Updated September 2019
While often overshadowed by Paris or a sunnier Nice, Strasbourg is easily one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. If you haven’t yet had a chance to visit Strasbourg, you should add it to the top of your list!
A little context
Strasbourg is the capital city of the Alsace region in France, about 2 miles from the German border. Its site has been occupied for over 600,000 years, first by the Celts, then by the Romans (where it was called Argentoratum), then by the Alemanni, Huns and the Franks.
The city has also been a point of dispute between France and Germany for centuries, being shuffled back and forth after different wars. You can definitely see this cultural mix in Strasbourg, which makes the city even more fascinating!
Today, Strasbourg is the seat of the European Parliament and houses the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. It joins the ranks of only Geneva and New York for being an international capital without being a national capital (which is pretty cool to us politics nerds if you ask me).
Its historic city centre, the Grande Ile, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, the first time this was done to an entire city. La Marseillaise was composed in Strasbourg and Strasbourg Cathedral celebrated 1000 years in 2015.
If that’s not enough reason for you to visit I’m going to throw a little more at you. Hopefully, you’ll want to book a one-way ticket to Strasbourg after you finish reading this post!
Who doesn’t love those story-book European houses? Strasbourg’s colourful timbered houses give me some definite dream home inspiration and make every corner of this city an absolute joy to explore.
I mentioned earlier that you can definitely see the franco-german influences in Strasbourg, and that definitely comes out in the food. I not only had some of the best French pastries in my life in Strasbourg, but I got to try some Alsatian specialities and see just how influenced this part of France is by German culture. The food in Alsace is definitely more hearty than other areas of France, and that just made me like it even more!
Wondering what to try? Alsace is famous for its sauerkraut (choucroute), which can be found on the menus of most restaurants. Spätzle, thick dumpling-like noodles, served often alongside a meat dish, is now one of my go-to kinds of pasta at home because I fell in love with it in Strasbourg!
- Check out La corde à linge, situated in the heart of Strasbourg, for some delicious Alsatian specialities
If you eat one thing in Strasbourg, try a tarte flambée or flammekueche, a thin pastry crust covered with cream, onions, and lardons (bacon) served on a large wooden platter (I added muenster cheese on mine because #whynot). Bonus: they even make dessert tartes flambées, which are just as delicious as the main dish.
- Visit Restaurant le Gruber, a traditional winstub (“wine lounge” or traditional Alsatian restaurant), steps away from Strasbourg Cathedral. You’ll want to try each and every one of their tartes flambées while enjoying the convivial and quirky atmosphere.
If you’re a history nerd, Strasbourg will definitely keep your attention. It’s not often you can visit a city that has seen over 600,000 years of action (and has the artefacts to prove it). It was first settled by proto-Celts in 1300 BC and was developed into a market town named Argentorate by the Celts at the end of the third century BC. The first mention of the Roman military outpost Argentoratum was in 12BC.
After successive rulings by the Alemanni, the Franks and the Huns, it came under the control of the Holy Roman Empire in 923. It became a free city of the Holy Roman Empire in 1262. Construction on Strasbourg Cathedral finished in 1439, surpassing the Great Pyramid in Egypt as the world’s tallest building until 1874. A few years after that, Johannes Gutenberg created the first moveable type printing press in Strasbourg.
In 1681, Louis XIV annexed Strasbourg, but it was annexed back by Germany after the Franco-Prussian War ended in 1871. After World War I, Strasbourg was annexed back by France. And then back to Germany in 1940. And, finally, back to France in 1944.
These seemingly constant back-and-forths (not to mention the fact that Strasbourg lies just a couple miles away from the contemporary German border) show just how unique the Strasbourgeois culture is. You’ll find that many people are bilingual in French and German, and some might even know Alsatian, a southern German dialect influenced by French (though this is more common in the countryside, and losing out to French and German). Also, look out for the bilingual street signs!
Whew. As you can see, lots of fascinating history graces this beautiful city; it’s hard not to become obsessed. For the best ways to experience the history and culture, check out:
I covered a bit of the history of Strasbourg Cathedral above, but here’s a little more: Today, it is the sixth tallest church in the world and the tallest building surviving from the Middle Ages. It has been used for several religious structures dating back to Roman times and is absolutely gorgeous inside!
This museum houses the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Museum of Fine Arts. It’s right next to the cathedral and perfect for marveling over some really cool artifacts. My friend and I visited the archaeological museum and I’ll be forever grateful to her for having patience while I ogled over every item!
Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame
Also located right by the cathedral, this museum houses medieval and Renaissance art from the cathedral itself and the surrounding region. Shoutout to Siobhan again for sticking it out with me on this one! It’s a great museum, especially for some more history absorption ;)
For contemporary history…
Check out the European Parliament, Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights buildings. They’re about a 30-minute walk from the city center and have some really funky architecture. Plus, being in the legislative capital of Europe is pretty cool.
One of the things that can quickly affect my opinion of a place is the people. All the people I came across in Strasbourg were very nice. Funnily enough, most of them started speaking to me in German when I approached them (my blonde hair is deceiving!) and were surprised that I spoke French and English but not German. They took the time to ask me and my friend where we came from, what we were doing in Strasbourg, and what we studied at university. I’ve rarely encountered such nice people in a large city and that really gave the already wonderful Strasbourg some bonus points!
I have experienced Strasbourg during Christmas first hand, and it’s certainly something that should be high on everyone’s bucket list. Strasbourg is the capital of all things Christmas, especially when you consider that its Christmas market, the oldest in Europe, has been around since 1570. I’ve seen my fair share of Christmas markets around Europe and this one certainly tops them all. I can only hope to go one day myself!
If this post has convinced you to visit, the train from Paris to Strasbourg is only about a 2h20 minutes!. *checks flights to Paris*