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The region of Alsace in France, with its picturesque small towns, romantic canals, half-timbered medieval houses and fairytale castles, is one of the prettiest destinations in Europe that you need to see, at least once.
Although it’s tough to choose, here are the best small town to see in Alsace, plus all the info you need to go there.
But with so many places to see, how do you know which ones are worth your time and which are tourist traps? To help you out, I wrote for you this complete guide to the best places to visit in Alsace.
Where is Alsace?
Alsace is a region in the northeast of France, which borders Germany. So much so, that over the centuries it has often passed from France to Germany and vice versa.
In fact, Strasbourg, the capital of the region, is so close to Germany that you can take the local tram and be in the town of Kehl in Germany in under 15 minutes! Locals often go there for shopping during French public holidays.
Our tour guide told us that the locals are very proud of their culture and local dialect. This dialect is similar to southern German and influenced by French. Needless to say, after so many changes in border status during the ages, when asked, they’ll tell you they are Alsatian above all else. And, in my opinion, good for them!
The best things to see and do in Alsace
Strasbourg is the capital city of Alsace and the seat of the European Parliament. The heart of the city is the Grand Île, a small (despite its grand name!) island in the river Îl, a tributary of the Rhine.
The city is famous for its charming old town, Petite France (Little France), located in a corner of the Grand Île, with its storybook cobbled streets and half-timbered houses. It is also famous for having the oldest, and one of the most beautiful, Christmas Markets in Europe. Its cathedral is a real landmark of the city, with an impressive 142m spire.
Colmar is very popular with visitors and rightfully so! With its colourful, half-timbered houses, canals, and cobblestone streets, it looks like it came out of a fairytale. Like Strasbourg, it also has romantic canals, although smaller in scale and number. The area with the canals is called “Petite Venise”, or Little Venice.
An interesting building to visit is the “Ancienne Douane”, a timbered 15th-century customs house, with Gothic and Renaissance architectural elements. It is a listed “Monument Historique” (Historic Monument) by the French Ministry of Culture since 1930.
Finally, this is the birthplace of the French sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the creator of the Statue of Liberty in the USA. While in Colmar, you can visit the Musée Bartholdi, which celebrates his life and work.
For me, simply the cutest, most fairytale village I’ve visited in Alsace! Another medieval village on the Alsace Wine Route, Eguisheim is so pretty you could easily mistake it for a movie set, not a place people actually live. Make sure you have plenty of room in your camera’s memory card!
This pretty village is quite popular with visitors, which sometimes works against it. That said, you still get the whole storybook – cobbled streets – half-timbered houses package.
Essentially it’s one main street, with many pretty shops and wine-tasting places. One of the highlights is the town’s Upper Door or wall gate.
Tip: It can be busy at lunchtime. For instance, as two people we couldn’t find a place to have lunch and in the end, we had street food while standing. Which, after being on our feet all day, wasn’t exactly ideal. You might prefer to have your meal elsewhere.
What a little hidden gem this is! We only drove through and didn’t have time to explore on foot. However, it has all the charm of the other Wine Route village with the added bonus that it’s lesser-known and thus not at all crowded. Particularly in winter, you’ll have the town all to yourself! It has a medieval castle too!
Honorary mention: Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg
If you wish to feel as though you have time-travelled back to the Middle Ages, you can’t possibly miss this! The castle towers 757 metres above the cute villages of Alsace, in the Vosges mountains. As a result, it offers some truly breathtaking views of the area below.
It was built in the 12 century and was fully restored by the German Emperor Wilhelm II in the early 20th century. Some historians have contested the authenticity of the restoration, but as a visitor, I have to admit I liked it. It was nice to be able to get a realistic feel of what life in a medieval castle was like. If you like castles and such, this is a must!
Info & Tips for Alsace
Best time to go to Alsace
Needless to say, summer is the most popular time for visitors and can get crowded. The best time to go to Alsace, particularly if you are interested in visiting wineries, is May/June and September/October.
That said, another great time to visit Alsace, even though cold, is late November to early/mid-December. for the fairytale Christmas Markets. In fact, Strasbourg is unofficially called the “Capital of Christmas”.
How many days do you need and how to get there?
The closest international airports for most major airlines are Paris and Frankfurt. From Paris, it is 2 hours by high-speed train; from Frankfurt, it’s 2h 40′ by bus.
Public transport in Alsace can be complicated to use and the train only goes to Colmar. So the best way to see Alsace is by car. It will take you about a day to explore it (two at most) and then you can use Colmar as your base to explore the nearby villages.
Where to stay?
If you make Strasbourg your base for exploring the area, then the most beautiful and comfortable hotel (and where I chose to stay), is the Hotel Cour du Corbeau – MGallery. I really can’t recommend it highly enough!
To sum things up…
Alsace is like a fairytale wonderland that escaped the storybook and came to life. Some of its villages are so beautiful and charming that they are almost unreal. Walking in their cobbled alleys feels like walking on a movie set. If you also add free wine tastings at the feet of the misty Vosges mountains, a visit to Alsace makes for a truly magical experience.