Strasbourg, France is a thriving modern city, with a beautiful medieval core that surrounds its soaring Gothic Cathedral. When Philadelphia TravelingMom visited the Alsace region of France, she reports its varied architecture, walkability, good food and pastries, and excellent museums made Strasbourg a memorable city we’d happily revisit. And she was happy she set aside four days to explore Strasbourg. Read on to see why you should visit Strasbourg, France!
Why Visit Strasbourg, France?
We spent several days exploring Strasbourg, France, a beautiful walkable city with excellent museums and food. Read on for highlights of this amazing and memorable city we’d happily revisit.
Architecture and Bridges of Strasbourg
The stars of the show in Strasbourg, France, are the gorgeous 16th and 17th-century half-timbered houses lining the narrow streets and riverbanks of the old city. The heavy beams used to build the houses are visible in the walls, like black lines crossing the exterior. Sometimes the half-timbered buildings are painted in bright colors. If the buildings face the river, the reflections are beautiful.
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The entire old city of Strasbourg, France is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located on an island in the Ill River, the small walkable bridges over the river offer some of the best views of the old town. The overall impression is a medieval city of bridges. It is a pleasure to explore on foot, and the narrow streets are nearly car-free. Skip driving in the old city of Strasbourg. (For architecture in Paris, click here, or architecture in Aix en Provence, click here).
Cathedral of Strasbourg, France
The awe-inspiring Cathedral was built in the 13th, 14th, and 15th-centuries. At night, its exterior architectural details are illuminated, showing off the delicate beauty of its Gothic filigree. We enjoyed visiting the inside of the Cathedral during the day, rewarded with the sight of sunlight streaming through the Rose Window and stained glass.
Inside the Cathedral is a clock several stories high, with movable statues. It was built in 1574, stopped working 200 years later, and was rebuilt in 1842. It has been working ever since. There is a long line to view the statues moving at midday. We skipped the line. Instead, we stood in front of the clock at the quarter hour, when a few of the movable sculptures act out religious allegories.
The Cathedral dominates the skyline of the old city of Strasbourg, France. The Cathedral has its own museum, featuring medieval wooden statues, stone sculptures, and stained glass panels. The medieval paintings included gruesome images of afterlife torments. We were surprised by the natural, emotional expressions of the wooden statues carved and painted by a 15th century Strasbourg artist.
German Influence on Strasbourg, France
Strasbourg, France is in the Alsace Region, close to the German border. At various times, Germany has annexed Alsace. The German influence is clear in the Alsatian language, architecture, and food – sausage, cabbage, pretzels, beer, white wines. After the Germans took over Strasbourg in 1870, they built a whole neighborhood of gorgeous mansions and monumental buildings (Kaiser Town).
Alsatian Museum in Strasbourg
The Musee Alsacien were founded during a time of German domination as a way to preserve Alsace traditions. We felt like were inside rooms from 18th or 19th-century Strasbourg houses. Whole interiors have been lifted from middle-class family houses, including walls, furniture, and costumes. The Museum itself is made from three adjacent houses. Ovens made of decorated tile, 7 feet high, were both for cooking and heating the room.
The prejudices of the time are also on display. To ward off evil spirits, Alsatian flour mills carved demons into the spouts of flour mills, and the “demons” were recognizably Jews with horns, Muslims, and Africans.
The Museum of Strasbourg’s history (Musee Historique) featured good English explanations of turbulent local history, reproductions of medieval rooms, paintings, furniture, and a giant floor map of Strasbourg as it was in 1727.
Good, Hearty Food in Strasbourg, France
This is France, and there are plenty of tempting patisseries, cafes, and upscale restaurants. We also wanted to explore the regional food of Strasbourg, where cabbage and onion are king. A signature dish is a plate of delicately flavored cabbage – not like any sauerkraut we’ve tasted – topped with smoked bacon and sausage (choucroute garnie), which we tried at the restaurant L’Ancienne Douane. The creamiest thin-crust quiche and carmelized onion soup were at Les Armes de Strasbourg, another restaurant specializing in traditional Alsace food.
Strasbourg likes baked goods, especially kougelhopf, addictive dark spiced bread, and buttery cookies. Wash it all down with local Alsatian white wines. For ideas of where to eat in Paris, click here.
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If you’re interested in a cooking lesson with a French chef, learn more here.
Art Museums in Strasbourg
The Bishop hired the same architect who designed Versailles to build his massive palace, Palais Rohan, which now houses several different museums. The Museum of Decorative Arts let us walk through the enormous, ornately decorated rooms of the Bishop’s palace.
In separate rooms of the palace, the Musee Beaux Arts features an amazing collection of European paintings from 14th – 19th century: Giotto, Piero di Cosimo, Botticelli, Rubens, El Greco, Goya.
Strasbourg was originally settled by Romans and I’m disappointed we didn’t get to the Archeological Museum. But we did see Roman mosaics and sarcophagi at the excellent museum in Colmar, a day trip from Strasbourg.
My husband and I flew from Philadelphia to visit the Alsace region of France with CroisiEurope River Cruise line. I’m so glad we decided to spend several days exploring Strasbourg before we boarded the ship.
Does anything in Strasbourg, France look tempting to you? Tell us about it in the comments.