The fascinating region of Alsace in France is a unique travel destination in Europe. With its impressive fusion of French and Germanic cultures, Alsace is known for its wine, architecture, and interesting history.
Are you considering a trip to the Alsace region, but you need some pointers on where to go? We’ve got you covered for all the best things to do in Alsace with this top 10 list.
Where in France is Alsace?
Alsace is a region in the north-east of France that is on the west bank of the river Rhine. Bordered with Germany, Alsace is unique for its combination of both French and German cultures. Alsace’s ownership has changed over the course of history between the two countries, meaning that each have left their mark on the culture that has developed there.
What is Alsace famous for?
The Alsace region of France is famous for its unusual mixture of German and French cultures, and the area seems to have absorbed the best bits of both French and German traditions. Alsace is known for its excellent white wines with unique characteristics, fascinating history and delicious gastronomy, of which sauerkraut and Flammekueche are firm favourites. Of course, there’s also its world-famous Christmas markets, which attract millions of visitors every year.
1. Alsace Wine Route (Route des Vins d’Alsace)
The Alsace Wine Route, known also as La Route des Vins d’Alsace, is the oldest wine route in France. The route runs North to South through the region, stopping at towns and villages like Obernai, Colmar and Guebwiller. An expedition of exploration through the Alsace wine route will reveal views of rolling hillsides planted with vines, and exquisite old villages nestled in valleys.
The wine region of Alsace is unique in France because of the combination of grapes grown there. Specialising in German grape varieties like Gewurztraminer and Riesling, the Alsace wine region produces largely white wines such as Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Dry white wine lovers will revel in the floral, peachy notes of the wines produced in the Alsatian vineyards, and can visit the wine capital of Alsace, Colmar.
2. Lalique Museum in Wingen-sur-Moder
Situated in the picturesque village of Wingen-sur-Moder, Lalique Museum celebrates the work of the jewellery designer and glassmaker, René Lalique. Lalique founded his workshop in Wingen-sur-Moder in 1921 and his early experience working for premium French jewellery brands like Cartier and Boucheron meant that his own business enjoyed great success. Throughout his lifetime, Lalique crafted jewellery, medals, perfume bottles, vases, chandeliers and many other beautiful items.
Visitors to Lalique Museum can revel in some of Lalique’s most stunning creations, which incorporate enamel, precious stones, and glass. In fact, Musée Lalique exhibits a collection of over 650 pieces of his work, displayed alongside video projections and huge photographs. Lovers of jewellery, art and car hood ornaments will enjoy the fully immersive experience on offer at Lalique Museum in the region of Alsace.
3. Visit the Alsace Christmas Markets
A tour of the Alsace region wouldn’t be complete without visiting the magical Christmas markets. The fusion of French and German cultures at the border makes Christmas in Alsace a particularly special experience. During the festive season, Alsace transforms into a winter wonderland with locals and tourists alike enjoying the festivities and traditions in style. Enjoy seasonal delicacies like mulled wine, gingerbread and sweet chestnuts as you wander the chalet-stall lined streets of Alsace’s most beautiful cities.
Strasbourg will entertain you with one of its six Christmas markets, featuring an ice rink, carousel, and enormous Christmas tree. Colmar comes alive with its stunning half-timbered buildings decorated with chocolate box façade ribbons, tinsel, and baubles. Lastly, don’t miss Hagenau Christmas Market, which is known for its 16-metre-long nativity scene and traditional Christkindl interpretations. Savour a taste of Gluhwein, which is made from white wine, for a truly unique Alsatian Christmas experience!
4. Strasbourg Cathedral
Strasbourg Cathedral towers above the Alsace region like a medieval giant. Dating from 1015, the Cathedral was upgraded by Erwin von Steinbach in the 1260s in Gothic style. It was designed to be the most modern building of its time in the whole of the Holy Roman Empire. Finally finished in 1439, the cathedral features a 142-metre-tall bell tower, making it the tallest medieval building in all of Europe.
Visitors shouldn’t miss an opportunity to climb the 332 steps to the top of the bell tower, where they can enjoy views of the city of Strasbourg and the surrounding area. A main attraction of the cathedral is the 12th and 14th century Romanesque stained-glass windows, that present coloured glass in mesmerising geometric patterns. Those who aren’t scared of the dark can also explore the 11th century crypt below the main cathedral.
5. Château du Haut-Barr
Climb the heights of the Saverne hills and experience the fascinating ruin of Château du Haut-Barr with its spectacular views and historic architectural features. Perched 470 metres above the valley below, the impressive Château du Haut-Barr dominates its position on the rocks in Alsace. Known as the ‘eye of Alsace’, this foreboding castle occupies a precarious position next to the Devil’s Bridge.
