Strasbourg boasts a unique cultural and architectural heritage, standing as it does at a crossroads between the Latin and Germanic worlds. As France’s seventh-largest city, Alsace’s capital celebrated its 2000th anniversary in 1998. The historical town centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its many attractions can be discovered on foot, by riverboat, by mini-tram or by bicycle.
The cathedral holds many people’s attention, but the heart of the city is also remarkable to visit. It contains many treasures, some of which are famous, others less so, but all of which are worthy of interest. Review of the Treasures and Curiosities…
The Maison Kammerzell
A stone’s throw from the cathedral, the most famous building in Strasbourg will amaze you. It is Renaissance in style and dates from the Fifteenth Century. Its steeply sloping roof will attract your attention, as will its beams, with their carvings of secular subjects, and its “bottleneck“ windows and stone ground floor. It was formerly a merchant’s house and is now a restaurant of renown. The restaurant’s rooms on the different floors offer intimate surroundings and decors from another age with remarkable wooden features, vaults and frescoes.
Through the streets and alleys…
Most of these narrow, friendly places are alive with commercial activities. Here you may discover the famous winstubs, or wine bars, where liqueurs and other equally excellent Alsatian specialities are served. The winstubs are known for their friendly atmosphere. Most of the tables are side by side, so contacts are quickly made between guests. The winstubs are a real institution that cannot be ignored by visitors to Strasbourg. As it happens, a few of this world’s «great» citizens have stopped by there.
«Short walks» to share…
If you walk towards the left of the cathedral (on the same side as the Maison Kammerzell), you will discover the shopping district. The rues des Hallebardes, des Orfèvres, du Dôme and des Juifs are mostly made up of shops. The Place du Marché Gayot is a good place to stop for refreshment, away from the city’s noise, as it is closed to traffic. Its terraces overflow as soon as the fine weather arrives. This site is a meeting place for many residents of Strasbourg..
If you walk towards the right of the cathedral (on the same side as the Post Office), you will be in a district with more tourist attractions. A visit to the Place du Château will let you discover the Palais Rohan and the building housing the Oeuvre Notre-Dame Works department (in charge of maintenance work on the cathedral, employing around forty masons and copy sculptors who work permanently on the building). Come back to the cathedral Square and go down the narrow rue du Maroquin, catching sight of the Oeuvre NotreDame garden in the middle of it. The street leads to the picturesque Place du Marché-aux-Cochonsde-Lait , where a fine group of half-timbered houses may be admired. The nearby Place du Marché-aux-Poissons and the Place de la Grande-Boucherie are also charming places to visit.
Gutenberg Square features a sumptuous building that is rigorously symmetrical. It dates from the end of the Sixteenth Century and today houses the Strasbourg and Lower Rhine Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This was the first building in Strasbourg to be built in dressed stone (apart from the cathedral), which was a daring choice at the time, since it stood out from the usual local architectural style (half-timber) and caused controversy. As you walk down the rue des Grandes-Arcades between Gutenberg Square and Kleber Square, you will notice number 33, a building that is representative of the Art Nouveau of the end of the Nineteenth and beginning of the Twentieth Centuries, with its glass and metal frontage (in the past a “department store“ was housed in the building). Strasbourg had a total of 700 “Art Nouveau“ buildings at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Only around fifty of them remain, mainly in the imperial district.
Kleber Square , which is a city centre square par excellence, is surrounded by the Aubette building, built completely of pink sandstone… and completely longitudinally. This military building dates from the end of the Eighteenth Century and originally housed a corps of Guards..
A leading museum on the European cultural scene, designed by architect Fainsilber. This vibrant space of contemporary culture features remarkable sculptures and reliefs by Jean (Hans) Arp and pioneering works of abstract art (Kandinsky), of masters of surrealism (Ernst Masson), and of major figures of contemporary art (Buren). A photography exhibition room and an auditorium, which focuses considerable attention on cinema and music, make this museum an important centre for dynamic artistic creation.
The Petite France is without a doubt the most famous district in Strasbourg, revealing a unique architectural heritage. This is a haven of real peace and quiet, bathed in the waters of the Ill River, which wraps its five branches around it. Time seems to stand still here… A must for visitors!
The history of the Petite France district is paradoxical. It was, in the past, a poor district, ignored by the residents of Strasbourg. Today it is one of the city’s most frequently visited sites and is largely responsible for its reputation.
