Very centrally located, Strasbourg is the 2nd most popular tourist city in France. The city, itself, is beautiful and rich with history and architecture. And the Alsace region has so much to offer – a fantastic wine trail, beautiful little towns, a park where you can interact with monkeys and the 2nd largest amusement park in Europe (Europa-Park) are just a few of the area’s highlights.
Why to go: It’s such an interesting city! As a result of its changing hands between France and Germany during the city’s history, it truly feels like a combination of both cultures with influences of other cultures as well. During your visit, you’ll see lots of charming medieval style architecture, hear French spoken but see French and “Alsatian” (a German dialect) written on signs and you’ll most likely notice the influence of both cultures on the restaurant menus.
When to go: There’s really no bad time to visit Strasbourg but there are better seasons depending on your interests. One of the biggest attractions is the city’s Christmas market (Christkindelsmärik) which is the oldest and biggest of its kind in Europe. If this is a “must-see” for you, make sure to visit Strasbourg during the month of December. If your itinerary will include making your way down the Alsace Wine Route, anytime is still fine but Spring through Fall (especially May and October) is probably most beautiful.
What to see/do: Strasbourg is a small city and, as such, can easily be explored on foot. If you’re arriving by train, the first thing you’ll notice is the beautiful train station which is a mixture of old and new and happens to be the 2nd largest train station in France. Within the city, there are really 3 main sights. The first is the cathedral which is located right in the main square and is the most visited cathedral in France after Notre Dame. The second is an area of the city called Petite France, which has beautiful medieval architecture alongside picturesque canals. This area makes a great stop for lunch! And the third attraction is the Christmas market which was already mentioned. There are several other things to do as well – museums, a boat ride, a visit to one of the many international institutions (Strasbourg is the seat of the Council of Europe, among many others).
What to eat and/or drink: There are lots of choices for typical Alsace-style restaurants and pubs which tend to have a very strong German influence. One specialty is Flammekueche (tarte flambée) which is something between a quiche Lorraine and a pizza. Another is baeckoffe which is a type of meat and potato casserole. The region is also known for sauerkraut which you’ll see as an ingredient in many of the dishes on the menu.
Where to make a detour: Paris is just a short 2 ½ hour train ride away so that Strasbourg could be an easy day-trip if you’re visiting Paris. Other interesting detours from Strasbourg include the Alsace Wine Trail (we stayed in a quaint little town called Obernai in the area). And within about an hour’s drive southwest from Strasbourg, you can visit La Montagne des Singes in La Wick, France. It’s a park where you can hand feed the monkeys roaming freely around you – fun experience! Or, also within about an hour’s drive, you’ll reach Europa-Park in Rust, Germany. This is Europe’s 2nd largest amusement park and is highly recommended by my kids and many of their friends.