Petite France, StrasbourgStrasbourg (pop 273,000), the principal city in Alsace, is a leading tourist destination in its own right. Standing as the capital of both the department of Bas-Rhin and the Alsace region, Strasbourg is a metropolitan city that lies on the crossroads of important transportation routes (that link northern Europe with the Mediterranean), earning its name, which literally means The City of Roads. The present-day name by which the city is known, is a modification of an older Latin title that was bestowed upon the city thanks to its proximity to its neighbouring countries. Although Strasbourg is well-connected to Major European cities like Frankfurt, Milan and Paris, it is geographically closer to its German cousin, Frankfurt, than its French sister, Paris. Hence, it almost functions as Paris’ cultural and intellectual substitute in Northeast France, with a cluster of museums and a lovely ancient cathedral under its belt.

With a student population that rivals that of Paris, Strasbourg has long been a centre for innovation as well. This, coupled with its earning power (thanks to its economic importance in the transportation and communications arenas) and strategic location, has made Strasbourg a politically important city as well; as it functions as the home of several European institutions like the Council of Europe, European Parliament and the Eurocorps.


The Confluence of the Ille RiverStrasbourg  grew in prominence during the Roman era, as the Roman rulers were quick to put to use the benefits of the city’s location. Hence, Strasbourg became known as a commercial centre well into the medieval era (even after the Roman rule ended). Unlike its neighbours, Strasbourg earned itself the status of being a free republic as early as the 14th century. This allowed the growth of its commercial importance. However, this growth became damaged when the city got involved in the religious struggles that occurred in the region between the 16th and 17th centuries. It was only in 1681 that Strasbourg was annexed to France. 

Strasbourg lies on the Ill River, close to the German border. Grande Île (Grand Island, encircled by the river) is the heart of Strasbourg, as it is home to both the old and modern city centres. Its main squares are Place Kléber, Place Broglie and Place du Château. Other notable sections in Strasbourg are the quiet Petite France (southwest of Grand Île) and the Krutenau District (across the river southeast of Grand Île). You can arrive at Strasbourg via regional flights at the airport southwest of the city centre. You can also ride on a train to the station northeast of Petite France. Getting around Strasbourg is fairly easy on a bike (as the city has several bicycle-friendly pathways), or via the 5 different tram lines.


 FRANCE ALSACE BAS RHIN Les reflets de la Petite FranceWandering around Grand Île can easily get you acquainted with Strasbourg. This giant ‘island’ is mostly pedestrianised and is home to several busy market squares and bustling shopping districts. Cited as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Grand Île is home to an old city centre. A sight on its own, the old city of Strasbourg sheathes a wonderful cluster of ancient buildings (such as the Renaissance-style Chambre d’Commerce et d’Industrie along Place Gutenburg) that line its narrow streets. The pathways along the River Ill and its quays, such as the Fossé du Faux Rempart, are also particularly beautiful, especially at night.

Head southwest of Grand Île to the Petite France section and you will come across a typically Alsatian landscape. This quaint area is home to a collection of half-timbered buildings and narrow streets and lanes that run long the paths of canals and locks. These well-preserved features are beautifully decorated with great thickets of geraniums and riverside parks.

Strasbourg Cathedrale Notre DameStrasbourg’s Cathedrale Notre-Dame [Place de la Cathedrale] is one of the main highlights in the city. This ornate, lace-like building is one of the hallmarks of European architecture and its west façade (facing rue Mercièrs) is perhaps the most impressive part of the building. The cathedral sports a delicate yet intricately-carved, airy and light exterior that is characteristic of Gothic architecture. It stands in stark contrast to the huddle of medieval houses, which it towers over. Built mainly between the 13th and 15th centuries, the Strasbourg cathedral is a predominantly Gothic structure that houses an occasional feature, which stands out of this architectural style (blame it on the older Romanesque structure that stood here before this). As such, the cathedral also functioned as a Protestant church during the 16th and 17th centuries, when the region was plagued by religious struggles. While beautiful features like the medieval stained glass windows (12th -14th century) in the western portal and the south aisle, as well as the colourful 14th century organ case in the northern side are particularly impressive; many come to the cathedral to sight the 16th century astronomical clock that chimes accurately at 12.30pm, daily. This huge and complex machinery attracts hundreds of visitors daily. So much so that a special introductory video is played for visitors before the clock chimes. There is even an admission charge [ad/ch €2/1.50] to view this show. The cathedral also houses a 76m high spire, which stands atop a 66m high platform allowing you to catch a panoramic view of the city below. You can even sight beyond its borders to catch a glimpse of the Black Forest and the eastern Vosges Mountains.

