A visit to Alsace is a trip back to your childhood.
You know, those long nights spent under a blanket with only a flashlight to guide you through the crumbling pages of a well-worn, well-loved book, its pages filled with beautiful princesses, dashing men, and eloquent animals. While the heroes and heroines would eventually find their way to enchanted forests and abandoned castles, their adventures would always begin in a tiny town, with pastel houses and wooden beams, a stork’s nest on a lookout tower, rickety bridges over quiet waterways, and glistening emerald hills in the distance.
That picture right there – the one in your mind right now – that’s precisely what Alsace looks like. Well, sans the magical animals, but it’s pretty close.
If you’ve ever wondered if the places in the storybooks are real, check out these real-life pictures of Alsace and relive your childhood adventures.
10 best things to do in Alsace, France
1. Walk around the postcard-perfect Petite France
The fairytale begins in Petite France, the most beautiful spot in Strasbourg. This place is the stuff of bedtime stories, except now you’re not just reading a book set in some lovely medieval European town. Now you’re the lead character in that book, gliding past pastel half-timbered houses and over flower-decked bridges, having a mini-adventure through a maze of stone and wooden bridges.
Find your way to the Ponts Couverts, where a series of bridges cross the channels of the River Ill. Take a thousand photos of the old houses and the waterways, slip in and out of chocolateries, sit at an outdoor café by the river, and enjoy the beauty of Strasbourg’s old town. After this, the temptation to explore the rest of the city and venture into the countryside will be irresistible.
This lovely spot is worth a visit even if just for the pictures, but this is also where you’ll find a slew of enticing restaurants serving the very best of Alsatian cuisine. Which brings us to the next top reason to visit Alsace…
2. Stuff yourself with spätzle, tarte flambée, and choucroute
In France you eat well, in Germany you eat a lot, and in Alsace, you get to do both!
If you’ve ever been to other parts of France, you’ve probably resigned yourself to the fact that culinary masterpieces tend to be of the petite form. Not in Alsace! Here you’ll get bowls and plates of delicious food that’s a lot like what your overindulgent grandma made for you – only with a lot more butter.
The selection is a lot like hearty bar food meets stylish comfort food. There’s choucroute garnie, a carnivore’s delight composed of generous servings of sausages and charcuterie, served with hot fermented cabbage stewing in wine. And then there’s the tarte flambée, bread dough topped with cream and cheese that’s best enjoyed with a cold glass of Alsatian artisanal beer. If you want to reward yourself after a hard day of walking and sightseeing, a piping hot plate of spätzle topped with Munster cheese cream sauce should get you ready for another day of adventures.
3. Explore the historic wine trails of Alsace
While Alsace has a lot going on, its original claim to fame is its historic wine trails. Thanks to great year-round weather and the optimal terroir, the Alsatian grapes are living the good life and producing the finest white wines in France.
With wine playing such a huge role in how this region flourished, a visit to the wine trails is a must when in Alsace – even if you’re not a wine-lover. You can get a car and drive to the small wine towns, spend an afternoon walking through the vineyards, and trek to historical ruins like abandoned chateaus and medieval bastions. If you’d rather spend the day sipping through the towns, it’s easy to join a wine tour as well.
4. Go hiking in the Vosges Natural Park
After all that hearty food and fantastic wine, you’ll be keen to work off the extra calories. No need to look for a gym! Alsace is home to the Vosges Natural Park, where you can hike to gorgeous blue lakes and scenic viewpoints.
The well-marked hiking and cycling trails span from quick, leisurely walks to more challenging multi-day routes. It’s especially lovely during autumn when the trees dress up in flashy reds and oranges, but the trails are accessible throughout most of the year.
5. Go for a boat ride in Colmar
Live your best picture-perfect life with a boat trip around Colmar, the capital of Alsatian wine. This well-preserved medieval town shows the perfect marriage of the French and German cultures, and you can see it in the architecture, taste it in their food, and hear it in their language.
