Strasbourg's well-preserved roots are an intriguing tangle of French and German influences, while its status as a seat of the EU government inspires a palpable modern vibe.
When to Go
The city reaches peak charm—and peak crowds—during the summer months, when geraniums spill from the window boxes of the medieval center's half-timbered houses. Merrymakers will delight in the holiday cheer of France's largest and oldest Christmas market. Strasbourg also makes a great base for a wine-tasting trip down Alsace's Route des Vins; come in the fall and play grape harvester for a day.
Since 1570, merchants have set up shop in the shadows of Strasbourg's Gothic cathedral to sell holiday provisions in the days leading up to Christmas. The annual Christmas markets, which now number 11, are spread throughout the town, earning Strasbourg distinction as the "Capitale de Noël." More than 300 vendor chalets line the cobblestones between November 24th and December 30th, their glowing interiors filled with scents and symbols of Alsace: hot wine, traditional bredele cookies, and ornamental white storks symbolizing local folklore.
What to Eat
You won't find remnants of old political tensions on this border city's dinner plates, where French and German cuisines harmoniously blend. Menus post classic dishes like coq au vin and confit de canard, but they might not look or taste like the versions you're familiar with. Here, the chicken is braised in Reisling and comes with a side of spätzle, and duck confit is served atop a heaping mound of sauerkraut.
Souvenir to Take Home
While Alsatian wines generally receive less acclaim than their Bordeaux and Burgundy counterparts, the spicy and floral whites can hold their own against the French greats. The wine-growing region has the highest percentage of certified organic and biodynamic vineyards in the country, which means you're more likely to get a pure expression of the land when you sip. Wine stores throughout Strasbourg are stocked with locally produced Riesling, Sylvaner, and Pinot Gris, and many let you try before you buy.
Sustainable Travel Tip
Strasbourg is the most bike-friendly city in France, and urban planners are working to complete construction of its Vélostras by 2020. The network of bike lanes will circle and intersect the city center, forming a robust highway system. For the average traveler's needs, routes past key attractions are already complete. Take advantage of the Vélohop, whose bike-share and rental options include electric, tandem, child-sized, and more.
For snapshots straight out of a storybook, head to Le Petit France, where crooked, half-timbered houses that once belonged to millers and tanners cast reflections into dreamy canals.