Written by Lisa Alexander
Nov 17, 2020
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With its awe-inspiring cathedral, charming burghers' houses, and elegant Louis XV buildings, Strasbourg has a distinctive old-world character. The quaint cobblestone streets and picturesque canals of the ancient quarters (on the Grande-Île) invite visitors to explore the city.
Thanks to its advantageous location at the intersection of important traffic and commerce routes on the Rhine River, Strasbourg has prospered throughout its 2,000-year history. In the 13th century, it became the richest city in the Holy Roman Empire and a place where art and learning flourished.
Today, Strasbourg is still a city of culture, and boasts exceptional museums of fine arts, archaeology, and traditional Alsatian crafts. Learn more about the best places to visit in the city with our list of the top things to do in Strasbourg.
See also: Where to Stay in Strasbourg
1. Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg
Considered one of the most beautiful monuments of Gothic architecture in Europe, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame presides over Strasbourg with its soaring tower. The 142-meter spire was the highest point in the Christian world, until the 19th century.
The distinctive look of the cathedral is due to its construction from red Vosges sandstone. Hundreds of Christian figures are sculpted from this stone on the facade. This elaborate exterior functions as a lesson in biblical stories.
The 13th-century west front facade depicts scenes of the Christ's Passion, the work of Master Erwin and his successors. The south side of the facade features famous allegorical sculptures of the Church and the Synagogue created by a German artist circa 1230.
The Strasbourg Cathedral has exceptional medieval stained-glass windows (dating from the 12th to 14th centuries) that compare in magnificence to those at the Cathedral in Chartres. The rose window is particularly splendid.
In the south transept stands L'Horloge Astronomique, a Renaissance astronomical clock. This masterpiece of timekeeping entertains visitors with an automated parade of the apostles and a crowing rooster every day at 12:30pm.
After touring the inside of the Cathedral, visitors can ascend to the top of the bell tower. The tower's viewing platform affords sweeping panoramas of the city, the Rhine plains, the Black Forest, and the Vosges Mountains.
The cathedral is the heart of Strasbourg's UNESCO-listed Grande-Île district. The Grande-Île (a large island surrounded by the Ill River) is the historic center of the city.
Address: Place de la Cathédrale, Strasbourg
2. Wander the Narrow Streets of Quartier des Tanneurs (La Petite France)
The most atmospheric section of Strasbourg's UNESCO-listed historic center, the Quartier des Tanneurs known as "La Petite France" is a winding maze of canals and narrow, old streets lined by perfectly maintained half-timbered houses. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the neighborhood was home to the city's leather tanners and fishermen.
The most charming street of the quarter is the Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes. Strolling this cobblestone street offers a chance to admire the traditional Alsatian houses with their flower-bedecked balconies.
Tourists should look out for the Maison des Tanneurs, a half-timbered house at 42 Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes. Listed as a Historic Monument, the Maison des Tanneurs is now a fine-dining restaurant with a terrace overlooking the river banks. It's one of the best places to visit in Strasbourg for an authentic Alsatian experience.
To the southwest are the Ponts Couverts (Covered Bridges), which include four of the town's medieval defense towers. From the Grande Écluse covered bridge, there is a panoramic view of the Strasbourg cityscape. The Grande Écluse is open to the public during the day and illuminated at night.
The Quartier des Tanneurs also has a quaint riverside ambience. Along the landscaped, tree-lined river banks, tourists and locals alike enjoy pleasant walks away from the urban hustle and bustle.
3. Maison Kammerzell
The Maison Kammerzell is the finest old burgher's house in the city. Considered a gem of Alsatian architecture, the Kammerzell House (built between 1427 and 1589) features half-timbered upper floors, traditional leaded windows, and rich carved ornamentation.
The building's ground floor, with its carved stone arches, served as a space where merchants sold their wares during the 15th century. The Maison Kammerzell has been converted into a hotel and has a renowned fine-dining restaurant with windows that look out onto the cathedral's facade.
Another interesting half-timbered house located in the area (at the Place de la Cathédrale and Rue Mercière) is the Pharmacie du Cerf. This building was constructed in 1567 on a site that has been a pharmacy since 1268.
Nearby on the Rue des Juifs are the ruins of the ancient Roman fort, giving visitors a sense of the city's cultural heritage that dates back two millennia.
Address: 16 Place de la Cathédrale, Strasbourg
Official site: http://www.maison-kammerzell.com/en
4. Eglise de Saint-Thomas
The Church of Saint-Thomas is located on the site of an ancient church built in the early 6th century, dedicated to the Apostle Saint Thomas. After being destroyed by fire, the Church of Saint-Thomas was rebuilt in the 12th century.
