The third leg of my fall European trip: three days in Strasbourg, France’s eighth-largest city.
The territory of Alsace has gone back and forth between Germany and France many times throughout history. This game of tug-of-war has resulted in a city that is an enchanting blend of both cultures. As you walk from one neighborhood to another, you will notice buildings from many eras built in both the German and French styles.
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Strasbourg has a minor airport (SXB). However, the large and better-served airports in the area are Stuttgart, Frankfurt, and Zurich. It would probably be better to plan a regional road trip itinerary, including Strasbourg and Alsace, based on one of those larger hubs instead.
Last fall my husband and I took the TGV (train) into Strasbourg from Germany. The train à grande vitesse is an excellent option since it is fast and smooth. You can take a TGV into Strasbourg from many cities, including Paris.
Out of the various places we visited last October, Strasbourg was a highlight because of our local guides. A friend recently moved from San Diego to Strasbourg. He and his wife, an Alsatian native, hosted us and showed us the best that the region had to offer. We also got the insider’s track to local cuisine, highlighted in the final section of this post.
Although the city is famous for its Christmas market, I found that fall was a fabulous time to visit Strasbourg. The weather was unseasonably warm so we were able to spend a lot of time outside. This included a midday picnic with lawn games at Parc de l’Orangerie in the northeast part of the city near the European Parliament.
When You Go
- First and foremost is what the island city of Strasbourg is most famous for, the neighborhood of Petite France. The half-timbered buildings lining both sides of the river have been maintained and restored since the 16th century.
- Second, in Petite France, do not miss Notre Dame de Strasbourg, the massive cathedral characterized by its pinkish sandstone-carved exterior and single tower. After the first spire was constructed, there was some uncertainty as to the strength of the foundation, so they simply did not build the second tower. Nevertheless, Notre Dame de Strasbourg was the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874.
Why not consider: 2-hour Strasbourg Grand Ile Bike Tour
- Third, make sure to take a historical boat tour. Your guide will describe Strasbourg’s interesting 2000-year history to you while illustrating the story with views of some of the city’s most picturesque architecture.
- Lastly, take a day trip throughout wine country. Strasbourg is located on the Route de Vin Alsace, which follows the sloping western banks of the Rhine through dozens of picturesque towns. It passes through Colmar, the second-most recognizable city in the region, and ends at Mulhouse. Alsatian wine is known throughout Europe to contain some unique varietals and the climate results in outstanding quality. Many visitors opt
fora guided tour, and serious cyclists may choose to bike throughout the region.
It is impossible to discuss Strasbourg without mentioning food. Alsatian food is world-renowned for its comforting, savory flavors. You might have heard that German food is known for its meat and French cuisine is known for its sauces. Imagine the combination of the two and you can probably get an idea of the scrumptious, heavy fare. It was here that I tried pâté and escargots for the first time.
Don’t miss these regional specialties
- Tarte flambée. Don’t call it a pizza, but this affordable, um, flatbread comes with various toppings and is flash-cooked in a fiery oven. In fact, it is thinner than pizza and the standard toppings are a creamy sauce with cheese and onions. Try the standard version, and then branch out.
garnie. Literally translating to “garnished cabbage,” the name might lead you to pass over this dish. Don’t, though! It is a heap of cabbage and potatoes topped with a variety of local sausages and cured meats. I encourage you to try it or to split it with another diner inyour party.
- Baeckeoffe. This is a very traditional casserole dish made of meat and vegetables cooked in a ceramic baker for several hours. The most traditional versions use bread dough to seal the casserole dish and its lid together while baking.
I’ll take a moment here to mention that Strasbourg is home to a large university. Like many college towns, inexpensive globally-inspired food is easy to find near the university and city center.
Where to Stay in Strasbourg
Bonus: Make sure to look for storks and their large, flat nests in high places. These birds are a much-loved symbol of the region.
Photos by Doug and Staci Jackson for The Voyageer.