Strasbourg is on the border of France and Germany and just like our hopping from one country to the other on the bridge, Strasbourg has changed countries over the years. And now, with a German sounding name and German style houses, Strasbourg is actually in France. I don’t know about you but that made us even more intrigued to visit Strasbourg. So, after two days in Bruges, we spent three days in Strasbourg on our three week Interrail journey around Europe in October 2017. Lucky for us travelling outside the European summer months, it was still mostly sunny!
So, how much time do you need? Well, we found that three nights in Strasbourg was a good amount of time to see everything we wanted to see and circle back to see our favourites again. Like the otters. And what about budget? We only spent about €70 each on things like food, drinks and public transport. Add €21.50 each for the three day passes. We were on a budget though so expect to spend more if this is your annual holiday.
How to get there
It took us almost 5 hours to get to Strasbourg on the train from Bruges. The first part of the train journey was back to Brussels where we changed onto another train to Strasbourg. A reservation was required and cost us €40 each plus a booking fee of €8 each. This was in addition to our Interrail ticket for seven trips over 30 days at a cost of around £400 each at the time for first class tickets (or €425 today). Once we’d arrived at Strasbourg train station it was a short 10 minute walk to our AirBnB accommodation.
Where to stay
For accommodation in Strasbourg, we booked a private room in a shared apartment on the AirBnB website. We look for things like central location, positive reviews and of course price. This accommodation choice also had two cats and one dog and as animal lovers this sealed the deal for us! Our host Marie was friendly and her delicious breakfast was included in the price. At the dining table each morning there was bread, cereal, fruit and her latest cooking efforts like chocolate cake and samosas. Yum!
For about £50 per night, as long as you don’t mind sharing the bathroom and dining table with other guests also staying in the apartment, this place is great value for money. You’ll feel like more of a local staying with Marie in her home and it’s a great opportunity to ask her tips as a local on things to see, do, eat and drink.
Things to see and do
The tourism board in Strasbourg offer a three day pass full of free and discounted attractions and activities. It costs €21.50 and we got more than the value back during our visit. Here’s how (based on adult pricing) and the things to do in Strasbourg:
- Do an audio guided walking tour of Strasbourg at your own pace (half price with the pass, otherwise €6) and takes about 2 hours
- See the outside of the Cathedral to appreciate the detail that has gone into it before going inside to see the astronomical clock (free with the pass, otherwise €3) and up to the platform for panoramic views (free with the pass, otherwise €5)
- Book a boat tour on the River III to see Strasbourg from the water (free with your pass, otherwise €13)
- Wander around Petite France, a pretty and popular area with tourists because of the old tannery houses that kind of look like gingerbread houses (to us anyway!)
- Catch the train to Colmar and walk around Little Venice to see even more beautiful gingerbread houses, colours and flowers on either side of the canal where you can take a gondola ride
If you’re interested in museums, the pass book gets you into one museum for free and a second at half price. We attempted to go to a few of the museums but it was the end of the day and they were already closed. One was even closed due to a strike. So my tip would be to check museum closing times and plan your day so you don’t miss out.
Where to eat and drink
- Au Vieux for authentic Alsatian decor and cuisine particularly ‘tarte flambeé’
- Caupona for more ‘tarte flambeé’, burgers and beer in a brick wall and wooden beam setting
- Berthom Beer House for you guessed it – all different kinds of beers (our AirBnB host recommended this one and it’s popular with the locals)
- Boulangeries for breakfast or lunch on the go to maximise your time sightseeing
Wednesday – Trying the Alsatian dish tarte flambeé
It was night time when we arrived into Strasbourg on the train but the streets were lit up enough for us to walk to our AirBnB accommodation instead of catching the tram. About 10 minutes later our host Marie welcomed us into her home and so did the animals. We had our own bedroom upstairs near the bathroom and soon met the other people staying in the house. There were more than we expected but it was comfortable enough and there weren’t too many queues for the bathroom.
