Although Alsace has attracted you with its fairytale villages, its vineyards where fine wines are produced, its numerous ruins of medieval castles, the specialties to be enjoyed in its winstubs, a visit to its “capital” is a must. Then review your plans and find a day for the itinerary we are about to propose in this article, which includes a visit to the center of Strasbourg and the nearby town of Obernai. Read on to discover the unmissable stops on this walk.
Leggi in italiano ⇒ clicca qui
Our visit to Strasbourg necessarily starts from the Grand Île (or Big Island, UNESCO World Heritage since 1988), i.e. the area outlined by the Ill river on which the entire historic center of the city develops. Below we list the main points of interest to touch in your itinerary.
Dame de Strasbourg (Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg)
Strasbourg’s extraordinary Notre Dame Cathedral is the symbol of the city and the oldest Gothic cathedral in the world. It is an imposing building, which emerges forcefully between the roofs of the half-timbered houses of the historic center.
It seems to be the result of a colossal work that remained unfinished, which began in 1015 on the remains of a temple dedicated to Hercules. In fact, it has only one spire (there had to be two, by design), but its height of 142 m has made it conquer and maintain for centuries the title of tallest building in the world (many competitors have collapsed throughout history, but it is still here). The exteriors are majestic and slender, worthy of a postcard, while the interiors are more sober and perfectly in line with the Gothic style. Inside the cathedral there is an astronomical clock, which comes alive every day at 12.30. (Entrance: free; visit to the astronomical clock: 3€ – info).
Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame (Museum of the Opera of Our Lady)
Close to the Notre-Dame Cathedral there is the homonymous Museum of the Opera. It is located inside the building of the Fondation de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame, that is the body that takes care of the maintenance of the cathedral. Inside there are beautiful collections of medieval and Renaissance art from Strasbourg and the Upper Rhine region: architectural elements and stained glass from the cathedral and from other churches, vintage maps, paintings and works of art. (Entrance: 6.5€– info)
Palais Rohan (Rohan palace)
Immediately next to the Notre Dame Opera Museum, the Palais Rohan rises sumptuously. In the past it was a royal residence belonging to the cardinals of the Rohan family, today it houses several museums that allow you to admire the apartments and the reception rooms:
- the Musée Archéologique (Archaeological Museum), traces the history of Alsace from prehistory to the modern age (Entrance: 6.5€ – info);
- the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts), boasts a rich collection of works of the highest quality (Botticelli, Giotto, Raffaello, Goya, etc …), is a real jewel for art lovers from all over the world (Entrance: 6.5€– info);
- the Musée des Arts décoratifs (Museum of Decorative Arts), exhibits a large amount of valuable objects belonging to the rich family, such as furniture, pottery, jewelry (Entrance: 6.5€ – info).
If you are not interested in visiting museums, the building is definitely worth a photo!
As you walk towards the opposite end of the Grand Île, pay attention to the large square in front of the cathedral, admire the half-timbered houses in the center, peek into the shop windows and patisseries.
It represents the most important square in the center of Strasbourg, a meeting point to celebrate the main events affecting the city. The current name is due to the statue of the general of Strasbourg Jean-Baptiste Kléber, installed in 1838 in the square and which indicated its burial point. Admire the beautiful buildings surrounding the square, the fountains, the luxury shops and the very popular clubs.
Petite France (Little France)
The Petite France is the most picturesque part of Strasbourg, with the characteristic half-timbered houses and the artisan shops, that will remind you most of all that you are in Alsace.
Once tanners, fishermen and millers lived here because of the abundance of water nearby. Stroll through its narrow streets without a well-defined path until you reach the confluence of the two branches of the Ill river, where you will find two other important attractions: the Covered Bridges and the Vauban Dam.
Ponts Couverts (Covered bridges)
At the confluence of the canals that cross Petite France, you can admire the 3 covered bridges, which once served as the city’s defensive structure. They connected together 4 massive towers and were fortified by a wooden roof, which had been lost over the years. In 1928 they were classified a historical monument.
Barrage Vauban (Vauban dam)
Upstream of the covered bridges is the Vauban dam, erected in 1960 in order to defend the city, thus taking the place of the covered bridges. Its function was to raise the water level of the Ill river to flood the lands south of the city, blocking the advance of the enemies. We advise you to go upstairs on the top of the dam to admire Petite France and the bridges covered by the splendid panoramic terrace. In 1971 it was declared a historical monument (Entrance: free).
If you want a pinch of modernity, you could leave the historic center of the city to visit (only from the outside) the building of the European Parliament. It has its venue in Strasbourg and therefore the city has been awarded the title of “Capital of Europe” (together with Brussels and Luxembourg). The circular structure with bold shapes and the glass coating deserves at least one photo, while for those wishing to learn more, guided tours are organized for groups, to be booked directly on the parliament website. A short distance away, you will find the Palace of the Council of Europe (Palace of Europe) and the European Court of Human Rights.
If you don’t like walking and want to see everything a little while sitting comfortably, consider visiting Strasbourg from the water, with a boat ride along the Ill (info).
Now take the car and with a half an hour trip (about 30 km) reach Obernai to continue the visit.
Leave your car for free at the Parking des Remparts and venture out by feet through the streets of the center.
Head to the large central square (Place du Marché) to admire most of the points of interest:
- the Fontaine Sainte Odile, a hexagonal fountain from 1904, is a tribute to the patron of Alsace;
- the Beffroi, a building that served as a watchtower and at the same time as a bell tower of the nearby Chapel of the Virgin (although compared to this it is enormously disproportionate);
- the Hôtel de ville d’Obernai (the Town Hall), the orange building next to the Beffroi tower;
- the Ancienne halle aux blés, the old covered market dating back to 1554, butchers’ shops once stood there;
- the Maisons anciennes, the old half-timbered houses that overlook the Place du Marché and in particular Rue du Marché, Place de l’Étoile and Ruelle des Juifs; their colors ranging from yellow to red give the streets a particular light;
- the Place du Marché (Market Square) itself, where the market has been held every Thursday morning since 1301.
Then visit the Eglise Saints-Pierre-et-Paul (neo-Gothic church of Saints Peter and Paul), the Puits à Six Seaux (well with six buckets), stroll through the streets of the center and walk along the internal walls (an itinerary that counts about 20 towers and 4 gates). Immediately outside the inhabited center (about 15 km) you can visit the Mont Saint Odile, with a 360° view of the surrounding countryside. The homonymous abbey and Hohenbourg Abbey may be points of interest.
But why visit Obernai combined with Strasbourg? First because it is close to Strasbourg. Secondly, because its style is closer to a lively and busy town than to a peaceful agricultural village.
We proposed a varied and exciting tour, which starts from the Grand Ile de Strasbourg, follows the course of the Ill river, passes through the futuristic buildings of the European Parliament and ends in the cobbled streets of Obernai. During your walk we hope you have found time for a tasty break in one of the excellent french patisseries, they worth it.
See you soon
You may be interested also in:
- ALSACE – Romantic canals and picturesque half-timbered houses: here’s Colmar
- ALSACE – The most beautiful fairy-tale villages a stone’s throw from Colmar
- ALSACE – The step-by-step recipe of the Alsatian Tarte Flambèe
- ALSACE – Real places that inspired the fairy tale of “Beauty and the Beast”
- ALSACE – Alsace to eat: typical things to try or to take back home