Alsace region which is mainly popular with its two cities Strasbourg and Colmar were always on my list, however I was not able to find time to go there. By chance, I found a very easy way to reach Alsace region.
Alsace region is located on France’s eastern border. Its neighbors are Switzerland and Germany. The region is very close to these two countries, you can go to Germany from France by tram. So, don’t be surprised to see many German and Swiss people around there.
My top advice will be to go there either in spring or Christmas time. In spring time, the little villages look more attractive with its flowers and in Christmas time, you will experience one of the best Christmas markets in Europe. Although, it will not be very large like in Prague or Munich, you will still feel the Christmas spirit. There is also popular wine route for wine lovers. I visited there just few weeks after my visit to Portugal. So, I was not in the mood for trying another wine tour in France.
How to reach & Travelling around
For a long time, I checked how it could be easier to go Strasbourg and Colmar from Germany. I have never questioned whether it could be easier to go there from Switzerland. When I checked the map, I found Basel is closest city, but Basel airport was actually in France. The airport officially called as Euro Airport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg (EAP). When you arrive airport, after passport control there are signs which guides you where to go. It was interesting for me to see 3 country flags for directions.
Some people first go Basel city from the Airport and then take a train to either Strasbourg or Basel. However, this is neither the easiest way nor cheapest way. I have tried something different. My journey started with a short bus trip from airport to Saint-Louis train station. This is another town located in Alsace region. The bus will be waiting directly outside the airport if you go out from France direction.
If you have only 24 hours, there is card called Alsace Pass. From my point of view, you may visit both Strasbourg and Colmar on two half-days. If you are into discover more such as visiting castles and museums, of course 24 hours will not be enough. Then, you may consider to buy different tickets. Normally mentioned bus journey from airport to Saint-Louis is also covered by the same pass. However, I bought a separate ticket to extend by 24 hours by just sacrificing something like €2.
ViAlsace offers you different options to buy tickets. French people like to make everything complicated, so below is the schema of sub-regions in Alsace region. If you plan to stay more than 24 hours, you can directly buy a ticket for a specific sub region. I had to buy the most expensive one (€36.5 in 2017), because I was planning to continue my trip in Switzerland. As you can see, Strasbourg and Colmar are in two different urban zones. So, if you want to visit both of them, buying one urban zone pass will not cover transfers between two zones and you have to buy separate tickets.
My train departures from Saint-Louis to Strasbourg and Strasbourg-Basel on next day has only 24 hours difference between departure times. So, by buying the regional 24 hours ticket, I used it for both trains. I used the same pass for a roundtrip journey between Strasbourg and Colmar. The same ticket was also valid for bus and tram lines both in Strasbourg and Colmar. If you want to buy them separately and you want to visit both places on a weekend, believe me this is the cheapest way. But, be sure that there is exactly maximum 24 hours difference between your two train departures. Otherwise, buying tickets separately may cost less. But again do not buy individual tickets, just check which sub region you are in.
Especially if you are group between 2-5 people, buying a pass for entire Alsace region or any sub region will really save your money. If you look for more information, just check the site below. But believe me, when it is about France, each time you try to learn something about transportation, it gets more complicated.
What to do
Most people visit Alsace region not specifically for Strasbourg and Colmar. There is a popular wine route in the region. You have a chance to explore this route by riding a bike, walking the specific wine paths or exploring by car. When I say this, people get excited very quickly. They think it is a very small path and it can be completed on a single day. Firstly, the bicycle tour is around 100 km. Below link will help you to calculate estimated duration of your cycling tour depending on your input data. Walking paths mostly cover a section of the wine route such as between 2 km to 10 km.
The easiest way be travelling by car. This way you don’t have to buy a ticket and you can visit wherever you want. On the wine route, there are more than 10 castles of various sizes. So, if you want to visit wine yards and some castles, do not buy a pass. Just rent a car from the airport (French side).
I haven’t visited Strasbourg and Colmar in Christmas, but after seeing a Christmas shop in June open in Strasbourg made me to consider these two villages as a candidate city for my next Christmas market. I have visited many Christmas markets in Europe and locals told me that Strasbourg and Colmar offer also little but better Christmas spirit in December. So, if you are flexible, you may want to consider visit these places in winter.
