Strasbourg is a glorious city with an ancient heart, and a dynamic culture, chic boutiques and main High Street stores, and a hit list of fine dining and quality restaurants serving an imaginative mélange of regional and international dishes.
Paradoxically, a good way of understanding what the city is all about is to do nothing other than to perch yourself at one of the street cafés in the cobblestoned place de la Cathédrale and just watch (and listen) as the world goes by. Moreover, you’ll discover what a fascination the city holds for people of all nations, not just France.
On the international stage, New York, Geneva and Strasbourg are the only cities in the world to accommodate pan-cultural organisations without the distinction of being capital cities. The choice of Strasbourg as European capital was not a chance decision, but one that was intended as a symbol of reconciliation between the people of Europe. The architecture of the European Quarter is a complete contrast from the rest of Strasbourg; this is a town within a town.
Surrounded by two arms of the River Ill, the Grande Ile (Big Island), is the historic centre of the Alsatian capital. It has an outstanding complex of monuments within a fairly small area. The cathedral, the four ancient churches and the Palais Rohan – former residence of the prince-bishops – far from appearing as isolated monuments, form a district that is characteristic of a medieval town and illustrates the city's evolution from the 15th to the 18th century. This unique distinction qualifies the island as a whole with World Heritage Site status.
As with every French town and city, events from puppet shows and flea markets to beer festivals and orchestral concerts, feature throughout the year. But it is at the end of November when this already buzzing place especially comes alive. For that is the time, through December, when the world-celebrated Christmas Market (Christkindelsmarik) is held, a feature of the Strasbourg scene since 1570. Baubles, bangles and bright lights bring an other-worldly gaiety to the city as the whiff of spices, roasting chestnuts (marrons chauds) and mulled wine drift on the air. This is the time when everyone goes back to their childhood, and the kids hang around looking embarrassed by the antics of their parents.
Of particular appeal is the ease with which you can get around. Walking, of course, is always the most edifying way of getting to know the city, and you can take a pedestrian tour with an audio guide if you want to be sure not to miss anything. But five tram routes criss-cross the city linking with the suburbs and warden-controlled park-and-ride areas for those that arrived by car. Of course, there are the customary tourist trappings from water boats with panoramic windows and audio commentary systems to a mini-tram that pootles about the city streets in an unhurried and mildly bemused kind of way.
And if the hubbub of the city centre gets too much, then take a stroll out to the Orangerie, a large ornamental park in close proximity to the European Parliament buildings. Here you’ll find storks nesting on chimneys, play areas, a large pond, pets corner, ambling, tree-shaded paths, a tenpin bowling alley, a Michelin-starred restaurant, and one that isn’t but which does a worthy trade in lunchtime business (Le Jardin de l’Orangerie).
Relatively compact this city may be, but one thing is certain, you will need to come again. One visit can never be enough.
17 place de la
Cathédrale, 67014 Strasbourg.
Open every day from 9am to 7pm
Tel: 03 88 52 28 28
There are satellite offices at the TGV rail station and in the Parc de l'Etoile.
Strasbourg enjoys a superb high-speed TGV service from Paris Gare de l'Est, bookable through Voyages-SNCF.
Strasbourg-Entzheim International Airport is just 10km/6 miles from Strasbourg city centre via the autoroute. The airport is connected to Strasbourg railway station by a train shuttle (4 times per hour, with a journey time of 9 minutes). Tel: 0800 77 98 67 (freephone in France)
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.