Reformed Church of St. Paul in Strasbourg at sunrise
local perspective

Strasbourg, France: know before you go

Located in the heart of Europe lies one of the most charming cities in France, Strasbourg. And, while it’s not a big as Paris, it has a lot to offer. From stunning architecture to mouthwatering food and enchanting markets, Strasbourg is a city that doesn’t disappoint. If you are planning a trip, here are a few things you should know, from a local, before you go.

View from the Vauban Bridge overlooking Strasbourg

1. History is important

Strasbourg's history is quite complex. Since the 5th century, it has changed hands between France and Germany at least five times. As a result, locals identify with the region, Alsace, rather than France. They even have their own language, Alsatian, which is a mix of both French and German languages.

This melting pot of cultures doesn’t stop with the language. The food and architecture are also a combination of both cultures. At times it feels like you're in France and other times Germany. But, after a few days in Strasbourg, you will realize that you are not in France or Germany, but in Alsace!

Colorful buildings in La Petite France

2. The colour of a building isn't trivial in Strasbourg

One of the first things you notice in Strasbourg is the brightly colored half-timbered houses. And, while it may appear haphazard, these colors have a purpose. Up until the 18th century, they corresponded to either the type of shop (i.e., bakery, butcher, etc.) or the religion of the household. In the latter case, blue represented Catholicism and red Protestantism.

Today the goal is to have a color different from your neighbor. And you can’t change the color of a building without permission from City Hall. For the most colorful buildings head over to La Petite France.

Panoramic view of the European Parliament in Strasbourg

3. Strasbourg is the gateway to eastern France and Central Europe

In 1999, Strasbourg became the official seat of the most important institution in Europe, the European Parliament. Not only that but Strasbourg is the economic hub of eastern France. This combined with its excellent public transportation makes Strasbourg the perfect base to explore the surrounding area. In fact, it’s commonly referred to as the gateway to the east.

From the central station, you can reach popular cities like Paris, the Black Forest (Germany), and Basel (Switzerland). You could even spend a day in Luxembourg.

Cathedral of Our Lady (Notre Dame) of Strasbourg at night in Alsace, France

4. Strasbourg’s Cathedral can be seen from everywhere

Standing at 142 meters, Strasbourg’s Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most impressive pieces of Gothic architecture. It towers over the city and can even be seen from Germany!

Not only is the exterior a masterpiece, but the interior is just as beautiful. From original stained-glass windows to the mysterious astronomical clock, it’s easy to see why this church took 300 years to build. And, if you are there half-past noon, you can see the clock's figurines come to life.

Taditional food 'Tarte Flambee' or 'Flammkuchen' from German-French Alsace border region.

5. It’s not pizza, it’s flammekueche

If you’re looking for pizza with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese you will be out of luck. Strasbourg has its own type of pizza called flammekueche. This regional specialty consists of thin dough covered in crème fraîche, onions, and lardons cooked in a wood-fired oven.

It’s a delicious mouth-watering alternative to traditional pizza that’s an absolute must if you're visiting Strasbourg.

A biking path in Strasbourg

6. Everyone uses a bike

One of the best ways to see Strasbourg is by bike. In fact, it’s the most common way to get around for locals. And, with over 600 km of biking paths, Strasbourg is one of the most bike-friendly cities in Europe. If you're just visiting, you can rent a bike at one of the many bike shops in the city. Vélhop is, however, the cheapest and easiest option.

Once you have your rented bike head out to Robertsau Forest or Île-du-Rohrschollen for the most scenic paths. Or if you’re up for a challenge, bike a section of the EuroVelo 15!

The Christmas market

7. Strasbourg is home to France’s oldest Christmas Market

If there is one thing Strasbourg is famous for it’s the Christmas Market. Every year, at the end of November, the city undergoes a complete transformation. Elegantly decorated wooden chalets from local vendors are placed throughout the city.

The smell of cinnamon and cloves from the glühwein (mulled wine) fills the air. And, at night, colorful lights illuminate the city, creating a magnificent winter wonderland. If you’re traveling to Strasbourg during this period of the year, the Christmas Market is not to be missed.

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Jen Ciesielski

Author - Jen Ciesielski

Jen Ciesielski is an avid traveler, hiker, and photographer. She is also the founder of Dabbling in Jet Lag, an adventure travel and photography blog. While originally from Chicago, Jen, now lives in Strasbourg, France. She blogs about her adventures around the world and travel photography, her two passions. And when she’s not planning her next adventure, you can find her hiking in the Vosges mountains.

Last Updated 7 October 2021

Lavender fields on the Plateau of Valensole, France


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