Exploring any city in 24 hours or less is a challenge especially when you are looking forward to experiencing everything there is to see. En route from Zurich to Luxembourg, we decided to take some time in the French city of Strasbourg and explore a destination other than Paris, the only location we had experienced in France prior to this trip. After spending just a few hours here, we want to share what we consider as the best things to do in Strasbourg.
Where is Strasbourg?
When you think about France, 99.9% of responses are going to be associated with a Parisian culture or typical landmark in the French capital, but what about the rest of this gorgeous country?
Whether you are reading a detailed French travel guide or spontaneously picking a hidden gem, France is home to a myriad of gorgeous destinations. Located in the Alsace region of France, Strasbourg is perfectly located on the German/French border and just a short distance from both Switzerland and Luxembourg.
The Rhine River winds its way through the heart of Strasbourg and both the architecture and culture is represented by the German-French influence. We will discuss more of this later but the strategic location of Strasbourg is one of the reasons why it is the home seat of the European Parliament.
Best Things to Do in Strasbourg
A towering cathedral, uniquely gorgeous architecture, historic cobblestoned streets and quirky yet delightful restaurants all combine to create the beautiful city of Strasbourg. There is nothing quite like arriving in Strasbourg’s Central Station (Gare de Strasbourg) and beginning your self-guided walking tour of the city knowing that you can experience much of this city on foot and within a few hours.
We spent about four hours here just walking around the historic city and really enjoyed our time here. Of course, we didn’t have time to experience everything in Strasbourg but we certainly made the most of our time in the Alsace region of France before heading onwards to Luxembourg City. You will immediately notice that Strasbourg is a very walkable city and honestly, I couldn’t imagine experiencing this part of France in any other way.
Let’s take a look at the route we took and some of the best things to do in Strasbourg that we experienced along the way.
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg is one of the most breathtaking cathedrals throughout France and possibly Europe. It is the focal point of Strasbourg and located in the heart of the old town district of the city.
When Paul Claudel referred to this cathedral as follows, he was clearly emphasizing the beauty of this gorgeous architectural design.
Cathedrale of Notre Dame is like a pinky-red angel hovering over the city
The history of the Strasbourg Cathedral dates back to the early 11th century when this Romanesque style cathedral was originally constructed in 1015. As with many historic European cathedrals, this was destroyed shortly after due to a fire and the present day design was completed in 1284.
One of the truly breathtaking aspects of this church is the towering spire that stands proudly above Strasbourg at over 470 feet. In fact, until 1874, it was listed as the world’s tallest building and today stands as the sixth tallest church in the world.
A gorgeous astronomical clock is located inside the southern part of the cathedral and is a true sight to behold. The animated figures that are transformed at various hours of the day make this a popular attraction for visitors, much like the historical astronomical clock in the Old Town Square of Prague.
Whether you take the time to go inside the church and spend a few Euros to experience the gorgeous interior or just appreciate the beauty from the outside, this is one of the most spectacular sights in Strasbourg. Given that this was one of the first attractions we saw during our tour of the city, it certainly reflected a great first impression.
Strasbourg Cathedral is located on the Grande Île (Grand Island) which is accessed after you cross the Ill River. It is referred to as the Grand Island because it is completely surrounded by water, either by the river or the Canal du Faux-Rempert.
In 1988, this particular area was accredited as a UNESCO World Heritage Site primarily because of the gorgeous medieval architecture that exemplifies this type of historic city.
A variety of smaller cathedrals can be found on Grande Île along with some of Strasbourg’s finest shopping streets.
From souvenir shops by Strasbourg Cathedral to high-end, luxury boutique shops, Strasbourg is a retail therapist’s paradise.
While the females in your life head into these chic shops, perhaps you will be inspired by the thought of grabbing a coffee at one of the quaint cafes or maybe something a little stronger at the quirky bars located in the heart of the Old Town district.
We had an awesome time just walking around this island though of course as you explore the fine architecture and hidden gems around every street corner, you never quite know what you may stumble across next.
The Vauban Dam, locally known as the Barrage Vauban, is a bridge and river defense that dates back to the 17th century when it was originally constructed. The original design was more than just a designated lock in the river system around Strasbourg, rather it was part of the fortifications that surrounded the medieval quarters of the city.
The dam stretched the full width of the Ill River and was designed in a way that allowed the southern half of the city to be completely flooded should an attack take place. Of course, today the Vauban Dam is more of an aesthetically pleasing landmark for visitors to the city. The stunning sculptures and intricate details that make up this dam, in addition to the grass terrace on top, make this one of the most iconic landmarks throughout Strasbourg.
From the top of the terrace, this provides stunning panoramic views across the Grande Île and beyond. Admission inside the dam is free for visitors who want a closer look but the most appealing aspect of this landmark is the architectural brilliance that makes this such an attractive historic icon of Strasbourg.
La Petite France
As we walked around the Grande Île, we approached an area of the city which was even more unique than the rest.
Unknowingly, we had arrived in the historical quarter of La Petite France but we soon realized that we were in a pretty special part of the city.
The Rue des Dentelles is one of the most iconic streets running through this district, primarily because of its quirkiness.
But despite this being one of the narrowest streets, the architecture that encloses visitors that stroll along the street make this a memorable experience and one that you cannot afford to miss.
This historic quarter is famous for the various weirs and locks that cross the Ill River. Combined with the medieval style buildings that reminded us of the distinctive architecture along the Chester Rows in England, this was certainly one of our favorite parts of Strasbourg.
The white timber-framed buildings are a beautiful reflection on the city’s style and along with the ancient canals it is very apparent that the German Empire had a major influence on the development of this region.
Our first impression of the Alsace region of France was nothing but awesome. Even spending just a few hours in the city of Strasbourg, this was enough to reassure us that a return visit to this part of the country is a must.
The historic museum in Strasbourg is a popular spot for those interested in learning more about the city’s rich history but due to time constraints we were not able to experience this aside from a passing visit.
I am a huge fan of unique architecture and Strasbourg is full of different designs that make you awe-inspired as you walk along the banks of the Ill River. Strasbourg Cathedral is one of the most beautiful cathedrals throughout Europe, so this is one landmark you will want to miss. However, simply getting out and strolling around is the best way to experience our recommended things to do in Strasbourg.