The Alsace region of France is located along the Rhine River plain and borders both Germany and Switzerland. It’s best known for the Alsatian wine route, adorable half-timbered houses, and traditional dishes and desserts, such as tarte flambée, baeckeoffe, and pain d’épice. Due to this region’s proximity to Germany, the villages of Alsace are unlike any other destination in France. Plus, you can visit the top tourist attractions here year-round, making the Alsace region a convenient option for a vacation to France. However, you’ll notice that this area truly comes alive during the winter holidays when its small towns host charming Christmas markets!
If you’re planning an Alsace road trip, the most challenging part is choosing which villages to visit along your drive. In fact, the Alsatian wine route passes through almost 70 communes! Therefore, this article lists the top eight Alsace towns to see on your trip, featuring famous villages–like Colmar, Riquewihr, and Ribeauvillé–as well as some hidden gems. We’ll also cover things to do in Alsace, the best time to visit, how to get there, and accommodations. After reading, we hope that you’re able to plan your ideal vacation to the French Alsace region.
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The best villages in Alsace
Colmar, often called the “capital of Alsatian wine,” is one of the most beautiful and largest villages in Alsace. Notably, this town is most famous for its historic timbered houses, which look like they’re from a fairy tale! Moreover, Colmar has been an important cultural center since the 13th century and continues this role in the present. For example, it hosts the Colmar International Festival each year during the first two weeks in July and a bustling Christmas market from the last week of November through the end of December. With this in mind, we suggest spending at least one day here as a day trip from Strasbourg or even as a stop along the Alsace Wine Route to discover Colmar best.
Most of the best things to do in Colmar are located in its well-preserved Old Town. Without a doubt, the most popular activity is to take a boat from the Saint Pierre Bridge through the canals in Little Venice (la Petite Venise). Other sights not to miss include the Colmar Cathedral, the Old Customs House (Koïfhus), the Covered Market Hall, the Pfister House, and the colorful historic homes in the fishmonger’s district. For history lovers, make sure to spend some time at the Unterlinden Museum, the most visited museum in Alsace. Plus, if you’d rather explore Colmar in a group, check out this two-hour Segway tour through the city.
As Colmar is part of the Alsace Wine Region, don’t forget to sample some local wine! I recommend going to Le Cercle des Aromes wine bar for a tasting. This venue also serves ham and cheese platters if you’d like a little snack with your wine. Afterward, if you’re ready to try some authentic Alsatian cuisine, stop by Restaurant La Soi for an excellent Tarte Flambée.
Where to stay in Colmar
Tucked between the Vosges mountains and some fantastic vineyards along the Alsace Wine Route, you’ll find the charming medieval village of Riquewihr. In fact, out of all the places mentioned in this list, this town, Eguisheim, and Hunawihr are on the official list of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (“the most beautiful villages in France). Many of Riquewihr’s Old Town buildings date back to the 16th century or earlier, such as the Dolder Tower and the Town Hall. For example, the medieval fortifications surrounding the village were built in the 13th century. As you make your way through Riquewihr, you may notice that it looks like Belle’s home in the classic film Beauty and the Beast!
The Riquewihr Christmas market, running from the end of November through late December, is the town’s top attraction. However, even if you miss the Christmas markets during the holidays, you can still experience some festive cheer at the Féerie de Noël Christmas store, which is open year-round. After purchasing a souvenir ornament, participate in a wine tasting at Hugel et Fils, one of the major producers of Alsace wine. Make sure to take home a bottle of their Riesling!
For some of the town’s most picturesque homes, stroll down the main street of Rue du General de Gaulle. Once you feel you’ve explored enough, stop by Crêperie du Vieux Pressoir for delicious crêpes on your way out! We suggest seeing Riquewihr as a day trip from Colmar or as a day trip from Strasbourg if you don’t have much time in the area.
Where to stay in Riquewihr
Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé are neighboring villages in the Grand Est Region, making it simple to see both in one trip! For instance, if you’re traveling the Alsace Wine Route by car, the drive will take less than 10 minutes. For a walking tour of the village, take a stroll down Main Street (Le Grand Rue) to see the top attractions in Old Town. Along your way, you’ll pass the Ribeauvillé Tourist Office, which offers free wifi, pamphlets, maps, and other helpful information.
Other noteworthy buildings include the 18th century Town Hall, the Butchers’ Tower (Tour des Bouchers), the old Corn Exchange, and The Minstrels’ House (Maison des Ménétriers). Take your time strolling through Ribeauvillé, stopping to appreciate the charming half-timbered houses. Another popular activity here is to hike The Three Castles of Ribeauvillé Trail, leading to Castle “Saint Ulrich,” Castle “Girsberg,” and Castle “Haut Ribeaupierre”–all of which date back to the Middle Ages.
