Last year, France was the most visited country in the entire world. While an amazing accomplishment, it seems that many tourists don’t know much about the country outside of Paris. Paris may be reeling in the majority of “je t’aime’s”, but there are many other regions and cities to be explored, offering a more quaint charm with still plenty to do. A perfect example of this is Strasbourg.
Strasbourg, located in the Alsace region along the Rhine River border with Germany, exudes charisma with a historic city center surrounded by canals with grand architecture reminiscent of Haussmann’s Parisian style on one side of the river and provincial timbered houses on the other. This dichotomy is ever present in Strasbourg; German and French elements, a large hip student population coexisting with an older traditional generation who speak to each other in the dying Alsatian language, and a city seemingly stuck in time that also pushes progress as the home of European Parliament. Wander the cobblestone streets and simply admire the city that some believe to be amongst the most beautiful in the world or check out some of our recommended additional activities while in Strasbourg.
Cathedral Notre Dame
Praised by famed authors like Hugo and Goethe, this beautifully ornate Gothic church upon its completion in 1647, was the world’s tallest building for 227 years at 466 feet. Now it stands as the symbol of Strasbourg towering over busy town squares and stereotypical French cafes. Visitors are allowed to climb the winding, narrow staircase to an observation deck below Strasbourg Cathedral’s long spire, for an excellent vantage point to get a better idea of the city’s layout as the historic center, known as Le Grand Ile, is fully surrounded by canals. From the top, admire the architecture as the Cathedral incorporates Romanesque features and has great examples of flying buttresses and a notable apse. Inside, the Strasbourg Cathedral houses a famous astronomical clock known for its complexity and its place as one of the largest functioning clocks of its kind.
Adjacent to the Cathedral, Palais Rohan is one of the first buildings to truly embrace the classic French architectural style. The former home of a noble French family, the landmark is now used in a variety of ways. It has long served as a host to important French leaders, like Napoleon, as well as visiting foreign dignitaries, such as Barack Obama. Currently, the palace is also a three-part museum: the basement is an archaeological museum, the first and second floors a fine arts museum, and a lateral wing serves as the home to temporary exhibits.
The Barrage Vauban is both a walking bridge and a dam that was originally built as a defensive blockade of the River Ill. The building now encloses a multitude of artwork and statues but is perhaps best known for having one of the greatest views in Strasbourg. The viewing terrace on the roof offers a direct view of Le Petite France, an exceptionally attractive quarter of the city with unique architecture and flower-lined canals, along with the Ponts Couverts, a series of bridges and towers that were once the original protective sentinels of the city.
Relax in a Park
The architecture and history of Strasbourg gets a lot of praise but the city also has a number of well-manicured parks that are worth a visit. Our personal favorite is Parc de l’Orangerie, a large park complete with a pond with rowboat rentals, a small zoo enclosure, and a popular bar with billiards and a bowling alley. The park presents a great opportunity to observe the unofficial mascots of Strasbourg — the cigogne blanche, or white stork, which makes a massive nest on the tops of many of the trees. Tourists should take full advantage of the French lifestyle and come to any park prepared with a bottle of wine, smelly cheese, a baguette, and time to kill.
Strasbourg Christmas Market
While this one is seasonal-dependent, like Strasbourg, its reputation is quickly growing. Strasbourg’s Christmas Market is believed to be the largest across the globe, causing many to declare Strasbourg the Christmas Capital of the World. Lasting usually from the last week of November until the first in January, the Noel celebrations include open-air markets stretched across twelve locations in the city, with more than 300 stalls. Some of the highlights include the kiosks resting in the shadow of the Cathedral that sell holiday trinkets and hot spiced wine, as well as the view in Place Kleber, one of Strasbourg’s main squares, in which the city sets up an impressive Christmas tree.