Strasbourg, France is an enchanting city. The picturesque lanes, half-timbered houses and incredibly detailed cathedral all vied for our attention as we soaked in the charm of the city. Bathed in springtime sunshine, we had 3 days in Strasbourg to explore the city that is both historic and modern with landmark architecture and a unique culture that is both French and German. In our discovery of the city, we identified 7 essential things to do in Strasbourg to experience the best of the city.
The idea to visit Strasbourg first came about when we were researching European Christmas Markets. The historic Strasbourg Marche de Noel is the region’s best Christmas Market, but our plans had us headed in another direction (to Krakow, Poland). Yet, the idea of visiting Strasbourg stuck with us.
Essential Things To Do in Strasbourg
Strasbourg is a city that appeals to many – history buffs, hard-core sightseers, shopaholics and foodies can all find something to love about Strasbourg! Our list of Essential Things To Do in Strasbourg incorporates a little of something for everyone. Getting around Strasbourg from sight to sight is easily done on foot or via tram.
#1 Size up the Strasbourg Cathedral
Standing prominently in the Strasbourg city centre, the Notre Dame Cathedral (also called the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg) tops the list of city attractions. With a spire that reaches 465 feet, the ornately decorated Gothic church can be seen from afar, but the best view is up close. It took more than 400 years to build the cathedral, which abounds with beauty, both inside and out.
When we visited the famous Strasbourg church, before entering we took time to marvel at the meticulous stone carvings on the facade, which rise above the arches of the three front doors. The carved cast of characters and intricate details extend to the top of the spire, which we could only see when we took a few steps backward into the cobblestoned square. Inside the cathedral we gazed up at the Great Organ, clinging to the side of the nave like a barnacle, and inspected the delicately sculpted stone pulpit. From there, we turned back toward the entrance of the church for a wonderful view of the colorful Rose Window with sunlight streaming through it. Standing in the South Transept, we found the highly-touted Pillar of Angels and Strasbourg Cathedral Clock (which was, unfortunately, covered in scaffolding during our visit).
Strasbourg Astronomical Clock
The Strasbourg Clock dates to the year 1547, but was drastically enhanced in 1842 to include the astonishingly accurate planetary dial and ecclesiastical calendar mechanism. At 12:30 every day, the clock presents the 12 Apostles parading before Jesus and the cock crowing three times. While the ‘show’ itself is not all that exciting, the Strasbourg Astronomical Clock video that begins at 12 noon was incredibly informative. Note: A ticket is required to view the Notre Dame Clock 12:30 Presentation, but is free with the Strasbourg Pass (more on the pass at the end of the post!).
Strasbourg Cathedral Platform
The cathedral platform sits directly above the main portal at 217 feet. Visitors are invited to climb more than 330 steps to the platform for sweeping views that stretch over the classically tiled Strasbourg rooftops, the Alsace region and, when Strasbourg weather is clear, all the way to the German Black Forest. Although it is the scenic view the lures people to top, we found the etchings at the base of the spire equally intriguing. Left by visitors of the past, some of the ornate carvings date to the 1600s. Note: A ticket is required to climb the steps to the platform, but is free with the Strasbourg Pass.
Strasbourg Notre Dame Cathedral Facts:
- The Strasbourg, France Cathedral was built from the year 1015 to 1439.
- The Cathedral reigned as the Tallest Building in the World for 227 years, from 1647 to 1874. Today, it ranks as the 6th-tallest Church in the world; of French cathedrals, it is the 2nd-tallest.
- The Rose Window on the west façade measures 45-feet in diameter.
- Some of the stained-glass windows date from the 12th-14th centuries.
- Strasbourg Cathedral Opening Hours: Daily from 9:15am to 11:15am and from 2:00pm to 5:45pm. The cathedral is free to visit.
Around the Strasbourg Notre Dame Cathedral
Before leaving the vicinity of the cathedral, take in the sights around the church:
- Maison Kammerzell (left of the cathedral) – Often referred to as ‘the most beautiful house in Strasbourg’, Maison Kammerzel dates to the 15th century and boasts phenomenal carvings on the façade.