The origins of the Petite France district go back to the Middle-Ages, to the Fourteenth Century, to be precise. Three of the downward flowing Ill’s branches (the downward drop is 1.8 metres) lead to considerable waterfalls, which gave rise to the construction of mills. Business activities were set up, first of all by flour millers, then tanners, who in turn filled the district, making their mark indelibly. The boom of the Petite France district was born out of this. The river, like a nursing mother, birthed the development of river trading. The district resembles a port… as barrels of wine from the Upper Alsace region and other such cargo is unloaded onto the docks. For centuries this was a labourers’ area, full of foul stenches, and so unattractive that not even a church could be established in it. The
advent of the industrial age swept aside all former activities… From the second half of the Twentieth Century onwards, the booming tourist industry turned the spotlight on the Petite France district and highlighted its charms.
Viewing points and other delightful sights
Such as the Saint-Martin Bridge, located to the left of the Rue des Dentelles, marking the entry point to the Petite France district, with a fine viewing point
onto the river, raging as it tumbles downwards between its banks, lined with half-timbered buildings. This is an enchanting place. The picturesque rue des Dentelles (don’t hesitate to go into the open courtyards) takes us down to Benjamin-Zix Square at the heart of Petite France. The “jewel in the crown“ of this square, the Tanners’ House, can only be admired… The rue du Bain-aux-Plantes immediately attracts our eyes, leading on from the square. Houses with their timbers and white frontages line this street that has no equal, where the half-timbered houses outline the story of the past.
The banks of the Ill river
The Ill River turns full circle around the heart of Strasbourg, forming the Grande-Île. The river is a delight for those who like walking along the water’s edge. This is particularly so when walkers have interesting encounters along the river banks…
On leaving the Petite France district, it is possible to «catch» the river at the Saint-Martin Bridge or Saint-Thomas Church. It is also
possible to walk along its banks, sometimes close to the water and sometimes on the quayside. Visitors will quickly come across the former Customs House , dating back to the Fourteenth Century. This building was almost entirely destroyed during the Second World War and identically rebuilt at the end of it. Its originality stems from its gabled walls. The building precedes the Pont du Corbeau, a place where intensely cruel practices plunged people into the water during the Middle-Ages (see the notice at the entrance). The magnificently vaulted historic wine-cellar of the Strasbourg Hospital is two minutes’ walk away. A visit to the Cour du Corbeau , a few metres away from the bridge, is a must. Enter via no. 1, Quai des Bateliers. A crow, perched on the corner of the frontage, marks the spot. After the Maison
Kammerzell, the Cour du Corbeau is the finest set of Renaissance architecture in the city and dates from the Seventeenth Century. Its history is unique…
For three centuries the Cour du Corbeau (Crow Court) served as a postal relay and hotel. Amongst its guests were the Marshall of Turenne, Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, Joseph the Second, Emperor of Austria and also Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Alexandre Dumas. From 1852 to 1982 it housed a glass business. During this period its activity slowly died away and led to its total abandon. From 1982 to 2007 it remained unoccupied and fell into serious decay, almost complete destruction. In 2007 the Crow Court was taken in hand and completely renovated to its former splendour … and its former vocation, since it housed a prestigious (four-star) hotel. The building is remarkably consistent, with exceptional passageways featuring wooden balustrades. A journey through time…
On leaving the Crow Court, walk along the Quai des Bateliers for about 100 metres to discover the rear façade of the Palais Rohan (its entrance is on the Place du Château) – a living testimony to the princely lifestyle of the Eighteenth Century. Its subtly refined architecture is inspired by that of the grand Parisian hotels of the time. The rue Sainte-Madeleine, opposite, has always been particularly characterized by the highly original small shops lining it… A little further on, the Quai des Pêcheurs offers a fine viewing point, where the Ill River forms an attractive “crow’s foot“. A few barges are moored here. Sip a glass of wine or have a snack on one of them. This very open, charming place is adorned by Saint Paul’s Church, which resembles a small cathedral, the imposing neo-Classical style Esca Building, (with a rounded frontage) and weeping willows. We are on the edges of the Imperial District. For lovers of architecture, the Higher Institution of Decorative Arts , a stone’s throw away, has an “Art Nouveau“ façade made up of ceramic tiles portraying allegorical figures representing science, architecture, painting and sculpture, etc…
Extend your walk along the Quai Lezay-Marnesia, along which are scattered extremely fine houses… Follow the river to the Quai Schoepflin. The SaintPierre-le-Jeune Church is very close by. It is more than worth taking the trouble to visit it. This protestant church, built at the same time as the cathedral and probably the finest in Strasbourg, is an open book… displaying numerous frescos (Fourteenth Century) and paintings. Its choir screen is superb and the same may be said for its cloisters – a silent haven right in the heart of the city! Wonderful!
