Seeking out the best that a city can offer in a day can be challenging. Right? And it can be particularly tricky if that city is as architecturally and historically rich as Strasbourg.
Strasbourg, the capital city of the Alsace region in Eastern France, lies two miles from the German border on the other side of the Rhine. In the league of French cities to visit, it is often overlooked in favour of the more glamorous Paris, sunnier Nice or the foodie’s delight, Lyon.
This is a pity because, for my money, Strasbourg is one of the prettiest cities in France. Its historic city centre, the Grande Île, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Steeped in history, between 1681 and 1914 its ownership see-sawed between Germany and France, the legacy of which can be seen in its architecture and food.
As a day-tripper, the good news is that many of the city’s main attractions are in a compact area. This means that it is easy to navigate on foot. Therefore, by following my self-guided walking tour, you will be able to uncover the treasures of Strasbourg in a day or less.
To view a map of this route, click here.
From the train station, it’s an easy 15-minutes’ walk to the cathedral.
After its Parisian namesake, Strasbourg’s Notre Dame is the most visited cathedral in France. Standing on the site of a Roman temple, the Notre Dame is unabashed Gothic splendour. With its 142 meter tower, towering like an exclamation mark over the city, for four centuries it was considered to be the tallest building in the world.
As Hitler had his beady eye on its magnificent stained glass windows, they were placed in salt mines during WW2. The rose window above the main entrance is particularly striking.
When you visit the cathedral, don’t leave without paying your respects to the sculpture of the dog in the pulpit. It is said that when the Geiler of Kayserberg preached from this pulpit, he was always accompanied by his faithful friend. As his sermons were often long and earnest, his dog would often have forty winks.
So now we have his dog, sleeping for eternity. Legend has it that if you rub his nose, good luck and blessings will come your way.
- Entry to the cathedral is free
- If you are feeling energetic and have €5 to spare, you can climb the 332 steps of a spiral staircase to a viewing platform for views over the city and beyond.
- The famed astronomical clock whirrs into action Mon-Sat at 12.30. The cost of a ticket is €3. Alternatively, you can see it for free immediately after 11 am Sunday Mass.
- Before moving on, step into Rue Merciere, the best spot for taking a photo of the cathedral.
When you are ready, head towards the river and then follow it towards Petite France.
La Petite France
Located at the western end of the Grand Île, La Petite France is a delight to wander around. Dating from the Middle Ages, this was once the city’s industrial heart, home to its millers, tanners and fishermen. It is here that you will find the largest concentration of Strasbourg’s candy-coloured, half-timbered buildings, dating from the 16th and 17th Centuries.
Take a break for lunch at Le Baeckeoffe d’Alsace for a tasty Tarte Flambée, a cheeky beer and service with a smile.
Once fed and watered, head towards the Ponts Couvert.
The Ponts Couverts is a set of four towers and three bridges dating from the mid-13th Century. Originally built as a defence for Strasbourg, they were eventually superseded by the Barrage Vaudan over 400 years later.
Their name comes from the wooden roof that originally covered the bridge to protect the defender stationed there. Although the roof was torn down at the end of the 18th Century, the name remains.
- The Quai de la Petite France is one of the best places to capture that perfect Insta-worthy image back over La Petite France.
A stone’s throw from the Ponts Couverts, the Barrage Vaudan is the next stop on our Strasbourg self-guided walking tour.
This is a bridge, weir and defence built in the 17th Century. To be honest, it is an unremarkable building and today houses artworks. But climb the 60 steps to its terrace for terrific views of La Petite France and the Ponts Couverts.
From the Barrage Vaudan it’s a 10-minute walk back to the railway station.
Strasbourg’s street art
On your way back to the station, keep an eye out for street art on the city’s walls and buildings.
If you are interested in exploring this in more depth, take a look at this interactive map.
More time to spare?
If so, consider these options:
- A boat tour on the Rhine Canal. This 70-minute tour with commentary will set you back €13. I was tempted to do this but the boats are completed covered in tinted glass which would have made photo-taking tricky.
- A 40-minute road train trip taking in the highlights of Strasbourg. Yours for a mere €7.
How to do it
- I visited Strasbourg as a day trip from Colmar. The train journey takes 30 minutes.
- Thanks to high-speed train link it is possible to visit Strasbourg as a day trip from Paris (1h 45 mins). Strasbourg is also a popular stop on Rhine cruises.
- In Colmar, I stayed at My Sweet Homes apartment, which was centrally located and well equipped.
Which cities have you visited that are best explored on foot? It would be great if you could share your experience in the comments section. And if you have found this post helpful, I would be very grateful if you could pin it or share via social media.
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