The capital and largest city of the Grand Est region of France – encompassing Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne and Lorraine – this cosmopolitan destination has German and French influences, but also a wonderful multicultural flavour. From the gothic cathedral to the quaint Petite France, here are the top things to see in Strasbourg.
One of the most astonishing examples of gothic architecture in the world, the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame features daily parades of the automated figures of its astronomical clock. Head to the viewing platform for sweeping views of the city and river.
Built in 1999, the European Parliament is housed in a glass building, in the European District, on the river Rhine. If you want to visit and learn more about the functioning of this European institution, you’ll need to come during plenary sessions; however, group visits are available all year round.
The best way to visit Petite France is on foot. This historic quarter of Strasbourg, with half-timbered homes and quaint canals, was home to millers, fishermen and tanners in the 16th and 17th centuries – some of the roofs open up, allowing hides hanging in the attic to be dried in the open air.
Modern and Contemporary Art Museum
The Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg was inaugurated in 1998 to house an extensive art collection dating from 1879. The museum also organises several well-curated exhibitions each year.
L’Oeuvre Notre-Dame Museum
The Musée de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame, housed in a gothic Renaissance building, is home to four important collections of Upper Rhine art dating up to 1681. It is run by the Fondation de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame, which dates back to 1281 and is responsible to this day for the maintenance and upkeep of the cathedral.
Historical Museum – Ancienne Grande Boucherie
The Musée Historique de la Ville de Strasbourg, in a 16th-century former slaughterhouse, tells the story of the city from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution. Visitors can get a feel for the day-to-day life of ordinary citizens through a collection of costumes, furniture and domestic objects.
On the banks of the River Ill, near the cathedral, sits the imposing Palais Rohan. This 18th-century building was the former residence of a French noble family, including prince-bishops and cardinals, originally from Brittany. Today the palace is home to three museums: fine arts, archaeology and decorative arts.
Church of St Peter the Young
A little-known treasure of Strasbourg, the gothic Eglise Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune was consecrated in 1053 by the Alsatian Pope Leo IX. It was built on the site of a chapel from the Merovingian dynasty – the ruling family of the Franks from the middle of the fifth to the eighth centuries. It’s worth a visit to see the original base of the belltower, some 14th-century frescoes and a peaceful cloister with columns dating back to the 11th century.
Probably the best-known square in downtown Strasbourg, the fully pedestrianised Place Kléber is home to one of the city’s main Christmas markets and the official Christmas tree in winter. The best shopping streets in Strasbourg converge on the square, and it’s a great place to people-watch in the warmer months.
The stork, representing fertility, is the symbol of Alsace. Until 1971, the stork population was thought to be facing extinction; however, the species has made a comeback thanks to conservation efforts, and more than 800 young storks have since been born in the city. The Orangerie Park offers the best chance of a stork sighting, no matter what time of year.
The oldest established park, dating back to the 17th century, the Parc de l’Orangerie has lawns where the kids can play, as well as romantic spots, a miniature farm and zoo; it’s also a favourite spot to catch a glimpse of the beloved storks. The lake and landscaped waterfall offer an opportunity for boating.
Johannes Gutenberg was born in Germany some time in the 1400s, but it was during his time living and working in Strasbourg that he made strides in the development of printing. There’s a statue of him in the square, opposite the Chamber of Commerce, created by French sculptor David d’Angers in 1840, which depicts Gutenberg proudly holding aloft a page of the Bible.
Place de la République
This huge square, with a park in the middle, sits in the heart of the German quarter, near the National Theatre and the University Library. There’s a poignant memorial in the park featuring a woman with her two sons – one of whom died for France and the other for Germany. It’s a symbol of the divided loyalties of the people of Strasbourg during two world wars.
The Great Mosque
The Grande Mosquée de Strasbourg, inaugurated in 2012, is the second largest mosque in France with a capacity for 1,500 people. Its main feature is a 20m-high (66ft) metal cupola weighing 116 tonnes.
The Vauban Dam
The Barrage Vauban was built in the 17th century across the River Ill to defend the city. It was used in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, to raise the water levels and stop the enemy from advancing. It has a terrace across the top offering great views of the covered bridges – and you can also admire the system of locks and canals that were at the forefront of technology at the time.
The Garden of Two Shores
A symbol of friendship between France and Germany, planted in 2004 on both sides of the River Rhine, the Jardin des Deux Rives spans the border between the two countries. You can walk or cycle across the bridge and go on a very international promenade.
In 1871, when Alsace and Moselle were annexed to the German Empire, Strasbourg became the capital of the new Reichsland Elsass-Lothringen and tripled in size. The Neustadt, or new city, mushroomed, with imposing buildings as a symbol of power, such as the Palais du Rhin, the library, theatre and university, and later included striking examples of art-nouveau architecture.
A boat tour along the River Ill and the canals is a relaxing way to take in the sights. The 70-minute itinerary covers Petite France, the Grand-Île, the Imperial District and beyond, to the point where the Ill meets the mighty Rhine. You’ll get to admire the contemporary buildings of the European Parliament, European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe along the way.
Christmas is a time when Strasbourg comes into its own, celebrating Alsace traditions with 300 stalls spread out over the city centre. The Christmas market – comprising 13 separate ones all within walking distance of the old town – is the oldest and biggest in Europe, earning Strasbourg the title, the Capital of Christmas.
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