After coming to power in 1870, the Reich decided to make Strasbourg a showcase for the Empire. In the space of less than half a century, the city boomed considerably, to the point where its surface area trebled! German influence was added to French, making Strasbourg a unique city…
The place de la République…
This square is built around a circular garden (with superb Spring-flowering magnolias), containing important architectural symbols from the time of German reign. The different buildings lining the square are all in neo-classical style, displaying various influences. The Rhine Palace (1989) , a blend of neo-Renaissance Florentine and neobaroque Berlin styles, is the most imposing building. This palace is an anachronism, having been built at great cost to receive the emperor and his imperial suite during his occasional short stays in Strasbourg… It was almost demolished during the Fifties.
Opposite the Palace the façade of the National University Library (1895) , built in Italian neo-Renaissance style, reveals medallions to the glory of illustrious European personalities from the world of literature and philosophy. The «BNU» (National University Library) contains 55 kilometres of shelves and over 3 million documents (it is the second largest library in France).
The Strasbourg National Theatre (1892) , next to the «BNU» has a massive, perfectly symmetrical façade with an «Italian-style» roof. The building originally housed the «Regional Delegation» (Landesausschuss). Today it is the only national theatre in the region. It houses auditoriums, a troupe of actors and a School of Dramatic Art.
The monument to the dead (inaugurated by Albert Lebrun, President of the Republic, in 1936) in the centre of the square, shows a mother crying (Strasbourg), holding her two dying children in her arms, one of whom had fought in French uniform and the other in German uniform, symbolizing the people of Alsace killed on the battle field for both countries. The monument contains one simple inscription “TO OUR DEAD“. It is one of the very rare pacifist war memorials in France
… and neighbouring areas.
The Place de la République affords a few fine views across the avenues leading into it. One of them (avenue de la Liberté) leads to the Palais Universitaire (1884) , a few hundred metres away. This Italian neo-Renaissance style building holds a superb amphitheatre, bordered along two of its edges by richly decorated arcades. This has been a University centre since its beginnings and has never lost its primary purpose, continuing to receive students in History, Archaeology and History of Art… A few metres before the Palais Universitaire, the spires of Saint Paul’s church (Late Nineteenth Century), originally a German garrison church, rise 76 metres towards the sky. It is the tallest church in Strasbourg, after the cathedral. The Opera building near to the Place Broglie was built in 1821 (in neo-classical style). It was restored and modified in 1888 after being partially destroyed by German bombs in 1870. Six iconic columns crowned with muses adorn its frontage. Since 1870 the famous “Christkindelsmärik“ (there one of the Christmas market sites) has been held.
When Europe was looking for a place to demonstrate its unification Strasbourg, as a city torn between France and Germany for decades, seemed an obvious choice. The city’s European destiny was born in 1949, during the period when France and Germany forged closer links. The European district, which has grown continuously during the years, has different buildings with remarkable contemporary architecture.
The Palais de l’Europe
The Council of Europe sits here. The representatives of the 47 Member States meet here to work on defending human rights and strengthening political stability in Europe, but also looking for common solutions for societal problems (corruption, organized crime, terrorism, discrimination, etc…) Built in 1977, it is one of the oldest great European buildings. Its architecture, representing a forming pyramid, is the symbol of the strength of unity… Its 64 000 sqm surface area is home to 1 000 offices, 17 meeting rooms and 600-seater chamber.
The Human Rights building
This architecturally daring building was built in 1995. Its two metal cylinders, “a clear-cut “architectural choice, symbolise the scales of justice. The façade at the entrance is made of glass, representing the transparency of justice … The building is the work of Sir Richard Rogers (who also has a number of leading projects to his credit, including the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Millennium Dome in London). It radiates a real sense of power – vertically from the front and horizontally from the back and the sides and fits perfectly into the meander in the river. The Human Rights Building has jurisdiction over 800 million Europeans. The 47 judges (one per Member State) sit in the Great Chamber of the European Court to hear the requests brought by Member States or individuals concerning violations of the civil and political rights laid down in the European Human Rights Convention. The Court issues an average 1 500 decrees per year.
A stretch of the Berlin Wall, tagged with an unusual form of graffiti, may be seen at the entrance, in the gardens (which are open to the public).