During its 800-year-history, the Church of Saint-Thomas has been most renowned for the role it played during the Protestant Reformation of Alsace. The church was a center of the Lutheran movement in the region.
The church has a clock, which for 400 years has struck the hours four minutes too soon. The idea was to make itself heard before the Cathedral clock strikes.
The church is still used as a Protestant house of worship and offers religious services on Sunday mornings. Tourists may visit the church Monday through Saturday.
Address: 11 Rue Martin Luther, Strasbourg
5. Eglise Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune
The Eglise Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune is steeped in history. The church was built in the 11th century on the site of a 7th-century Merovingian chapel. Although the building was renovated in Gothic style during the 13th and 14th centuries, the Romanesque elements are still evident in the 11th-century cloister.
During the Reformation (beginning in 1524), the Eglise Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune became a Protestant house of worship. The Church of Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune still serves as a Protestant church and hosts traditional religious services, concerts, and guided visits on various themes.
Address: 3 Rue de la Nuée Bleue, Strasbourg
6. Maison de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame
In 1349, the workers responsible for the maintenance of the cathedral established the Maison de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame. The east wing of the building is the oldest part (and was renovated in the 16th century), and the west wing was built from 1579 to 1585.
Today, the building houses the Musée de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame, which has one of the finest collections of European medieval art. The collection represents seven centuries of art created in Strasbourg and the Upper Rhine region.
On display are originals of sculpture from the cathedral as well as paintings and stained-glass windows. Visitors should be sure to see the Wissembourg "Tête de Christ" window, one of the oldest known stained-glass windows.
Address: 3 Place du Château, Strasbourg
7. Palais Rohan
The elegant 18th-century Palais Rohan was the former residences of the Bishop-Princes from 1732 to 1742 (until the French Revolution). The rest of the immense building houses three exceptional museums.
Located on the first floor of the Rohan Palace, the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) has an excellent collection of paintings by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, and French masters from the Middle Ages to modern times. There are works by Botticelli, Courbet, Delacroix, Giotto, Goya, El Greco, Rubens, and Véronèse among others.
The Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Museum of Decorative Arts) is located on the ground floor of the Rohan Palace, the former apartments of the Cardinals of Rohan. Visitors can see the sumptuous rooms of the bishop's apartment, including a library, print room, and chapel, as well as the collection of decorative arts. The collection includes ceramics, porcelain, paintings, time pieces, and goldsmith's art.
Located in the Rohan Palace basement, the Musée Archéologique (Archaeological Museum) has one of the best collections of antiquities in France. The collection includes items from prehistory to the Middle Ages.
Address: 2 Place du Château, Strasbourg
8. Musée Alsacien (Alsatian Museum)
Located in a patrician house built in 1620, the Alsatian Museum displays a collection of folk art, furniture, costumes, and domestic items. Visitors can view thousands of objects that offer an insight into rural Alsatian life in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The museum also features rooms that represent the interior style of different regions of Alsace, including the agricultural plains and the Vosges Mountains. A tour of the museum gives visitors a feel for the charm of Alsatian homes.
Address: 23-25 Quai Saint-Nicolas, Strasbourg
9. Walk through Place du Marché-aux-Cochons-de-Lait
Near the Maison de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame is the picturesque Place du Marché-aux-Cochons-de-Lait, one of the city's most charming squares. The square takes its name from the ancient market where suckling pigs (an Alsatian culinary specialty) were sold.
Farther west is the Grande Boucherie, built in the 16th century as a butchers' house. Today this building houses the Historical Museum (Musée Historique de la Ville de Strasbourg).
10. See the Old-world Charm of the Quartier Krutenau
The lively Quartier Krutenau combines old-world charm with trendy restaurants, fashionable shops, and art galleries. This district of canals and half-timbered homes was once where boatmen and fishermen lived, as indicated by the names of streets such as the Rue St.-Nicolas-aux-Ondes and the Rue de la Tour des Pêcheurs.
This quarter has a friendly village atmosphere and is a pleasant area to take a sightseeing stroll.
11. Historical Museum
Located in the 16th-century Grande Boucherie (Butchers' House), the Historical Museum offers a comprehensive exhibit of paintings, graphic art, weapons, and everyday objects. The collections span the centuries from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution with a few rooms dedicated to the Napoleonic and modern eras.
Visitors will learn about Strasbourg's politics, society, and economy throughout the ages. The museum dedicates exhibits to important political figures such as the famous General Jean-Baptiste Kléber. Also on display are the costumes and furniture of ordinary citizens, which offers insight into everyday life of Strasbourg in times past.
