Our welcome to Strasbourg at Christmas came in two parts. First, there was the cinnamon-laden air that rushed at us from the mulled wine stands of the famous market, and, second, there were the flashing, star-shaped Christmas lights that seemed to illuminate the second we stepped into Place des Meuniers. It was the type of welcome befitting one of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
We’ve loved Strasbourg and Alsace for over a decade, and this trip marked our second visit to the stunning city filled with half-timbered buildings and centuries of French and German influences. It was our first opportunity to visit in December, so we soaked up every detail of the beautiful destination.
- Things to do at Christmas in Strasbourg
- Visit Strasbourg Cathedral
- Take a River Cruise
- Linger in Petite France
- See the Alsatian Museum
- Wander the Carré d’Or
- Visiting the Christmas Markets
- Place Broglie
- Place Kléber
- Place de la Cathédrale
- Palais Rohan and Place du Vieux Marché aux Poissons
- Place des Meuniers
- Place Gutenberg
- Place Grimmeissen
- What to Eat in Strasbourg in December
- More Places to Visit at Christmas in Alsace
- How to Get Here
Things to do at Christmas in Strasbourg
There are lots of fun things to do in Strasbourg beyond the beautiful Christmas markets. If you’re planning to spend time in the city in December, consider these attractions.
Visit Strasbourg Cathedral
Unquestionably the most imposing sight in Strasbourg is the city’s 600-year-old cathedral. This Gothic masterpiece dominates the skyline and is a must-see when you visit Strasbourg.
Completed in 1439, the Strasbourg Cathedral is considered one of the greatest works of Gothic architecture. Its ornamented façade features hundreds of sculptures that practically jump out from the walls, and its spire soars 465 feet in the air. Featuring a rose window and stained glass from the 12th century, the interior is also a sight to behold.
Take a River Cruise
Depending on which cruise you take, you may see slightly different things. Highlights often include the Grande Île–Strasbourg’s UNESCO-listed Big Island and its exceptional architecture–and Petite France, the old tanners’ quarter with cafes and half-timber buildings.
Linger in Petite France
Second perhaps only to the Cathedral is the area of the city known as Petite France. Even if you’re not familiar with Strasbourg, you’ve probably seen the postcard perfect view of this cute neighborhood on the river.
At the western end of the Grande Île, the River Ill splits into channels that flow through the area that was home to the city’s tanners, millers, and fishermen in the Middle Ages. Now one of the main tourist attractions, Petite France has buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries with sloping roofs and open lofts that were ideal for drying hides. Thanks to locks and a swing bridge, it’s easy to come through on a canal cruise or to hover over the water to try to get the iconic photo.
See the Alsatian Museum
The Alsatian Museum gives a glimpse of life in Alsace in the 18th and 19th centuries. More than 5000 artifacts and exhibits help in reconstructing the interiors of different homes, including clothes, furniture, toys, and decorations. You’ll see everything from a common farm to a pharmacist’s workshop. Every year, the Alsatian Museum offers a series of tours and events devoted to learning more about Christmas in Alsace, so don’t miss them.
Wander the Carré d’Or
Just a few steps from the Cathedral, it’s easy to tell when you’ve entered the Carré d’Or—the city’s old gold quarter—because the streets transform into a winter wonderland. Once home to the city’s goldsmiths, the streets are now lined with shops and restaurants that pull out all the stops for the holidays.
The streets are lit up and individual shops have bold displays with stuffed animals, ornaments, holly, branches, ornaments, and more. It’s a sight not to be missed when you visit Strasbourg in winter.
Visiting the Christmas Markets
The history of the Christmas markets in Strasbourg, France, goes all the way back to the 12th century, so they’ve had a lot of time to perfect things to this degree…and it shows. Back then, there was a Saint Nicolas market on December 6th every year, which ultimately transformed into the famous Christmas market (Christkindelsmärik) in 1570 after Alsace became Protestant.
With over four centuries of history under its belt, that makes the Strasbourg market one of the oldest in Europe and the very first in France.
Now, 300 wooden chalets spread in markets throughout the city center welcome visitors for about six weeks in winter, typically from late November through the end of December. In 2021, festivities run November 26-December 26. With its famous Christmas tree, traditional foods, celebrations, and shopping opportunities, there is lots to see and do at the Strasbourg Christmas markets.