The European Parliament
Its construction was completed in 1998. The building, which, seen from the sky, looks like the prow of a liner ready to cut into the river, is made of glass, metal,
sandstone and wood. Its elegance and vast dimensions are impressive. You fully grasp this as soon as you enter the heart of its unfurnished elliptical 60-metre tower, which is cut open on the side facing the cathedral. The total surface area of the Palace is 220 000 sqm!!! It includes a 750-seater chamber, 1 133 offices and 18 committee rooms used by the 751 European Deputies elected within the 28 Member States of the European Union. The European Parliament is the largest parliamentary assembly elected by direct universal suffrage in the world.
Strasbourg possesses several fine garden settings where you may take a breather … or catch your breath. All of them have specific scientific, natural or cultural points of interest. Going green…
The Botanical garden
This garden, with its luxuriant vegetation, is a real haven of peace, opened in 1884 during the time of the German Empire. As soon as you go through the gates, you quickly forget that you are in the middle of the city. Only the few fine buildings around it betray this. The Botanical garden, whose surface covers 4 hectares, counts 500 trees, 1 500 shrubs and 6 000 species of plants from the entire world. At the heart of the garden is a very fine low 12-sided glasshouse, known as “Bary’s“ Glasshouse (a listed historical monument). It houses giant Amazonian Water Lilies in its 7-metre diameter heated pool. It is the only historic glasshouse remaining
from the 1884 garden. The original large glasshouses were destroyed in 1963 after a violent hailstorm and replaced by the current glasshouses. Total change of scenery guaranteed…
The Orangery park
This park, the oldest and largest park in Strasbourg (26 hectares) is the favourite place for the city’s residents to take a stroll. It goes back to 1740 (or thereabouts). It was, at that time, a French-style classical garden with a grand “Allée Le Nôtre“. In the Nineteenth Century the garden was integrated into an English-style park. Magnificent trees, centuries old, a lake with a romantic atmosphere, a zoo, mini-farm for small children and the “Josephine Pavilion“ are all part of its attractiveness.
The “Josephine Pavilion“ dates from the very beginning of the Eighteenth Century. In 1801 the State gave the city of Strasbourg a collection of 138 splendid orange trees from the grounds of Bouxwiller Castle. This collection had been confiscated by Republicans during the Revolution. The Pavilion, built as an orangery and as a royal residence, was dedicated to Empress Josephine in 1806, hence its name.
This 24-hectare park is a little way from the city centre in the Robertsau district of North Eastern Strasbourg. The highly flowery surroundings make it a charming place. Here, we are a long way from the noisy city… The main point of interest in the park is Pourtalès Castle, dating back to the Eighteenth Century. To complete the story… In the Nineteenth Century the castle was the residence of Countess Melanie, organiser of grand receptions and wife of Count Edmond de Pourtalès. This period was the castle’s time of glory and the elite and nobles of the whole of Europe visited it.
The Deux Rives garden
The Deux Rives garden is a cross-border initiative on the part of the cities of Strasbourg and Kehl. It was inaugurated in 2004 and symbolises Franco-German friendship. Its design is modern and it extends over an area covering both sides of the Rhine. The magnificent Deux Rives footbridge is a real work of art, allowing walkers and cyclists to cross the river via a rare viewing point. The crossing is an exceptional experience, as the majestic power of the Rhine unfolds beneath the bridge. Cultural events are organized on a regular basis in the garden.
Strasbourg’s Christmas market is a leading, if not THE leading market of its kind. Its reputation knows no boundaries. It is the oldest Christmas market in Europe and dates from 1570. Every year the festival lasts a good month, as two million visitors hurry to discover this five-century old tradition.
The Christkindelsmärik (Market of the Infant Jesus) in Place Broglie was the only site for this enchanting event up to a few years ago, but things have really changed since then. Today its small wooden huts spread throughout the whole city, particularly across various squares, each of which represents a theme. In December Strasbourg is totally “nimbed” (haloed) and is the most illuminated city in Europe. This lighting not only gives the city a warm atmosphere, but also reveals its extraordinary architectural heritage.
Every street corner is enchanting, with hot wine stands and sparkling decorations everywhere. On the Place Kléber visitors discover not only the massive, majestic Christmas Tree (around 30 metres high!) but also choirs singing a cappella… You should know that the city organizes numerous spiritual and humanist events along the theme “Strasbourg, Capital of Christmas“: concerts, animations, exhibitions, actions in favour of solidarity and meetings.
The Strasbourg Christmas market is a feast for the eyes and for the soul… It is unique!
Information courtesy of Strasbourg Tourist Office
Discover a wealth of information on travelling by Motorhome, Caravan or Boat when planning your holiday or trip of a lifetime
Which ever way you wish to travel, do it with style!