We didn’t stay long before heading out for dinner, otherwise we might have gotten too comfortable and warm inside out of the winter weather and not left until morning! The general feel of Strasbourg at night is okay in busier areas but I’d be mindful of your surroundings in quieter areas. We walked through an area that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck for no reason other than the people hanging around and just around the corner four military personnel walked by with their guns.
On a happier note, the cathedral at night is absolutely stunning. It is lit up and full of detail to explore with your eyes. We continued our walk searching for dinner options and when we came across Au Vieux we thought the restaurant building looked authentic and inviting (and warm!) so got a table inside. As you can imagine from the name it’s got a French feel to the interior decor and the people around us were speaking both French and German. How interesting! I guess this is what it’s like to live on the border of two countries. We tried the ‘tarte flambeé’ which is an Alsatian dish, speciality of the Alsace region where we were in northeast France and neighbouring south Germany. It’s like a thin crust pizza and I had the classic which is topped with fresh cheese, raw onions and bacon. At the time of ordering we thought it was a bargain for €8.90 but because it’s thin you’ll need something else to fill up on. It’s worth trying at least once but wasn’t a taste I really enjoyed. There are lots of other flavour options though. Harry had a salad to try and beat the winter cold he was coming down with.
Thursday – Exploring Petite France and spotting otters
First port of call this morning – the tourism office to get ourselves a three day pass and audio guide. The three day pass is a voucher book with lots of discounts that easily pays for itself if you plan on seeing as much as you can over a few days. An audio guide is not our normal choice, we generally do a walking tour but it’s always good to try something different. Plus, you can go at your own pace. The office is right near the cathedral, a good spot to start the audio guided tour.
We spent the next few hours wandering around Strasbourg following the map and listening to the history of what was around us. Definitely head inside the Cathedral even if you think you’ve seen them all before. It’s beautiful inside and there’s an astronomical clock that is interesting to see. It becomes even more mesmerising around midday when parts of it move to tell a story from the past. It’s only about €3 to get in for adults or free with your three day pass.
After peeling ourselves away from the stunning Cathedral including a quick FaceTime with Dad to show him just how beautiful it was, we continued along towards the river. There are a few canals in Strasbourg and one lock near the Petite France quarter of central Strasbourg. Not far from the lock, we noticed some people pointing at something in the water and we saw an otter swimming! It was so cool! I don’t remember ever seeing one before. We watched it for as long as we possibly could before it disappeared out of sight.
Petite France is the part of Strasbourg filled with those gingerbread style houses. Ironically while I’ve referred to them as gingerbread, a cookie I associate with children, these houses were actually former tanneries. I only learnt what a tannery was when we were exploring Morocco and the smell was horrible. A tannery is where animal hides are treated to produce leather. Mint leaves shoved up my nose didn’t get me past the entry gate in Morocco. I’m pleased to report back that Petite France is smell free and is actually the most touristy area because of these unique houses.
Walking through the streets and continuing our history lesson with the audio guides, we stumbled across a very French game happening in the park – boules. We watched them for a few local tips on how to actually play boules before heading back towards the cathedral. Told you we loved it! This time it was to climb the stairs to the platform for a view of all we had just explored by foot. There are something like 300 steps in a narrow winding pathway but if you’re fit and able, it’s worth doing. Cost is around €5 per adult or free with your three day pass.
To finish the day we had dinner at Caupona. We chose the kind of food you crave in rainy weather like burgers and the pizza-like tarte flambeé. Thankfully it only started raining in the evening after we’d finished exploring. It was busy and we were sharing a table with two others but we were excited to just sit, eat, drink and enjoy the atmosphere. The menu was illustrated by hand with drawings and the place itself was funky with a brick wall and wooden beam interior. I can recommend it for both the food and vibe. Afterwards we tried our host’s recommendation – Berthom Beer House. They had lots of different beers to try and it was full of locals. We were lucky to get a seat. It was buzzing. We only stayed for a beer or two before huddling under our umbrella and walking home in the rain to spend time with the animals at our AirBnB.
Friday – Boat tour, walking from France to Germany and more otter spotting!