Les Amants TrépassésThe Musée de l’œuvre Notre-Dame [+33 388525000 ad/ch €6/3] stands southeast of this, along Place du Château. This museum stands in a cluster of 14th and 16th century buildings, housing a stellar collection of seven centuries worth of artworks from the region. It sheathes an enviable ensemble of Renaissance, Romanesque and Gothic sculptures, mostly from the cathedral. The museum also displays 15th and 16th century Upper Rhine paintings and stained glass works. You can also view the oldest stained glass painting in France, by Christ de Wissenbourg from 1060. One of the more famous religious paintings in the museum includes the grotesque Les Amants Trépassés-a graphic artwork that depicts a couple being punished in hell for their lust, by having snakes and toads devour their entrails. 

FRANCE ALSACE BAS RHIN Strasbourg Musee Beau Arts Jacopo Tintoretto 'Portrait of a bearded man'The stately-looking Palais Rohan [2 Place du Château +33 388525000 ad/ch €6/3 (per museum)] lies just nearby and is venue for three different museums. This Baroque style complex was built in the 18th century (1732-1742) as a residence to the bishops. FRANCE ALSACE BAS RHIN Strasbourg Musee Beau Arts El Greco 'Mater Dolorosa'The current tenants include the Musée Archéologique in the basement, the Musée des Art Décoratifs in the ground floor and the Musée des Beaux-Arts in the first and second floors. The archaeological museum takes you through a short trip in the city’s timeline, starting from the Paleolithic period to AD 800. The Decorative Arts is slightly more impressive with its collection of 17th and 18th century tiles and crockery. Most of its belongings were looted or ripped apart during the French Revolution, causing the period rooms that you see today, to be reconstructions of their previous state. Finally, the Fine Arts Museum exhibits a collection of artworks from the 14th to 19th centuries created by Spanish, Italian, Flemish and of course, French artists.

FRANCE ALSACE BAS RHIN Strasbourg Musee Beau Arts Raffaello 'Portrait of a young woman'FRANCE ALSACE BAS RHIN Gutenberg BibleThe M usée Historique [2 rue du Vieux Marché aux Poissons +33 388525000 ad/ch €6/3], lying south of the Palais Rohan, is a recently reopened attraction that picks up the city’s timeline from where the archaeological museum stopped off. Starting from the city’s Roman beginnings as the military camp of Argentoratum, the History Museum brings you through to 1792, when France’s national anthem La Marseillaise was written. There is even a copy of the 15th century Gutenberg Bible, as well as an impressive scale model of the city that was created back in the 1720s to help King Louis XV plan out suitable fortifications.

The Musée Alsacien [Quai Saint-Nicolas +33 388525001 €6/3] lies across the river, further south. Situated in three typically Alsatian houses from the 16th and 17th centuries, this museum is dedicated to educating visitors on the ancient Alsatian way of life. Folk arts, fashion and even simple daily tools are the highlights of this museum.

FRANCE ALSACE BAS RHIN Strasbourg Musee Modern Art Wikipedia Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Portrait de Marie Le CœurYou can round up your museum tour by popping by the Musée d’art Moderne et Contemporain (MAMC) [1 Place Hans Jean Arp, +33 388233131 ad/ch €7/3.50]. This striking, glass structure sits on the banks of the Ill River, close to the Petite France section.  Home to modern artworks that date back to the pre-WWII period; the museum’s exhibits centre on familiar art movements like Impressionism, symbolism, cubism and fauvism. Regular contemporary art displays continue to be held in this venue.

If you wish to visit all the museums in Strasbourg, you can purchase a museum pass [one-day ad/ch €10/5] to get your ‘euros’ worth.

European Parliament at StrasbourgAnother themed tour can be made around the European Institutions in Strasbourg. You can start off at the European Parliament [Rue Lucien Febvre, +33 388245428] building which is located just a few kilometres northeast of the Strasbourg cathedral. This symbol of European cohesion is used about 12 times a year for plenary sessions. It has over 730 members representing 375 million people. Those interested in politics will be happy to know that you can sit in one of the debates for about an hour, if you time your visit according to the Parliament Calendar. The European Parliament used to stand in the present-day Palais de l’Europe [Avenue de l’Europe +33 3884120]. This venue is also used by the EU members and allows you to sit in during their debate sessions as well.

Strasbourg Court of human rights
Last but not least, is the Palais des Droits de l’Homme (Human Rights Law Courts) [+33 388412018]. This court runs two sessions every month and you might be able to sit in during one of these periods, if you call and check ahead.





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STRASBOURG1. Main tourist office  2. Train staion and tourist office branch  3. Place Kléber  4. Place Broglie  5. Place du Château  6. Petite France  7. Krutenau District  8. Chambre d’Commerce et d’Industrie  9. Cathedrale Notre-Dame  10. Musée de l’œuvre Notre-Dame 11. Palais Rohan  (includes Musée des Beaux-Arts, Musée des Art Décoratifs & Musée des Art Décoratifs)  12. Musée Historique  13. Musée Alsacien  14. Musée d’art Moderne et Contemporain  15. European Parliament  16. Palais de l’Europe  17. Palais des Droits de l’Homme .