After my fall semester of teaching ended in mid-November, I wasted no time embarking on my two-week travels in Europe. I started with a week in the warm country of Malta (adventures to be posted soon) before I headed back to France to visit a friend for a week in Strasbourg, as well as to check out its world-famous Christmas markets.
It’d been about three years since I last visited Strasbourg, which had also been for the Christmas markets. Besides wanting to return for them, I also wanted to use my time to explore more of the Alsace region. I had five nights there, which gave me a good amount of time to see other towns and villages in the charming north-east region of France.
Since the Strasbourg Christmas markets are incredibly well-known, it’s not a surprise that many accommodations (e.g. hotels, hostels, Airbnbs) are expensive, let alone booked out far in advance. I’ve been fortunate both times– in 2015 and this year– to know people who lived in Strasbourg to stay with, thereby cutting costs and lowering stress levels. After all, shouldn’t the so-called “most wonderful time of the year” come with nothing but happiness and good cheer?
Upon landing in Paris after my week in Malta, I headed to gare de l’Est where I took the direct TGV to Strasbourg. Journey time was just under two hours and soon enough, I arrived in the Alsatian capital. Taking the tram to my friend’s flat, I arrived sometime in the early evening.
After dropping off my belongings in her room, we headed out to the city center (about a 15-minute walk) where we made it just in time for Happy Hour food at a traditional Alsatian restaurant and pub. We ordered tarte flambées and holiday-special beers, which were hearty and delicious. Coming out to just under 7 euros per person, it was an incredible deal for dinner!
Christmas markets were already in full-swing, as it’d just opened that Friday, so we went to check them out after dinner. We passed by the Strasbourg Cathedral (one of the most-famous in France at over 1000 years old!) and saw the glowing streets of angel lights before cutting through the narrower, historic streets (also decked out in lights) and reaching place Broglie, where we got free vin chaud laced with rum, since my friend had a coupon deal. A great way to kick off my first night in Strasbourg, as well as got me excited to see more in the days to come.
The next morning was my first full day in Strasbourg. It would also be my only full day to explore the city, since the next few days would be dedicated to day trips to other towns and villages in Alsace. My friend had to go to work, so I spent the day on my own in town– I left around 9:30 to head to the city center.
The Christmas markets wouldn’t open until 11:00, so I killed time at a coffee shop that my friend had recommended me. I almost never drink coffee, but the flat white I got (along with a decent “cake du jour”) was pretty good, albeit strong– perfect way to start off the day!
Nearing towards 11:00, I made it into the city center. Just before entering, there was security at the entrance for bag checks– it was merely a ten-second check, but I did appreciate the care taken since the Paris attacks in 2015.
*note* Two weeks after I visited, a terrorist attack occurred at Strasbourg’s Christmas markets where three people were killed. A huge shock, and while it has since been resolved, it’s scary to think that I’d just been there beforehand.
I made my way towards the cathedral, weaving through the narrow, cobblestone streets and the crowds– while there were a good number of people already at the markets, I didn’t find it unbearable as I walked to and from places. Perhaps when it gets closer to Christmas, it would be a zoo, but until then, I was able to enjoy my time without feeling burdened by the crowds.
The center of Strasbourg was stunning, not only with its quaint half-timbered houses seemingly leaning into the streets, but also the Christmas decorations everywhere. From ornaments to garlands, the buildings were decked-out in winter cheer, which were enough to get even the most-cynical (i.e. Grinch) into the holiday spirit.
Reaching the Christmas markets at the cathedral, I made a round through the numerous stalls before I ventured into the cathedral, where plenty of visitors were already inside. I was fortunate to have entered the time I did, for the cathedral was just about to close at noon (before it would reopen in the afternoon). I took a few photos before I headed back out into the wintry cold.
I continued on to place Gutenberg, where a smaller Christmas market was set up. It also happened to be a themed one, as this year’s happened to be based around Finland. That meant plenty of smoked salmon (as I saw them being smoked outside) and other Finnish products to enjoy. The food was too expensive, so I just opted for a vin chaud before continuing on to place Broglie.
At place Broglie, I got spätzle for lunch, along with another cup of vin chaud. I’ve eaten spätzle plenty of times prior, and it’s by far one of my favorite dishes in the winter. Unfortunately, the one I got at Broglie came out lukewarm, but I can say that I finally had it while in Strasbourg, considering that I hadn’t been able to the last time I visited.
I made a stop at place Kléber (where the towering Christmas tree was) before I headed out to Petite France, the historic quarter of Strasbourg where tanners, millers, and fishermen once lived. It’s a small district, but packed full of charm with its multiple half-timbered houses along the narrow canals, which eventually flow to the barrage Vauban and out. It’s a touristy spot, but it wasn’t too busy when I visited– I was able to take plenty of good photos, all the while observe the tranquil scenery of architecture on water.
Returning to the center, I headed back to place Broglie before I exited the Christmas market vicinity of the city (aka where security were stationed). I passed by the quirky fontaine de Janus before heading across the Ill river. I still had a couple of hours before my friend got off work, so I ducked into another coffee shop she’d recommended. Ordering a pretzel cake, I found the dessert to be a lovely treat, even if it was extremely indulgent. It was delicious and, with a cup of bitter matcha to balance it out, it made for a pleasant end to my afternoon.
That concludes my day in Strasbourg– although I still had four more nights in town, I didn’t have much time to see more, since I was on day trips to other places in the Alsace region. All the same, I found the Christmas markets in Strasbourg beautiful, perhaps even more so than back in 2015 (when the Paris attacks had just happened), and it was nice to let the memories flood back. Despite the under 10-degree °C weather, Strasbourg was absolutely gorgeous, and it made me fall in love with Alsace once more.
More adventures in the Alsace region soon. Stay tuned!