Christmas in Strasbourg: A travel guide for Singaporeans
This article was originally on GET.com at: Christmas In Strasbourg: A Travel Guide For Singaporeans
Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace region of France and is widely known for having the oldest Christmas markets in the world.
The city sees a huge number of tourists during the Christmas season, and it's not difficult to see why.
During the holiday season in Strasbourg pretty Christmas lights line the streets, markets filled with Christmas decorations, gifts and Alsatian cuisine surround the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and the safety and accessibility of the city makes it a great place to visit.
You can reach Strasbourg by plane, or make it a stop after visiting Paris - it's about 2.5 hours away. Hotels are aplenty here and you can easily get around the city with trams.
In this Christmas travel guide, we at GET.com will show you the best things to see and do in Strasbourg.
Top Things To See In Strasbourg
Strasbourg is a UNESCO World Heritage site and you can easily imagine what a sight the city is. The city has several old and grand-looking churches surrounded by a network of narrow streets.
One of the most famous sights of Strasbourg are the countless half-timbered houses dating from the 16th and 17th century that line the streets.
Together with the Christmas lights that fill the city during this festive period, they resemble a picture straight out of a fairy tale.
Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg
Strasbourg Cathedral is known as one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals in Europe. The church first started to be built in 1015 but it was destroyed by fire.
By the time it was renovated at the end of the 12th century, it started to develop a Gothic character. For the next four centuries, the Strasbourg Cathedral (142 metres high) was considered the tallest building in modern world!
You will feel the magnificence of the building there, and do take the time to visit the inside of the cathedral to admire the centuries of work craftsmen have put into building this fine piece of art.
Remember to check out the astronomical clock and climb up 332 steps to reach the platform of the cathedral to enjoy a magnificent view of the city.
Petite France is the name given to a small picturesque area between the rivers near the city centre.
It is home to some of Strasbourg's prettiest streets and buildings filled with half timbered townhouses and littered with many of the city's restaurants and cafes.
A leisure walk around here is a great way to appreciate the history and beauty of the area.
Top Things To Do In Strasbourg Christmas Markets
If there's a right time to visit Strasbourg, it's during the Christmas season (late November to 24th of December).
The city of Strasbourg proclaims itself as the "Capital of Christmas" due to its long history of holding an annual Christmas market in Europe.
The tradition has been taking place since the 1570s, having more than 450 years of history. Since then, Strasbourg has continued the tradition of holding an authentic and cosy Alsatian Christmas under the glow of pretty Christmas lights.
In 2015 Strasbourg was voted for the 2nd year in a row as the best Christmas market in Europe.
The city hosts a number of Christmas markets, with the main one situated just near the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
You'll find all kinds of things here, including craftwork, traditional Alsatian Christmas decorations, Alsatian cuisine, street food and wine from the region.
There's something to suit everyone and every taste as you walk along the narrow streets, across the town squares and take pictures of the dreamy city.
Something to look out for each year - there will be a special guest-country featured in one of the Christmas markets. In 2015, it's Luxembourg. Expect some local goods and cuisine here.
Visiting Strasbourg during Christmas is indeed an unforgettable way for anyone to experience the magic of Christmas.
Strasbourg River Boat
While you can easily sight-see in Strasbourg via foot or tram, one of the best ways to view the city is with the boat tour.
Strasbourg's boat trip provider Batorama offers 70-minute city tours, giving you an easy way to enjoy the must-see attractions of the Alsatian capital, in particular the Petite France area, the Covered Bridges, Vauban Dam, and the European institutions.
You will sit comfortably in a large (covered) riverboat which will bring you through the major sights of the city.
You will get to see different architectural styles and listen to commentaries providing you with interesting explanations about the history of the city.
Yes, you might find a boat tour something very touristy to do, but it's also a very nice way to see the city!
Colmar is about a 45-minute drive away from Strasbourg and is known for the old town's fairy-tale ambience.
If you are staying in Strasbourg for Christmas and feel a little saturated by the thousands of tourists strolling everywhere, Colmar could be a great escape.
Visiting Colmar when night falls is definitely recommended in order to appreciate the massive effort put into creating an original light show throughout the year.
After nightfall, you can admire the illuminations on Friday and Saturday as well as every night during event periods such as the Christmas season.
More than 1,150 computer-driven light sources are skillfully distributed throughout the town to enhance its architectural details.
The decor varies by theme through the different times of the year, presenting a different ambience and atmosphere to suit each season.
Enjoy walking through the Colmar town centre, admire the buildings dating from the Middle Ages and marvel at the Little Venice.
Personally, I preferred the atmosphere of the Christmas markets in Colmar a little more due to them being smaller and cosier.
The lights and illumination at night were also very dream-like; although Strasbourg lends a much more grandeur feel with its imposing cathedrals.
What To Eat In Strasbourg
Alsatian cuisine is a mixture of influences from nearby Germany, as well as traditional French cuisine. No one should leave Strasbourg without trying some of its famed cuisine!
One of the best ways to try typical cuisine is at the Christmas markets, where you'll find no lack of the traditional choucroute (a dish made up of various pork parts and sauerkraut), as well as christmas sweets and cheesy tartines.
