A Quaint City in France You Should Visit Soon

France is not just about Paris. A good way to appreciate its diversity is to move and check out other cities that also deserve the same spotlight as Paris. One of which is Strasbourg, a quaint city located northeast of France.
France is geographically divided into 13 regions, each having its own capital city. Strasbourg is the capital of Grand Est region, more popularly known as the Alsace region.
Actually, I ended up in Strasbourg in search of something nearby to check out before heading back to Paris and then catch the flight to Spain. I find it so convenient that it's only less than 2 hours away from Paris via TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse), a high-speed train that connects the different cities in France.
Besides accessibility, Strasbourg is a perfect side trip in France for its uniqueness. Since Strasbourg is at the tip of France that borders Germany, the city inherits huge German influence especially in its buildings, cuisine, and culture: things that spell a lot of difference from Paris. As a small city, Strasbourg is also very easy to explore and it’s less touristy. After spending 3 days in Paris, to me, Strasbourg served as a breather from the capital's inevitable hustle and bustle.

Christmas and fairy tale feels

While the world is quick to relate Finland with Christmas, Strasbourg has also been gaining the popularity as a tourist destination of the holiday season. Actually, Strasbourg is known as the Christmas capital of France for being the first and the oldest city that started the Christmas market tradition that dates back 12th century.
The Christmas market, also known as Christkindelsmärik, is typically a setup of outdoor stalls selling different Christmas gift ideas from ornaments, wines, baking items, to Alsace-exclusive cookies and sweets. People more popularly visit the markets at night, who are after the display of lights that Strasbourg is also known for. This Christkindelsmärik runs from late November to December (that I unfortunately missed since I traveled in September!).
Regardless of the season though, Strasbourg always offers a fairy tale-like atmosphere. Props to the traditional half-timbered houses scattered throughout the city and the cobblestone paths, Strasbourg is like a setting of a favorite fairy tale book that came to life.
A visit to La Petite France completes the fairy tale story, which not only boasts the most picturesque view in Strasbourg but is also a historic place. Back in the Middle Ages, La Petite France was once a center of trade and quarter for millers, tanners (leather producers), and fishermen. Now, it stands as tourist attraction where most of these houses got converted into restaurants and shops.

Impressive cathedral

When you walk towards downtown passing through the narrow streets, a life-size church suddenly appears out of nowhere. The Strasbourg Cathedral is a Gothic catholic church that stands 142 meters tall, and in fact was once the tallest structure in Europe during the 1800s.
It highly resembles the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, which is why it’s also called the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg.
A must-see inside includes this beautiful rose window, a design commonly seen in Gothic churches. Some also call this a Catherine window, a term that originated from St. Catherine of Alexandria who was persecuted on a spiked circular wheel.
Another attraction is this 18-meter astronomical clock located at the right end of the cathedral. It's remarkable that even in the absence of modern technology back in 1800s, innovation in astronomy was proven as this clock accurately computed leap years and equinoxes. Now, the clock also features a story-telling presentation of sculpted figures, a popular attraction among tourists. The presentation starts when the clock strikes at 12:30PM.

Bicycle-friendly

Similar to Amsterdam, the city of Strasbourg is in the top 10 most bicycle-friendly European cities. With the presence of bicycle lanes in majority of the streets and the affordability of either buying or monthly renting a bicycle in Strasbourg, residents more likely use a bicycle than a car.
As noticed, indoor and outdoor parking lots are surprisingly dominated by bicycles instead of cars. This biking culture doesn’t only save parking spaces but also saves the planet with minimal emission of gas and less pollution in the air.
The same goes to tourists in Strasbourg who are encouraged to choose cycling as a cool way to travel. Bike-sharing services, such as Velhop, are very popular among tourists. The idea is basically renting a bicycle that’s charged per hour. One can get any available bicycle at designated bicycle parking lots, then can hop off and leave it when done.

Gifted by nature

Strasbourg is a very relaxed city with 2 rivers flowing in the stretch. The main channel of Ill River flows on one side of the city, which is actually a World Heritage Site named by UNESCO in 1988. Another river is the Canal du Faux-Rempart, which is a canal arm of the Ill River.
The variety of colorful flowers also makes the picture perfect in Strasbourg. Flowers are hung on buildings or planted at the rear of river banks and bridges: characteristics that are very common in Alsace region. A neighboring city, called Colmar, is also worth visiting when in Alsace. It's an hour away from Strasbourg.

A stone’s throw away from Germany

I find it amazing that France and Germany are solely separated by the Rhine River. What's more amazing is the openness between these 2 countries as the recently expanded tram system made it possible to cross from France to Germany (vice versa) in less than 30 minutes.
From downtown Strasbourg, I took the tram up to Kehl Bahnhof, the station that set me foot to Germany. A good tip to move around Strasbourg is to get a 24H Solo card priced at EUR 4.50. This card sold at any machine station gives 24-hour unlimited rides on all the bus, tram, and coach lines within Strasbourg, plus the tram ride to Kehl (tram line D) in Germany.
Kehl is just a small German village that can be explored in a day. It may be far from the Germany's capital Berlin (6 hours away by train), but it doesn’t make less of a visit to get a taste of the German culture.
There are a few interesting churches, parks, and buildings around, but I'll write more about Kehl in a separate post. For now, I just want to say that don't forget to try the famous German beer when in Kehl! It is sehr gut!

Are you impressed with Strasbourg? Leave a comment below!






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