Strasbourg, a fairy tale French city in Alsace, offers the beauty that comes from combining Latin and Germanic cultures. You will find quaint architecture, winding cobbled lanes dating back to Roman times, and an imposing cathedral with its single steeple towering over the town. The entire center island of Strasbourg, known as the Grand Ile, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. And it’s compact enough that you can explore it all on foot. Here are some highlights from my visit.
I’ll get to the city center, but I want to start with my favorite area of the Grand Island – Petite France. This western end of the island is filled with half-timbered homes and shops that date to the 1500s. Canals, bridges, flowers, and cafes make this a picturesque place wherever you wander.
An interesting story is how Goethe taught himself to overcome his fear of heights. He would often climb up into the top of the dome of the cathedral and then step out on a ledge that’s since been blocked off. He would look down and hope he could keep from falling to his death. Fortunately, he lived through this regimen.
A car-free shopping area lies between the main square and the train station. It can be touristy and crowded, so I preferred to take the little side streets. My favorite finds were a bakery and a teddy bear store.
This cathedral is also home to an Astronomical Clock built from the 1500s on. You can see the clock whenever the church is open, but if you buy a ticket in the small gift shop (about 6 euro), you will be able to see the chiming of the clock at midday. A 20-minute video explains how it was designed (though this is in French so I couldn’t follow it very well!) and then at 12:30 the clock strikes. The figures move. It’s well worth seeing.
You can reach Strasbourg by train as well as by car. It’s only a 2-hour train ride from Paris. And it’s just about 4 kilometers from Germany.
Strasbourg is a tourist destination and gets quite crowded with large groups. Some reviews are negative because of this. But I found that getting out early in the day (8:00 or 9:00) allows you to explore before the groups arrive. Also, taking the side lanes off the main streets is a great way to get a feel for Strasbourg without the crush of people.
We stayed at the Bouclier D’Or, which is on one of these side streets very close to Petite France.
It turned out to be the ideal location for walking a few blocks to the main area while allowing us to retreat to a quiet neighborhood where locals live. The people who run this hotel couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly when we made a last-minute change to our dates. The breakfast served is elegant and delicious, too. And I loved that the building dates to the 1500s while it is modern and comfortable.
Strasbourg is also known for its Christmas market, and I would love to return for that some year.