If you’d prefer to explore Ribeauvillé with an expert, the tourism office organizes free guided tours of the old town and Town Hall. They run every day except for Mondays and Saturdays (from May to October). Additionally, from September 1-October 31, you can take a short train ride on the Petit Train Touristique to see Ribeauvillé, Hunawihr, and the surrounding vineyards.
Wine lovers can’t forget to visit the Cave de Ribeauvillé! Founded in 1885 as a winegrowers’ cooperative, it offers the most authentic wine tasting in the entire Alsace region. For a unique experience, visit Ribeauvillé during The Minstrels’ Festival, which takes place on the first Sunday in September. This Alsatian town is also popular during the holidays due to its lively Christmas market, which occurs over two weekends in December.
Where to stay in Ribeauvillé
Eguisheim is one of the best Alsace Wine Route villages and was even voted the Village préféré des Français (Favorite French Village) in 2013. Plus, it ranks in the top 20 of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France list (the most beautiful villages of France). Interestingly, this medieval city was built in the shape of concentric circles surrounding the main square. As you take your time exploring the narrow streets and quirky shops, don’t miss the Saint-Leon Fountain, the Château de Saint-Léon-Pfalz (castle), and the tiny yet alluring Chapelle Saint-Leon IX.
When you’re ready to eat, head to Au Vieux Porche or the Auberge Alsacienne (hotel with a restaurant) for a fabulous and authentic Alsatian meal. Moreover, if you have extra time, consider hiking to explore the three castles of Eguisheim: Dagsburg, Wahlenburg, and Weckmund. The trail is free to access; however, the road closes for safety reasons during the winter months: from November 11-March 15.
If you happen to be visiting Eguisheim during the last weekend in August, you’re in for a treat! The village comes alive thanks to the Vignerons Festival of Eguisheim, the oldest Alsatian wine festival. This event involves open cellars for wine tastings, an orchestra performance, and a huge parade. Like many other Alsatian villages, Eguisheim also puts on a lovely traditional Christmas market each year. During this season, Eguisheim residents decorate their half-timbered houses for the holidays, featuring beautiful Christmas lights.
Where to stay in Eguisheim
Kaysersberg is one of the most beautiful villages in France and one of the best places to visit in Alsace. The town’s name means “emperor’s mountain” in German, and it sits along the Alsace Wine Route, between Riquewihr and Colmar. As it happens, Kaysersberg belonged to Germany for 48 years–between the Franco-Prussian War and the First World War. Moreover, this Alsatian village was the birthplace of Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer.
As you walk through town, you’ll notice a 16th-century bridge (Pont Fortifie), offering a stunning view of the Weiss River. In the distance, you might even catch a glimpse of the Château de Kaysersberg, a castle in ruins. The next most visited historical attraction in Kaysersberg is the 12th-century Église Sainte-Croix. Other top sights include Fontaine Constantin, Maison Loewert, Musée Albert Schweitzer, Maison Herzer, and Maison Faller Brief. For a high-end French dining experience during your time in Kaysersberg, check out L’alchemille or La Table d’Olivier Nasti (both are Michelin restaurants).
Where to stay in Kaysersberg
Obernai sits at the foot of Mont Sainte-Odile in the Alsace region, just a short 25-minute drive from Strasbourg. As with other Alsace destinations, this village has an array of beautiful timbered houses and historic sites. For example, don’t miss Église Saints Pierre et Paul (Church of Saints Peter and Paul), the Puits aux Six Seaux (Six-Bucket Well), and the Renaissance-style Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall). Plus, the Place du Marché puts on an excellent open-air market on Thursday mornings.
Since Obernai is located along the Alsace Wine Route, we also suggest dropping by the Vins d’Alsace Robert Blanck while you’re in town. This French winery offers free tastings (you can choose three varieties) and guided visits to the cellars. We recommend trying the Pinot Blanc and maybe even taking home a bottle as a souvenir!
Obernai is also a popular place to travel during the holidays. In fact, its Christmas market runs from the end of November to the beginning of January. This event features local cuisine (spice bread, foie gras, bredele, etc.), hand-crafted souvenirs (wreaths, ornaments, and other decorations), and live music.
