For a few days during my Christmas vacation I decided to do a small stop in Strasbourg, France. It was a spontaneous and fun adventure, because I knew that traveling on December 25th would mean that it was going to one of the places that is most excited during Christmas on Christmas! So, on a cold and rainy Christmas eve I packed a bag, stopped overthinking whether this was a good idea and bought two train tickets for my girlfriend and me
The next day, maybe because of the wine or the time we scheduled the train, we overslept and lost it. Waking up disoriented and disappointed, I had to buy new tickets for the one departing some hours later.
After a hectic but exciting morning, we arrived in Strasbourg very eager to see what this city had to offer. Although everything was closed (except a few stores and restaurants in the city center), I was ready and eager to start my trip! Here is a list of the few places that we visited and that I think are worth visiting in the city:
Cathedral of Notre Dame de Strasbourg
Strasbourg Cathedral dominates the skyline of the heart of the city. It was the tallest building in the world for around 227 years, and today is the sixth tallest church in the world. The exterior is composed of a gorgeous rose color that comes from sandstone from the Vosges (a mountainous region in eastern France near the border with Germany). This cathedral was also the site of the first Christmas tree ever documented in 1539. It also has an astronomical clock inside, which holds a real display of the position of the Sun and the moon as well as the solar and lunar eclipses.
Described by Victor Hugo as “a gigantic and delicate marvel,” this is probably the most breathtaking place in the whole city. I was in awe with the rose colors in the cathedral and how majestic and grand it is. I will even say that it looks better than its more famous and older gothic counterpart, Notre Dame de Paris. After taking two tours of the cathedral, I was amazed of how many stories are kept in just the sculptures we always see but never take a moment to appreciate.
Like most cathedrals, the entrance is free and you can walk up the spire and see the view of the whole city. If you only have one day to visit the city, I would recommend to give this cathedral a visit, it will not disappoint!
The largest square of the city (and also where it’s biggest christmas tree is placed), this square is placed in honor of the general Kléber, and his remains are also held in the middle of the square. However, what is most interesting about this square, apart from the big Christmas tree, is the fact that is it where Le Marseillaise, the national anthem of France, was first played.
The German Quarter/District
We took a tour through both the French and German parts of the city, which helped me understand the double identity the city holds. In the Place de la Republique, there are three things that will catch your attention. The first one is the Palace of the Rhine, which was built after the Franco-Prussian war. This building has been a residence, a military hospital, and during WWII, the general headquarter of General Lecrerc. It represents truly the different identities that Strasbourg has had through the centuries.
What I found most surprising about the square was the war memorial that stands in its very center, which dates back to 1936. It features a woman holding her two sons; Alsace is represented by the woman and the combatting countries of France and Germany are represented by the sons. This monument represents the divided identity as well as the lives lost during the war. The saddest thing about the monument is that it was built after the first World War, without knowing that the same fate will repeat itself a few years later. If you’re into European and WWII history, this square will give you a small perspective on just how real WWII was.
Le Petit France
Sadly, I was not able to enjoy this part of the city as much as I would have liked. When I booked the tickets and arrived in Strasbourg, I only knew I wanted to see the Christmas market without planning or thinking ahead of what I would do there.
This district is the most picturesque of old Strasbourg. The half-timbered houses date from the 16th and 17th century and fishermen, millers, and tanners once lived and worked in this part of the town. It looks like it came out of a fairy tale, and you can think of yourself as if you were walking around the world of Pinocchio or Beauty and the Beast.
Alsace is known as one of the best places to eat in France, or like many say, it contains the quantity of German cuisine and the quality of the French. So, if you’re like me and get excited over the quantity of food in your plate, Strasbourg is the place to go. Although I was travelling on a budget, I knew that I had to try one of their traditional dishes. My heart and my belly led me to Le Tire Bouchon. My girlfriend and I were looking around for restaurants when we arrived and we liked that this one looked hidden. It did not disappoint. I tried the Choucroute, which is sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), combined with different types of sausages, as well as cuts of porks and potatoes. The formule option that I chose included the main dish and a dessert (which I devoured). Another dish that the region is known for are the Tarte flambée, which is composed of bread dough rolled out very thinly in the shape of a rectangle, with fromage blanc or crème fraiche, sliced onion and pork.
Strasbourg is the center of cultures, a place full of history and with a very special and interesting identity. This being a unique mixture of French and German culture that is sown into their culture, language, and architecture. In fact, many Alsatians feel that they are not in France but rather just in Alsace, and in the “middle”.
Strasbourg is definitely worth visiting, especially for those who are in love with history and fairy tales. This place will give you the opportunity to explore that further.
Le Tire Bouchon
$$-$$$- Order the Choucroute since it’s their most asked for dish.
Although Strasbourg is a small city and everything is at reach, I recommend staying in the city center to be able to move easily around the city.
Price: 40 euros a night
It was divided by two but it was around 40 euros a night.
They have tours in English and French and that run every day in the morning and afternoon. I would recommend taking one of their tours because they are run by natives and they try to show you as well as give you an anecdote of the life in Strasbourg and the Alsatian identity. The tour is free, but you are expected to leave a tip (I left around 5 euros). It runs for about 2 hours and walks you through the cathedral, Gutenberd, Kleber square, Republique and the German quarter.
Here are some other pictures from my trip:
Thank you for reading! Let me know if you have visited Strasbourg and if you have what did you think of it.