48 Hours In: Strasbourg

Travel to the heart of the continent this festive season, as France's easternmost city gears up for a Christmas extravaganza, with markets and mulled wine galore.

Click here for 48 Hours In...Strasbourg map

Why go now?

The easternmost city in France perches prettily on the Rhine. Strasbourg's position at the heart of the continent, as home to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, gives a strong international dimension to its intriguing mix of modern French influence and deeper-rooted Alsatian customs. At this time of year, the traditional side has the upper hand. From today until New Year's Eve, the city's Christmas festivities begin (noel-strasbourg.com), bringing open-air markets, concerts and special events to streets glowing with spectacular lights.

Touch down

By rail, you can reach Strasbourg's splendid and recently expanded station (1) in under six hours from London St Pancras, using Eurostar (08705 186 186; eurostar.com) to Paris Gare du Nord; it is a 10-minute walk to Gare de l'Est, from where trains run to Strasbourg in two hours 20 minutes. Air France (0870 142 4343; airfrance.co.uk) flies from London City to Strasbourg.

Get your bearings

The island at Strasbourg's heart is embraced by the Ill river and a shimmering labyrinth of canals, and linked to the surrounding neighbourhoods by an assortment of stone bridges. The red sandstone cathedral (2), once the tallest building in Christendom, dominates the skyline of this essentially human-scale city and marks the heart of the old town; this district shelters dozens of well-preserved medieval and Renaissance buildings. The helpful tourist information office is on Place de la Cathédrale (00 33 3 88 52 28 28; ot-strasbourg.fr), and has up-to-date information on hotel availability (which can be a problem in December and when the European Parliament is holding one of its monthly four-day sessions); it opens 9am-7pm daily. The commercial hub of the city, and venue from today for stalls run by charitable organisations, is Place Kléber (3).

Check in

A peaceful courtyard leads to the friendly and well-decorated Hotel Beaucour (4) at 5 rue des Bouchers (00 33 3 88 76 72 00; maison-kammerzell.com), housed in an 18th-century private residence near the canal. Double rooms start at €132 (£110), including breakfast. The four-star Regent Petite France (5) at 5 Rue des Moulins (00 33 3 88 76 43 43; regent-petite-france.com) is housed within the thick walls of a former ice factory, and offers wonderful views over a narrow lock in one of the city's most photogenic districts. Prices for a double room in December start at €276 (£230), with an extra €21 (£17.50) per person for breakfast.

The central Hotel Maison Rouge (6) at 4 rue des Francs-Bourgeois (00 33 3 88 32 08 60; maison-rouge.com) is comfortable and welcoming. Prices for a double room start at €140 (£117), with breakfast at €14 (£11.60). Away from the centre, Villa Novarina (7) at 11 rue Westercamp (00 33 3 90 41 18 28; villanovarina.com), an up-market lodging with doubles from €105 (£88) room only, is two minutes' walk from the Orangerie Park (8).

Take a view

The 329 steps to the platform at the top of the cathedral (2) are not for the faint-hearted, but on a clear day the views across to the Black Forest and Vosges mountains are their own reward.

Afterwards, don't miss the delicate stone-work, vivid stained-glass windows, and dozens of gargoyles and statues of this magnificent place of worship. An elaborate astronomical clock chimes "noon" at 12.30pm precisely each day, when figurines of the Apostles appear in parade. Inside, a rarely exhibited series of huge 12th-century tapestries on "the life of the Virgin" is currently on display, as well as a large Nativity scene. From now until March the platform is open daily 10am-5.15pm, and from March-October it opens 9am-7.15pm, €4.60 (£3.80).

Take a hike

The tourists who usually frequent the largely pedestrianised Petite France area are, at this time of year, flocking instead to the Christmas markets: take advantage of the relative quiet to explore this pretty network of black-and-white half-timbered houses, canals, bridges and geranium-filled balconies. Meander along cobbled streets to the Ponts Couverts and the imposing Barrage Vauban (9) for a view across the city ramparts, or stroll along rue Dentelles, past the labyrinth-like shop "Noel in Alsace" (at number 10, for the ultimate in Christmas decorations) to St Thomas' Church (10) – it is less imposing and more intimate than the cathedral.

Lunch on the run

Secrets de Table (11) at 39 rue du 22 Novembre (00 33 3 88 21 09 10; secrets-de-table.fr) is ideal for a quick and informal lunch (closed Sunday). The menu features home-made soup and tartines – thick slices of bread with savoury toppings such as salmon, spinach and walnuts or wild mushrooms. There's another branch across the road in Galeries Lafayette (12).

Not far away, the good-value menu at Mooze (13) at 1 rue de la Demi-Lune (00 33 3 88 22 68 46) focuses on sushi, sashimi and yakitori, and the atmosphere is trendy but welcoming.

