Strasbourg, the capital and largest city of the Grand Est region of France is located at the border with Germany in the historic region of Alsace. Being the official seat of the European Parliament and of many other European institutions, it is one of the three main capitals of the European Union, alongside Brussels and Luxembourg,
Strasbourg’s historic center, the Grand Island (Grande Île), was the first of its kind in the world to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 and it was the first time such an honor was placed on an entire city center.
Its rather mixed heritage with almost as much German influence in its history as French has been a cultural bridge between France and Germany for centuries, especially through the University of Strasbourg, currently the second largest in France, and the coexistence of Catholic and Protestant culture.
Johannes Gutenberg created the first printing press here and made Strasbourg one of the first centers of the printing industry.
If we have only a few hours at our disposal to visit this beautiful city, we will have to stick to the old city center, and the best way to start our tour is from The Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg).
- The Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg
- The Astronomical Clock
- The Rohan Palace
- The Kammerzell House
- Gutenberg Square
- St Thomas’ Church
- The Petite France
- The Barrage Vauban
- The Ponts Couverts
- Place Kléber
- Place Broglie
- Place de la République
- The St. Paul’s Church
Strasbourg Cathedral, also known as Strasbourg Minster, is a Catholic cathedral, considered one of the finest examples of late Gothic architecture, although considerable parts of it belong to Romanesque architecture. Sandstone from the Vosges used in construction gives it its characteristic pink hue.
With its 142 meters (466 feet), it had been the world’s tallest building for 227 years (from 1647 to 1874), when it was surpassed by St. Nikolai’s Church, Hamburg. Today it is the sixth-tallest church in the world.
Victor Hugo described it as a “gigantic and delicate marvel”, and Goethe as a “sublimely towering, wide-spreading tree of God”.
Like the city of Strasbourg, the cathedral connects German and French cultural influences, and its famous west front, decorated with thousands of figures, is a masterpiece of the Gothic era.
The cathedral’s south transept houses an 18-metre astronomical clock, one of the largest in the world, inaugurated in 1547.
Unusually accurate, it was much more a complex calculating machine than a clock, and only specialized mathematicians could use it. The clock was able to determine the date of Easter in the Christian calendar at a time when computers did not yet exist.
It also indicates solar time, the day of the week (each represented by a god of mythology), the month, the year, the sign of the zodiac, the phase of the moon, and the position of several planets.
Right next to the Cathedral, there is a major architectural, historical, and cultural landmark of the city, The Rohan Palace (Palais Rohan), built in the 1730s. It was the former residence of the prince-bishops and cardinals of the House of Rohan, an ancient French noble family originally from Brittany, and it is considered a masterpiece of French Baroque architecture. The palace hosted a number of French monarchs such as Louis XV, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon and Joséphine, and Charles X.
It was owned by the nobility, the municipality, the monarchy, the state, the university, and the municipality again, following the history of Strasbourg.
Since the end of the 19th century, the palace has been home to three of Strasbourg’s most important museums: the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Museum of Fine Arts.
The Kammerzell House (Maison Kammerzell) built in 1427 and situated on the Place de la Cathédrale, north-west of the Strasbourg Cathedral, is one of the most famous buildings of Strasbourg.
It belongs to the German Renaissance but is stylistically still attached to the Rhineland black and white timber-framed style of civil architecture. It now houses a restaurant.
Leaving the Cathedral and following Mercière St, we will get to Gutenberg Square (La Place Gutenberg).
It is one of the city’s most famous squares, with the bronze statue on granite base, created in 1840, commemorating Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the mechanical movable type print, one of the human civilization’s greatest inventions.
Behind the statue, there is a beautiful building of Strasbourg’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry that used to be the building of the town hall (which is now found in Place Broglie).
Right beneath the square, underground, there is one of Strasbourg’s best public car parks.
The square is usually decorated with a precious and large merry-go-round, and in winter, with Christmas markets that are every year dedicated to another country.
Rue des Serruriers, on the way to the Petite France area, will lead us to St Thomas’ Church (Église Saint-Thomas), also known as the “Protestant Cathedral”, the main Protestant church in the region.
It is a five-naved hall church, the oldest on the territory of former south-west Germany and famous for its historic organs, played also by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Thus, we arrive to the district of Petite-France (La Petite France), at the western end of the Grande Île, where the river splits up into a number of channels that pass through the area that once used to be home to the city’s tanners, millers and fishermen. Now, it is one of Strasbourg’s main tourist attractions with adorable and enchanting half-timbered buildings full of flowers.
Upstream of Petite France, the River Ill flows through the Barrage Vauban, a bridge, weir and defensive work erected in the 17th century to enable, in the event of an attack, the raising the level of the River Ill and thus the flooding of all the lands south of the city, making them impassable to the enemy.
Today it serves to display sculptures and has a viewing terrace on its roof.
Four of its channels are spanned by the Ponts Couverts, erected in the 13th century, which consists of three bridges and four towers. The name comes from the wooden roofs that were built over the bridges to protect soldiers in times of war, but despite the name, it has not been covered since the 18th century.
Leaving this beautiful area, we will cross Pont du Faisan, and follow Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes, and then Rue du Fossé-des-Tanneurs, that will take us to the Place Kléber.
The Place Kléber is the central and the largest square of Strasbourg, named after general Jean-Baptiste Kléber, a famous military hero from the French Revolution, born in Strasbourg in 1753. It is located in the heart of the city’s prestigious historical and commercial area, where most of the luxury brands have opened their shops, and it is a host to many city’s events, the famous Christmas markets, flea markets, street protests, etc…
Following Rue de l’Outre we will get to Place Broglie, another interesting square of Strasbourg, famous for its prestigious surroundings: The Opera House, the City Hall, the Governor’s Palace, the Prefect’s Palace and others. Close to the Opera House, there is a huge monument inaugurated in 1951, a sandstone obelisk adorned with bronze statues, commemorating the Liberation of Strasbourg.
Right behind the opera building, there is a huge Republic Square (Place de la République), surrounded on three sides by five buildings, all classified as historical monuments: The Rhin Palace, the National and University Library, the National Theatre, the Préfecture of Grand Est and Bas-Rhin, and the Tax Center.
The Rhin Palace, a magnificent Neorenaissance building with a heavy dome built in 1887, is the former Imperial Palace, surrounded by its own garden and separated from the square by a monumental wrought iron fence.
Avenue de la Liberté will take us to our final destination, to The St. Paul’s Church of Strasbourg (Église réformée Saint-Paul) a major building of Gothic Revival architecture.
It was built in 1897 for the Lutheran members of the Imperial German garrison stationed in Strasbourg, but then it was handed over to the Protestant Reformed Church in 1919, after the return of Alsace to France.
Thanks to its spires of 76 m (249 ft.) and its spectacular location the church can be seen from far away.
Strasbourg is a city offering a little of something for everyone, and if you are lucky enough to have more time to visit it, you will certainly enjoy every second of it!