At first sight, Strasbourg looks like a hybrid of Prague and Amsterdam – the cosmopolitan and cultural capital of Alsace is known as the ‘City of Roads’, which seems a bit like Amsterdam’s network of canals, and the magnificently framed homes and structures recall Prague’s outstanding architecture.
More than 48,000 students use Strasbourg as an intellectual base, members of the European Parliament flood it for the parliament’s sessions some 12 weeks a year and tourists visit to absorb its atmosphere – a simultaneous feeling of calmness and stimulation. Just west of the Rhine, this bustling district links Western Europe to the Mediterranean, and blends both locales beautifully. Bikes zoom in and out of roads, pedestrians adorn sidewalks and saunter to restaurants, winstubs (Alasatian eateries) and pubs open their doors and teem with noise everywhere you look.
Arguably, the best way to see the city in its truest form is on foot, taking in the warm smells, neighbouring sights, genuine sounds, and lingering with the locals in one of the many independently owned establishments. In addition to the little things here and there, make sure to experience the striking cathedrals, most built in medieval pink sandstone, and evoking a historical sense of significance.
While most of the year is rainy and wet, there are still beautiful Strasbourg days when the sun shines, the temperatures rise, and the outdoors become a perfect French paradise. Summers (between June and August) are warm and dry, and most tourists visiting at that time can rely on the good weather for outdoor shopping, al fresco dining, strolling through the streets or admiring the sedate green spaces of the countryside. If you’re booking flights to Strasbourg between November and January, however, pack warm clothing, reliable outerwear, and raingear: it rains a third of the time, and snows frequently.
Many of Strasbourg’s amenities were built in the 1800s, so the train station has a very antiquated feel. SNCF runs the public buses and trams, and the main hub is Place de l’Home de Fer. From there you can hop on one of the four tram lines to get across town quickly and easily. You can also get other bus schedules at the station, which will help you get to cities beyond Strasbourg. Make sure you reserve your seat early though. If you’d like to be more independent, rent a car through one of the many companies on offer. Taxis and bikes are also readily available.
Strasbourg International Airport (SXB) is located 6 miles (10km) west-southwest of Strasbourg.
Cathedrale Notre Dame: It’s hard to visit Strasbourg without immersing yourself in the beauty and grandeur of its religious architecture, the beautiful Gothic cathedrals and the Romanesque chapels. The Cathedrale Notre Dame may be one of the most famous on the continent, luring travellers to visit Strasbourg no matter what time of year. Completed in 1284, its west façade is one of the most remarkable aspects, as well as the 12th and 14th century stained glass windows – specifically the rose window over the western portal. The 14th century colourful organ case may not be an architectural spectacle, but it’s surely a work of art, and don’t miss the astronomical clock (called horlogue astronomique), made in the 16th century, which strikes at 12:30 PM every day.
European Parliament: The city as you know it today could be a completely different city tomorrow. The over 700 officials of the European Parliament book flights to Strasbourg 12 times a year to discuss matters of the European Union. When this happens, Strasbourg floods with government dignitaries, and most hotels are completely taken over by them. Four day-long “part sessions” occur, where discussions on politics are weighed in on, and decisions are made. It’s hard to find cheap flights to Strasbourg when the Parliament is in session. If you do plan to travel at this time, you’ll be able to sit in on the debates for an hour. These should be booked well in advance.
Petite France: Sometimes, a city has an area that exists as a little microcosm of itself. In Strasbourg, it’s called Petite France, where historic establishments, cobblestone roads, 16th century buildings, and fine restaurants come together to create a fusion of old and new. Its quaint ambiance makes it a popular tourist destination. When you arrive, you’ll be surrounded by narrow lanes, winding canals, half-timbered houses, and riverside parks. The whole area is most charming in the evening, when the sun sets over covered bridges and boats, and the “Venice of the East” lights up in a warm glow of activity.
For a flight to Strasbourg, you will be flying into Entzheim. Strasbourg Entzheim (SXB) is just 9.8 km from the centre of the city.