Visiting Strasbourg – A City Guide
On the border between France and Germany, Strasbourg is the symbolic capital of Europe. Now part of France, the city has been part of both nations over time, and has been shaped by each. The result is a blend of influences that permeates everything from the architecture to the food.
Strasbourg: city layout The heart of central Strasbourg is Grand Île, a fortified medieval island encircled by the River Ill. The area is a maze of narrow streets and half-timbered houses, dominated by a soaring gothic cathedral. The city’s main railway station is just west of Grand Île.
Northeast of the centre is the suburb of Contades, home to the European Parliament and the other EU institutions that comprise the modern European Quarter.
To the south of the centre are the main university and university hospital. Further south is the suburb of Illkirch, home to more academic institutions and a business district.
What to see in Strasbourg
Grand Île is crammed with cobbled streets and dotted with elegant squares, the grandest of which is Place Kléber. Dominating the area is the soaring gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame, with its magnificent pink sandstone façade and exquisite stained-glass windows. It was once the world’s tallest building, and you can still climb the tower for impressive views. Opposite the cathedral you’ll find more stained glass in the ornately carved, 15th-century Maison Kammerzell.
Across the river you can soak up more medieval atmosphere by exploring La Petite France. It’s easy to lose yourself among its picturesque bridges, canals and half-timbered houses.
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Hotels in Strasbourg
Strasbourg’s accommodation options are located across the city, with the highest number found in the city centre. Rooms are available in every budget category, while some upmarket hotels are located in historic buildings. The city’s excellent public transport network will keep you in touch no matter where you stay.
Staying in and around the central medieval core of Grand Île puts you close to the main historical sights. If you’re heading out in the evening, you’ll also find a high concentration of bars and restaurants here.
Opt to stay in the southern suburb of Illkirch and you’ll be within easy reach of the city’s airport. Several academic institutions are also located here, as are the offices of a number of local businesses.
You’ll also find several hotels in the city’s northeast suburbs. These are handy for visiting the city’s various EU institutions, including the European Parliament.
Eating Out in Strasbourg
The Alsace region’s history of switching between two countries is reflected in Strasbourg’s local cuisine, which combines the best of German heartiness and French flair. The perfect place to sample this is in a traditional old inn, called a Winstub (pronounced “veen-shtub”), which is always atmospheric and usually reasonably priced.
You’ll find the highest concentration of eateries in the historic centre, particularly in Grand Île and neighbouring La Petite France. This is where you’ll find the oldest and most characterful Winstubs. There’s also a mouth-watering array of more modern restaurants, serving French food as well as international cuisine from Asia to Southern Europe.
If you’re staying in the southern suburb of Illkirch you’ll find another concentration of restaurants, particularly along central Route du Lyon. Most places here serve French and Alsace food, although international options are also available.
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Shopping in Strasbourg
There are plenty of shopping opportunities in Strasbourg, from colourful markets to shopping malls. One regional speciality is the range of local Alsace wine wines, from dry Riesling to spicy Gewürztraminer. Haggling is acceptable in markets, but less so in other shops.
Souvenir shops selling pottery abound in the city centre, especially around the cathedral and in nearby Petite France. North of the cathedral, look along Rue des Orfèvres or Rue de la Mésange for high-end fashion and designer goods. You’ll also find no end of chic boutiques and gourmet food outlets throughout Grand Île.
Also central, you’ll find more down-to-earth high-street brands, including branches of the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores, in the area surrounding Place Kléber.
Just south of the city centre beside the Rhine–Rhône Canal, the Centre Commercial Rivetoile has around 90 retail outlets under one roof.
Top markets in Strasbourg
Culture & Nightlife in Strasbourg
Strasbourg’s 40,000+ student population is the second highest in France, and this keeps the nightlife scene lively. Besides clubs and bars, there’s an opera house and a music conservatory. The city also hosts regular concerts, as well as the annual European Fantasy Film Festival.
Most museums cluster in the streets just south of the cathedral.
At night, the hottest clubs and bars are found in the area east of the cathedral, along Rue des Juifs and Rue des Frères, as well as in La Petite France. You’ll also find bars around the university campuses to the south of the centre.
Movie fans can check out the latest releases at several cinemas across the city. Just south of the centre, UGC Ciné Cité Strasbourg Étoile shows films on 22 screens.
Live music venues in Strasbourg
Visiting Strasbourg with a Family
Strasbourg has a wealth of distractions to keep children of all ages amused. Older children will enjoy exploring the cathedral and the nearby museums, while toddlers can let off steam in one of many parks and playgrounds.
If you’d like your young ones to appreciate the Cathédrale Notre-Dame and burn off some energy, climb the 330 steps to the base of its spire. The reward for your effort is a panoramic view of the city and beyond.
At 12:30 each day, you can marvel at the mechanical procession of the cathedral’s astronomical clock. This triumph of Renaissance engineering marks the positions of the sun and moon, plus a host of other celestial bodies.
Children will be enchanted by the fairytale half-timber houses of the nearby Petite France district.
Family-friendly attractions in Strasbourg