The French city of Strasbourg has a very distinct “old-world” character with its elegant Louis XV buildings, charming burghers’ houses, and grand cathedral, all helping the city be one of the best places to visit in France. The Alsace region’s capital, Strasbourg is home to one of the largest medieval quarters in Europe. Cobbled streets in Petite France and Grand Île weave among timber-framed houses that have been around for hundreds of years. Since the city sits at the border of France and Germany in the Alsace region, you will find a mix of the two countries that gives the region its own unique culture. This is especially true when it comes to its food and wine. Here are the best things to do in Strasbourg:
Strasbourg Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg)
The Strasbourg Cathedral, or Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, sits in the heart of the UNESCO-listed Grande-Île district (Strasbourg’s historic center). For more than 200 years, the cathedral stood as the world’s tallest building and still remains as the tallest surviving structure built completely during the Medieval era. The Strasbourg Cathedral has incredible stained-glass windows that date back to the 12th to 14th centuries and a Renaissance astronomical clock known as the L’Horloge Astronomique.
Parc de l’Orangerie
Parc de l’Orangerie started during the revolution when over 100 orange trees were granted to the city after being confiscated from Château de Bouxwiller. Three of these trees still remain in the greenhouses that can be seen on certain days in the park. Today, there’s much more to Parc de l’Orangerie than orange trees. There’s a farm that’s great for kids to explore, a miniature zoo, grassy lawns, leafy walkways, and a large boating lake.
La Petite France/Quartier des Tanneurs
Quartier des Tanneurs, or also known as “La Petite France,” is Strasbourg’s most photogenic area with its half-timbered houses with flower-filled balconies lining the streets and winding canals. This part of the city was home to fishermen and leather tanners during the 16th and 17th centuries. One of the quarter’s most charming streets is the Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes, which is where you’ll find the Maison des Tanneurs, a Historic Monument that is now a restaurant overlooking the river. The Ponts Couverts are to the southwest and feature medieval defense towers.
The main Lutheran church after Strasbourg became a part of France in 1981, Église Saint-Thomas (Church of Saint-Thomas) was built around the 1520’s and is further proof of the cultural crossroads present in the city. The church is the region’s only example of a German-style hall church and was the center of the Lutheran movement during the rotestant Reformation of Alsace. There’s quite a bit to see inside, such as the romanesque sarcophagus of Bishop Adeloc dating back to the 1100’s and the gothic fresco of St. Michael.
Alsatian Wine and Beer
Alsace is France’s only wine region that primarily produces varietal wines. The most famous wines of this region are the dry Riesling and sweeter Gewürtztraminer. If you’re planning on taking the Alsace Wine Route, Strasbourg makes a great starting point to learn more about the region’s wines before heading down the road. The city also happens to be in the middle of the main beer region of France. One of the most well known breweries is Kronenbourg, but another one to check out in the Alsace region is Meteor.
Strasbourg Christmas Market
The Strasbourg Christmas Market is the most famous and oldest Christmas market in France, so make sure you don’t miss it if you’re visiting in December. The Strasbourg Christmas Market is actually multiple markets in the central squares of the city. Each of the markets have their own theme and you can find everything from sweets and traditional Alsatian food to handmade decorations.
The traditional food of Alsace is a blend of French and German cuisine. One of the most famous Alsatian dishes is the tarte flambée, which is bread dough rolled out like a flatbread pizza and traditionally topped with lardons (similar to bacon or pancetta), onion, and fromage blanc. You can also find several variations when it comes to toppings. Other Alsatian classics to try include the white Asparagus during the spring and Choucroute featuring sauerkraut, different kinds of sausages, potatoes, and cuts of pork. Winstubs (a traditional type of wine bar and restaurants specific to Alsace) are usually the best places to get a taste of the regional cuisine. Two of the best winstubs in Strasbourg are Le Fink’stuebel and Au coin de Pucelles.
Eglise Saint-Pierre le Jeune
One of the most interesting facts about Saint-Pierre le Jeune is that it was divided in two by the Catholics and Protestants for around 200 years (Catholics used the choir area, while the Protestants used the nave). The building features different period architecture as well. Vestiges of a 600’s Columban Church can be found in the crypt, while the cloister mostly dates back to the 1000’s. The nave of Saint-Pierre le Jeune, including its colorful frescoes, dates to the 14th and 15th centuries.