I stayed in a hotel called Hotel Pax very close to train station. My hotel was located on Rue du Faubourg National where there was a tram station too. This made my public transportation really easy in Strasbourg. Considering, Strasbourg is a very small town do not think too much about where to stay. Everywhere will be in walking distance. You may ask why I have not stayed in Colmar and I chose Strasbourg, the answer is simple. Strasbourg is a larger town with more shops and there is more to do, that’s why I have chosen Strasbourg for my accommodation.
After I arrive my hotel, I immediately go out without resting as always I do. My first stop was Barrage Vauban before continuing my way to Petit France. You have a chance to go up and take pictures there, but I guess they close it before evening.
Petit France is the most popular area where narrow canals are located. I guarantee you will have the best pictures in that small area. When you are in cities like Barcelona or Paris, you probably visit there with a list about where to visit. However, don’t try to do this in Strasbourg and Colmar. These little villages do not have many attractions to visit. They are villages mostly to wander around and feel the atmosphere which you probably never felt before.
After you wander around in narrow streets and see amazing houses, you may want to walk in the walking or shopping street of Strasbourg. The street is called Grand Rue. Head your way to the cathedral. Before you arrive to cathedral, you will cross a street where tram passes. This is another tram line which does not pass from where I stay. If you follow tram line by going left, you will arrive other popular attractions. At this point just keep in mind that. If you continue walking on the shopping street, you directly reach to Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg. It is a very huge church especially for a small town like this. All the souvenir shops and restaurants are located on that area.
Just jumping back where you see a tram line on shopping street, going left (when you are facing cathedral side) will take you to popular area called Place Kieber. This is the main square in Strasbourg. Shops like FNAC, Apple and Printemps are all located here. If you continue walking, you will cross a river and reach to a shopping mall called Place des Halles.
If you have time, there are few more things to be done in Strasbourg. First one is, arranging a boat tour in canals of Strasbourg. Pier Batoroma will be your departure point for your boat trip, but tickets are sold on a store very close to the cathedral. So, buying ticket there and reaching to boat is like around 10 minutes walking.
Another choice will be getting far away from the city center. Tram B from Homme de Fer to Wacken will take you to European Parliament. You may have to little walk from Wacken, so if you do not want to walk you can use Tram E from same station. This time, you will have to leave Droits de l’Homme. So, what is there? Europe Council, European Parliament and Parc de l’Orangerie are the main attractions in that area.
My next stop was Colmar. To be honest, Colmar is very similar to Strasbourg. It is smaller than Strasbourg and there is less places to see. So, is it worth it? My answer is yes. I really liked the concept and daily life in Alsace region. So, exploring another place like Strasbourg was also really enjoyable. Unfortunately, this time train station is little far away to the old town. Actually, it is exactly far away at same level, but the location where Gare located in Colmar is not very central. That’s why you have to walk like 20 minutes –or you can take a bus of course- to reach old town area.
Just like Petite France in Strasbourg, this time there is Petite Venise in Colmar. It is again the picturesque area of the little town. In that area, there is a popular city market called “Marché couvert de Colmar” in French.
If you like Disney, you will see some houses which makes you feel like you are in a Disney movie. Maison Pfister. This house is from 16th century and well-protected. You will see many local shops under these houses where you can find Alsaca region specific food and drinks or souvenir shops.
Another highlight of your Colmar visit will include a short visit to Koifhus. It is a governmental building since 15th century. You will be really amazed to see how well French people protected these houses. Like in every European city, there is also a popular church close to old town called Cathedrale Saint-Martin. If you miss your childhood Musée du Jouet de Colmar will take you back to your memories. Other than these locations, my advice for you here is again wander around and do not have a fixed route.
Lastly and maybe most interestingly, visit statue of liberty. Although it is located outside main town area and it is only a stop which you can catch while driving, it may be interesting to see Statue of Liberty in Colmar. It does not have same dimensions with the one in Manhattan and it is not a touristic place for visiting. It is just interesting, so if you have a car, it may be worth to pass near it.