- Place du Chateau and Palais Rohan (right of the cathedral) – The spacious square, Place du Chateau, offers incredible views of the cathedral, plenty of seating for a picnic lunch and free public bathrooms. Palais Rohan, built in the 1730s, was the residence of prince-bishops and cardinals; today it houses 3 museums (which can be visited for a fee, but free with the Strasbourg Pass). If the Palais Rohan doors are open, wander into the spacious courtyard for a quick glimpse at the interior.
- Strasbourg Shops (all directions from the cathedral) – Shops line the pedestrian-only streets leading away from the cathedral in Old Town Strasbourg, France. The most picturesque Strasbourg shopping street is Rue des Orfevres (Goldschmidtgass), which can be found leading away from the cathedral just past Maison Kammerzell.
- Strasbourg Office du Tourisme (left of the cathedral) – The Strasbourg Tourist Office is the place to pick up information about the city, a Strasbourg tourist map and the Strasbourg Pass.
Link to Google Maps of Strasbourg Cathedral Sights.
#2 Cruise the River on a Strasbourg Boat Tour
Taking a boat trip in Strasbourg is a fantastic way to get acquainted with the city and should be on every Strasbourg itinerary! We took a Strasbourg, France boat tour with Batorama. Their fleet of boats include both open-air and covered/air-conditioned options with multiple departures daily. The 1-hour boat trip around old Strasbourg, titled “20 Centuries of History,” offers commentary (via headset) in 12 languages (and special commentary for kids).
During our boat ride in Strasbourg, we were presented an introduction to the city, including Strasbourg facts and history, as well as information regarding the best places to visit in Strasbourg. As most of our city exploration was done on foot, it was lovely to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Note: The Batorama Strasbourg sightseeing boat requires a ticket, but is free with the Strasbourg Pass. Bookings must be made at the Batorama office (next to the Strasbourg Office du Tourisme).
#3 Wander the Strasbourg Quartiers
Strasbourg is a small, yet diverse city. Centuries of history have left their imprint in the form of distinctive quartiers (or districts). While many tourists limit their visit to the Old Town and Petite France Strasbourg, the districts that lie beyond the Grande Ile are equally intriguing Strasbourg places to visit. These are our favorite Strasbourg neighborhoods:
Old Town Strasbourg, France
At the heart of the city is the Strasbourg Cathedral – and around it the Old Town. Located on the Grande Ile (or Large Island), which is called such because it is encircled by the river and canal, the Old Town is a Strasbourg must-see! Take time to ramble along the quaint Strasbourg streets – which are home to some of the best shops and cafes in Strasbourg.
La Petite France Strasbourg
The Quartier des Tanneurs, or the Strasbourg Petite France district, is located west of the Old Town on the Grande Ile and on the small islands where the river splits into three channels. Considered by many to be the most attractive part of the city, it was once the poorest – and smelliest. The area developed in the 14th century as a river port and housing was built there for the fishermen, millers and dock workers. The name, Petite France, comes from the 15th century, when a hospital was built on the island to contain patients with syphilis, which was nicknamed ‘French Disease,’ by Germans – thus, La Petite France. Despite the unfortunate origins, visiting Petite France is one of the top Strasbourg, France things to do today.
Petite France attractions that are not to be missed are:
Maison des Tanneurs – The classic half-timbered Strasbourg house sits on the canal and was home to the Tanner’s Guild. For more beautiful half-timbered houses, walk down Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes, which begins in front of Maison des Tanneurs.
Ponts Couverts – Crossing the four river channels, Ponts Couverts – complete with three bridges and four towers – was built in the 13th century for defensive purposes. At the time, the bridge was covered to provide protection for the soldiers who stood guard on the bridge. No longer covered, Ponts Couverts is classified a historic monument.
Barrage Vauban – To the west of Ponts Couverts is Barrage Vauban, a dam built for city defense in the 17th century. If the city was attacked, doors could be lowered from the 13 arches on the dam, thus flooding the land south of the city and making it impossible for enemy soldiers to enter the city. Today, visitors can walk through the arcade to cross the river – or ascend the stairs to the observation deck (open only during the day). The elevated lookout provides stunning views of Ponts Couverts, Petite France and the Strasbourg Cathedral.
