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Strasbourg: Where France and Germany Collide

Cathedral, Cuisine and Christmas Market are Main Attractions


France, Alsace, Strasbourg, Ponts couverts
Shaun Egan/Photodisc/Getty Images

Strasbourg is the ultimate European city. It has flavors of both France and Germany, and sits right on the border of the two countries. It's picturesque "la Petite France" neighborhood looks like something straight out of a fairy tale book, a riverfront neighborhood with timbered buildings accented by colorful flower boxes.

The home of the European Parliament, this often-overlooked and surprisingly cosmopolitan destination hosts France's oldest Christmas market and features a stunning cathedral. In fact, Strasbourg has often changed hands between the French and Germans over the centuries.

The Black Forest and the legendary Rhine River are just at or beyond the city's edge. There are several wonderful daytrips here into France's Alsace or Germany.

Germany or France?

It can be hard to discern which country you are truly in while visiting. The signs are in both languages. Beer and wine are both tremendously popular. It's common to find dishes like sauerkraut, but spelled in French ("choucroute").

The architecture is distinctly German, yet the Ill River winds a Venice-like path through the city, and plays host to many cruise tours of the city.

Memorable cuisine

This is one of the best areas in France when it comes to delectable cuisine, and that's saying quite a bit considering this is, well, France. The dishes here have a boldness that is reminescent of the German roots, while there is attention to quality and detail that is the epitome of the French gourmet philosophy.

Some local cuisine experiences you shouldn't miss include:

  • Visiting a local winstub for the ultimate France/German experience. The wines that are most popular here are white, light and tart, such as Reislings and Gewurztraminers. The Alsatian beers are also wonderful.
  • Sampling the local "eau de vie." Literally meaning "water of life," this is fruit liquor to the extreme. Unlike American liquors that are typically made with sugar, the Alsatian eau de vie is sweetened entirely by fruit.
  • Filling up on baeckoffe and coq au Reisling, some of the fabulous local specialties. Baeckoffe consists of a stew of meats, potatoes and spices. Coq au Riesling is much like the better-known coq au vin, but is made with Riesling (and, in my opinion, tastier). It is usually served over fresh-made spaetzle, a German noodle. There are many other local dishes that are divine as well, so be sure to experiment! The Alsatian desserts are among the world's best!

Getting there and getting around

You can fly into Strasbourg, or fly into Paris or Frankfurt and take a two-hour (from Frankfurt) or four-hour (Paris) rail ride into the city. Once you arrive in the city, there is a clean and reliable tramway line, as well as extensive bus routes.

Top Strasbourg Attractions

Strasbourg is so huge, one could spend days exploring it. There are certain attractions here you don't dare miss, however, such as:
  • Strasbourg Cathedral is one of Europe's most beautiful example of gothic architecture. The stunning pink sandstone facade is quite unique and breathtaking. Be sure to wander inside, where intricate carvings captivate. Each day at 12:30 p.m., visitors can see the circa-1800s astrological clock with its lengthy show. The cathedral is also a hub of activity, with shops and restaurants nearby. The courtyard out from hosts the city's immensely popular Christmas market.
  • La Petite France is easily Strasbourg's prettiest and most enchanting neighborhood, and arguably one of the best neighborhoods in all of France. Stroll along its streets, along bridges over the Ill River. Breathe in the scent of fresh-baked gingerbread or the inviting aromas from the restaurants. Gaze at the timbered buildings, bursting with blooming plants that earned this city the prestigious four-flower ranking.
  • Shopping and people-watching at Place Kleber, a bustling square lined with popular shops and a hub of activity.

When to go

Strasbourg's climate is very German. It can be quite cold and snowy in winter, but the city is at its most beautiful at Christmas-time. Spring is a lovely time to visit as the many flowers start blooming. Summer can be warm, but inviting. Fall is splendid, as the autumn colors spring forth.

Great daytrips

This is a prime spot for excursions in France or Germany (which is just across the river). Some options include:
  • Colmar, a charming Alsatian city.
  • Baden Baden, a German spa city in the Black Forest, which is about a half-hour away by train.
  • Heidelberg, a bustling college city featuring must-see castle ruins.

Booking options and comparing rates

  • The four-star Sofitel Strasbourg has a nice location a short walk from La Petite France. The rooms are large, and there is a nice restaurant in the lobby.
  • The Hotel Maison Rouge is quaint, attractive and full of character. It is centrally located in the city's pedestrian zone.
  • Search for other hotels and
  • Book a rail pass
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