Strasbourg Travel: Cathedral, Canals, and Culture in the Capital of Europe

 

Travel to Strasbourg, the Capital of both Europe and Christmas. One Planet Journey’s Berenisse Fernandez Rivera, takes you along a deep exploration of cultural Strasbourg, including the Gothic Cathedral, the many romantic canals, and the top rate art scene.

 

Capital of Europe? Doesn’t that unofficial title belong to Brussels? Kind of, and for the same reason, Strasbourg lays its claim. It plays a significant role in European politics and institutions. The city is home to the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights. Situated in the Alsace region, on the border between France and Germany, it’s also a postcard beauty, attracting travellers both in the summer and winter. You see, Strasbourg is also the Capital of Christmas!

During the festive period, Strasbourg lights up with its enchanting Christmas market, known as Christkindelsmärik, near the famous cathedral and Place Kléber. It dates back to 1570, and while these things are hard to compare, it ranks as one of the oldest in Europe. The city benefits from the huge influx of tourists, raking a significant portion of the yearly revenue during this time. But beyond winter wonderland there is a wealth of reason to travel to this beautiful city, more than once.

Flowers hanging on a bridge over a canal with buildings flanking the canal.
Strasbourg postcard beauty

 

Since my first rendezvous, which had me impressed from the moment I arrived, I wanted to come back and immerse myself deeper in the culture. I did, twice over, and I’m already thinking of the next trip. With boundless charm and a fairy tale setting, Strasbourg has a Franco-German fusion in its streets, culture, and gastronomy. And if we add to that its imposing cathedral, the romantic canals, and splendid gardens, I believe you understand my excitement. Let me take you on a cultural tour of Strasbourg.

 

The Centre of Strasbourg – A Journey Through Time

Strasbourg combines tradition and modernity. Ancient facades and flowers hanging from the balconies jostle for attention with antique and modern art hidden in its walls and corners. Ambling through its historic centre, known as the Grande Île, is a superb treasure hunt.

 

Place Kléber

The largest and most central square in Strasbourg is for me the perfect place to start exploring the city, since it is the meeting point of important shops, cafes, and classical buildings like the Aubette.

Named in honour of General Jean-Baptiste Kléber, a hero of the French Revolution, it has been the scene of many historic events. It’s part of the UNESCO designated heritage centre of Strasbourg and during winter, this is where the 30m high Christmas tree stands.

Square with statue in the middle, people sitting and walking and colourful multistory houses framing the square.
Place Kléber in central Strasbourg

 

Place Gutenberg

A few steps from the Strasbourg Cathedral, this square is a reminder that Strasbourg contributed to the spread of knowledge since Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the modern printing press, started working on the moveable type in the capital of Alsace.

If you’re searching for a spot with a more relaxed atmosphere with cafés, admirable architecture, and with a flair of the medieval era, Gutenberg Square is the place.

Gothic facade of buildings around a square
Place Gutenberg – another travel hotspot in Strasbourg

 

Serenity and charm along the canals of Strasbourg

 

Faux-Rempart Canal

The citizens of Strasbourg built the canal to defend the city, back in the 13th century. Now it has become an oasis of tranquillity, away from the tourist bustle.

It is the ideal location to get to know Strasbourg from a different perspective, and what better way to do it than by bicycle or on foot? Expect beautiful views of the bridges and the old buildings that line the road. The quiet time filled me with energy for more sightseeing.

La Petite France

All canals lead to Petite France. This historic neighbourhood, located on an island in the III River, is the most famous place in Strasbourg thanks to its timber houses, narrow alleys, and colourful flowers, all of which seem frozen in time.

Petite France used to be home for millers and fishermen. And by retaining its medieval charm, it is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage.

This is a perfect excuse to hop on a boat cruise and see the city, or follow in my footsteps for a break in one of the many lovely cafes and restaurants by the water. A bonus tip, if you desire splendid views of the canals and bridges, and don’t suffer from vertigo, is to head to the top terrace at Barrage Vauban. It’s a defensive structure from the 17th century.

 

The Cathedral – The Gothic Heart of Strasbourg

Already at the main door, Strasbourg Cathedral left me speechless. And when I moved a few metres away from the entrance and looked up, this guardian of the city towered over me. With its imposing height, the building wants to touch the sky with its beautiful and characteristic spire, which you can spot from anywhere in the city centre. It felt special to stand here, as the religious landmark and its art represented a primary motivation for my first visit to Strasbourg.