Window shopping

Strasbourg's narrow shop-lined streets are perfect for Christmas shopping; rue des Orfèvres and Grand' Rue offer contrasting experiences. The in-store supermarket at Galeries Lafayette (12) sells quintessentially French treats such as Mariages Frères tea and Fauchon biscuits. It, along with the Printemps (14) department store, has spectacular Yuletide window displays.

Outside the cathedral (2), Maison Kammerzell's ornately carved wooden facade hides painted stone arches under which medieval merchants once sold their goods in much the same way. The square outside is a key location for a Christmas Market, as is Place Gutenberg (15) (for European crafts), Place Kléber (3) and Place Broglie (16). They provide rows of present-laden stalls.

An aperitif

Mulled wine is the tipple of choice in December, preferably sipped from a plastic tumbler under the Christmas tree on Place Kléber (3). Otherwise, big-name breweries and small brasseries co-exist happily in Alsace, so don't miss the opportunity to sample local beer, especially since several brands issue "Christmas beers". The Frères Berthom (17) at 18 rue des Tonneliers (00 33 3 88 32 81 18; lesfreresberthom.com) has a wide range of beers. Les Trois Brasseurs (18) at 22 rue des Veaux (00 33 3 88 36 12 13) is open from 11am to 1am daily: busy, lively and full of atmosphere. The stylish Cafe de l'Opéra (00 33 3 88 22 98 51) on 19 Place Broglie (16) is a good place to start or finish an evening out, as are the converted barges lined up on Quai des Pêcheurs (19); the Illvino (00 33 6 19 39 19 33; illvino.com), nearest the Pont Royal (20), is the most stylish.

Dining with the locals

Alsatian cuisine, served with local beer, riesling or pinot noir, is both hearty and filling, but in the hands of a good chef it can be surprisingly refined. Le Clou (21) at 3 Rue du Chaudron (00 33 3 88 32 11 67; le-clou.com) serves delicious local fare. The house speciality is ham shank marinated in pinot noir, but this is also the place to sample a heaving plate of choucroute, topped with sausages and ham.

Au Renard Prechant (22) at 34 Place de Zurich (00 33 3 88 35 62 87), housed in a 16th-century former chapel, is atmospheric and cosy – and specialises in mouth-watering game dishes.

Lighter but equally traditional cuisine is available at Flams (23) at 29 rue des Frères (00 33 3 88 36 36 90), where tarte flambée comes with a long selection of sweet and savoury toppings.

Sunday morning: go to church

Mass is read three times at the cathedral (2) each Sunday morning. The English-speaking St Albans Anglican community, which meets in the Dominican Church (24) at 41 boulevard de la Victoire, will be celebrating the Advent period throughout December at its 10.30am service; guests are welcome to stay for tea or coffee afterwards.

Cultural morning

Almost all of Strasbourg's museums are worth a visit, but the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (25) at 1 Place Hans Jean Arp (00 33 3 88 23 31 31; musees-strasbourg.org) stands out, for the building in which it is housed as much as for the artworks themselves.

The permanent collection includes works by Gauguin and Kandinsky. It opens 10am-6pm at weekends, noon-7pm Tuesday-Friday, and noon-9pm on Thursdays, admission €5 (£4.20). A temporary exhibition (until 15 February 2009), entitled "Arp is Art", focuses on the avant-garde artist after whom the square is named.

Out to brunch

The art café at the top of the Museum of Modern Art (25) is open from 10am on Sundays, and offers excellent views and cooking.

Take a ride

To take in the sights from water level, jump on a boat behind the Palais Rohan (26) – once a bishop's palace, now home to the Fine Arts Museum. One-hour boat trips around the city (00 33 3 88 84 13 13; batorama.fr) cost €7.60 (£6.30) and pass by the Petite France area and the grandiose European Parliament building (27).

A walk in the park

The beautiful Orangerie park (8) in the north of the city is home to swans, storks and squirrels. It also houses a mini-zoo and children's play areas, but still has room for a lake, quiet paths and immaculate lawns. The Pavillon Josephine at its centre hosts frequently-changing exhibitions. Walk up the Quai de Rouget de Lisle, along the Ill river, then turn right towards the park.

Write a postcard

Pop into the Chamber of Commerce's vaults on Place Gutenberg (15) and select an old-style Alsatian postcard among the books, engravings and other literary-themed treats in an antique booksellers' fair. Open 10am-8pm at weekends, 1-7pm on other days (Fridays to 8pm).

The icing on the cake

Release your inner Torvill or Dean under the Cathedral's spire. The Christmas ice-rink on Place du Château is open 10am-8pm daily (to 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays). Entry is €3 (£2.50), including skate rental.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam