s superb gardens, parks, markets, churches, and museums. But, if you have only a day or two, you’ll find the majority of the top attractions on Le Grand Île.
Stop by the Tourist Office at 17 Place de la Cathédrale for information and a map. Consider buying a three-day Strasbourg Pass. The cost is 21,50 € per adult and 10 € to 15 € for kids. Each pass offers three consecutive days of free, half-price, or discounted prices on entrance tickets to many of the city’s attractions.
At the heart of the city is the Grand Île (Big Island), with two areas designed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is surrounded by two waterways, the River Île and the Canal du Faux-Rempart. The most interesting historical treasure is a medieval settlement called Le Petite France on the far western end of the island. It is packed with ancient relics and modern vitality.
In 2017, UNESCO added the Neustadt district to its list of heritage sites. This area, on the north end of the island, was created under German control from 1871 to 1918. Most construction in La Petite France was completed much earlier. Neustadt has wider, straighter streets and the buildings feature more varied architectural styles, including Art Nouveau.
During the warmer months, locals and visitors flock to the public squares and sip drinks at outdoor cafés. In December, everybody hurries to the Christmas markets to scoop up seasonal crafts and one-of-a-kind gifts.
The Gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral, with its pink sandstone façade (started in 1277) and distinctive tower (completed in 1439) rises over the island. It is a handy navigational site that can be seen from most parts of the city. Next door, the Museum of Notre Dame takes up several buildings dating from the 14th and 16th centuries and displays extraordinary medieval sculptures. Some masterpieces are from 15th-century German artists. Also, there is an excellent series of stained-glass windows and decorative objects produced in Strasbourg.
Rohan Palace on the bank of the River Île is the former home of the Bishops of Strasbourg and today contains several excellent museums. The Bishops took up residence on this site in 1262, but the current structure was built in 1731. Now, the palace houses Musée des Beaux-Arts, Musée Archéologique, and Musée des Arts décoratifs.
All this history and art may make you thirsty, so head across the street to Bistro et Chocolat, (8 Rue de la Râpe) for the best hot cocoa in town.
A three-minute walk brings you to the remarkable Maison Kammerzell (Kammerzell House). You’ll probably recognize the much photographed majestic façade. The house is named for the grocer who owned it in the 1800s. However, its current appearance is credited to a cheese merchant who bought the house in the 1500s and added the three corbel-arched upper floors and loft.
There’s an excellent restaurant inside Kammerzell, but for something more casual, grab a table on the patio at Au Dauphin (13 Place de la Cathédrale, 03 88 21 01 46) and enjoy a flammkuchen (pizza) and Alsatian beer.
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Le Petite France is the island’s most exciting and scenic section; only a short distance away along picture-perfect streets. During the 16th and 17th centuries, this neighborhood was home to the city’s craftsmen and fishermen. One of the most attention-grabbing structures is the Maison des Tanneurs (Tanner’s House), which is now a restaurant located on Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes. In the past, the building’s roof was open to allow animal skins to dry.
Follow the Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes to Rue des Moulins and the (no longer) covered bridges, Ponts Couverts, that once provided the town’s defense on the River Île. When the bridge towers were built at the beginning in the 13th century, they were topped with wooden roofs. The covers were removed in 1784, but everyone still calls them the covered bridges. They were declared historical monuments in 1928.
Before you leave Petite France, consider dinner at the fabulous and pricey Michelin one-star Umami Restaurant at 8 Rue des Dentelles, phone:03 88 32 80 53.
To book a suitable hotel or other accommodation in, or near Strasbourg, 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 area, enter your preferred city/town/village in the ‘Where are you going?’ box.