Walking through the streets of Strasbourg is like walking through the opening scenes of Beauty and The Beast and on our recent visit on more than one occasion, I expected to see Belle reading her fairy tales and singing a song as she passed me. Instead this was my fairy tale, as Mr ESLT had taken me to the charming French city as an early birthday present. He had planned everything from flights and accommodation to activities. Even though I am the planner, it was nice to allow someone else to take the reins and plan something for me. As we were there for four nights, he factored in a lot of down time too which was much-needed. Normally when we visit anywhere we go in hard which can often result in not appreciating our surroundings. Also, as it was my birthday trip it was nice that we took it at a slower pace, exploring deeper and I’ll be honest, taking advantage of being able to have afternoon naps.
Strasbourg is a medieval city and is the capital of the Grand Est region, formerly Alsace, although everyone we came into contact with still referred to it as the Alsace region and all the usual souvenir tat brandished that it still was too. Located on the French/German border, over the years the ownership of Strasbourg has been fought over by both countries and passed back and forth. This is evident throughout the city, non-more so than the streets sign – predominately they are in French, but if you look below you will see a smaller sign showing the German name for the same street. Also, most inhabitants can speak both languages with many people from Strasbourg hopping the border daily to work in Germany. The Grand île which means large island is the historic centre of Strasbourg and since 1988 has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is easy to see why. With narrow streets and delightful timber clad buildings, it truly is a stunning city.
Where we stayed
Even though we were there for 5 nights and didn’t have a packed itinerary, Mr ESLT still chose a hotel in the heart of Strasbourg, a stone’s throw from the Cathedral and the main canal that runs around the city. Strasbourg is an extremely walkable city anyway, but by staying here meant that everything was on our doorstep without the need for public transport. We also had the choice of restaurants and bars meaning we didn’t have far to roll home after eating our fill of lovely local food.
What we did
Even though Strasbourg is a city, there isn’t that much to ‘do’. However, there is a lot to see which I’ll come onto later, but with regards to doing stuff, here’s our top three:
Taking a 70 minute canal cruise on a Batorama boat whilst in Strasbourg is a must and something I highly recommend. It gives you the opportunity to see the magnificent city from a different viewpoint and with onboard commentary you also get to learn about the areas and buildings that you are passing. Mr ESLT booked our tickets in advance directly from Batorama at a cost of €13* each. I would suggest booking before your visit as our boat was full and the majority of boats we saw passing were too. However tickets can be bought on the day from the ticket booth located near the cast off point of the Rohan Palace. Unfortunately, on the day we took our trip the weather wasn’t playing ball so the roof was on the boat, meaning all photos we took from inside had a blue tint to them. However, later into our trip when the weather was nicer, we saw them running with the roofs off.
Hospital wine cellar
Yes, there is a wine cellar underneath the hospital in the basement! It was founded in 1395 and is now a museum which we took the opportunity visit and have a wander around. Finding the hospital was the easy part as it is on most maps of Strasbourg, however finding the cellar proved a little more difficult. Once on site we found a number of signposts which meant we found it in the end. Entry into the wine cellar is free, although we would recommend shelling out €3* each for the audio tour, otherwise you won’t really know what you are looking at. Here you will see a barrel of one of the oldest wines in the world dating back to 1472, I can’t image it tastes that great now though! Visiting the hospital wine cellar was a great and inexpensive way to spend an hour or so. You can also buy a bottle (or 10) of one of the many wines stored here to take away and remind you of your visit.
Wine tasting in the Alsace Region
No visit to this part of the world is complete without drinking, sorry I mean tasting, all the yummy Alsatian wine that is made in this region. Yes, you can find a lot in the restaurants and bars in Strasbourg itself but surely tasting it fresh from the vineyard is where it’s at? Therefore, why not take a day, or if time is short, half a day tour like we did. Mr ESLT booked our tour through Viator at a cost of £65* per person. We were picked up from opposite Strasbourg’s main train station in a minivan and taken out of the city. We made two stops, one at Obernai and one at Barr, both of which are cute wine growing towns. At both stops we saw the wine cellars and had the opportunity to try at least 6 wines, predominately whites. It was great to try the different local wines and find out what I like, which turned out to be different to what I thought I did. Groups are limited and on our tour there were six people plus our guide Paulina, both wine and conversation flowed nicely making for a great afternoon.
