Strasbourg was our first journey into France. But when we got there, it felt like we hadn’t actually left Germany. Though it is the capital city of the Alsace region of France, the town has gone back forth between being governed by France and Germany and is therefore, a charming blend of the two cultures. The language is mostly French, we hardly heard any though residents do speak both languages, and the names were pretty mixes as well, such as Pierre Schwarz or Hans Dubois (I don’t know if those are real people, just examples I made up right this minute). The architecture is mostly the same half-timbered structures one sees throughout Germany, but I have to say the cuisine here is far superior than some of the traditional German cuisine I’ve had. The town has a series of canals running through it and it does sit at where two rivers meet, the Ill and the Rhine. Thus it has a strong shipping tradition as well as water taxis and tour boats (we also saw some rowing).
The history of this place is fascinating and well documented in the museums. However I’ve noticed in my research to write up this piece that they left out a very tragic and historic but comical sounding disease that afflicted the city around the time of the early 1500’s. There are two museums worth noting in the city, the Alsatian Museum and the Historical Museum.
We really enjoyed the Alsatian Museum, it’s built up from a few townhouses that are now connected. Each room displays a different portion of Alsatian life throughout the ages and of the different social classes. They’ve done an excellent job leaving the house to look like its suspended in the 1800’s, it really adds to the charm of the exhibits.
The Historical Museum had a broader view of the region and the politics that go back to the Roman times. There were maps and displays that showed how the city was fought over through the many wars and up to the modern times. Both museums are worth visiting to get the broadest sense of the Alsace region. If the modern era is more to your liking, Strasbourg places an important role to the European Union; it is the seat of both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. Strasbourg could be thought of as the home of the House and the Senate, for American terms.
We visited while it was cold and rainy for some time and that did dampen the trip a bit, my pictures of the colorful buildings that remind me of Stockholm aren’t as bright as I’d like. But there are plenty of places to duck in and out of during rain showers and lots of photo stops regardless of weather. Luckily there were large enough gaps in the weather that we were able to explore most of the city on foot. We did take a mini train tour (these are becoming my favorite I think) and a boat tour (also love these). While walking through the old town and shopping areas, we kept noticing the stork being used as a symbol on pottery or linens and kitchen things. Turns out the storks are important birds and are symbols of good luck and new fortune (this is the region where the legend of the stork bringing the new baby home comes from). On our way in and out of the city we had noticed more than a few storks hanging out in the marshes but didn’t realize they were so numerous until we were actually in Strasbourg.
The cathedral is like some other European cathedral with an optional climb up the tower to enjoy an overlook of the city. Definitely recommend climbing up to this walk, the roof is large enough for most groups so there is no overcrowding feeling. And unlike some other towers, this one has a staircase up and a separate staircase down, so no getting stuck or feeling a crowd pushing you forward. There is an astronomical clock inside the cathedral on the ground level, however we did not plan ahead and did not get to see it in action.
I would recommend those coming from the Frankfurt region that this be a weekend trip, rather than a day trip. There’s quite a bit to do, even the museum visits were a few hours each. There are plenty of AirBnb’s here, we hardly ever book hotels anymore, and there’s ample parking. I also recommend buying the citypass. A lot of different cities offer them and it can be hard to tell if they’re worth the price, but this one is. The amount of free stuff alone was worth it to us:
bicycle rental for half a day
free museum entrance to any museum
Plus there are other half priced and discounted activities to do.
I mentioned that I like the food here, the wine is also excellent. The wine region we live in leans heavily towards Riesling and whites, but Alsace has the full bodied reds that I really like. Flammkuchen is a popular dish and they have a regional speciality. In addition, I find the food to be less heavy than German food but with influences, such as the potato being the king vegetable and served with most meals. There are plenty of places to walk after a meal besides the streets and canals, we liked the Parc d’Orangerie. Here you can rent rowboats or sit in one of the cafes or hike along the many trails. This was also a great spot for stork watching.
I’d like to return to explore some more restaurants and check out other museums we didn’t have time for. I’d also like to do a wine tasting here. Plenty of parking and lodging plus reasonably priced food made this an excellent weekend for us.