A French Fairytale: Strasbourg and La Petite France

Strolling between the half-timbered houses of Strasbourg’s La Petite France, it’s easy to imagine you just missed a musical number in a Disney movie. Overflowing flower boxes line the bridges, swans swim lazily in canals and couples walk hand in hand down the narrow cobbled streets.

“There goes the baker with his tray like always!”

Before I get swept away by the storybook nature of the Grande Île (again), I have to tell you there is so much more to Strasbourg than just picturesque charm! Alsatian culture, international importance and more than 2000 years of history are just some of the reasons Strasbourg should be on your European itinerary.

Strasbourg is the second most visited city in France and close enough to Paris for a day trip. This past weekend Peter, Chimi and I made the two hour drive from our home in Germany to celebrate our first(!!) anniversary. To say we loved it is an understatement. In fact, we’re already making plans to go back! If you’re considering an excursion to “the jewel of Alsace”, here are five tips to help you make the most of Strasbourg!

1. Brush up on the city’s history ahead of time.

For a good chunk of Strasbourg’s existence, control of the city was hotly contested. It was German, then French… then German… then French… then German… then French…. I think you get the picture. However, understanding this will keep you from asking, “But wasn’t he German?” when you find yourself standing in La Place Gutenberg.

The carousel horse was also surprised to learn Johannes Gutenberg lived here for 10ish years.

Although Franco-German relations were certainly violent in the past, four bridges now connect the two countries over the Rhine river. Strasbourg is now home to the European Parliament, a very deliberate choice after World War II.

2. Aim to stay on or near the Grand Île.

The Grande Île is a UNESCO World Hertitage Site and the historic center of Strasbourg. Tons of restaurants, shops and the majority of “top” sights are located on or near the Grand Île. While we didn’t see much more of the city on our quick getaway, La Petite France is maybe the cutest place ever?

Definitely top three.

We stayed at the Hotel Hannong– I would definitely recommend it! While we did get a VERY small room, the staff was incredibly friendly and they waived the standard nightly dog fee. I count that as a win!

3. Come Hungry (and thirsty!)

If you’ve read my other travel posts, you know I like to explore a place with my stomach! Luckily for me, Alsatian cuisine is decadent and delicious. The food definitely reflects Strasbourg’s dual French and German influences. Every winstub boasts Choucroute and Tart Flambe (that’s Sauerkraut and Flammkuchen for the Germans).

Doesn’t matter if you call this a tarte l’oignon or zweibelkuchen- I want it.

For a semi-gourmet meal, check out L’Eveil des Sens. Normally I put A LOT of thought into choosing where to eat on vacations, but we just kind of found this one? The charming patio lured us in, but it was their selection of Alsatian wines and super interesting menu that hooked us!

4. Practice your French… and your German.

Strasbourg sits directly on the German border of France, so it is probably not so surprising that both languages are spoken here. While you can find a list of helpful German phrases here, I can’t help too much with French! That being said, most menus offered German and English translations and a little “merci!” can go a long way!

Oui to summer nights in Strasbourg

5. Know that you’ll make plans to return to Strasbourg.

As I mentioned above, Peter and I already have another visit to Strasbourg in mind. On top of being the “crossroads of Europe” and the “capital of Europe”, Strasbourg is also known as the “capital of Christmas”! There are TEN Christmas markets packed into that cute little city! I can’t wait to get back there and cozy up with a hot French Onion Soup after seeing Christmas lights twinkling on the canals…

Almost impossible to imagine winter here

Oops! There I go getting carried away again! But I hope this post has helped you see why it’s so easy to fall in love with Strasbourg. I would love to know if you’ve been. Tell me your favorite restaurants, must sees and anything else I should know about Strasbourg!