There are also a number of museums dotted around Strasbourg including Musée Alsacien, Musée d’Art moderne et contemporain, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Cabinet des Estampes et des Dessins, Musée de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame, Centre Tomi Ungerer, Musée Zoologique and Musée Archéologique. We didn’t visit any of the museums (tut tut), however I’m sure we would have done if the weather had not been as nice as it was when we visited.
What we saw
As Strasbourg is a beautiful and extremely picturesque city there is so much to see and if like me, your eyes won’t be able to handle it. I know I’ve said it before, but it really was like walking through a fairy-tale. Be prepared to be blown away every time you turn a corner.
Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg
Standing at 142m (466ft) tall, Strasbourg Cathedral can be seen standing high above all other buildings in the area and is in fact the sixth tallest church in the world. It is absolutely stunning, we love churches and visit them wherever in the world we are and this one is one of the most intricate I have ever had the pleasure to see. The gothic design is gorgeous and in all honesty I could have stood there for days just staring at it. For €4.5* you can head inside the cathedral and for €3* you can head up to the viewing platforms from where on a clear day you can see across to the Black Forest.
La Petite France
Petite France is the historic quarter of Strasbourg and usually the place people think of first because of its distinctive buildings and that fact that it is super cute. Here the River Ill splits up into a number of channels and on our river cruise we sailed straight through it. With so many restaurants in the area, it is easy to see why it is the biggest tourist hotspot in the city. If you want to eat in this area, especially during the weekend, make sure to book a table in advance as we saw lots of people being turned away from the bustling eateries. But if you do manage to get a table and the weather is on your side, it is a great spot to people watch from.
There is of course loads more to see including Barrage Vauban which we saw from our canal cruise. It was once known as the Great Lock however nowadays it displays sculptures and has a viewing terrace on its roof.
What & where we ate
As we were there for 5 nights we had the opportunity to try a number of different restaurants, some nicer than others. Three of our favourites were:
We noticed straight away that the food is heavily meat based, which Mr ESLT loved. However, as I do not like/eat that much meat I worried I would struggle during our stay. I didn’t need to as cheese is also a massive thing in Strasbourg and as a cheese lover I relished in it every day – comté, camembert and the locally produced munster. Although I must admit by the end of our trip, I think I had eaten enough of the creamy goodness to last me a lifetime. Again, the German influence could be seen in the food on offer as nearly all dishes were served with a side order of sauerkraut, much to Mr ESLT’s delight. Pizza features heavily in the Strasbourg food scene too, both the traditional Italian style that everyone knows about and the Alsatian version which is topped with bacon and caramelised onions. Snacks are also easy to come by in the many small patiseries throughout the city, my personal favourite, and again a German staple – salty pretzels – yum. Although if sweet treats are more your thing then you have to try a guglhupf ring cake.
What we drank
As wine is produced locally, it is very reasonably priced in all bars and restaurants. The Pinot Gris was certainly my favourite, whereas Mr ESLT particularly enjoyed the Pinot Noir which compared to it’s New Zealand counterpart was a lot smoother to drink. Also, as with everywhere we visit, we also partook in some of the local larger, which in Strasbourg was Fischer larger and I must say it was very refreshing after a day of exploring.
Strasbourg is a lovely city and as with most places looks particularly beautiful when the sun is shining. At the pace we explored we found that there was enough to do during our 5 night stay. However, if we had powered through everything, I personally think 3 days would have been enough. I imagine that during winter when the Christmas markets are in full flow it is equally as beautiful and hopefully one year we get to revisit Strasbourg and see it in its winter wonderland glory for ourselves.
- * Prices corrects in April 2017