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Strasbourg is the capital and largest city of the Grand Est region of France, encompassing the areas known as Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne, and Lorraine. The cosmopolitan city has German and French influences, but also a wonderful multi-cultural flavour. From its emblematic Gothic Cathedral to the impossibly quaint Petite France district, here are the 20 top things to see in Strasbourg.
The Cathédrale de Notre-Dame is one of the most astonishing examples of Gothic architecture in the world, and features daily parades of the automated figures of its incredible astronomical clock and sweeping views of the city and river from the viewing platform.
Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament, where the Members of Parliament vote and where decisions are taken, and a stunning contemporary building was erected for this purpose on the river Rhine, in the European District. Individual visits to learn about the building and the functioning of the European institution are available only during plenary sessions, but group visits are organised year-round.
The best way to visit La Petite France is on foot. This historic quarter of Strasbourg is impossibly picturesque with its half-timbered homes and quaint canals. Some of the roofs have openings to air the attics where leather used to be dried.
The Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg, known as MAMCS to the locals, was inaugurated in 1998 to house the extensive art collection spanning the period from 1879 to our days. The Museum also organises several well-curated exhibitions each year.
The Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame houses four invaluable collections of Upper Rhine art until 1681. It is located in the building of the Fondation de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame a foundation that dates back to 1281 and still is responsible to this day for the maintenance and upkeep of the cathedral.
The Historical Museum, located in the city’s former slaughterhouse, tells the story of the city from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution. In addition to experiencing the memory of great events and historical figures, visitors can retrace the day-to-day life of ordinary citizens through the collection of costumes, furniture, and domestic objects.
On the water and mere steps away from the cathedral, the imposing Palais Rohan is the former 18th-century residence of the prince-bishops and cardinals of the House of Rohan, a French noble family tracing its origin to the region of Brittany. Today the palace is home to three museums in one setting: fine arts, archeology and decorative arts.
A little-known treasure of Strasbourg is the Church of Saint Peter the Young. Built on the site of a former Merovingian chapel, this Gothic church was consecrated in 1053 by the Alsatian Pope Leo IX. Visitors can discover the original base of the bell tower, 14th-century frescoes, and the peaceful cloister with columns dating back to the 11th century.
Probably the best-known city square in downtown Strasbourg, the Place Kléber has been fully pedestrianised and is home to one of the main Christmas markets and the official Christmas tree in winter, and a lovely place to sit on an outside terrace to people watch in the warmer months. The best shopping addresses in Strasbourg converge here, in the beating heart of local life.
The stork is the symbol of Alsace, seen as an emblem of fertility. Until fairly recently, the stork population was thought to be headed towards irreversible extinction. The species has made a comeback thanks to conservation efforts that saw it re-introduced in Strasbourg in 1971 with more than 800 young storks having been born since. The Orangerie Park the best chance of a stork sighting at any time of year.
The town’s oldest established park, the Parc de l’Orangerie has lovely lawned areas for families to take their children, romantic spots, a miniature farm and zoo, and is of course a favourite spot to catch a glimpse of the beloved storks. The lake and landscaped waterfall offer a delightful opportunity for boating and relaxing.
Johannes Gutenberg was born in Germany, but it was during his time living and working in Strasbourg that he made the main strides in the development of printing. French sculptor David d’Angers created a lifelike monument to the famous resident, situated in Gutenberg square opposite the Chamber of Commerce. He is seen proudly holding aloft a page of the Bible to show his momentous breakthrough.
This huge park-like square is located in the very heart of the ‘German quarter’ near the beautiful National Theatre building and the University Library. A poignant memorial is found within the park, featuring a woman with her two sons, one who has died for France, and the other for Germany, an allegory of the strain that the people of Strasbourg lived under during the two World Wars.
The Grande Mosquée de Strasbourg was inaugurated in 2012 and is the second largest mosque in France with a capacity for 1500 people. The main feature of the contemporary building is the 20-metre-high metal cupola weighing 128 tons.
The Barrage Vauban is a weir built in the 17th century to defend the city. It was also referred to as the Great Lock, although it was never meant for navigation. The terrace on the top offers a lovely view of the covered bridges and the perfect angle to admire the system of locks and canals that were at the forefront of technology for their time.
A highly symbolic location in light of the long and tumultuous history between the two countries, the Jardin des Deux Rives spans the border between France and Germany. Pedestrians and cyclists can cross the bridge and casually go on a very international promenade.
In 1871 Alsace and Moselle are annexed to the German Empire and Strasbourg becomes the capital of the new Reichsland Elsass-Lothringen. The city expanded to three times its former size and the Neustadt, the new city, not only mushroomed with imposing buildings as a symbol of power, such as the Palais du Rhin, the library, theatre and university, but later also included striking examples the softer lines of Art Nouveau architecture.
A lovely way to tie all these attractions together in the most relaxing way is to take a boat tour along the river Ill and the canals. The 70-minute itinerary covers Petite France, the Grand Îsle, the Imperial District and eve goes beyond to the point where the Ill river meets the mighty Rhine to admire the contemporary buildings of the European Parliament, European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe.
If there ever is a season when Strasbourg comes into its own, it’s Christmas. The entire city becomes a fairy tale to celebrate Alsace traditions with 300 stalls spread out over the city centre. In fact, Strasbourg’s Christmas market is not just one of the oldest and biggest in Europe but it has become so well-loved and popular that it earned Strasbourg the title of the ‘Capital of Christmas’.