Picture a town in France that’s big enough to have everything, but still small enough to feel homey and walkable. It’s filled with historic buildings and yet, still modern. Plus, it’s a quirky mix of both French and German culture. If you’re intrigued, let me introduce you to Strasbourg. I spent three days in this fairytale-like city back in March, and it quickly became one of my favorite spots in France. I’m honestly not sure why I hadn’t been told to visit before! So, without further ado, let me help you spend one perfect day in Strasbourg, France.
How to arrive at Strasbourg from Paris
Getting to Strasbourg from Paris is extremely simple by train. There are approximately 14 trains per day that run this route. You can check the timetables and purchase your tickets via OUI.SNCF (like I did). You’ll need to either print out your ticket or download it onto your phone to be able to board. The journey is quick and easy, averaging approximately 2 hours each way.
Now that you’ve made it to Strasbourg (that wasn’t hard, right?!), let’s talk about the best tourist attractions and the activities that you can’t miss.
Stroll through the picturesque “Petite France”
Maybe you haven’t visited Strasbourg’s “Petite France” quarter yet, but surely you’ve seen pictures! This area is dripping with colorful photo opportunities, and it also looks like a small Disney village come to life. What is now a top-rated UNESCO attraction was once home to fishermen, millers, and tanners in the Middle Ages. In other words, this was a neighborhood to be avoided back in the day. Adding to this notoriety, the quarter was later home to a hospital that treated syphilis (known then as “the French disease”). Luckily for us, “Petite France” has changed drastically since this time.
Beginning in the 20th century, tourism to “Petite France” began to increase, mainly due to the preservation of its quaint 16th and 17th-century edifices. Nowadays, Strasbourg has become a particularly unique destination during the holidays, even gaining the nickname “the Capital of Christmas”. As you may have guessed, the “Petite France” district is one of the most frequented parts of the city during this time of year. With Christmas lights reflecting off the water and adorable Christmas markets serving sweet and savory treats, I can understand why! Keep in mind that this area of town is often filled with tourists. So, if you’re hoping to take a few photos without crowds of people, make sure to drop by earlier in the day.
Try the famous “pain d’épice”
Regardless of whether or not you visit during the Christmas season, you have to try Strasbourg’s renowned gingerbread. Having grown up fascinated with the American version of this tasty dessert, I can tell you that France takes gingerbread to another level. When entering the “Petite France” sector of the city, I highly recommend dropping by the Mireille Oster Gingerbread bakery. I swear that it’s impossible to pass by this shop without your mouth watering. Not only are you greeted with samples and the scent of the original gingerbread that we all know and love, but you can also taste and purchase over twenty-one different flavors! I was excited to see some not-so-traditional variants of gingerbread, such as banana and rum, orange blossom honey, and cherries with hazelnut. These treats are beautifully packaged and make the perfect souvenir to bring home.
Climb to the top of Strasbourg Cathedral
Strasbourg Cathedral is undoubtedly one of the most recognized landmarks in the Alsace region. Its Gothic-style silhouette and bell tower can be seen from afar throughout the city. I did not visit the inside of the church, but I do recommend climbing to the top of the panoramic terrace. You can purchase tickets on the side of the cathedral that faces the river. Although this trek may leave you with shaky legs, it’s 100% worth it for this view! From the top, you’ll be able to see rooftops for miles, as well as a full view of the Palais Rohan. On particularly clear days, you can also see the Vosges mountains and the Black Forest.
Before doing the climb, please be aware that it involves over 300 steps. Furthermore, there is no elevator, so make sure that you’re comfortable making your way both up and down before attempting.
Take a Batorama boat tour through the city
One of the best ways to see as much of Strasbourg as possible is by taking a boat tour. You can buy your Batorama tickets just on the other side of Palais Rohan (and super close to the cathedral) or also online. Be sure to go by the Batorama stand in advance, because seats sell out during certain busy times. Nonetheless, the boats do run frequently. These tours last approximately 70 minutes and will show you all of Strasbourg’s main attractions, such as Petite France, Ponts Couverts, and the Neustadt German quarter. I enjoyed having audio guides that covered the history of each of the buildings as we passed them.
For those traveling with children, the Batorama tour would be a great idea. The boat is air-conditioned and protected from the rain, and there’s even a children’s version of the audio commentary.
Visit Palais Rohan
The Palais Rohan was built between 1732 and 1742 in the style of a Parisian mansion. Presently, the palace is home to three different museums: the Fine Arts Museum, the Archaeological Museum, and the Decorative Arts Museum. I chose to visit the third option because I was curious to see how the inside was furnished! While I enjoyed walking through the mansion, I do wish that there had been an audio guide. Papers with descriptions of the objects were placed in each room, but I prefer an audio version personally. Still, if you have a few minutes of spare time during your day, I think it’s worth stopping in. This is especially if you’re visiting the Cathedral or doing the boat tour as they’re all so close together.
Enjoy your stay in “La Capital Alsacienne”
I hope this advice will help you to make the most of your day in Strasbourg! I genuinely believe that you’ll find this city to be just as charming as I did. If you have any further questions about spending one perfect day in Strasbourg, please feel free to send me an email and I will do my best to be of help.
Check out some of my favorite Alsace guidebooks below. Click to look inside!
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Anna and I were given complimentary Strasbourg passes from the Strasbourg Tourism Office. So, we were able to enter some of the attractions that I mentioned above for free. Like always, all opinions are my own!