Top Tip: To learn more about the history and landmarks of the Grande Ile, we opted to use the Strasbourg Tourist Office Audio Guide (which came with a handy Strasbourg Walking Tour Map). With the guide, we could move at our pace to Strasbourg, France attractions and take as long as we wanted at each stop. Note: There is a fee for the Audio Guide, but it is discounted 50% with the Strasbourg Pass.
Neustadt (or New Town) is the district northeast of the Old Town. Featuring grand architecture, spacious squares and wide lanes, Neustadt was built as a new Strasbourg city center by the Germans from 1871 to 1918. The construction of Neustadt tripled the size of the city – and today the district hosts many Strasbourg things to see. Among the Strasbourg, France tourist attractions are Place de la Republique, St. Paul’s Church, University Palace, Palace of Justice and numerous villas (in various architectural styles – from Baroque Revival to Art Nouveau) along Allee de la Robertsau and the surrounding streets.
Located southeast of Grande Ile, Krutenau is not home to any Strasbourg top attractions, but is definitely one of the places to go in Strasbourg! With origins as a low-class neighborhood, the district was overhauled in the 1970s to provide university student housing. With trendy restaurants and hip cafes, Krutenau is the center of Strasbourg nightlife.
Northeast of Neustadt is the contemporary European Quarter. A cluster of modern buildings housing European Institutions – including European Parliament, Council of Europe and European Court of Human Rights – sits at the crossroads of waterways. The sleek design of the European Quarter, which is in stark contrast to the rest of the city, is one of the top things to see in Strasbourg, France.
Link to Google Maps of Strasbourg Districts and Sights.
#4 Relax in Strasbourg Parks and Squares
We love spending time outdoors – and in Strasbourg, there are numerous parks and squares to idle away sunny afternoons.
Parc de l’Orangerie is the oldest park in Strasbourg. Located northeast of the city center (in the European Quarter), the Parc de l’Orangerie occupies 64 acres of land. At the park visitors will find several tree-lined paths, pretty gardens, a couple of restaurants, a small zoo, a pond and a bowling alley.
The Botanical Garden, which is part of the university, dates to 1884. In addition to the 6,000 species of plants, there is also a planetarium. During our spring visit, however, the main draw was the mating frogs in the ponds (which could be heard from outside the park entrance!).
In addition to the formal parks, there is ample green space along the riverside. The grassy, sometimes shaded riverbanks were a perfect (and popular!) spot to have a picnic lunch and a rest while sightseeing Strasbourg.
Place du Chateau, as mentioned before, is a spacious square between the Strasbourg Cathedral and Palais Rohan.
Place Kleber is the largest square in Strasbourg and features the massive, 18th century pink sandstone Aubette Building and a statue of Jean-Baptiste Kleber.
Place Gutenberg dates to the year 1100 and is bordered by the Lower Rhine Chamber of Commerce and Industry Building (formerly the Town Hall). A statue of printer Johannes Gutenberg stands in the center next to a carousel.
Place de la Republique in Neustadt features a circular garden, which is the centerpiece of the square, and is surrounded by monumental structures. On the west side of the square is The Rhine Palace, which was built for the emperor; on the east are the National University Library and Strasbourg National Theater; and in the center is a monument to soldiers.
Place Broglie is a rectangular square that is home to a mish-mash of architecture and monuments (and was filled with market booths on the day we visited). The grand Opera House stands at the top end of the square (just across the river from Place de la Republique).
Place du Marche Gayot is an enclosed square behind the cathedral that has 8 entrances. Inside the square, there are ample choices of outdoor cafes.
Place Saint-Etienne is a modest, but pleasant square surrounded by half-timbered houses with two trees and a fountain at the center.
Place d’Austerlitz in the Krutenau district is lined with cafes and a central meeting point for families and friends.
Place Benjamin-Zix is a quaint, but lively, square in Petite France. Situated along the river, visitors will find both the Maison des Tanneurs and the popular café, La Corde a Linge, on the square.
Place des Tripiers is a lovely little square that dates to 1894.
Link to Google Maps of Strasbourg Parks and Squares.
#5 Marvel at the Churches in Strasbourg, France
While the cathedral is a must-see, it shouldn’t be the only church in Strasbourg that you visit. In total, there are 11 churches in – or on the perimeter of – the Grande Ile. Some are Protestant, some are Catholic. Not all churches are open to the public, but if the doors were open, we took a look inside (it’s one of the best free things to do in Strasbourg…especially if it’s rainy or too hot outside!). Three of the city’s churches made our list of top places to visit in Strasbourg, France.
