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Pocket Guide: Strasbourg

Strasbourg: the Capital of Alsace

Strasbourg is on the French-German border, and over the years called itself both French and German until it settled as French in 1944. Being on the border, Strasbourg has a very cosmopolitan feel, drawing heavily on both cultures. Cobbled streets run through the historic centre, which is dominated by the huge gothic cathedral. While the city’s Medieval history is still very visible, Strasbourg slick European Quarter and its large student population keep the city very much in the present.

Travelling to Strasbourg

Strasbourg’s main railway station is the second largest in France, with regular direct connections to Paris, Marseille and Lyon as well as any international routes heading to Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Strasbourg International Airport sees KLM and Lufthansa, amongst other, flying across Europe and Africa. Budget airlines fly into Karlsruhe–Baden-Baden just a short train journey from Strasbourg.

Strasbourg’s History

There’s been a settlement in the area since Roman times, but Strasbourg only really came to prominence as a European stronghold in the 17th Century when fortifications were added. Urban growth continued well into the 20th Century, and today many museums document the city’s changes over the past 200 years. Much of its early history is still present in the historic quarter on the Grande île, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed island.

The European Union in Strasbourg

The presence of the EU in Strasbourg attracts holidaymakers as well as delegates and ambassadors. Many EU institutes have seats in Strasbourg’s European Quarter, most of which are open to tourists during quiet periods, and it’s easy to walk between buildings to get to meetings or guided tours.

When to Travel to Strasbourg

Nestled between the Black Forest and the Vosges Mountains, Strasbourg benefits from warm summers with little rainfall. Many visitors head to the city during this time, when its parks are in full bloom and restaurants open outdoor terraces. However, winter is also popular with skiers, who spend days up in the Voges.

May is a particularly busy month in Strasbourg as the city hosts the International Ladies’ Tennis Cup and the Night of the Museums, an evening when museums are free to visit. Fans of cinema descend on the city during June’s ten-day Celebration of Films Festival.

Where to Stay in Strasbourg

At the western end of Grande île, Petite France is one of Strasbourg’s oldest neighbourhoods. Timber-framed 17th and 18th-century buildings line its streets, though the old House of the Tanners is the area’s oldest building, dating back to the mid-1500s. The area’s traditional restaurants serve Alsatian cuisine and have outdoor dining areas overlooking the river.

There is a good choice of family-friendly hotels suited to a range of budgets in Strasbourg’s historic centre, just steps from the city’s red-brick cathedral and its astronomical clock, which chimes every day at 12.30pm. Place Kléber, the city’s central square and main traffic hub, is also in Grande île. The square’s bronze statue depicts the eponymous Jean-Baptiste Kléber, often regarded as one of Napoleon’s best generals.