Strasbourg is an interesting city because while it is part of France, it sits right on the border with Germany and the two cultures are very interconnected here. Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace region which has passed back and forth several times between the two countries.
So if you are short on time and want a “2 for 1”, head to Strasbourg where you can get both a little bit of France and a little bit of Germany.
How to Enjoy Strasbourg, France
We spent only a couple of days in Strasbourg but they were a magical time. There is plenty “To Do” here but this was the kind of visit where we let go of itineraries and instead listened intently to what the city wanted to tell us about herself.
Strasbourg is full of history and culture, but more importantly in this present day, Strasbourg is thriving and full of life. The central area is compact and very walkable. It’s chock full of restaurants and bars with sidewalk seating, bakeries with lines out the door, walk up ice cream counters, and tons of shopping.
The city’s clean, cobbled streets are busy at almost all hours, with retirees people watching from benches, tourists and locals shopping and eating, and commuters heading to or from the office on bicycles, laptops strapped securely into backpacks.
Our Airbnb was just opposite Strasbourg Cathedral which is the crowning glory of the city. It rises well above any other building and even if you’re not into churches, the larger than life gothic architecture practically demands admiration.
The interior is just as incredible and unlike other major church tourist spots (*cough* Sacré Coeur) it didn’t feel over crowded or commercial.
The small street that leads right up to the cathedral is lined with souvenir shops and cafés. However, we got the feeling that just as many locals were hanging out there as tourists. When you have a monumental piece of history right in your own backyard, wouldn’t you?
A Few Interesting Facts About Strasbourg Cathedral
It took how long to build?
Construction of the Cathedral began in 1015 and was completed in…1439. Yes, it took 424 YEARS to complete. For perspective, if it takes as long for the Sagrada Familia in Spain to be completed, that won’t happen until the year 2306.
It’s a Catholic Church, no, it’s not, wait, yes it is, wait, no umm…
In 1524 Strasbourg Cathedral transitioned from a Catholic church to a Protestant church, was subsequently returned to the Catholics in 1681, was seized by the French state in 1789 and proclaimed a “Temple of Reason” and finally in 1801 became a Catholic cathedral once again, although to this day the French state retains official ownership.
Man’s best friend, set in stone
On the pulpit, among the ornately sculpted depictions of religious icons including Christ on the cross, the Virgin Mary, and the Apostles, is a tiny, almost hidden sculpture. Nestled between the stair railing, you’ll find an unobtrusive and sweet little dog, lying down with his head poking between a gap. He is the loyal pet of Jean Geiler, a well regarded priest in Strasbourg in the 15th century.
I loved discovering this plebeian icon of constancy unobtrusively tucked in with the more traditional religious themes. It was a poignant reminder of the very real people who lived and worshipped here over the past centuries.
Eating and Drinking Our Way Through Strasbourg
Strasbourg’s city center is criss-crossed with canals and cobblestone streets (so leave your heels at home unless you want to twist an ankle). If you’re staying within the center, you can walk everywhere and you’ll WANT to walk everywhere. The architecture, the smells, the sidewalk cafes…they all beg for pedestrian appreciation.
Although there is a comprehensive tram system in Strasbourg, the city is meant for meandering. It may have something to do with the myriad sidewalk cafés welcoming you equally for “une bière” or “un verre de vin.” Since the city is steeped in both French and German culture, you can find good quality wine and beer wherever you happen to stop.
We particularly enjoyed drafts from Meteor Brewery which is just north of Strasbourg. We weren’t familiar with it when we arrived but Meteor beers are ubiquitous on practically every sidewalk café’s menu.
We walked to Marché de l’Esplanade – the Farmer’s Market near the university – for some fresh veggies and doughnuts (a balanced diet). Then we grabbed a sandwich from a boulangerie and dipped down to the canal banks where we shared a bench and the beautiful view with a stranger (but not our sandwich).
Brian and I imagined which of the magnificent houses lining the water had the nicest view and which had the best balcony for entertaining. It was fun to consider for a moment that we could have our pick.
We ended the day perusing the shops for things we didn’t need, but we bought a few of them anyway.
I enjoyed a “Mixed Alsatian” salad with eggs, gruyère, and endive and Brian picked a tarte flambée, a specialty of the Alsace region that’s akin to a “white pie” in American-pizza-language. The thin, chewy dough is spread with crème frâiche and topped with onions and a sort of thick cut bacon. We meant these to be our starters but both dishes were so big we didn’t have room for more!
While we ate, gray clouds snuck in and by the time we were requesting “l’addition” to pay our bill, a fine but steady rain had begun. We walked as fast as we could toward our Airbnb but soon a few fat raindrops fell, and a few hundred more after that. We were still a half mile from our place but caught in an intense deluge. What to do!? We did the only sensible thing – popped into the nearest wine bar, L’Alsace à Boire where we were welcomed with open arms despite our soggy entrance.
We waited out the downpour with glasses of wine, watching through the window at the rain and the few dogged pedestrians whose appointments just couldn’t wait. When the rain let up we made our way home, with a pitstop at the nearest bakery to indulge in a totally unnecessary amount of pastries. (Empirical research for the blog though so actually, quite vital).
In the dry, warm comfort of our Airbnb, the bread and sugar settled in our bellies as did fond memories of our adventures in Strasbourg, a city full of history and culture, yet also alive with present day energy and relevance.
This was our first visit here, but definitely not our last. Until next time Strasbourg!