Strasbourg is the primary stop in France on the Switzerland & the Heart of the Rhine & Moselle journey, but don’t expect a strictly French experience from this major economic and cultural European hub that hugs the border of Germany on the eastern bank of the Rhine River. In fact, many of the cultural sites and experiences you’ll enjoy will illustrate how the two cultures meld. Strasbourg history dates to the twelfth century BCE, and its curious blend of Celtic, Roman, German, and French influences only add to its fascination.
Germany Meets France
All signs in this capital city of the Alsace region are written in French and German. That’s not unusual, considering that throughout Strasbourg history the two countries played tug-of-war with this storybook-worthy outpost.
Although now firmly committed to France, Strasbourg’s noted German District, Quartier Allemand, is front and center. You’ll surely be charmed by the mixture of architectural styles that dominate this area, including the Parliament of Alsace-Lorraine and the Palace of the Emperor in the Place de la Republique.
This square, marking the separation between the old and new city, contains a thought-provoking Leon-Ernest Drivier monument of a mother, representing Strasbourg, holding her dead sons, one representing Germany and one other representing France. The 1936 statue, known as the Monument aux morts de Strasbourg, honors those from both countries who were killed, most especially in World War I, but also in World War II, the First Indochina War, and the Algerian War.
A Very Grand Island
The historic Grande Île — “Grand Island” — will immediately grab your attention. In 1988, it became the first entire city center to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The International Council on Monuments and Sites, which advises UNESCO on World Heritage Sites, calls Grande Île, “an old quarter that exemplifies medieval cities.”
The Strasbourg Cathedral is an impressively ornate example of 15th-century Gothic architecture. Tours of the cathedral, with its striking pink sandstone facade, are best experienced just after noon when the ancient astrological clock puts on quite a show.
Grande Île is also home to the Petite-France region of Strasbourg. Stroll through the neighborhood for a glimpse of scenic half-timbered houses. Distinctive scents like the sweet aroma of fresh pain d’épice (gingerbread) wafts from area restaurants and bakeries, such as Mireille Oster Pain d’Epices.
Dishes at Strasbourg eateries, like the city itself, often straddle the border between France and Germany. One popular entree called coq au Riesling, similar to the more familiar French dish called coq au vin, is served over German späetzle, a popular egg-and-flour noodle.
If you’re wondering whether you can practice your German conversational skills in Strasbourg, that’s a definite possibility. In fact, several languages, including German, French, Alsatian, and English are all widely spoken in this multilingual city, even though French is the official language of the Alsatian capital.
That said, whatever language you use to communicate during your visit, know that Strasbourg’s Franco-German culture will add something quite unique to your tour of the heart of the Rhine and Moselle.