Strasbourg, commonly known as ‘The Christmas Capital of France’ promised me a perfect Christmas, and delivered. Since it was the first international trip post the pandemic, emotions of extreme excitement, enthusiasm and anticipation filled me as I entered the airport. We were required to have a negative rt-pcr test 72 hours before departure as well as upon returning. In-flight masking was a must throughout the journey and sanitisation was taken care of after boarding. Children were only required to have a negative rt-pcr test while adults who were fully vaccinated needed a health pass (which could be made at a local pharmacy upon arrival).
As I stepped into the heart of Strasbourg, cinnamon-filled air rushed at me from the enticing mulled wine stands of the Christmas market accompanied by the dazzling festive lights that illuminated the surroundings.
Christmas markets in Strasbourg date back to 1570 and have till today maintained their traditional and authentic style of celebrating this festival, the Alsatian way. Holy carols, mulled wine, delicate ornaments dangling from tops of towering trees and so much more, made the Alsatian Christmas so different from the ones I’ve experienced before. With more than 100 booths to explore, thousands of shimmering lights lining the cobbled streets, and houses that look like they were decorated by the elves from Santa’s workshop, make Strasbourg a Christmas delight and a complete must-visit for literally anyone.
Here’s everything I recommend to do in Strasbourg during Christmas / winter:
- Christmas Markets – The city has Christmas markets that total over 300 stalls and will make up most of your time here. The largest market was in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral while the smaller ones were spread throughout the town. Since I visited during the pandemic, it definitely changed a few things around; there were lesser stalls and the timings varied. However, the angel lights down the street from the cathedral, the teddy bear houses, the gigantic Christmas tree at Kleber square and the heavenly mulled wine, made this experience worth it.
- Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg – The most unmissable sight to see in Strasbourg. This cathedral is visible from anywhere in the area of the Christmas markets and is absolutely picturesque and one of its kind. It’s known to be one of the greatest pieces of Gothic architecture and features many designs like a gorgeous rose window and stained glass from the 12th century. The astronomical clock found here is the biggest in Europe.
- Batorama / The Boat Tour – This boat takes you around the city and its most striking sights like the cathedral, Petite France etc. It’s the best way to explore the place when you’re tired from walking but still want to look around. The glass enclosed boat helps provide the best views as well!
- Maison Kammerzell – This exquisite restaurant, Kammerzell House, is one of the most famous buildings of the city and one of the most well preserved medieval sites from late Gothic architecture in the area previously belonging to the Holy Roman Empire. The specialty here is that every floor of the restaurant is designed to make you feel like you’re in a different setting altogether. The ground floor of a cellar, the first floor of a cathedral etc. It’s a must visit when in the heart of Strasbourg!
Even though Strasbourg was absolutely mesmerizing, a trip here is incomplete without a visit to Colmar, a village with Christmas markets that were so dreamy and fairytale-like, personally, the highlight of my trip to eastern France. Moreover, a visit to two other villages as well, completed the entire experience and made me leave feeling like I’d visited a town from some Disney movie, literally;)
The breathtaking day trip to Colmar, Eguisheim & Riquewiher:
As I mentioned earlier, this day-long tour was the best part of my trip to eastern France. The short drive to the three most beautiful French towns takes you along scenic roads, bright green hills, Alsatian vineyards and striking panoramas.
Eguisheim was voted one of the most beautiful French villages and is in fact “the preferred village of the French”; I can vouch for this, it was absolutely a dream. The tapered, concentric streets of the old town are lined with several preserved half-timbered houses and the start of the town turns out to be the end as well! This village in the wine region of France is everything it’s known for.
Colmar, especially during Christmas, was honestly beguiling. Throughout the town, the spread of the Christmas markets was elaborate and ornate. With decorations that screamed Christmas, authentic Alsatian food, delectable local cheese, sumptuous kinds of wine and carols playing at every stall, the town was the best way to feel the season. With less time and so much to do, I’m forced to visit again!
Riquewihr was quite charming as well. It’s known to be the inspiration for Belle’s village from the Disney movie Beauty & The Beast which is why it catches every tourist’s eye. This town is in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards, the streets lined with winemakers’ shops and tasting rooms. Since I got the chance to visit during Christmas, I was able to visit Kathe Wohlfahrt’s ‘Feerie De Noel’, a huge Christmas boutique at the end of the town; it was an absolute delight.
Exploring the cobblestoned streets of the quaint towns of Colmar and Eguisheim, and walking the village of Riquewihr among the ancient walls is the most desired getaway.
In Alsace, there is something for everyone. Be it the local sauces, charcuterie, baked specialties or delicious spices, the authenticity is divine. Here are some of the local dishes I tried and loved:
- Sauerkraut – This is probably the best-known dish of Strasbourg and Alsace. It’s pickled and fermented cabbage served hot or cold alongside other local dishes like sausages, ham, potatoes, or anything else.
- Tarte Flambée – This thin-crusted savory tart is a nation favorite and turned out to be my favorite too. Traditionally baked in a wood-fired oven, and topped with onions, mushrooms, cheese, ham, or other ingredients, this tart is bliss.
- Foie Gras D’Alsace – This dish is made from duck liver and is a French delicacy known for its rich flavor.
- Riesling Wine (The Local Best-Loved) – There are many wines worth tasting in this wine region of France, but no other is more celebrated than the Riesling, a crisp, dry, aromatic white wine made with grapes of the same name.
- Munster Cheese – This heavenly, aromatic cheese with an orange-red rind is native to Alsace, and can be found everywhere in the region. This paired with the riesling wine, is the best combination, the most Alsatian you can get!
Visiting these towns honestly is a must whether you’re an avid traveler or just someone looking at a vacation. However, the real feel is when you travel around Christmas time; absolutely paradise. Soaking up in every detail of this beautiful destination was all I could’ve asked for this Christmas!