The construction of the Strasbourg Cathedral began in 1015, built on top of ruins of an ancient Roman sanctuary and lasted for several centuries. The long period is justified by the immense detail that adorns the facade, you will find sculptures, biblical scenes, and gargoyles in every nook and cranny. Strasbourg Cathedral features such incredible architecture that I recommend taking your time to sit and take it in.

Gothic architecture with intricate details of Cathedral facade.
Intricate detail of Strasbourg Cathedral

 

The Spire of Strasbourg Cathedral – symbol of greatness

At 142 metres, the spire atop Strasbourg Cathedral allowed the structure to claim the world’s tallest title for 200 years, until 1874, when St Nicholas in Hamburg beat it by a few metres.

If you enjoy viewpoints, like me, going up to the observation platform (66 metres) offers incredible vistas, not only of Strasbourg but also of the Black Forest in Germany. The entrance is only 2 euros, but keep in mind there is no elevator. The climb was exhausting, but reaching the top is a wonderful reward as you get so close to the spire. It is difficult to describe the feeling. I think you have to live it to understand it.

The Interior of the Cathedral – An Artistic Journey

If the exterior of the Cathedral impressed you, wait until you enter. Beauty, art, and peacefulness are the words that define the interior.

Walk through its corridors and appreciate the famous astronomical clock, which shows the positions of the moon and the sun, and to immerse yourself in the variety of colours projected by the cathedral’s stained-glass windows, which are considered the most beautiful in the world. For me they were, as I spent hours observing its details and biblical scenes.

 

The Parc de l’Orangerie – An Oasis in Strasbourg

During my visit, I discovered the Parc de l’Orangerie, a place of tranquillity and beauty. This park, the oldest in the city, extends over 26 hectares and offers a green breathing space perfect for sunny spring and summer days. It’s also a nice getaway from the centre and the most touristy and crowded areas.

The Orangerie Park is one of those places to explore without the distraction of a map or phone. Get lost among the paths and endless gardens, discover the central lake, full of swans, or simply rest under a tree.

In addition, the park houses a small farm and a mini zoo, where I saw storks for the first time, the symbol of the Alsace region.

The Parc de l’Orangerie is one of the most beautiful parks I have visited in France, and I appreciated getting to know the most peaceful part of Strasbourg. If you are searching for a picnic spot to relax, this is the right place.

 

Culture in Strasbourg

Strasbourg teems with history, art, and a cultural variety for all tastes and travel profiles, a lot of it housed in its museums. Here are my top picks.

 

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

This is a true paradise for those of us who love contemporary art. The building itself is an architectural masterpiece, perched on the banks of the Ill River, welcoming you with its walls painted with urban art.

From paintings and sculptures to visual and auditory experiences, walking through the corridors is a feast for the senses as you process the evolution of modern and contemporary art. Besides its permanent collection, which includes works by Gustave Doré, Monet, Rodin, Picasso, Jean Arp, and Victor Brauner, the museum always offers temporary exhibitions that motivate you to visit again and again.

 

Museum of Fine Arts

This delightful museum is in the incredible Rohan Palace, a few steps from Strasbourg Cathedral. It’s a treasure trove of European paintings. I lost track of time while inside as the impressive collection goes from the Renaissance to the 19th century, many of the works worth observing in detail.

You can find important pieces by masters such as Botticelli, El Greco, Rubens, and Goya. In addition, the Rohan Palace has such beautiful interior architecture complementing your journey through the history of art.

Renaissance painting of a woman with two children
Renaissance painting at the Fine Arts Museum in Strasbourg

 

Strasbourg – Bridging the Old and New Europe

Strasbourg, often dubbed the “Capital of Europe,” has managed a seamless blend of historical grandeur with contemporary vibrancy, which is what drew me here. That special feeling of mixed influences you only notice in border towns is palpable. You get a little of France and Germany in one.

The EU institutions, like the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights, underscore its continued importance in modern Europe. And for lovers of history, the city’s rich cultural tapestry, characterised by the stunning Gothic cathedral, romantic canals, and beautifully preserved medieval architecture, offers an immersive travel experience.

It felt like a privilege to wander through the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Grande Île, marvel at the intricate details of the Strasbourg Cathedral, and relax in the serene Parc de l’Orangerie. In that sense, it’s a perfect destination for deep travel. And there is always Christmas.

 

Have you been to Strasbourg? What travel locations would you add to my recommendations? Let us know in the comment section! Subscribe to our newsletter and benefit from travel guides, sustainable tourism and luxury travel tips, insightful interviews, and inspirational places to visit. One Planet Journey – The World’s First Deep Travel Magazine.

 

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