The oldest and most famous section of the Christmas market in Strasbourg is the Christkindelsmärik at Place Broglie. The name is of Alsatian origin—a German dialect—so it makes sense that it bears resemblance to the famous Christkindlesmarkt of Nuremberg, Germany, and similar markets. Over 100 stalls fill the tree-lined square in the city center, making for a festive atmosphere day or night.
The Christkindelsmärik features many traditional decorations, including Christmas lights, nativity scene figurines, and colorful ornaments. Craftsmen also offer local food products and arts and crafts. You’ll see everything from local honey and wine to leather craftsmen, jewelry makers, and coppersmiths.
If you haven’t had time to sample the Alsatian specialties yet, this is a great place to try some. We loved the wide variety of different mulled wine flavors available here as well as the baguette flambée—lots of different flavors of baguette pizzas.
At Place Kelber, the star of the show is the unmissable Great Christmas Tree. The tree, which is often over 100 feet (30 m) tall is the symbol of Strasbourg at Christmas. Every day at 5pm, you can watch the tree come to life with brilliant lights as the sun is setting.
Near the tree, you’ll find the ice-skating rink and a unique “Sharing Market.” The Village of Sharing (Village du Partage) is home to 85 service clubs and charities, including the Red Cross and Médecins du Monde. Visitors have a chance to learn about their missions and to make a donation in the spirit of Christmas.
Place de la Cathédrale
The Strasbourg Cathedral is the city’s centerpiece, so the market surrounding the beautiful building is in the heart of the action. The Cathedral is ringed by dozens of chalets providing a little bit of everything.
Around the Cathedral, there is lots of food from Alsatian pretzels (bretzels) to the meat-heavy dish known as choucroute. In addition to the food, there is a range of decorations, gifts, and crafts such as wooden toys and knitted items to keep away the chill of winter in northeastern France.
We loved visiting Place de la Cathédrale at night when the giant cathedral was lit up.
Palais Rohan and Place du Vieux Marché aux Poissons
South of the Cathedral, the market that spans Palais Rohan and Place du Vieux Marché aux Poissons is the place to go for traditional Alsatian Christmas treats. You’ll find foie gras served in different ways, chocolate, and crepes.
You’ll also find some of the best cookies and mulled wine you can get your hands on. This part of the market features traditional cookies called bredele from the Alsace bakers’ federation who will educate you on the different varieties and mulled wine made from Tribu des Gourmets, an association dedicated to promoting dry Alsatian wine.
Place des Meuniers
Place des Meuniers was the first market we visited when we arrived in Strasbourg. It houses the Alsace farmers’ market, so it’s a great place to become acquainted with French liqueurs, local apple cider, nougat, mushrooms, honey, and cheese. Come hungry and sample everything.
Like one of our other favorite markets in Brussels, part of the Strasbourg Christmas market is dedicated to showcasing the Christmas traditions of another country. In Place Gutenberg, you’ll find the guest country village.
In past years, the traditions, food, crafts, clothing, and decorations of Iceland and Finland have been on display.
Place Grimmeissen is different from all the other sections of the Strasbourg market. There is nothing traditional here, which is why it’s called the “OFF Market.”
Rather than cute wooden chalets, we found metal containers and huge domed tents. Rather than ornaments and lights, we found vintage furniture, original art, and unique clothes. Everything here is organic, socially responsible, fair-trade, and more. The offerings are unique and innovative—a cool way to keep things interesting in an otherwise traditional environment.
What to Eat in Strasbourg in December
Food in Alsace is a unique mixture of French and German influences. You’ll find lots of meat and potatoes alongside great wines, light pastries, and all kinds of delicious snacks. At Christmas in Strasbourg, there are lots of hot, filling dishes in the markets to keep away the cold as well as lots of sweet treats of the season.
These are some of the traditional Alsatian Christmas foods we found most often in Strasbourg.
Bredele – In the shapes of stars, bells, hearts, and other things of the season, traditional bredele are a staple of the Strasbourg market. These dry cookies come in lots of different flavors, including cinnamon, vanilla, anise, and more. You’ll find the greatest variety of bredele available at the food stands at Place du Marché-aux-Poissons and Palais Rohan.
Vin chaud – In most Christmas markets in Europe, vin chaud (aka glühwein or mulled wine) is red. But, in Strasbourg in December, white wine is the way to go. Made with dry Alsatian wine, orange, lemon, cinnamon, and sugar, white vin chaud is promoted by the gourmet association “Tribu des gourmets du vin d’Alsace” throughout the market. We were pleasantly surprised with how good it is and how much the citrus adds to the warm concoction.