St. Pierre Le Jeune Protestant Church
St. Pierre Le Jeune Protestant Church (or St. Peter the Young) completely wowed us (which is rare, as we visit a lot of churches). The historic church is lavishly decorated with 14th century frescoes and a 1780 organ that is perched on the unique and ornamental choir screen. The church provides information cards (in multiple languages) to point out the features of the church, like the 7th century crypt, where bones are on display.
St. Thomas Church
St. Thomas Church in the Strasbourg Old Town has a significant history as both a Catholic and Lutheran church (which it is now) and boasts two sights: the organ, which was played by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1778, and the mausoleum of Marshall Maurice de Saxe, which was created by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle.
St. Paul’s Church
St. Paul’s Church was built in the late 1800s in the Gothic Revival style. The spires measure 250-feet-tall, making it the second tallest church in Strasbourg (after the cathedral, of course). The church was closed during our visit, so we were not able to see the historic pipe organ that dates to 1897.
The other churches in Strasbourg are: St. Nicholas Church, Le Bouclier Church, St. Pierre le Vieux Church, St. Jean’s Church, St. Pierre le Jeune Catholic Church, St. Guillaume’s Church, Temple Neuf Church and St. Madeleine’s Church.
Other notable religious sites in the city are the Great Mosque of Strasbourg and the Great Synagogue.
Link to Google Maps of Strasbourg Churches.
#6 Feast on Strasbourg, France Food and Drink
Eating Out in Strasbourg
When searching for places to eat in Strasbourg, you don’t have to look far. The city boasts numerous eateries serving classic, regional dishes like foie gras, which is said to have been invented in the city in 1780, making it a Strasbourg famous food. Other things to eat in Strasbourg are sauerkraut, baeckeoffe, Munster cheese and tarte flambee, a thin pizza-like dish that ranks as our favorite in the city.
For something sweet, there are plenty of pastry and chocolate shops offering treats. The beautifully crafted desserts are displayed in window cases. When it is warm outside, shops sell artisan ice cream from street stands so that visitors can stroll down the streets of Strasbourg with a cone in hand. We indulged in fabulous sweet treats while in the city – the mint chocolate chip cone from Jeff de Bruges was the best!
Alsatian pubs, called winstubs, pair seasonal dishes with local wine and are top places to eat in Strasbourg, France and are found in the city’s historic lanes. If you are looking for more of the top Strasbourg places to eat, check out the reviews on TripAdvisor.
Drinking in Strasbourg
The Alsace region is well-known for its wine and beer production – and sampling the product is one of the fun things to do in Strasbourg! Fifty percent of the beer produced in France is made by five companies in Alsace. However, we were more interested in tasting the local craft beer – and one of the best bars in Strasbourg for craft beer is Academie de la Biere. We liked the IPA (and Forestiere Gratinee tarte flambee) at Academie de la Biere so much that on our short visit, we patronized the restaurant twice. Another craft beer bar in Strasbourg that we highly recommend is Les BerThoM, which has a great happy hour and good service.
White wine is the regional specialty – and although we prefer red wine, we couldn’t resist sampling a few Alsace whites. Local wine is served almost everywhere – and we most enjoyed it in the afternoon sitting at an al fresco café. Our favorite spot was riverside, under the shade trees at the cafes just north of Ponts Couverts.
For a drink-with-a-view, head to the floating pubs on Quai des Pecheurs. Three moored boats offer on-board and on-sidewalk seating. We liked the river-facing seats at Café Atlantico the best!
#7 Brush up on Regional History at Strasbourg Museums
The history of Strasbourg is fascinating…and a little confusing for those without a comprehensive understanding of Europe’s past. Visiting a Strasbourg history museum can help sort the timeline of events in Strasbourg to better understand the city. Although there are several museums that delve into the past, we were most intrigued by the Musee Alsacien, which chronicles the life and culture of the Alsatian people. The museum was filled with detailed displays and the provided audio guide recounted numerous Strasbourg fun facts. Note: A ticket is required to visit the museum, but is free with the Strasbourg Pass.
