Named Capital of Christmas with good reason, Strasbourg has the largest Christmas market in France and one of the largest in Europe.
Located in eastern France in the Alsace region, Strasbourg historically has had strong ties to nearby Germany, as the city was once part of the German Rhineland.
The oldest holiday market in France, dating from 1570, is now estimating over 2,000,000 visitors a year from mid-November to December 30.
We decided the visit the famed market and checkout the holiday festivities last month.
We took an 8:40AM train from Gare de l’est station in the center of Paris and arrived in Strasbourg at 11:01AM (2 hours 41minutes). The train station is just a 12 to 15 minute walk to the center of the city and to the markets.
We strolled through the two major markets located on the Place Kleber and around the Notre Dame Cathedral.
The massive Christmas tree towering 30 meters high greeted us at the entrance to Place Kleber, decorated with globes with rotating colors.
Looking more like chalets or huts, each market stall had its own identity with sparkly lights, wood branches, and chimneys. The most popular stalls seemed to be the ones selling food or drinks. The scent of mulled, hot wine with aromatic spices permeated almost the entire city, with people cheering and toasting one another while chasing the cold away.
Gigantic pretzels swathed in mustard and chestnuts roasted on red-hot charcoals were the favored accompaniments to the wine. We admired the holiday stalls with decorations, which proudly displayed signs, Made in France. Our favorite stalls were the ones with mini ceramic houses replicated from the medieval half-timber houses and the ones with hand blown tree ornaments.
At the market by the Notre Dame Cathedral, we were pleasantly distracted from our shopping by overwhelming beauty of the exterior of the cathedral bathed in golden light. We ventured into the cathedral and were struck by the sheer enormity and the fact it was built mostly by hand in the 12th and 13th century. The 18 meter astronomical clock, the largest in the world, was a show in itself, as we watched the animated figures come to life at 12:30PM, whereby an angel sounds a chime followed by the twelve apostles passing in front of Jesus. (If you want to see the 12:30PM show, we recommend arriving by 12PM to buy a ticket). An extra-added bonus at the cathedral was the display of the magnificent, 17th century tapestries depicting the life of Virgin Mary.
Craving comfort food to warm us up from being out in the cold too long, we opted for a traditional Alsatian cuisine at Restaurant La Coccinelle. We feasted on an extravagant salad of foie gras and poached egg, followed by a chicken cordon bleu served with melted Muenster cheese. The cozy setting of the restaurant had aged wooden beams, dark paneling, leaded glass windows, and red lacquered chairs with a heart cutout. Although we were too full to have dessert, we sipped a glass of a local sweet wine, Gewürztraminer, prepared with 18 types of grapes.
We followed up our morning visits to the smaller markets with more unique merchandise. Le Marche de Noel du Carre d’Or was a wonderful example of a smaller market without the crowds and we bought a selection of gifts from a stand had the most precious teddy bears, hand sewn with flower print and chintz fabric. An indoor crafts market featuring the work of 60 craftsmen included glassmakers, cabinetmakers, jewelry makers, ceramicists, and fashion and accessory designers.
We got so caught up in our gift buying, we didn’t realize there were so many other holiday activities in Strasbourg.
Various holiday walking tours are a fun and informative way to explore the city. A daytime Christmas tour tells the history and origins of the Christmas market and Christmas tree along with culinary traditions. You can take a guided night stroll and view the extraordinary illuminations throughout Strasbourg. www.otstrasbourg.fr
Children can sail on a heated, glass-bubble boat with Captain Hans Trapp and his parrot to find out where the missing elves have went, assisted by a pirate and Father Christmas. Boats board every few minutes at the foot of Notre Dame Cathedral.
The Alsatian Museum presents its annual exhibition of the Rituals of Christmas, celebrating the Christmases of yesteryear and paying tribute to traditional Alsatian figures: Saint Nicolas, Hàns Tràpp, and Chrìschtkìndel. https://en.musees.strasbourg.eu/alsatian-museum
Restaurant La Coccinelle
22 Rue Sainte-Madeleine, 67000
4 Rue Klein, 67000 – Modern French cuisine
0 Rue de l'Outre, 67000- Michelin star restaurant
8 Rue de l'Argile, 67000- Authentic Alsace cuisine
Below is short list of hotels close to holiday festivities.
Note: Best to book hotels at least 90 days before.
Sofitel Strasbourg Grande Ile – the top five-star hotel in Strasbourg, located on the UNESCO listed Grande Ile https://sofitel.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-0568-sofitel-strasbourg-grande-ile/index.shtml
Cour de Corbeau- one of the oldest hotels in Europe, hidden in a cobble stone courtyard, ten half-timbered buildings contain 63 rooms. Hotel is quiet residential area close to the old center.
Regent Petite France- a romantic getaway in the lovely Petite France section of the city with a waterside terrace with views of the city https://www.regent-petite-france.com
Hotel D- a four-star boutique hotel in the heart of the city offers modern décor in it their rooms and suites.