Colmar is also the spot to taste the local Munster cheese, eat in a traditional wine stub, and have a glass of Alsatian artisanal beer.
6. Get to know Eguisheim, the cradle of Alsatian wine
For a quieter, less crowded version of Colmar, head to Eguisheim, the cradle of Alsatian wine. A quick circuit of its main avenue will bring you past traditional Alsatian houses, a charming dovecote, a medieval town square, and a handful of pastry shops.
Venture to the edges of the town to find big and small wineries, where French tourists from other regions snatch up wine bottles by the crates. The Wolfberger, in particular, has an extensive collection and a mini-museum where you can take a quick history lesson of everything Alsatian wine.
7. Visit Alsace’s prettiest towns, Riquewihr and Kaysersberg
Just when you thought you’ve seen enough storybook towns to last a lifetime, you step into Riquewihr. And the sight of pastel and bright-colored houses as pretty and delectable as a box of macarons sets you off on yet another picture-taking frenzy.
Riquewihr is one of the more popular little towns in Alsace, and one that’s likely to be filled with tourists all trying to get the perfect shot of the Dolder – the bell tower that welcomes everyone into the lovely town. If you don’t like crowds, don’t fret! Simply escape into one of the underground wine cellars for a quiet wine tasting or get off the main street onto any of the numerous alleys where you won’t run out of beautiful windows and doorways to take that perfect shot.
Kaysersberg, the town-next-door, is also worth a visit. You can climb up its medieval chateau – encouraged along the way by inspirational quotes from Albert Schweitzer, the resident theologian, organist, writer, and all-around Renaissance man – and get a 360-degree view of the town, vineyards, and surrounding forests. Afterward, wander around the town square and peek into pottery workshops, antique stores, and chocolateries for more of the French small-town charm.
8. Go on a road trip for spectacular views of the Alsatian countryside
From its northern border that it shares with Germany to its southern tip shared with Switzerland, Alsace offers one of the most gorgeous yet easygoing road trips in France.
From Strasbourg to Colmar to Mulhouse, you’ll be driving mostly through vineyards and little towns where you can stop over for a quick stroll and a delicious meal. Take side roads to the Vosges forest, and you’ll find yourself on mountain roads that lead to scenic vistas like the Grand Ballon or medieval cliffside chateaus like the Haut-Koenigsbourg.
With scenic landscapes and smooth toll-free roads, a road trip in Alsace is the perfect little holiday in France.
9. Cross the bridge to Germany
While you’ll find a mix of French and German influences in almost anything Alsatian, the most concrete sign of the two countries’ friendship and long intertwined history is the Jardin des Deux Rives or Two Shores Garden. It’s a park located on both banks of the Rhine – in France and Germany – and linked by a beautiful footbridge.
Cross it and you’ll be in Kehl, a quiet town in Germany where you can hike, eat, and enjoy plenty of green spaces before walking back to France.
10. Visit the Capital of Christmas
Strasbourg calls itself the Capital of Christmas, so you know they’re serious when it comes to celebrating this time of the year.
Come late November to the end of December, the historic city center transforms into a winter wonderland as exquisite as a snow globe. A majestic Christmas tree serves as your north star as you make your way through the brightly-lit Christmas stalls, following the scent of mulled wine and gingerbread, the air filled with an angelic choir and all the magic of Christmas.
It’s not the only reason to visit Strasbourg, but it sure is one of the most magical ones!
Continue the adventure…
Does Alsace sound like your kind of destination? Plan your trip with these guides or get a free custom itinerary.
Petite France is only the beginning of your Strasbourg adventure. The city’s more than a pretty picture, after all! Find the tallest medieval structure in the world, check out the best places to shop and eat, and see the best spots to unwind in the city.
I cannot say this enough – driving in Alsace is one of the most fun road trips you’ll have in France! It’s smooth and easy enough for the first-time international driver, with just the right amount of twists and turns and amazing vistas to make you crave for more. Here’s a road trip itinerary that will bring you to the best sights of Alsace.