Exploring Strasbourg in Eastern France

Strasbourg is the capital of the French region of Alsace, situated three kilometres from the border with Germany. This gives the city an unique mix of German and French influence in everything from architecture and artistic heritage, to food (sauerkraut or choucroute) and drink (Gewürtztraminer and Riesling).

Typical timber-framed buildings in Strasbourg.Maison des Tanneurs by Jonathan Martz

It’s easy to reach the city by rail, as it’s only two hours from Paris on the TGV Est line. Railbookers have some tailor-made rail trips available that can take you from London to Strasbourg via Rail, which will allow you take in the sights of France as you go. There are a number of hotels close to the station, but these tend to be at the budget end. About a ten to fifteen minute walk from the station is the Grande ÃŽle and Petite France, two areas in the city centre that have charming medieval streets and squares with its typical Alsatian white timber-framed buildings. Here you will find a range of good hotels, from affordable to luxury. Being in the city centre you are close to the many bars and restaurants frequented by visitors and locals alike by day and night. Given that much of the city centre is pedestrianised, it is easy and pleasant to just wander around these streets admiring the architecture.

One of the many squares in the picturesque centre of Strasbourg.
Place du Marché aux Cochons de Lait by Rh-67

Strasbourg is an incredibly picturesque city, and is justifiably a popular tourist destination throughout the year. During the summer it is the scenic, mountainous landscapes of Alsace and the typical white timber framed Medieval buildings that attracts many visitors to the area and the city. Whereas during the winter months, particularly in the weeks leading up to Christmas, it is the annual market that draws people in.

A Christmas market in Strasbourg.
Strasbourg Christmas market by Jonathan M

Perhaps the most prominent architectural attraction is the sandstone Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Strasbourg, with its astronomical clock. This and many other Medieval churches thankfully escaped destruction during the many wars that have plagued this region of Europe.  Time your visit for 12:30 pm to see the procession of Christ and his apostles while a life-size cock crows. The astronomical element of the clock shows an accurate, relative position of the sun and noon, as well as the solar and lunar eclipses. The clock was installed in 1843 during the first period of French possession of the city (1681 – 1870). When observing the clock – look to the left where you will see a statue of the clock’s maker admiring his masterpiece.

The astronomical clock in Strasbourg.
The astronomical clock in the Cathedral by Taxiarchos22

There are a number of breweries in Strasbourg, many offering  free tours during which you can see the production process, and even taste the beer at the end.

Leaving the Medieval city centre, there are more recent parks and castles to explore. The Baroque style Château de Pourtalès and the Parc de l’Orangerie with its Neoclassical castle are two popular attractions to explore on a sunny day.
The Neoclassical Pavillon Joséphine.
The Neoclassical Pavillon Joséphine by Jonathan M

Should the weather not be that great for exploring outdoors, there are plenty of museums to visit. Much of the city’s archaeological heritage is accessible in the Musée Archéologique. The more recent history of the city is explored in the Musée Historique.

There are a number of unusual museums in Strasbourg, some of which are owned and managed by the university. If you were ever curious about instruments that measure earthquakes and other seismic activity – don’t miss the Musée de Sismologie et Magnétisme terrestre. But perhaps the most unusual of the university museums is the plaster cast museum: Gypsothèque de Strasbourg, also called the Musée des moulages. In the basement of a Neoclassical Palace inaugurated by a German Emperor is an eclectic mix of plaster casts of various well known classical works of art – including some of the contested sculptures from the Parthenon in Greece. These casts were moved to the basement at the start of World War II, and have been there ever since. And, it was in this impressive building that the first meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe took place in September 1949.

History of Strasbourg

People have been settling in the area for many thousands of years. Archaeological evidence of human occupation stretches back to at least 600,000 years ago. More recently, during the third century BC, an important Celtic town called Argentorate developed alongside the river. More recently still the Romans established a strategic military settlement here, and the original shape of the Roman fort can still be seen in the layout and plan of the inner city.

The more recent Medieval past is everywhere – and it is this period that gives the city much of its photogenic character.

To many people, Strasbourg is the seat of the European Parliament. Besides hosting a number of European institutions, members of the European Parliament meet here for twelve sessions a year, during which all parliamentary votes that effect the European Union take place. But there is so much more to the city than the EU. Strasbourg’s political significance today reflects a city that has been at the heart of Europe’s history for centuries. Strasbourg was the first city to have  its entire centre listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site – in 1988.

If you enjoy exploring Europe by train, Railbookers offer rail trips to many other European destinations including Luxembourg, Cannes and Monte Carlo.

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About Thomas Dowson

Hello, I am Thomas Dowson - a freelance writer and archaeologist living in Normandy, France. My field of expertise is prehistoric art - such as the cave paintings in the Dordogne and South Africa. But I am becoming passionately interested in France more generally, and Normandy in particular, and what this country and one of its very well known regions has to offer people with all sorts of tastes and desires. In 2005 I exchanged a university archaeology lecture room for a Bed & Breakfast in Normandy. More recently I started the Archaeology Travel website; sharing my expertise and love of archaeology and travel with others who also want to explore the many different pasts around the World.