Address: 2 Rue du Vieux-Marché-aux-Poissons, Strasbourg
12. Musée d'Art Moderne & Contemporain
The Musée d'Art Moderne & Contemporain (Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art) occupies a sleek, contemporary-style building on the banks of the River Ill, near the Petite France quarter. Designed with vast windows and high ceilings, the spacious 10,000-square-meter gallery space is bright and airy.
A must-see attraction for those who appreciate modern art, the museum boasts an expansive collection of 19th- and 20th-century paintings, including works by Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Wassily Kandinsky, Hans Arp, Georges Braque, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Auguste Rodin, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions.
Address: 1 Place Hans Jean Arp, Strasbourg
13. Parc de l'Orangerie
To the southeast of the Palais de l'Europe is the beautiful Parc de l'Orangerie, the oldest park in Strasbourg. The Orangerie Park was created in the early 19th century for the Empress Joséphine. The garden's Pavillon Joséphine is now used for special events and receptions.
Perfect for romantic strolls and leisurely picnics, the park has an idyllic atmosphere complete with a lake and waterfall. Children adore the miniature farm and small zoo, which are free of charge. The park also has a restaurant and bowling alley.
Address: Avenue de l'Europe, Strasbourg
14. Palais de l'Europe
Strasbourg was chosen as the capital of the European Union because the city became a symbol of reconciliation after the Second World War. Designed by Henry Bernard (a French architect), the ultramodern Palais de l'Europe was built from 1972 to 1977 as a fortress-like structure of nine stories.
The Palais de l'Europe is used as the principal building for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Members of the European Parliament meet in the building's Assembly Chamber, a vast tent-like space with a circular seating layout.
The Palais de l'Europe is open to the public for visits; tours are available in English, French, and German. Besides taking a tour, another rewarding thing to do is attend a Parliamentary Assembly debate, held in the Assembly Chamber during a plenary session.
Address: Avenue de l'Europe, Strasbourg
15. Shop at the Christmas Markets (Marchés de Noël)
One of the most enjoyable things to do in Strasbourg at Christmas is visit the famous Christmas Markets. This festive event has been a tradition since 1570, when it was called "Christkindelsmärik" ("Market of the baby Jesus").
Every year in time for the holidays, Strasbourg's houses, streets, and churches are decorated with Christmas lights, and a giant Christmas tree is placed at the Place Kléber. Throughout the city's historic center, around 300 stalls sell Christmas decorations, artisanal gifts, gingerbread, and other seasonal Alsatian delicacies.
Highlights of the Christmas Market include the markets at the artisanal stalls at the Place Broglie and Place de la Grande Boucherie, and the specialty food stalls at Place du Marché-aux-Poissons at the terrace of the Palais Rohan.
The Strasbourg Christmas Market is one of Europe's best Christmas markets and runs from November 27th through December 30th. For the best experience, take a personalized Strasbourg Christmas Market Tour, which includes visits to favorite Christmas market stalls.
16. Music Festivals and Cultural Events
Strasbourg has several excellent music festivals held in the autumn months. Les Nuits Européennes is a festival in October that celebrates a wide range of European and world music.
From March through October, the Jazzdor festival presents a superb program of live jazz music, providing a stage for talented French jazz performers, as well as European and international jazz artists.
From mid-September through the beginning of October, the Festival Musica dazzles audiences with classical music, including spiritual choirs, operas, and symphony orchestras.
One of the most whimsical events in Strasbourg, the Street Arts Festival in mid August brings lively animation to the streets and squares of Strasbourg's city center. Acrobats and clowns offer puppet shows, mini circus acts, juggling, magic tricks, and burlesque. Poets, musicians, and theater performers also provide entertainment to make audiences smile.
Film buffs will appreciate the Strasbourg European Fantastic Film Festival. This unique festival is dedicated to the genre of fantastic cinema, including animation, science-fiction, fantasy, and horror.
17. Place Gutenberg
Place Gutenberg is found on the Grande-Île, a short walk from the cathedral. The centerpiece of this square is a 19th-century statue dedicated to the famous Strasbourg resident Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the printing press around the decades of 1430 to 1450.
The publication of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455 marks a momentous event in history; this bible was the first book to be printed by machine rather than copied by a scribe.
On the southwest side of the square is the finest classical-style Renaissance building in Alsace, originally the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and now occupied by the Chamber of Commerce. At the corner of the square near the Rue Mercière, there is a magnificent view of the front of the cathedral.
