The excellent tramway system in Strasbourg is superb for getting across the city and out to the suburbs, especially for those in search of less pricey hotels. But the best way of getting round the ancient centre is on foot, stopping off at any one of the many cafés every time the urge for coffee comes upon you. At Christmas time, the whole city comes alive with the Christmas Market, but during the rest of the year this is just a most agreeable city to explore.
The ancient city stands on a great island, surrounded by the River Ill. At the south-western corner is La Petite France, a most attractive and endearing quarter that in the past was occupied by fishermen, millers and tanners. Today, its glory is its wealth of half- timbered houses, many dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, among which La Maison des Tanneurs dates from 1572.
Not far away, the Ponts Couverts were a kind of wall bridge built between 1200 and 1250, originally made of wood and covered with tiled roofs, hence the name. The stone bridges you see today date from the 19th century. Facing them is the Barrage Vauban (the Vaudan Dam), built after Strasbourg became part of France in 1681, and beneath its 13 arcades floodgates could be closed to flood the southern part of the city as a defensive system. The dam had been closed since 2008, but has been completely renovated and reopened its doors in late 2012. The panoramic terrace provides a great view over La Petite France, and the dam looks especially attractive at night.
The Ponts Couverts
Central to the city is La Place Gutenberg (Gutenberg Square). This used to be the centre of the political and social life of the city, and features a number of outstandingly attractive buildings as well as the statue of the eponymous Johannes Gutenberg, a German blacksmith, goldsmith, printer and publisher, who introduced printing to Europe, starting the printing revolution that ranks among the most important events of the modern period.
Only a short walk away, the Maison Kammerzell is the most beautiful building in Strasbourg, having been built in the 16th century, and was later owned by a grocer, Philippe Kammerzell. Today it sees service as a restaurant, and overlooks the great square in front of the cathedral, founded in 1277 and a remarkable architectural achievement with an exceptional collection of stained-glass windows, and a renowned astronomical clock.
There are two particular museums that are well worth visiting: Le Palais Rohan, housed in a building that is very much in the Parisian style, was built between 1732 and 1742 as the residence of the Prince-Bishops. Today, it houses the Decorative Arts Museum, the Fine Arts Museum and the Archaeological Museum, admission to which is reduced for those with a Strasbourg Pass (Open daily (except Tuesdays) from 12 noon-1800, Saturdays and Sundays from 1000-1800).
The Musée Alsacien, a folk art museum featuring rural costumes and ways of life, is found across the Pont du Corbeau, and was established in 1907 in three beautiful Renaissance houses (23-25 quai Saint Nicolas: Open daily (except Tuesdays) from 12 noon-1800, Saturdays and Sundays from 1000-1800.
If you want to stretch your legs a little, then walk out to the Parc de l'Orangerie, which is not far from the various European buildings for which Strasbourg is renowned. You can take Tram E to Droits de l'Homme station, but it is so much nicer on a sunny day to follow the Ill, and then cut through to the Avenue de l'Europe and enter the park. This is a lovely place, with a children's play area, lakes, an aviary, a Michelin-starred Restaurant (the Buerehiesel) and another, Le Jardin de l'Orangerie, that offers no pretension, just excellent and inexpensive set lunches – right next to a ten-pin bowling alley.
For a slightly different perspective, take a 70-minute trip on the River Ill from near the cathedral, on one of the large tourist boats that sail up and down, and let you explore the city from water level, in warmth and comfort. Operated by Batorama, these trips offer commentaries in 12 languages are broadcast via individual headsets. Check the website for departure times, which vary each month.
17 place de la Cathédrale, 67014 Strasbourg.
Open every day from 9am to 7pm
Tel: 03 88 52 28 28
The STRASBOURG PASS is your key to the city for 3 days, offering free services and numerous discounts
For sales and information about the
contact the information office near the cathedral.