To see Strasbourg from a different perspective, today we did the boat tour. The boat has a glass top and you’re given headphones to listen to the commentary in your chosen language. Some of the commentary we’d learnt the day before with the audio guide but there was still something new to learn even about the same historical events. I was listening but easily distracted by my search for another otter. I looked and looked and had Harry looking too. Then we spotted one! And bookmarked the location to return to later that day to see if we could see them up close. The boat circuit takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes and costs €13 per person or again, free with your three day pass.
One of the main attractions of visiting Strasbourg was being able to walk across the border to Germany. So we caught the D tram from Langstross towards Kehl Bahnof (in Germany) and got off the stop before called Port Du Rhin so we could walk across the border with our own two feet. Literally about half the bridge is in France and the other half is in Germany. There’s a line on the bridge and we hopped from one country to the other until we were exhausted. Something you can’t do in Australia.
Unfortunately there’s not much to do in Kehl though. There are lots of cigarettes to buy which we assume is because they’re much cheaper in Germany than in France. The borders are open so there’s no-one to stop you taking them back to France. We walked around looking for a typical German beer house just for the novelty of it but instead I bought some deodorant from a pharmacy and the most exciting thing we saw was a man made of straw for an unknown reason in one of the mall streets. Shame. They are famous for the Kehl face cream though. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it.
Now that we’d effortlessly crossed the border twice, we made our way to Parc de l’Orangerie. It’s a lovely green park with lots of colourful flowers and we were on the look out for storks. Unfortunately we didn’t see any but we saw their nests on top of the buildings. If you don’t spot any like us, you’ll see plenty in the souvenir shops.
Instead we set off to find the otter we’d spotted earlier from the boat. I really wanted to see three otters during our visit for some reason and after almost giving up, we saw one. It was swimming out into the middle of the river and looked like it was catching fish in the current before returning to the edges again. So happy to see our last otter in Strasbourg!
Walking back towards our accommodation the European Parliament building was on our right. It’s open to visitors if you’re interested to see inside. It was impressive even just from the outside and it was interesting to learn during our visit that the city of Strasbourg is the official seat of the European parliament.
Feeling pretty exhausted we decided on ramen for a quick and healthy dinner before walking home for an early night. Lucky too, because one of the main squares, Place Klebér, where a festival was being held earlier that day was closed off and there were police dressed in black with batons trying to keep people away. If the news story hasn’t been written yet, I often use Twitter to find out what’s going on. Searching based on hashtags is useful. Apparently someone had phoned a news agency saying they had one hour, otherwise it’s going to blow. Given that we were staying a few hundred metres away, we thought about going to Colmar that night instead of in the morning. But we followed the advice to stay indoors and keep the windows closed. An hour went by and nothing happened. It caused so much chaos! On a positive note we had Big Ben the fat cat in the bed with us and he seemed pretty chilled and they say animals have a sixth sense right?
Saturday – Day trip to Colmar
During the planning for our Interrail trip, one of my colleagues said that Colmar is a place we should consider visiting. A quick Google and look at the images to see if we agreed with his recommendation was enough to get us there. It took us about 50 minutes on the train from Strasbourg and was included in our ‘travel day’ for that day on our Interrail ticket. So no extra cost.
It was about 8am when we arrived so it was quiet and the other tourists hadn’t rolled in yet. We took the opportunity to take a few selfies in the most beautiful spots before having to compete with everyone’s long arms, elbows or selfie sticks. Our favourite backdrop was the canal and the unique houses that lined either side.
Happy with our photos, we found a place serving coffee along the canal to help us wake up and warm up. Still sunny but quite chilly, we covered our legs with the rugs they offered us and sipped our hot coffees quickly. From there we spotted the man offering a gondola ride and welcoming his first customers for the day. I should mention that this area is known as Little Venice. We only had a short one and a half hours to spend there so we walked around the cobblestone streets with our backpack and suitcase in tow until it was time to walk back to the train station. There are lots of souvenir shops here for tourists and plenty of places to pick up picnic supplies like meats and cheeses if you have more time in Colmar.
Next stop? Bern in Switzerland!
Sponsored post – 3 day passes and audio guides were complimentary.