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Updated post: 09/04/2020 | April 2020
Worthy of its coveted inclusion in Conde Nast’s list of the ten most beautiful towns in France, Colmar looks like it has been lifted straight out of a book of fairy-tales. So much so, that some believe that it was the inspiration for Belle’s village in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Due to its compact size, it is easy to explore Colmar in one day and to take the opportunity to sample delicious Alsace cuisine. Whether you are visiting Colmar as a day trip or staying overnight, here are some essential tips and a tried and tested itinerary to help you make the most of your time there.
To whet your appetite, take a look at this short video of the highlights of Colmar:
Where is Colmar?
Colmar is in the Alsace region of France, in the east of the country, close to the border with Germany.
It lies 40 miles southwest of Strasbourg. As the crow flies, Colmar is around 235 miles from Paris.
Why should you visit Colmar?
Colmar is a feast for the eyes.
Picture cobbled streets and pastel-hued, half-timbered medieval buildings lining small canals. Add a smattering of lively cafes, historic churches and museums and you have the measure of the place.
The city’s architecture is a legacy of the Alsace region see-sawing between Germany and France over a 200 year period. These fluctuations in ownership are also reflected in the region’s cuisine.
Blending German and French culinary influences, Colmar is foodie heaven. And oenophiles will not be short-changed either. The so-called Capital of Alsatian Wine, Colmar is firmly on the Alsation Wine Route.
With good train connections to major cities such as Strasbourg, Paris and Basel, Colmar is not only easy to get to, but also makes a great base from which to explore the region. I did exactly that, basing myself there for four nights.
What is the best time of year to visit Colmar?
Colmar is a year-round destination and the best time to visit will depend on what you would like to do there (and your tolerance for crowds!).
- The quieter months are January / February and early to mid-November.
- At the end of November, Colmar becomes a lot busier with the arrival of its famous Christmas markets, which are open until the end of December.
- Visitor numbers peak again during the summer, particularly during the Colmar International Festival, showcasing classical music, in early July, and during the Colmar Wine Fair in late July / early August.
- Easter can also be a busy time in Colmar when it hosts Easter markets
- Unless you want to visit the markets or attend these festivals, Spring or Autumn are probably the best times to visit Colmar. I went there in September which was a perfect balance of pleasant weather and, although busy, Colmar wasn’t rammed with visitors.
The best things to do in Colmar in one day
As the historic hub of Colmar is spread over a small area and the list of must-do sights modest, it is easy to explore in one day. To help you make the most of your day in Colmar, take a look at the itinerary that I used, which includes recommended places to eat.
But much of the pleasure of visiting Colmar comes from just mooching around, drinking in its beauty and capturing those Kodak moments. Therefore, just think of this itinerary as a loose framework to help plan your day in Colmar.
Colmar one-day itinerary
MORNING: A WALKING TOUR OF COLMAR
Why not start your day in Colmar with a gentle walking tour?
Colmar’s streets are made for wandering without a set agenda. But if you fancy something a little more structured, pick up a map from the friendly and helpful tourist information office.
This map has a suggested walking route with numbered key sights, many of which have adjacent information boards. Helpful pavement plaques of the Statue of Liberty will point you in the right direction. These are a nod to Colmar’s most famous son, the sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi, who designed the Statue of Liberty.
La Petite Venise (Little Venice)
Your first stop is La Petite Venise, which is a Colmar must-do sight.
This is the name given to the area crossed by canals of the River Launch and is one of the prettiest areas of the city. But with beauty comes popularity, so my advice is to start early before those visiting Colmar on a day trip arrive.
Start on Rue Turenne and then turn onto Quai de la Poissonnerie.
This is the old Fishmongers’ Quarter and, as the name suggests, was where the town’s fisherman and boatman lived and worked. The kaleidoscope of pastel-coloured buildings we see lining Colmar’s canals today is thanks to extensive restoration work that took place between 1979 and 1981.
This is also the best place to capture those images of the old town adorning many postcards of Colmar. Set your camera to stun on the bridge at Rue des Ecoles for those Instaworthy images.
The Tanners’ Quarter & Place de l’Ancienne Douane
From here, make your way to the Tanners’ Quarter, named after the tanners who used to live and work in this district. Half-timbered houses mostly dating from the 17th and 18th Century line Rue des Tanneurs at its epicentre
Now walk back to the Place de l’Ancienne Douane, the location of one of Colmar’s famous Christmas markets. This is also where you will find the Old Customs House (Koïfhus), dating back to 1480.
The Pfister House
Once you have admired the Old Customs House’s Renaissance-style exterior, turn down Rue des Marchands to take a look at the Pfister House. It is named after the family who restored it and lived there between 1841 and 1892.