Where to stay in Obernai
Dambach-la-Ville is a popular stop along the Alsace Wine Route, tucked between Blienschwiller and Scherwiller in the Bas-Rhin department. Important sights in this beautiful village include Église Saint-Étienne, Hôtel de Ville, and the 12th-century Bernstein Castle. Additionally, check out Chapelle St Sébastien (12th century), a church featuring multiple architectural styles thanks to its long history.
One significant advantage to visiting Dambach-la-Ville is that it draws far fewer visitors than villages like Colmar or Riquewihr. So, you can experience the same small-town charm and adorable half-timbered homes without the crowds. Additionally, the vineyards here produce some of the highest quality and most well-respected wines in the region: the Grand Cru Frankstein. For an outdoor adventure in Dambach-la-Ville, you can even hike up to Bernstein Castle, passing by vineyards on your trek.
Of course, Dambach-la-Ville hosts its own Christmas market (Marché de Noël) in early December. This exciting event features snacks, arts and crafts for purchase, live music, and games for children.
Where to stay near Dambach-la-Ville
Turckheim is a short 10-minute drive from Colmar, making it a convenient stop along the Alsace Wine Route. Plus, this town has quite an eventful past; in fact, it was given status as a free imperial city back in 1312, under the Holy Roman Empire. As you explore Turckheim’s Old Town (Vieille Ville), search for some of its most noteworthy structures and timbered houses. For example, appreciate the France Gate (Porte de France), the Guardhouse (Corps de Garde), and the Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville), dating back to the 14th, 16th, and 17th centuries, respectively.
Here’s an interesting fact about Tuckheim: the village is one of the few in France to employ a municipal night watchman still. This position is part of a tradition commemorating a watchman who prevented a fire during the 13th century. You can see him make his rounds at 10 p.m. from May 1-October 31 and on the three Saturdays before Christmas. Additionally, Turckheim hosts a Christmas market each year from the end of November through mid-December. Although it’s not quite as well known as other markets in the Alsace region, we think it’s well worth visiting!
Where to stay in Turckheim
What is the Alsace Wine Route?
The Alsace Wine Route (Route du Vin Alsace) is a designated section of the Alsace region that passes through some of the best wine-producing towns in France. The entire course, from top to bottom, spans approximately 106 miles (170 km). Furthermore, this wine route is a trendy trip thanks to the many picturesque vineyards and historic towns along the drive. For a full Alsace villages map, click here.
Best time to visit Alsace
If you don’t mind braving the cold weather, the best time of year to visit Alsace would be during December. This way, you’ll have the chance to witness the Alsace villages in all their Christmas glory. Although the Christmas markets attract a flurry of other visitors during the winter, I still recommend traveling here during this high season. Nonetheless, if you’d prefer warmer weather but fewer crowds, you should consider planning your trip to the Alsace region during the fall. During this time of year, you’ll experience harvest season in the vineyards. So, you’ll see all sorts of autumnal colors throughout the fields!
If you’re not particularly interested in visiting the Christmas markets, I suggest traveling to Alsace sometime between May and October. Just keep in mind that the overall busiest months are June, July, and August. With this in mind, if you’d like to skip peak season in Alsace, the best time to visit Alsace is probably in May, September, or October. Nonetheless, due to the region’s mild climate, there’s never really a wrong time to visit.
How to get to Alsace
Depending on your starting point, there are many different ways to reach the Alsace region. So, let’s go over some of the leading travel options. The good news is no matter where you’re located, this region of France is very accessible.
Traveling from the United States to Alsace
If you’re planning to fly from the United States, the best option is to fly into the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and then to take a train to Strasbourg from there. This route is hassle-free, as the train station is located inside the airport. To check train times, you’ll need to visit the SNCF website. Luckily, the train ride from Paris to Strasbourg should only take about two hours. Moreover, since Strasbourg is the largest city in Alsace, it makes for a perfect base to visit smaller villages.
From other cities in Europe to Alsace
From most major European cities, you’ll either be able to take a train or fly to the Alsace region. If you choose to travel via train, Alsace has two train stations: one in Strasbourg and the other in Mulhouse. To see which station is best for you, check train prices and times at SNCF.com.
If you prefer to fly to the Alsace region, there are two options for airports: Strasbourg and EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg. Flights to Alsace are available for many of the bigger cities in Europe, including Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Rome, Barcelona, and Madrid.
From Germany and Switzerland
Since the Alsace region is so close to and shares borders with Germany and Switzerland, you may want to consider renting a car for your journey. This option offers a lot more flexibility to stop and see as many Alsace villages as you would like. Therefore, you won’t have to depend on buses, taxis, or bicycles to explore the region.
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This article was first published in September 2019 and has since been updated.