Visitors to France might focus their trips on the large cities of Paris and Nice, but to miss the Alsace region and its major cities of Strasbourg and Colmar, is truly a mistake. The region lies approximately five hours by car to the east of Paris and is easily seen by car. It offers something not found in other parts of France, German influence, as it was once part of Germany and retains quite a bit of its former heritage. This makes for a fascinating place explore and we have several suggestions for must see attractions in Strasbourg and Colmar as well as the surrounding region.
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame
This magnificent cathedral rivals its Parisian counterpart in every way. Construction of this Romanesque cathedral began in 1015, but only the crypt and original footprint remain. The crowning glory is its Gothic spire that was completed in 1439. Until the 19th century it the largest cathedral in Christendom. The rose color sandstone changes color with the light of day and the beautiful stained glass windows are not to be missed. An astronomical clock is one of the main attractions, giving a performance once a day with parading apostles exiting and entering the clockworks. Visitors can climb to an outdoor viewing platform for a spectacular view of the city when the weather is good. This is the crown jewel of Strasbourg.
Explore Strasbourg by boat
One of the best ways to get an overview of Strasbourg is to take a boat tour. This allows visitors to see the must-see attractions of the Alsatian capital, including the Petite France quarter with its 16th and 17th century houses, the covered bridges, the Vauban dam, the German quarter, and the major European government buildings (Strasbourg is the home of the European parliament). Once visitors have a lay of the land they can head off on foot to explore on their own.
Located 40 minutes south west of Strasbourg, this magnificent fortress has an interesting history. It was built in the 12th century to watch over trade routes, but was destroyed by Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Left in ruins for centuries, Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to rebuild it in 1899, wanting to make it a museum that would symbolize Alsace’s return to Germany. Although built in modern times, the castle reflects the architecture and art of the medieval times and those who didn’t know the story might believe it was the original castle.
Explore Colmar on foot
The best way to see the sights in Colmar is on foot. Once you’ve parked the car, head for the town center and start exploring. Whether on your own or with a guided tour, you’ll want to look for the Dominican Church (it is massive and hard to miss), Little Venice (charming area of town where colorful houses line the canals), the Unterlinden Museum (a former monastery converted to a museum known for its Issenheim Altarpiece), and the Bartholdi museum (home of Bartholdi, creator of the Statue of Liberty). Strolling the quaint town and sampling some tarte flambé is a delightful way to spend the day.
Approximately 20 minutes southeast of Colmar is the fortified town of Neuf-Brisach. Built in 1699 for Louix XIV, the fortress is unique as it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the most accomplished defense system of the 17th century. Guided tours are offered or visitors can explore on their own by walking around the outer ramparts.
Alsatian Heritage Museum
Located in Ungersheim, about 25 minutes south of Colmar is the Alsatian Heritage Museum (Ecomusée d’Alsace). This is an outdoor museum made up of over 75 houses and buildings brought from throughout the region to this one location. This living museum is one of the largest in Europe, covering over 100 hectares of land. Here you can find craftsmen demonstrating their skills, sample Alsatian cuisine, and learn about Alsatian culture through the centuries. A wonderful way to learn about locals and the story of the people in this region.
Should you desire to go further afield, Freiburg, Germany and Basel, Switzerland are only an hour away. Alsace also has wonderful vineyards, plenty of roads for cycling, rivers for kayaking, and forest trails for hiking. Whatever adventure your seeking, Alsace can make it a reality and having an automobile makes everything accessible.
This guest post written by Kirsten Maxwell of Kids Are A Trip, a family travel blog. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram. Kirsten is a wife and mom to 3 over-scheduled kids & a rambunctious pup. She loves sharing her family’s travel adventures and tips, including the challenges of traveling with a child with food allergies. Find inspiration for your next family trip.