Baguette flambée – Tarte flambée—also called flammkuchen—is a mainstay of the Alsace region. A thin crust topped with crème fraiche, white cheese, thinly-sliced onions, and lardons, you’ll find it on menus from Strasbourg to Colmar. Tarte flambée is traditionally cooked in a wood-fire oven and there are a several variations like gratinée (with gruyère or Emmental cheese) or my favorite forestière (with mushrooms).
At the market, the well-loved ingredients of the tarte flambée are put on baguettes, resulting in baguette flambée. They’re more portable in this format and easier to eat at the market chalets. Check out Place Broglie for a seemingly endless selection.
Mannele – Brioche treats shaped like a little man, mannele are Alsatian pastries that have raisins or chocolate chips for eyes. They’re made particularly for Saint Nicolas Day on December 6th but are available throughout the holiday season. Local chocolaterie Jacques Bockel makes its own, non-traditional version from chocolate with different fillings like hazelnut and salted caramel.
Choucroute garnie – Choucroute garnie is the ideal market meal for lovers of sausage (like Lance). The dish typically includes warm sauerkraut with sausages, other salted meats, and potatoes. Fatty and inexpensive, the meat is cooked low and slow for maximum tenderness and is the perfect thing to warm you up on a cold winter night. You’ll find choucroute garnie both at the markets and in traditional Alsatian restaurants.
Jarret de porc braisé à la bière – Jarret de porc braisé à la bière is an elegant name for the Alsatian beer braised pork knuckle (or schweinshaxe) that graces many menus in Alsace. Formerly a peasant food, the meat is often marinated for days and then slow roasted until it’s nearly falling off the bone. It’s often accompanied by potatoes and cabbage variations.
More Places to Visit at Christmas in Alsace
The towns of the Alsace Wine Route are enchanting any time of year, but there’s something very special about Christmastime. In the big cities and tiny villages alike, there are tons of decorations, markets, and holiday events that make it an ideal time to visit. If you have even a half-day to spare, consider a quick trip to at least one of these gems.
Colmar — Aside from Strasbourg, the Colmar Christmas market is the main destination in Alsace in winter. Its medieval buildings with their colorful, tiled roofs and their half-timbered facades look they came from a storybook. When you add the lights and seasonal decorations, Colmar becomes a little bit of heaven.
The six Christmas markets in the historic center of Colmar mean that there is lots of festivity to be had for about 5 weeks, from the last week of November through the end of December. The city is covered in fairy lights and hundreds of chalets selling gifts, food, and local specialties.
Eguisheim — Less than 5 miles from Colmar, the houses and lanes are the attractions in the village of Eguisheim. Wander the circular road left by the ancient town wall and enjoy the authentic architecture along with the small Christmas market.
Riquewihr — Riquewihr is supposedly the inspiration for the setting of Beauty and the Beast, and it’s easy to understand why when you see the medieval buildings in the colors of the rainbow. The architecture is truly stunning, but crowds here can overwhelm the town of just 1100 residents, so plan to visit on a weekday, if your schedule allows.
Riquewihr has several areas in town featuring Christmas gifts, seasonal food, and Alsatian delicacies to take home. We fell hard for some truffled Munster cheese we bought here.
Turckheim — On the slopes of the Vosges mountains, Turckheim has a lot happening in the winter. There is a small daily Christmas market punctuated each evening by the opening of a window in the life sized Advent calendar. You can also join the Night Watchman making his evening rounds through the town at 9pm, a tradition with over 300 years of history.
Kaysersberg — A wine-growing powerhouse since the Middle Ages, the old mansions of Kaysersberg are a testament to the city’s great wealth. See its homes and churches, visit a Michelin-starred restaurant or two, and taste its famous wine.
If you have time, linger over the river that passes through the center of town and pause at my favorite fountain featuring the Emperor Constantine right outside the Holy Cross Church. At Christmas, the town goes all-out with decorations, and its market is also worth a visit.
How to Get Here
The train from Basel to Strasbourg takes just under two hours. The journey is similar from Paris, though the train time can reach up to three hours, depending on which one you choose.
Within Alsace, getting around is fairly easy. The train from Colmar to Strasbourg takes about 40 minutes. To visit some of the small towns included in this article, a car is necessary, though it is possible to reach some via public transportation.