Built in 1170, Alsace’s Château du Haut-Barr was owned by the Bishops of Strasbourg. The myths say that the bridge that links the castle to the land was so difficult to build, that the bishop had to ask the Devil for help. The bishop made a promise that the first man to cross the footbridge would give his soul to the Devil, but the bishop sent a stray dog instead! This magnificent castle boasts a portcullis, well tower, chapel, artillery tower and lord’s apartments. Lucky visitors can see as far as Strasbourg cathedral on a clear day!
6. Petite France, Strasbourg
Nestled in Strasbourg in the Alsace region is the exquisite commune of Petite France. Situated at the meeting of five arms of the river Ill, this area of Strasbourg is a water-based haven with quaint quays and irresistible charm. With medieval buildings and a history in tanning, fishing and milling, Petite France is a throwback to simpler times.
Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Petite France was once an unpopular place to live because of the associated smells of tanning and fishing. In the Middle Ages, this area in the Alsace region was home to the poor and destitute. This history is a far cry from today, however, as its well-preserved buildings line the riverbanks with their timbers beautifully exposed and window boxes spilling dozens of brightly coloured blooms in spring and summer months.
From its vantage point on the Lauch River, Colmar observes the comings and goings of the Alsace Wine Route. Widely known as the capital of Alsatian wine, Colmar features pretty, medieval, half-timbered buildings and picturesque canals. Colmar even has its own ‘Little Venice’, so called after its beautiful blue waters and attractive buildings.
Visitors to Colmar should take a stroll around the Old Town part of the city, where they will be able to do some sightseeing of the pastel-coloured buildings and impressive landmarks. Don’t miss the German Renaissance building of Maison Pfister with its turrets and tiers, St Martin’s Church with its Gothic architectural features, and ‘Little Venice’ with its criss-crossing canals and leaning buildings. The little town of Colmar could be the most beautiful medieval city in the Alsace region!
8. The Unique Arzviller Boat elevator
The Saint-Louis Arzviller inclined plane is unlike anything else you’ve experienced before! A barge cruise along the Canal de la Marne au Rhin will take you through the Alsace Region and up this impressive boat elevator, which is heralded as an engineering feat. Stretching over 44.5 metres uphill, the boat elevator was installed in 1969 to replace four kilometres of locks.
Before the Arzviller boat elevator was made, it took boats an entire day to navigate the 17 locks in the area! Today, boats are lifted up the slope on a carriage that fills with water. The Arzviller boat elevator works with a counterweight to lift or lower barges safely up and down the hill. Compared to the one barge that could pass through the area per day before 1969, as many as 39 barges can now cruise through this region of Alsace each day. It’s certainly worth a visit just for the unusual experience of being on what feels like, a flying boat!
9. Cordeliers Chapel and Chagall Stained-Glass Window, Sarrebourg
As you pass through the Alsace region into Lorraine, you’ll come across Sarrebourg. This ancient city is home to one of the most magnificent stained-glass windows you’ll ever see. Standing at 12 meters high and about nine metres wide, it dominates the thirteenth century Cordeliers Chapel. Designed by the twentieth century modern artist, Marc Chagall, the window is named ‘The Peace’ and shows Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
When you visit the Chagall stained-glass window, enjoy wandering around the tranquil garden attached to the chapel, where you can learn more about Marc Chagall and his life. Also included in your visit to the Cordeliers Chapel is the Museum of Sarrebourg. On display is a tapestry inspired by the Chagall window and a selection of local collections of porcelain and ancient Roman artefacts. Don’t miss this opportunity to take some time out in solitude to learn about the history and art of the Alsace region.
10. Musée du Château des Rohan
The neoclassical castle of Château des Rohan is a treasure trove waiting to be explored. Built in the eighteenth century, this jewel of the Alsace region has stunning gardens and a 140-metre-long façade made of res Vosges sandstone. Now home to the city museum, there is plenty to see at Château des Rohan, including art and architecture from Alsace.
Historically the seat of the Archbishops of Strasbourg, Château des Rohan overlooks the Marne-Rhine Canal. Inside the castle, visitors can learn about the history of Saverne in the museum, which was founded in 1858. Exhibiting a collection of artworks from the churches and castle of Saverne, archaeological finds from the excavation of the Marne-Rhine Canal, and a twentieth century ethnographic collection that belonged to politician, Louise Weiss, there’s plenty to learn about at Château des Rohan in the Alsace region.