Located in the Alsace region of France on the border with Germany, Strasbourg is perhaps best known for its Christmas market. However its winding waterways, half-timbered houses and fairytale features make it a charming place to visit all year round. Highlights include the Gothic cathedral, the European Parliament building and the Grande Île, the Unesco-listed island at the heart of the city, but be sure to get off the beaten track to enjoy the lesser-known charms, too. If you’ve only got one day to spend in the city, here’s how to make the most of it.
Breakfast at a beautiful bakery
As lunch and dinner are more popular in Strasbourg, it’s preferable to start the day with a light snack – such as the regional speciality of kougelhopf (a brioche-type bread) – from a local bakery. One of the most renowned is Boulangerie Pâtisserie Hanss. It’s been a Strasbourg staple since the turn of the century and was voted its most beautiful bakery as early as 1925.
Pro tip: Alternatively, you can pick up some provisions at the city’s popular market along Boulevard de la Marne, which runs every Tuesday and Saturday morning.
Stroll through a storybook
Picture Strasbourg and, chances are it will be the medieval district of la Petite-France, at the western end of the Grande Île, that springs to mind. Renowned for its half-timbered houses, twisting waterways and quaint quaysides, it’s like taking a stroll through a storybook. This area is also an Instagrammer’s dream with the picturesque pastels of the old houses reflected back from the water.
Pro tip: For some great photo opportunities, head to one of the bridges, such as the Pont du Faisan or the Pont Saint-Martin, or the panoramic terrace of the Vauban Dam.
Book yourself a boat ride
One of the best ways to see Strasbourg is from the water. As well as providing a unique view of the more historic parts of the city, a boat ride offers the chance to take a peek at the modern institutions based here – such as the European Parliament. Hop on board one of the Batorama boats near the cathedral, then sit back, relax and enjoy the changing views and informative commentary.
Pro tip: Go early to grab a good spot by the window; when the weather permits, you can also take an open-top boat tour.
Climb up the cathedral
Dating back to 1015, the spectacular sandstone cathedral, Notre-Dame, is the jewel in the crown of Strasbourg. Once the tallest building in the world – a title it held for more than 200 years – it can be seen from the Vosges Mountains. Today, you can climb up the 330 steps for a breathtaking view over the region or simply marvel at the masterpiece of timekeeping that is the astronomical clock.
Pro tip: Aim to be there by noon to see the clock’s animated figures make their appearance (which they do at 12.30pm every day except Sunday).
Eat authentic Alsatian cuisine
For the archetypal Alsatian experience, head to the renowned restaurant Maison des Tanneurs in la Petite-France. Housed in a beautiful building, dating from 1572, it is also classified as a historic monument. Just as importantly when it comes to lunch considerations, it offers authentic Alsatian cuisine, such as the signature dish of sauerkraut, as well as a lovely view over the water.
Pro tip: Maison des Tanneurs is open from Tuesday to Saturday, at lunch and dinner times only, so be careful to plan your visit accordingly.
Meander through a museum
Offering a veritable medley of museums, Strasbourg truly has something for all tastes. However, for an excellent introduction to the city, from the Middle Ages to the present day, opt for the Musée Historique de la Ville de Strasbourg. Housed in a 16th-century slaughterhouse, which is nicer than it sounds, the displays are also presented in a fun and interactive way.
Pro tip: For something completely different, take a trip to Château Vodou. Located in a water tower, the museum showcases more than 1,000 voodoo artefacts.
Wander through a wine cellar
Finish off your afternoon with a visit to the 14th-century wine cellar, Cave Historique des Hospices de Strasbourg, which is hidden away beneath the modern-day city hospital. Here you will find the world’s oldest barrel of white wine, a legendary vintage preserved since 1472 and served only three times since. Today, the cellar is run by a collective of leading Alsatian wine merchants who also sell their own wares here.
Pro tip: Any profit made from the sale of the wines is used to purchase medical equipment for the hospital, so you’ll be doing a good turn as well.
Wend your way to a winstub
After all that wine shopping, you’ll be ready for an apéro – and where better than a winstub? At these rustic taverns, which feel a bit like your German grandma’s living room, you’ll find an array of delicious local wines. They also offer traditional dishes such as tarte à l’oignon (pie with mounds of caramelised onions), choucroute garnie (a sort of glorified sauerkraut) or baeckeoffe (a hearty casserole dish).
Pro tip: There’s a winstub around every corner in Strasbourg (as well as bierstubs for the beer lovers). For one of the most authentic, try S’Kaechele, just steps from la Petite-France.
Eat out like a true Alsatian
Alternatively, there’s a wide array of outstanding restaurants in Strasbourg. One of the most atmospheric is Maison Kammerzell, located in a building from 1427, where they serve plentiful local fare. For a terrific tarte flambée (the Alsatian equivalent of pizza), it would be hard to beat Binchstub with its locally-sourced ingredients. For plant-based dishes, there is Pizz’arôme which serves generous slices of vegan pizza.
See the city when it sparkles
During the summer months, you can work off that hearty dinner on a ‘Strasbourg by Night’ walking tour. The city takes on a very different feel after dark, with twinkling lights reflecting off the water. Held every Friday and Saturday evening, full details are available from the tourist office. Or, if that all feels like too much effort, you can always opt for a nighttime boat ride instead.
Pro tip: Be sure to see the enchanting illuminations at the cathedral. Shows take place most evenings during the summer from around 10.15pm.
Sip a drink at a speakeasy
With Strasbourg’s large student population, there’s no shortage of vibrant nightlife. If beer is your thing, the Académie de la Bière offers an impressive selection. For cocktails, the hotspot in town is Code Bar or the quirky Les Savons d’Hélène. Alternatively, for a speakeasy-style drink, make for Moonshiners or Aedaen Place.
Pro tip: Party the night away to hits from the ‘80s and 90s in the vaulted basement of La Cabane. Decked out like a secret garden, strings of coloured lights add an atmospheric touch.