18. Synagogue de la Paix
Built in 1954, the Synagogue de la Paix was created to replace the historic synagogue on Quai Kléber that was destroyed by the Nazis in 1940. Although this monument lacks the grandeur and elegance of the original neo-Romanesque synagogue, it is an important landmark that serves the city's Jewish community, which has had a presence in Strasbourg since the 12th century.
Behind the Synagogue de la Paix, the expansive Parc du Contades is a peaceful space, with leafy pathways ideal for enjoying an afternoon stroll. During summertime, jazz, classical, pop/rock, and other types of musical concerts are held at the gazebo of the Villa Osterloff located at the back of Contades Park.
Address: Avenue de la Paix, Strasbourg
Where to Stay in Strasbourg for Sightseeing
Most of Strasbourg's tourist attractions are found within the UNESCO-listed Grande-Île, a large island surrounded by the River Ill. This district includes the charming La Petite France area, a maze of narrow canals and streets lined by half-timbered buildings. Just across the river, the lively Quartier Krutenau is another great place to stay. Here are some highly rated hotels in the best areas of Strasbourg:
- Luxury Hotels: In a picturesque canal-side location of La Petite France, the Hôtel & Spa Regent Petite France occupies a repurposed medieval mill. The five-star accommodations include a restaurant, fitness center, and outdoor terrace overlooking the river.
In a historic building that has been updated with modern comforts, the four-star Hôtel Cour du Corbeau Strasbourg - MGallery is near the cathedral and all the major sights.
A renovated bourgeoise mansion in La Petite France has been converted into the Hôtel & Spa Le Bouclier d'Or. This four-star hotel features a snack bar, spa, and modern amenities.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Occupying an updated 15th-century building in La Petite France, the Hotel de L'Europe By HappyCulture is a short walk away from the cathedral. Guest rooms feature contemporary-style decor; some rooms have wood-beamed ceilings.
The boutique Hôtel Rohan is nestled on a quaint pedestrian street near the cathedral. The four-star accommodations include a concierge, 24-hour front desk reception, and room service. Guest rooms feature fashionable contemporary-style decor.
The three-star Hôtel Cathédrale is right on the Place de la Cathédrale, near many restaurants and shops. Rooms in the front of the building have cathedral views.
- Budget Hotels: A five-minute walk from the train station just outside of the historic city center, the Hôtel Mercure Strasbourg Centre Petite France is near the bridge that leads to the Grande-Île.
In the lively Quartier Krutenau, the stylish Hotel Roses is about a 10-minute walk to the cathedral. It's also a great location for the choice of restaurants and cafés.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Strasbourg
The entire old town of Strasbourg is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This atmospheric medieval area, the Grande-Île, includes the Notre-Dame Cathedral, Palais Rohan, and remarkable ancient churches. To learn about the historical context, architectural significance, and artistic value of the city's monuments, a guided tour is recommended. Below are favorite biking, pedicab, and walking tours.
- Cycle around the City: Take a scenic bike ride through the historic center of Strasbourg, led by a knowledgeable local guide. You'll hear fascinating stories about the city and see key architectural landmarks. The Strasbourg City Center Guided Bike Tour begins at the Place d'Austerlitz, continues through the Grande-Île, and finally crosses the Ill River to explore the more modern areas of the city.
- Take a Pedicab: To get an overview of the must-see sights in Strasbourg, a pedicab tour is a great option. On the Strasbourg Sightseeing Pedicab Guided Tour tourists (up to two passengers) sit back in a comfortable pedicab and enjoy one hour of sightseeing led by the driver. Two different scenic routes are available; both allow you to see top attractions, such as the cathedral and La Petite France.
- Enjoy a Walking Tour: The Strasbourg City Sightseeing Private Guided Tour is a great way to fully appreciate the attractions of Strasbourg's UNESCO-listed Grande Ile. This two-hour guided walking tour takes you along cobblestone streets to visit the cathedral and the Palais Rohan, as well as the picturesque canals, covered bridges, and half-timbered homes of La Petite France.
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Exploring the Beautiful Alsace Region: Although Strasbourg is less than a two-hour TGV (fast-velocity) train ride from Paris, it feels entirely different because of the distinctive regional architecture, culture, and cuisine. Highlights of Alsace include Colmar (30 minutes from Strasbourg by train) and the quaint villages in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains.
Exploring Germany: Tourists may also enjoy visiting nearby attractions in Germany, which has a border just five kilometers east of Strasbourg. The Black Forest lies less than a one-hour drive away from the Alsace region, and the city of Stuttgart is a two-hour drive from Strasbourg.