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Things To Do In Strasbourg
Strasbourg; a sophisticated city that has long suffered a political struggle between France and Germany shares its borders with both countries and also serves as the capital of the Alsace region. A city with immense cultural significance that is derived from its Franco-German heritage imparts a multi-dimensional character to Strasbourg and makes it one of the best places to learn about Alsatian customs and traditions. Strasbourg’s historic city centre is packed with landmark architecture, with exceptional museums and parks spread across the city that will leave you looking for excuses to stay a little longer in this extraordinary city. To know what’s in store for you here, these are our recommendations for the top things to do in Strasbourg.
Boat Tour on River Íle and River Rhine
One of the most relaxing ways to get acquainted with Strasbourg is to hop onto one of the many guided boat tours available in the city and simply sit back as you are regaled with details about the city’s history and heritage. The tour usually lasts about 60-70 minutes and cruises through all important landmarks like Grand Íle, La Petite France etc. Most boats have running commentaries in various languages that are offered through headsets, where passengers get to learn details about the various monuments and points-of-interests encountered on the cruise. The tour usually begins with a short introduction about Strasbourg and its history, including information about some of the best places to explore in the city. Even if you have discovered the nooks-and-crannies of Strasbourg on foot already, a boat tour is a great way to wrap up your trip and enjoy the scenery from the comfort of a relaxing cruise.
Wander through the Strasbourg Quartiers
While Strasbourg may be classified as a relatively small city, it is by no means limited in its diversity. The city is divided into several smaller districts or quartiers and each one boasts a distinct identity of its own. The Old Town is usually the first place tourists head to, which is located on the Grand Íle and the famous Strasbourg Cathedral situated at the heart of it. La Petite France is considered to be one of the prettiest districts in the city and is located to the west of the Old Town. While it was known to be a poor neighbourhood originally, it developed when the local tradesmen settled here and are considered today to be one of the best regions in the city.
Neustadt or New Town is located northeast of the Old Town and consists of elaborate architecture and vast spacious squares. It was developed by the Germans to be the new city centre in Strasbourg and its construction tripled the size of the city. Some of its major attractions are the Palace of Justice, Saint-Paul’s Church and Place de la Republique. The European Quarter located northeast of the New Town consists of all the official buildings like the European Parliament, European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe.
Relax in the Parks
The oldest and most popular park in Strasbourg is Parc de l’Orangerie. Spread over 64 acres of land, this park features lovely gardens, restaurants, a lake where visitors can enjoy boating and even a small zoo for kids. The name for the park was derived from the 150 orange trees planted here after they were donated to the city from a confiscation during the French Revolution; today, only three of these trees remain and they can be viewed on special occasions in the greenhouses of the park.
The Botanical Gardens are located in the Imperial District and date back to 1884. It consists of 6000 species of plants, a planetarium, and a greenhouse. While the formal garden area is a great place to learn about the flora here, there is ample park space along the riverside that is perfect for enjoying picnics and some individual relaxation time.
Visit the Churches
Strasbourg is usually associated with the magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral, but there are many other extraordinary churches here that foretell an exceptional historic story. A mixture of Protestant and Catholic churches line Strasbourg’s skyline and feature as some of the top places to check out in the city. The Church of Saint-Paul is the second-tallest church in Strasbourg after the Notre-Dame Cathedral and is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux is probably Strasbourg’s oldest church and the fact that is both a Protestant and Catholic church makes it stand out amongst the other religious buildings in the city. Église Saint-Thomas is known to be the first main Protestant church in Strasbourg after the Notre-Dame became the Catholic one during the French Revolution.
Enjoy Alsation Food
The food in Strasbourg draws influences from its Alsation roots and French-German relations just as much as everything else in the city does. By far, the Choucroute Garnie – made from sauerkraut, sausages and potatoes – is the most famous dish in Strasbourg and is one of the heartiest meals you’ll enjoy in the city. Tarté Flambée is another popular food here and will especially appeal to pizza-lovers. Made from a rolled-out bread dough topped with cheese and a variety of toppings, it can be enjoyed as a meal or even a snack. German dishes like Coq au Riesling (chicken and mushrooms cooked with Riesling wine) and Spaetzle (a pasta dish) are also worth trying out, including the dessert item Kugelhopf (cake made with almonds and raisins).
The Alsace region is also famous for its wines; the two most well-known ones being the Gewurtztraminer and the Riesling. Strasbourg is popular for being France’s most productive beer region as well, with the city being home to renowned names in the beer industry like Fischer, Kronenburg and Karlsbrau.
Learn about Strasbourg’s History in the Museums
Strasbourg is packed with museums that provide so much insight into the city’s culture and heritage. The first one that should feature on your itinerary is the Musée Alsacien, which is dedicated to Alsace and its culture and is filled with exhibits showcasing traditions and everyday artefacts from a typical day in Alsace from the 7th to 19th-century.
Musée Archéologique explores the history of Alsace and Strasbourg through artefacts found in archaeological excavations of the two regions, the origins of which date back to 600,000 BC. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art attracts art lovers for its exhibits from notable artists like Kandinsky and Max Ernst. The Musée de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame located in the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral contains some of the finest medieval art collections in France. Don’t forget to pay a visit to Palais Rohan that is home to three other really fine museums as well.
Cycling Trip Around the City
Most of France is known to be a bike-friendly region, and Strasbourg is fast trying to adapt and become a part of that community; with almost 400 km of bike paths in the city, it is well on its way to becoming France’s most cycle-friendly city. On a good weather day, a bike ride across the city centre or through the lovely green parks in the city can be an exhilarating experience. Riding through the city becomes even more convenient if you have the Strasbourg City Pass, which lets you rent a bike for half a day for free; for those who don’t have the pass can hire bikes from numerous shops spread across the city.
Visit the Christmas Market
Travellers who plan a trip to Strasbourg during the winters are in for a treat; the Christmas markets of Strasbourg are widely popular and are one of the major highlights of the region. The markets are held in a number of places, but the ones in Kléber Square and Place de la Cathedrale are the most beautiful. A giant majestic Christmas tree adorns the squares along with hundreds of stalls and magical fairy lights, creating an extraordinary atmosphere of festivities and celebration.
The markets have existed since 1570 and are held annually from the 22nd of November to 30th December, featuring concerts, exhibitions and performances in addition to the many stalls. An enchanting event that will delight children and adults alike, the Christmas markets of Strasbourg surely are an experience of a lifetime.