Located right on the border with Germany, this unique French city has a lot of history and character. There are a lot of great things to do in Strasbourg and it’s worth taking a few days to explore.
You’ll want to bring your camera to capture the pretty street scenes, with elegant Louis XV buildings, a soaring cathedral and charming houses.
Located along the Rhine River, this city is a popular stop on many European river cruise tours. This position also put it at the intersection of many important commerce and traffic routes, which means it has been an important and prosperous city for over two thousand years.
In fact, at one point in the 13th century, it was the wealthiest city in the Holy Roman Empire and a city of art, culture and decadence. Today it still offers superb cuisine, museums, crafts and architecture – making it a very enjoyable destination to explore.
If you will be visiting this city on your travels in France, here are some of the top things to do in Strasbourg.
1. Notre Dame Cathedral
One of the most iconic buildings in the city, the Notre Dame Cathedral is a Gothic church that towers over the city centre. This religious structure took more than 400 years to build and every inch is adorned with ornate carvings. It was the tallest building in the world for over 200 years – from 1647 to 1874.
The exterior of the church was designed to depict scenes from the bible. You can see the detailed carvings of stories and characters stretching all the way up to the top of the spire. Most of the congregation would not have been able to read at the time, so the carvings were a way to depict biblical tales and lessons in a visual format everyone could understand.
Inside the cathedral there’s a huge Great Organ and a carved stone pulpit. At the top of the lookout platform, you can see carved names and initials from visitors to the church dating back to the 1600s.
One of the most stunning features is the Rose Window, with sunlight streaming through the stained glass. Look closely at the stained-glass windows and you’ll see many whimsical demons dancing alongside the images of priests and sinners.
2. La Petite France
La Petite France is a lovely historic quarter right in the heart of Strasbourg. This neighbourhood was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, for its beautifully well-preserved architecture. No trip to Strasbourg is complete without a stroll through this area.
Several canals run through the neighbourhood, alongside 16th and 17th century half-timbered buildings. You can even take a boat cruise through the canals, a wonderful and relaxing way to see this beautiful part of the city close-up.
The walkways and narrow streets are connected by footbridges, which make this incredibly picturesque area of town feel even more like a fairy tale. It’s known as “La Petite France” (aka. Little France) because there was once a hospice here to cure people with syphilis – which was known as the French disease.
3. Strasbourg Hospital Historic Wine Cellar
This beautiful 14th century wine cellar is hiding beneath the Hospital in Strasbourg. It’s home to some of the oldest barrel-stored wine in the world, dating back to 1472. This very special wine has only been tasted three times in history.
The wine cellar itself was built in 1395, when it was quite common to have a wine cellar attached to a hospital because wine was used for medical and religious purposes. In the 1700s, patients were given two litres of wine per day.
Even when the hospital was destroyed by a wine in 1716, the wine cellar was left mostly intact – as it was underground and made of bricks. The hospital was reconstructed in 1725.
The Strasbourg Hospital Historic Wine Cellar is now home to a wine museum, where you can see the 1472 barrel as well as a wine press from the early 1600s. There’s also a shop where you can buy some wines produced in the cellar.
(Love wine? You’ll also love these other stunning off-the-beaten-track wine regions.)
4. The Strasbourg Astronomic Clock
A wonder of 1800s engineering, the current Strasbourg Astronomic Clock is the third of its kind to stand in the same spot since the 14th century.
The first clock was constructed in the Cathedral Notre-Dame in the 1350s by an unknown clockmaker. It was a fascinating work of art, with a mechanical rooster that would spread its feathers and crow. This rooster is on display across from the cathedral at the Museum of Decorative Arts in the Palais du Rohan. It is thought to be the first example of automata in the world.
The first clock was taken apart in the 1500s and a second and more ambitious clock was constructed. It depicted the planets and was able to mark their movements – and even predict eclipses. It was incredibly elaborate and was covered in musical bells and paintings. It’s also on display at the Museum.
The current clock dates back to 1843 and also depicts the planets and the positions of the sun and moon. Every day at 12:30 (solar noon in Strasbourg) the bird crows and a line of apostles comes out of the clock and passes before Christ.
5. The Center for Reintroduction of Storks
The mascot of the city of Strasbourg is the stork. The story of these long-legged birds in Strasbourg is a tale of conservation success.
Back in 1976, the stork population was nearly on the brink of extinction. The Center for Reintroduction of Storks was established to help save the stork population. They raise mating pairs in captivity, then carefully released them into the wild.
If you look up as you walk around the city, you’ll notice the enormous nests of the storks – perched on the top of chimneys and platforms. If you want to see even more storks, head to the Orangerie Park where they also like to nest.
Have you been to Strasbourg?
What did you discover? Share your tips and suggestions for visiting this unique and beautiful French city in the comments below.