I had never heard of Strasbourg until I got an email from my mom. Attached was a slideshow of beautiful pictures from medieval towns in Europe. My eyes lit up as I clicked through pages of half-timbered houses, window boxes overflowing with red flowers, gentle flowing canals and narrow, winding streets.
I knew immediately I had to spend at least one day in Strasbourg during our upcoming honeymoon.
The little bit of information in the slideshow was written in German, so naturally I assumed that Strasbourg must be in Germany. It definitely looked like a small, German village. So I did a quick Google search and was shocked to find out that Strasbourg was actually in the Alsace region of France!
Getting to Know Strasbourg
Strasbourg is unlike most other places I’ve visited in France and bears a striking similarity to Germany. A mere four kilometers away from the German border, Strasbourg is historically a German-speaking city, even being annexed by Germany from 1871 until the end of the first World War and then again from 1940-1944.
Today Strasbourg remains a hybrid- part German, part French; part medieval village, part modern European powerhouse. Strasbourg is a place where you can enjoy the simple pleasures of small village life- browsing shops along cobbled streets, indulging in a treat from the many pâtisseries, and watching swans elegantly float by as you walk along the banks of the river.
Away from Strasbourg’s historic centre you’ll find a city that is young and lively, as it’s home to one of France’s top-rated universities. Sleek and modern, glass buildings house the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, and the part-time home base of the European Parliament.
Strasbourg is a city that showcases both our modern world and simpler times long since past, all in one delightful little package!
One Day in Strasbourg- Things to Do in Strasbourg’s Old Town
Even with only one day in Strasbourg, we were still able to see a fair amount of the city. The main tourist attractions in Strasbourg are located in the Old Town and within walking distance of each other, making it easy to enjoy a short visit to Strasbourg.
Here’s a look at some of our favourite things to see and do in Strasbourg!
The Grande Île
We spent the majority of our trip to Strasbourg on the Grande Île, where the historic centre of town is. This large island is surrounded by two arms of the Ill river and is a lovely web of narrow streets and alleyways.
The Grand Île is also where most of Strasbourg’s tourist attractions are, including Strasbourg Cathedral and Petite France.
The first place we set off to see was the Notre-Dame Cathedral, in the heart of the Old Town. We walked up the narrow Rue des Orfèvres, a pretty street lined with busy shops. As we approached the end of the street, we were dumbfounded by what we saw.
Rising up to the heavens was a single steeple, so tall we could not see the top without tilting our heads as far back as they could go. Even then, it was tough!
Strasbourg Cathedral was the tallest construction in the world for over 200 years (1647-1874). At 142 metres, it remains the tallest 15th century structure in the world.
As impressive as the steeple is, the church is worth a visit inside. The main attraction is the astronomical clock, a complicated 16th century creation which tells the time, calculates ecclesiastical occasions, and gives astronomical indications.
Place du Marché-aux-Cochons-de-Lait
From the cathedral we walked down another beautiful but cramped street, Rue du Maroquin. Here you’ll find a row of tiny cafes and your typical tacky souvenir shops, all of which seem to be selling the same inventory.
I ate so much junk food in Strasbourg, and it all started on Rue du Maroquin, when we stopped to try some homemade ice cream. It was the best ice cream I have ever had- so creamy and full of flavour. This is quite the compliment considering ice cream is one of my primary food groups!
A few metres up the road we arrived at Place du Marché-aux-Cochons-de-Lait. A literal translation would be “Market Square to the Pigs of Milk”, but I think in actuality it means “The Suckling Pig Market Square.”
This is a great square to people watch at one of the cafes, or in my case, pet a friendly dog while indulging in a pretzel shaped doughnut.
Place du Marché aux-Poissons
A few steps away is Place du Marché aux-Poissons (the Fish Market), where you can board the boats that float around the Grande Île. It’s also a great place for swan watching.
From the Fish Market we walked west along the Berg Piétonne, a pedestrian only path along the riverbank. It was a nice escape from the crowds and a great way to admire the city’s unique architecture.
Just thinking about Petite France now is making me smile. It is impossibly charming, picture perfect and untouched by time, its winding streets bordered by 16 and 17th century homes. I loved all the woodwork and flower boxes that decorated the houses. I could have took pictures all day long of every single building!
Petite France is now a popular attraction packed with hotels, cafes and shops, but was once an area to be avoided. In the 16th century, a “hospice of the syphilitic” was built here to treat and quarantine patients with syphilis. Since the disease, at the time, was largely considered a “French disease”, this area was soon nicknamed Petite France.
The beautiful architecture, interesting history, and pleasant atmosphere makes Petite France one of the best places to visit in Strasbourg!
Sunset Boat Cruise
A boat cruise is a fun thing to do in Strasbourg and a great way to see both the old and new of the city.
We decided on a sunset cruise since we had a done a fair bit of exploring during the daytime. The cruise was quite long and leisurely compared to the one we went on in Bruges. It took us the entire way around the main island, including a detour to the European Institutions. Along the river we got to see churches and small palaces beautifully lit up, which was quite romantic. The sunset boat cruise was a fantastic end to our day in Strasbourg!
Final Thoughts About Our Trip to Strasbourg
We very much enjoyed our visit to Strasbourg and by the end of our five week trip across Europe, it remained one of our favourite places. There was an air of romance to everything we did- the night cruise, having a quiet lunch down by the river, exploring the beautiful cobbled streets, watching the swans- it was all very idyllic and a great way to begin our honeymoon. Even with only one day in Strasbourg, we left thinking it was one of the best cities to visit in Europe!
Tips for Visiting Strasbourg
Getting There: Strasbourg is easily accessible by train and air. The city has an international airport and the second largest railway station in France, connecting it with many other European cities.
- Strasbourg is a 2 hour 20 minute high speed train ride from Paris. From Frankfurt, Germany, it’s about a 2 hour train ride to Strasbourg.
- From the train station, the Grande Île is a short, direct walk. You can also take the tram from the train station, if you prefer.
Strasbourg Tourist Information: The tourist information office is located at 17 Place de la Cathedral. There is also tourist information in the train station.
Strasbourg Cathedral: The cathedral is open from 7:00 am- 7:00 pm but closes every day from 11:15- 12:45. Only ticket holders are allowed to enter during this time to watch the astronomical clock ring in the noon hour (30 minutes late, at 12:30). You can buy tickets from the cashier at the south door (from 11:50-12:20).
Strasbourg Sightseeing Boat: The boat ride is a popular activity and we recommend arriving early to buy your ticket for your desired time.
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Tours in Strasbourg
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