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A tale of two nations and two styles in Strasbourg, France

Wonderfully schitzophrenic, this is the tale of 2 cities – in one. French and German influences merge into something quite lovely

Strasbourg is a vibrant city on the eastern side of France, near where it borders Germany.  It serves as the capital and largest city of the Grand Est region of France, as well as the official home of the European Parliament. 

Strasbourg, France

With a population of over ¼ million, and nearly ¾ million in the larger metropolitan area, it’s one of the larger cities in this region of Europe.

The region has exchanged hands between Germany and France many times, creating a city that really has strong examples of both cultures. 

On the one hand you have the flair of France and on the other, the pragmatic imperialism of Germany, all evident in the schizophrenic feel of the architecture.

Nowadays, Strasbourg plays home to many transnational institutions and organizations.  It serves as a hub of transportation and commerce, with a large manufacturing and engineering sector.  

Strasbourg’s history, central European location, and importance in European geopolitics combine to make it a popular place to travel both for business and pleasure.  

In our brief Strasbourg travel guide below, we’ll highlight some of that history, offer up advice on what to see in Strasbourg (and the many things to do in Strasbourg), as well as provide some basic information on travel and transportation in the city.

History of Strasbourg

Like many similar European cities, a full accounting of the history of Strasbourg would fill several volumes.  Consider this the very abbreviated, minute version of the history of the city.  Settlements in the area date to several thousand years BC.  

Permanent settlement of the proto-city that has become Strasbourg can be traced to 12 BC, with the founding of the Roman camp of Argentoratum.  The area was largely governed by the local bishops throughout the first millennium AD.

In 1262, the citizens rebelled against the bishops, and Strasbourg became a free city within the Roman Empire.  It remained free until 1681, when it was conquered by the French under Louis XIV.  

Strasbourg reverted to German control from 1871 until the end of World War I, when it was returned to France.  It was occupied by Germany during World War II, and liberated in 1944, remaining a free state ever since.

Throughout the years, Strasbourg has played an important role in the history of Europe and the broader world.  It saw numerous figures born, raised, or living there who would go on to be influential in religious movements, including the Protestant Reformation and Christianity. 

Strasbourg was also one of the first hubs of printing, and home to the world’s first newspaper.  In modern times, Strasbourg is known as a center of culture, education, and administration for all of Europe.

What to See  and Things to Do

As an important cultural center and historically active city in the region, there are no shortages of things to do in Strasbourg on your visit.  Of course, we can only scratch the surface in terms of telling you what to see in Strasbourg – you’ll have to make your own travel agenda based on your own interest, timetables, and Strasbourg travel plans.  However, some of the highlights include:

  • A dizzying array of examples of architecture from throughout the city’s history, highlighting different styles and periods of design. Notable examples include the Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame, with its famous astronomical clock; numerous medieval streets with examples of medieval structures preserved; the Eglise Saint-Etienne and Eglise Saint-Thomas cathedrals, the latter of which has an organ played by Mozart and Schweitzer; the Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as the town hall, which are examples of the Germanic Renaissance period; as well as many examples of modern architecture and design that have won awards the world over.
  • Lots of parks and outdoor spaces, including the Parc de l’Orangerie, Parc de la Citadelle, and Parc de Pourtales, the latter two surrounding ancient castles, and several others of both historic and modern vintage, along with gardens, greenhouses, and sculpture gardens.
  • Nearly 2 dozen museums, ranging from traditional fare to zoology, archaeology, local history, religious history, contemporary art, engraving, drawings, illustration, science, technology, and even a lawyer museum, along with University system museums covering a range of topics.
  • Theatres, performing arts centers, and orchestras or ensembles are numerous in Strasbourg, including one of the oldest orchestras in Europe, the Orchestre philharmonique de Strasbourg.

 Travel and Transportation

Strasbourg travel is quite easy, thanks to a fine network of public transportation options in the region.  There are train services that link to Germany, Paris and interior France, and Switzerland.  There are also local train services throughout the city.  

Strasbourg has its own international airport, which is also linked to the train station.  The Strasbourg tramway provides intra-city transportation, along with accompanying bus services that run throughout the city. 

Bike-sharing is also quite common in Strasbourg if you prefer human-powered locomotion.  Naturally, given the proximity of Strasbourg to the Rhine river and other waterways, ferries, canal boats, and other means of both tourism and transportation that involve the water are also quite common.  

Walking and bike paths meander through the city as well.  Finally, a network of highways and roads connect to Germany, Switzerland, and other interior French destinations as well.

Our Swiss Alps and City of Lights tours offer plenty of great towns and cities to visit. Find out more in the Itinerary Highlights section

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