Nestled in the often-disputed Alsace Lorraine, the unparalleled city of Strasbourg is the perfect blend of French glamour and German style. Home to the European Parliament, it's a bustling city that hasn't lost its quaint charm.
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Post updated June, 2019
Though anyone could spend 100 lifetimes in France without leaving Paris, taking a day to visit Strasbourg and sample the delights of its German-style beer and Game of Thrones - level street banner game - certainly doesn't disappoint!
How to get to Strasbourg from Paris
How long does it take to get to Strasbourg from Paris? Thanks to the expansion of France's high-speed trains ("TGV"), Strasbourg is now incredibly easily accessible as a day trip from Paris. The journey from Paris to Strasbourg of almost 50o kilometers takes about two hours, each way, from either Gare de l'Est or Gare de Lyon in Paris. That leaves you with more than enough time to see what Strasbourg has to offer, and then head back home for the evening!
If you aren't familiar with high-speed trains, they feel generally like normal trains, but if you're concerned about motion sickness, sit facing the direction of travel, on the lower level of a double decker, and don't play on your phone too much.
If you do feel that you need to change seats, the word in French for motion sickness is "mal des transports." A rudimentary sentence to get your point across in the unlikely event that you can't find someone who speaks English is "Desole. Je suis mal des transports." (Pronunciation: Day-so-lay. Ju swees mall des transport).
For more on train travel in France, including ticketing and navigating train stations, check out my full post, France by Train.
History of Strasbourg
Due to its location directly on the boarder between the countries of France and Germany, Strasbourg has changed nationalities a remarkable number of times over the centuries of its long history.
After spending 400 years as a "free imperial city," Strasbourg officially became French in 1681, after it was conquered by The Sun King, France's Louis XIV. It was French until the Germans defeated the French in the Franco-Prussian War (which led to the unification of Germany), until the end of WWI, when it became French again. Then it had 4 more years under Germany during Germany occupation of France during WWII, and after Germany's defeat, it's been French ever since!
And, during all this time, they had enough capacity to build their stunning Cathedral, in addition to many other remarkable cultural achievements. The first newspaper was printed here in 1605 and the French national anthem, La Marseillaise was written here in 1792, as the French Revolution began to devolve into wars with its neighboring nations. And, of course, they make great beer.
Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace
Strasbourg is a relatively large city and the capital of Grand Est (formerly Alsace), with a metro area population of 775,000. Home to many functions of the EU's bureaucratic functions as one of the capitals of the European Union, there's quite a bit of hustle and bustle! There is light rail public transit, if you wish, but the town really isn't big enough to require it, if you're just exploring the historic center.
As a "hub" of the region, Strasbourg is home to excellent luxury shopping, along with many quaint boutiques, and the ubiquitous tourist shops, overflowing with items full of German flair. Allocate some time to strolling the shops and taking in the vibrant culture of Strasbourg!
Touring Strasbourg Cathedral
Generally held to be one of the most archetypal examples of High Gothic architecture in Europe, Strasbourg Cathedral is stunning in every respect, from each element of its construction to the sheer amount of time and money needed to make it all happen. It's the highlight of your trip - definitely plan to dedicate some serious time to exploring the Cathedral and the surrounding square.
Situated in a gorgeous, Germanic square, it was actually the tallest building in the world for a remarkably long time, from 1647-1874.
Yes, the builders did plan to build the second tower but, towers are expensive, funds ran out, and here we are! The one-tower structure is now considered a hallmark of the Cathedral.
Construction began on Strasbourg Cathedral in 1176. Just let that sink in for a second. My favorite piece of Strasbourg Cathedral history: they were building and building, and then one day, the group of tradesmen who had just finished Chartres Cathedral, closer to Paris, showed up. They brought good tidings! Lots of experience and, news of a new architectural style that they knew all about, including how to build: Gothic! Ooooo! AahhHH!
Loving this idea, they got to work...tore down what they had built...ran out of money...and started working hard selling indulgences. With that new cash flow, they built the stunning Gothic portions of the Cathedral that you can largely see today.
Much of the beauty of the Cathedral is in its stunning stained glass windows. With the sheer age, and remarkable number of traumatic events, this Cathedral carries today, it's incredible that it stands at all, let alone that it still has stained glass to display! During WWII, with the precarious location location between France and Germany and with Hitler marking the Cathedral as a specific conquest goal, the Cathedral's custodians removed all of the existing stained glass and hid it in a salt mine in Germany. It was brought back to the Cathedral by the "Monuments Men" of the U.S. Army after the war was over.
Strasbourg Cathedral is also well-known for its astronomical clock, though unfortunately it's under needed repairs, so I don't have any pictures to share!
Entry to the cathedral is free, with just a security and bag check before entry. Take the tour at your own pace - don't miss the Cathedral's iconic astronomical clock (the third the Cathedral has housed- it is currently under construction, which will hopefully end soon!). It generally isn't super crowded, especially in the off season (these pictures are from October).
With all that history, unsurprisingly, Strasbourg is home to a large number of excellent museums, including the Palais de Rohan, Musee des Beaux-Arts (fine art), and the Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (which is one of the largest contemporary art museums in France). Palais de Rohan is my personal favorite - a family pile-turned-museum, you get the best of both types of museums, in my book! It's also extremely conveniently located very close to the Strasbourg Cathedral.
Where to eat and drink in Strasbourg
Splendid German food, with a French flair, is positively everywhere in Strasbourg. Thanks to the political and commercial status of the city, nice just restaurants aren't hard to come by. I'm so thankful to my friend and former colleague for recommending La Hache, an incredibly quaint lunch spot, right off the river in the middle of town.
Maison des Tanneurs, built in 1572, is a stunningly historic eatery, that certainly deserves to be on your list, even if it's just to see its incredible facade.
Absolutely plan to make time for some German/French beer in one (or a few!!) of the city's many beer gardens.
Taking a boat cruise in Strasbourg
One of the best ways to see Strasbourg is on a quick boat cruise on the River Ile - one of the most popular things to do in the city! Most tours only take around an hour, so it can easily fit into your quick jaunt over to Strasbourg from Paris! Batorama is the biggest shop in town.
Architecture in Strasbourg
Wow. What can even be said about Strasbourg's architecture? Surely naively, I was expecting just a few streets of half-timbered houses. But no, it's everywhere. Around every. Single. Corner.
Fun fact of the day: the center of Strasbourg - known as the Grande Ile, was the first city to be made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. It won't take long for you to see why that was incredibly well-deserved.
Take a stroll into town and delight in the black and white timber-framed buildings - you can imagine Belle bursting into song amidst the quaint streets.
I hope you'll love Strasbourg as much as we did! Thanks for stopping by! Don't forget to drop by and share your tips after you get back! xx
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