The second Strasbourg museum we visited was the historical wine cellar, Cave Historique des Hospices. Located beneath the hospital, where it was founded in 1395, the small cellar features a single row of wooden barrels. At the end of the row, secured behind an iron gate, are barrels that hold the ‘world’s oldest barreled wine,’ which dates to 1472. The wine has only been offered for tasting three times on very special occasions – in the years 1576, 1716 and 1944. The wine produced in the other barrels is for sale in the gift shop in the bottles labeled ‘Cave des Hospies’ (but, unfortunately, you can’t drink on-site). The historic wine cellar is free to visit and audio guides can be rented.
Other top museums in Strasbourg, France: Palais Rohan (Archaeological Museum, Decorative Arts Museum and Fine Arts Museum), Oeuvre Notre Dame Museum, Strasbourg Historical Museum, Zoological Museum and Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Link to Google Maps of Strasbourg Museums.
Top Tips for your Trip To Strasbourg
The springtime weather was perfect when we visited Strasbourg – sunny and warm, but not too hot! Check the Strasbourg, France weather on weather.com before your trip.
Strasbourg City Pass
The Strasbourg Pass is an economical way to see top Strasbourg, France attractions. We used the pass for the Batorama Boat Ride, the Cathedral Platform, the Astronomical Clock, the Alsatian Museum and discounted Audio Guide for Strasbourg on Foot – although there are several more offers we did not take advantage of. The booklet of coupons costs €21.50 for adults (less for children); it would have cost us €29.75 to see the same sights without the pass. The Strasbourg Pass can be purchased at the Strasbourg Tourist Office.
Strasbourg Maps and Information
Strasbourg attractions maps and information are available at the Strasbourg Tourist Office for a small fee. Or purchase a Strasbourg sightseeing map on Amazon prior to your trip, so you can plan your own self-guided walking tour of Strasbourg, France in advance!
We enjoyed our audio-guided tour and Strasbourg Canal Tour commentary, but there are many Strasbourg tours to choose from! You can book a guided tour – like a City Bike Tour, Pedicab Tour, a Night Tour, and Cathedral Tour – or join a free walking tour Strasbourg by Happy Strasbourg or Free Tour. Note: The premise of the Strasbourg free walking tour is that you tip the guide generously – and if you feel they delivered a good tour, they should be tipped accordingly.
Strasbourg Day Trips
Want to discover more of the Alsace Region? Join one of the popular tours of the region: Alsace Day Trip and Alsace Wine Route Tasting. The Alsace Day Trip visits some of our favorite cities in the region – like Colmar and Eguisheim; while the Alsace Wine Route Tasting lets visitors sample some of the best wines in the area.
How Many Days in Strasbourg?
While visiting Strasbourg in a day is possible, we feel you need at least 2 days in Strasbourg to see and experience the top Strasbourg attractions and sights (which is why a weekend in Strasbourg is a great idea!). For us, 3 days in Strasbourg was ideal; we were never rushed and had ample time to experience the highlights of the city.
Where to Stay in Strasbourg
The best place to stay in Strasbourg is in – or very close to – the Grand Ile.
During our visit to Strasbourg, we stayed at the Montempo Apparthotel, which we liked for its affordability, small kitchen and location (5 minute walk to Petite France). However, there are many Strasbourg hotels to choose from. Check out these top-rated hotels (based on guest reviews!) for your upcoming trip: Cour du Corbeau MGallery by Sofitel, Hotel Les Haras and BOMA Hotel Nouvelle Generation – all of which are located in the Old Town.
Getting to Strasbourg
Strasbourg can be reached by plane, train, bus, car or river cruise. We arrived via bus from Frankfurt and departed via bus to Basel – but our preferred method to travel is by flying (we are JetSetting Fools, after all!). When we need to purchase plane tickets, we start our search for the best deals on airline tickets on Skyscanner or Flight Hub. Check for bus and train routes to Strasbourg on Rome2Rio.
Before You Go
- Strasbourg is a walkable city…but only if you have the right shoes! Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for your trip. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos (that can later be beautifully compiled into a travel photo book). We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- Traveling to other parts of France? Be sure to have a good guidebook for your trip!
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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