Family Road Trip in France: 6 Must-See Sights

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.

Strausbourg

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.

Haut-Koenigsberg Castle

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.

Colmar

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.

Neuf-Brisach

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.

Tipping in Europe

For travelers, local etiquette is often a concern and researching tipping in Europe or other destinations around the world is a natural step in planning the perfect trip. The good news is that understanding the tipping culture in European nations is fairly straightforward and in general you’ll be fine as long as you follow these handy suggestions for how to leave a tip in Europe.

Below we’ll cover the most common scenarios in which you may feel inclined to leave a tip, and we offer suggestions for how much it’s polite to tip in Europe during certain situations.

Important Facts & Common Misconceptions about Tipping in Europe

International travelers are always concerned with knowing when it is appropriate to offer a tip for excellent service and how to avoid insulting the locals (and also what size tip is considered appropriate in that culture). At Auto Europe we hear questions all the time like “How much is too much should I tip in European countries?” and “Will I insult those serving me if I leave a small tip or don’t tip at all?”

The truth is that tipping etiquette varies from one country to the next in Europe, the same way an “appropriate” tip may differ from state to state within the United States. You may be expected to tip more in New York City than in rural Arkansas and the same is true if you’re at a Michelin Star restaurant in Paris or at a pub in rural France. In general travelers in Europe are not obliged to leave a tip, though in many situations it is polite to do so.

Here are a few facts about paying for services in Europe which can guide you when it comes time to leave a tip:

  • In Europe it is required by law that a quoted price includes all taxes. This means that when a price is advertised, the local merchant expects you to pay that price and no more.
  • Most European restaurants will feature a menu outside for patrons to review before entering. If there is a mandatory service charge this will be posted. If you dine at a restaurant and are surprised to see a service charge or tip added to your bill you should speak up – this is probably an attempt to overcharge you.
  • Many people in the service industry in Europe will hold out their hands for a tip. You are not required to tip these individuals, though if you feel that you’ve received excellent service you certainly can do so.

How Much Should I Tip in Europe?

Here are our best suggestions to adhere to when traveling in Europe, though it’s important to remember that how much you choose to tip is really dependent upon your financial resources, personal philosophy on tipping and the circumstances of the service you’ve received.

Tipping In European Restaurants

Tipping in Europe Restaurants

 

 

 

 

 

When dining in a restaurant in Europe you should expect to tip a bit more modestly than you would in America. If a service charge is included in your bill then leaving a tip is optional. If it isn’t you can often leave a 5-10 percent tip without insulting your waiter or waitress. In many restaurants in Europe a 10 percent tip is considered quite generous and leaving more (while appreciated) will often say more to locals about your cultural ignorance than it will about your generosity. European servers are quite well compensated so any tips are considered a small bonus. Often leaving a tip at a restaurant is a way to make set line the bill more convenient – it’s common for diners to “round up” the bill to a whole number.

As an additional note – when ordering food in Europe you’re really only expected to leave a gratuity when you are served by a waiter or waitress … if you’re ordering food or drink at a counter (at a pub for example) you shouldn’t feel that it’s necessary to leave a tip … even if you would normally do so at home.

If you do choose to tip while dining in Europe a good rule of thumb is to add a Euro or two for each person in your party (this is an easy calculation for travelers to remember … even if you’ve enjoyed a few drinks!). We recommend that if you do choose to tip the waitstaff that you hand them the tip rather than to leave it on the table … especially if you’ve dined at a busy restaurant … otherwise your money may find its way into the pocket of the diners at the next table.

London Tip Tip: In London you’ll often see an optional 12.5% gratuity on your bill. You shouldn’t feel tied to this number, but if you’ve received excellent service feel free to use this rate.

Tipping Your Taxi or Chauffeur Driver

Tipping Taxi Drivers in EuropeA good rule of thumb when tipping your driver in Europe is to simply round up to the next Euro. For example if you have a €15 fare, offer your driver €16. If you have a larger charge for a longer cab ride or airport transfer it’s polite to round up to the nearest 10 (for example if you have a €84 charge you might pay €90).

Extras for Your Driver: We all know that there are times when your driver deserves a bit extra. If he or she has gone above and beyond and zipped through traffic to get you to the airport on time or helped you with some especially large luggage, an extra Euro or two will be appreciated. If, on the other hand, your driver takes a very circuitous route to your destination as a way to up your fare you can skip the tip altogether. If you’ve arranged for a chauffeured tour during your trip in Europe and will have the same driver each day, a good practice is to ask your driver on the first day what a polite amount to tip will be if he provides excellent service during your trip. This gives him incentive to go above and beyond during your tour (he knows he’s working for a fair bonus) and it gives you an idea of what you should offer (though if his suggestion seems unusually high we recommend leaving less … whatever you’re comfortable with and whatever amount you feel your driver has earned).

Tipping Hotel Porters in Europe

If your European hotel has someone to help you with your bags a good rule of thumb is to offer him (or her) one Euro for each bag the porter assists you with. It’s not required, but a few Euros left in your room at checkout is a nice touch and a polite way to thank the cleaning staff.

Tipping European Hotel Staff

Final Thoughts on Tipping in Europe

There may well be other instances beyond what we’ve mentioned here which offer you an opportunity to tip those who provide you with special services in Europe. Whether you choose to do so or not is entirely up to you. Tour guides at monuments or on buses and boats in Europe will often hold out their hands for a tip at the end of their tour, but you needn’t feel obligated to offer them a gratuity unless you’re inclined to do so (you won’t be considered rude if you simply offer them a sincere “Thank you,” and let them know that you had a wonderful time). In general if you’ve received excellent service, offering a tip of a few Euros will be appreciated by anyone, but you should never think of it as being a requirement while touring Europe. A good way to ensure that you’re adhering to local tipping etiquette in Europe would be to speak up and ask at the local tourist information office or speak with your hotel’s concierge. These local travel and tourist professionals will be happy to fill you in on what’s considered polite in the area you are visiting in Europe and it’s a good way to make sure you’re being polite without overpaying.

(This post was provided by Auto Europe)

The Paris Series (Part 2) – Sainte-Chapelle

Among the many things that Paris is famous for, its collection of museums is second to none. There are over 50 museums and monuments in and around Paris. There are of course many very well known ones including the Musee du Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Musee Picasso and monuments including the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Chathedral, Chateau de Versailles and more.

One of Paris’ greatest jewels, and often overlooked sites, is Sainte-Chapelle. As you walk down Boulevard du Palais, you’ll see a line of people that appear to be waiting to enter the Palais de Justice (a large building from 1868 that still functions as a court house). Behind the entrance and in the courtyard is what they are actually waiting for – entrance to Sainte-Chapelle. (Unlike some other museum sites, your Paris Museum Pass does not get you queue-cutting access here).

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Sainte-Chapelle is a royal medieval Gothic chapel dating back to the 1200s and Louis the IX of France. Although damaged during the French Revolution, Sainte-Chapelle contains one of the most extensive and beautiful collections of stained glass anywhere in the world. As you enter the chapel, you’ll see some stained glass and a gift shop. Look for the stairs on either side of the room to get up a narrow staircase to the second floor and the main room. It is absolutely spectacular and breathtaking !

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