Built in 1537 from soft Vosges sandstone, this Colmar landmark is known for its delicate mural paintings representing biblical and secular scenes. Look out also for the wooden oriel window adorned with medallions depicting emperors of the Roman Empire.
LUNCH AT COLMAR’S COVERED MARKET (MARCHÉ COUVERT)
By now you should have worked up a good appetite.
To make you salivate more, check out the cheeses, fruit & vegetables and jars of mustard in Colmar’s airy 14th Century covered market. You will find entrances on Rue des Vignerons and Rue des Écoles.
AFTERNOON: COLMAR’S CANALS AND CHURCHES
A boat ride along Colmar’s canals
Sated, it’s now time to take to the water.
Six Euro of your hard-earned cash will buy you a 30-minute gentle journey along Colmar’s canals. This allows you to get close up and personal to the town’s medieval buildings before venturing into a more verdant, residential area.
Remember to duck your head when going under those stone bridges!
Your Colmar boat trip over, it’s now time to check out a few churches.
Gawp at an artistic masterpiece in the Dominican Church (Église des Dominicains)
Dating mainly from the 14th Century, the Dominican Church’s airy interior is illuminated by sublime stained glass windows. However, its star turn is Martin Schongauer’s masterpiece, Madonna of the Rose Bush (1473).
You will find the church on Place des Dominicains. A small entrance fee applies.
Gaze upwards at the Gothic splendour of St Martin’s Church (Collégiale Saint-Martin)
From the Dominican Church, it’s a two-minute walk along Rue des Serruriers to St Martin’s Church.
Built between 1234 and 1365 from local pink limestone, locals may refer to it as a cathedral. However, it was a cathedral for less than a decade at the time of the French Revolution.
Its 71-meter high tower is notable for its lantern shape. Other noteworthy features are its extravagant Baroque organ and two exterior anti-Semitic images – Judensäue – that bear testament to the troubled history of Jews in Alsace.
Admission is free.
DINNER IN COLMAR
It is possible to visit Colmar on a day trip, and many people do. However, I recommend staying at least one night.
This will give you the opportunity to enjoy the streets of Colmar in the evening when they have emptied of day-trippers. It also means that you will be able to sample Alsace food and wine in one of Colmar’s many excellent restaurants.
The perfect end to a perfect day in Colmar.
What to eat in Colmar (Alsation food)
A perfect marriage of French and German cuisine, here’s a few things that you can expect to find on the menus of Colmar’s restaurants.
Tarte Flambée – This is an “Alsace Pizza”, with cream ham and cheese topping a wafer-thin flatbread.
Bæckeoffe – A slow-cooked casserole of sliced potato, onions, mutton, beef and pork.
Choucroure Garnie – Wine-braised sauerkraut, cured pork, and sausages, flavoured with juniper berries, garlic and cloves.
One of my favourite wine regions for some years, the Alsace produces mostly white wines: Reisling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat. However, I also tried an Alsace Pinot Noir – a perfect pairing with a slice of Tarte Flambée – which was excellent.
In my opinion, Alsace wines are criminally underrated, and one of the best things that you can do in Colmar is to sample a few different grape varieties.
How to get to Colmar
- I visited Colmar as part of an Interrail trip through Switzerland and France.
- Colmar’s train station is conveniently located on the edge of the old town. Colmar has excellent train connections to both French and other European cities. Thanks to a direct high-speed train link, it is possible to visit Colmar as a day trip from Paris (2h 17 mins).
- Colmar is equidistant from Strasbourg and Basel international airports.
- You can also easily include Colmar as part of a road trip through Europe
How to get around Colmar
As Colmar‘s main attractions are close to each other, walking is your best option. Colmar’s train station is around 15 minutes’ walk from the old town.
Where to stay in Colmar
Hotel choices are limited in Colmar’s old town. However, there is a decent selection of apartments from which to choose.
Tips for visiting Colmar
Stay overnight! Yes. I know that I am repeating myself but it’s important enough to reiterate. The best time to wander Colmar’s streets is when they are free of day-trippers and you will also have the opportunity to try more the city’s fantastic restaurants.
Make dinner reservations in advance. Even though I visited Colmar out of peak season, its restaurants were still busy. I dread to think how difficult it would be to get seated without a reservation in peak season.
Day trips from Colmar
The Alsace region is stuffed with other charming towns that you can visit on day trips from Colmar. Although it is easier to visit these towns by car, tours operate in peak season or you rent a bicycle. These towns on the Alsace Wine route include Eguisheim, Riquewihr and Ribeauville.
I used Colmar as a base to visit Strasbourg and Basel on day trips by train.
DISCOVER MORE PLACES TO VISIT IN FRANCE
- A Weekend in Normandy: Day Trips from Honfleur
- One Day in Lille, Northern France
- One Day in Nice, France
- One Week in Provence by Rail Made Easy