If you prefer a more comfortable and authentic experience, go to a Winstub. A Winstub literally means "wine lounge", a place where you get to taste typical Alsatian food and drink local beer.
Some traditional Alsatian dishes to try include:
Choucroute (Or Sauerkraut)
It's shredded fermented cabbage served with a selection of meat and potatoes.
Baeckaoffa This strangely-named dish is a stew made of hot potatoes and three types of meat (beef, pork and lamb). It's cooked with several spices and usually marinated in Riesling wine.
L'oignon Tart Or Onion Tart It can easily be found in many restaurants around here served as a starter with salad.
Flammekueche (Otherwise Known As Tarte Flambee) It resembles a very thin crust pizza, traditionally topped with crème fraîche, onions, and lardons (bits of bacon). You can often find a variety of flavours, including mushrooms and cheese (my favourite).
While the French are big cheese-eaters, Munster cheese comes from a town in Colmar and is widely used in Alsatian cuisine.
You can either find it at the markets or eat it in some of the Alsatian dishes, such as topped on rosti or on a tarte flambee.
Spätzle is a kind of local egg pasta that typically accompanies meat dishes prepared with a heavy sauce or gravy.
Les Escargots De Birkenwald
If you're feeling adventurous you might want to try out some Escargots, which are snails cooked in herbs and white wine from Alsace.
What To Eat At The Christmas Markets
The Christmas markets offer lots of food to eat on the go as well, but you might find more sweet food than savoury food.
There's always a long queue for crepes with nutella and hot churros, but my advice is to save your stomach for more local stuff such as:
Gingerbread (Pain D'epices)
Spice cakes that come with a hint of ginger and honey are easily found around the markets. You can also find them in bite-sized packages glazed with chocolate and icing. They make great gifts too!
Or pretzel, as we know it, is a kind of bread that's usually speckled with large grains of salt and intertwined. It's eaten as a snack and you'll find lots of stalls selling these at the Christmas markets.
They're biscuits that look like normal butter biscuits but the difference about these little sweets are that they are anise-flavoured, giving them a unique fragrance.
You can't miss this at the markets; everywhere you walk you'll see people holding a plastic cup of mulled wine.
The red wine is infused with star anise, cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods and orange peel and served warm, which is a great way to warm you up in the cold winter.
What To Buy In Strasbourg
Strasbourg is a big city, and you can definitely find malls and international brands there. This makes it great for those who might be looking for luxury products from Europe to bring back home.
However, my top picks will be the local foodstuff. While Strasbourg is a part of France, due to its historical origins of having been part of both Germany and France, its cuisine has been influenced by both, thus making the local food unique and quite different from the rest of France.
Here are some of my top shopping choices:
The Alsace is a major wine growing region and they produce mostly white wine which is often floral and sweet. If you love this variety of wine, remember to bring back a bottle!
Walking along the shopping streets of Strasbourg and at the Christmas markets, you'll see many stalls selling chocolates.
The chocolates here are high quality, with many being artisanal and containing no palm oil in them.
Do check out the Jacques Bockel Boutique that has a huge variety of chocolate shaped into unique items such as cigars, shirts and crayons. Do remember to have a taste of the chocolate fountain in the shop!
Everyone knows that foie gras is a specialty of France, and you can find it abundantly on a Christmas menu.
Strasbourg claims to be the birthplace of this delicacy, and you'll find it throughout the market and in local stores.
Alsatian foie gras is often flavored with spices and served with a slice of pain d'epices. From my trip, I found out that foie gras goes surprisingly well with a slice of spice cake and some fig jam.
Other than white wine, the Alsace region is also known for its excellent breweries. Many craft beers are available in specialty shops here that bring in a huge variety from nearby Germany.
You'll also find special Christmas beers fragrant with spices available during the holiday season.
They make nice gifts and it may also be a good idea to buy a few back for late night parties in your hotel after the local bars are closed. A great place to check out is the Village De La Bière.
One of the most common types of cheese you can find in this region that's widely used in local cuisine is Munster cheese.
It's a strong-smelling cheese that tastes much lighter than it smells, and provides a creamy topping to any dish.
If you are a cheese lover, do check out La Cloche à Fromage, the restaurant side of a renowned cheese business.
You'll find more than 80 varieties of cheese presented with local accompaniments and you'll also find regional specialties like fondue and raclette. It's a must-do for any cheese lover!
For those looking for the all-too familiar malls such as those in Singapore, you might be disappointed. Malls here are smaller and often limited to bigger brands.
You will find Printemps and Galeries Lafayette where you'll find a small variety of luxury brands. There's also a Louis Vuitton boutique around the corner of Galeries Lafayette.
You'll be able to buy tax-free if you are a non-EU citizen with a minimum spending in these malls.
Strasbourg makes for a great place to visit during Christmas and it's probably one of the best ways to feel the Christmas spirit during the festive season.
Its safety and accessibility also makes it an ideal place for a family trip; as well as a great place for the gourmand who wants to have the best of both German and French cuisine.
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