Colmar or Strasbourg: Which is Better to Visit?

Last Updated on June 3, 2024 by April Nicole

Alsace, a region known for its picturesque towns, vineyards, and a unique blend of French and German influences, boasts two of the most charming cities in France: Colmar and Strasbourg. Each with its own distinct personality, these towns offer visitors a glimpse into the region’s rich history, culture, and gastronomy.

For those torn between Colmar or Strasbourg, this guide delves deep to help you decide which town best suits your travel itinerary, whether you’re planning a day trip from Strasbourg to Colmar or wondering if Colmar is worth visiting.

The quaint and charming quarter of Petite France in Strasbourg, with half-timbered houses draped in green ivy and red flowers. The buildings are reflected in the gently flowing river, and a covered restaurant terrace sits invitingly on the water's edge, capturing the essence of this picturesque historic area.

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If you are in a hurry, here’s a summary of Strasbourg vs Colmar:


Overview of Colmar and Strasbourg

Located in the Alsace region, Colmar and Strasbourg are jewels of Franco-German heritage. Colmar, known as ‘Little Venice’, mesmerizes with its pastel-colored houses and winding canals, echoing tales of a rich merchant past.

Strasbourg, the European capital, blends medieval charm with modern vitality, anchored by its majestic Gothic cathedral and vibrant neighborhoods like ‘Petite France’. Both cities, set against the picturesque Rhine valley, offer a distinct fusion of history, culture, and architectural splendor, making them not just destinations but unforgettable experiences.

Brief History and Cultural Significance

Colmar, with origins in the 9th century, blossomed as a medieval trade hub, especially renowned for its wine route. Its rich history, marked by events like the Thirty Years’ War and 20th-century conflicts, is etched in its well-preserved architecture and cultural tapestry.

Strasbourg’s journey, stretching over two millennia, evolved from a Roman camp to a Gothic architectural marvel with its iconic cathedral. As a pivot between German and French sovereignties, Strasbourg embodies a unique cultural fusion.

Should You Visit Colmar or Strasbourg?

An Overview of Colmar: A Fairy-Tale Town

Architectural Wonders of Colmar

Colmar, often referred to as a fairy-tale town, is a picturesque embodiment of medieval charm. The town’s architecture is a tapestry of German Gothic and French Neo-Baroque styles. Quintessential half-timbered houses, such as those in the “Little Venice” district, exhibit the town’s affinity for intricate woodwork and pastel hues. The Old Customs House (Koïfhus) and the Saint-Martin’s Church stand as testaments to the town’s architectural grandeur, showcasing a blend of historical styles that range from Gothic to Renaissance.

Famous Attractions and Museums

Colmar is home to several attractions that capture its historical and artistic essence. The Unterlinden Museum, housed in a former convent, is renowned for its collection of Rhenish Renaissance art, including the famed Isenheim Altarpiece. The Bartholdi Museum, dedicated to the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, offers insight into the life and work of Colmar’s celebrated son, Auguste Bartholdi. Additionally, the town’s animated Toy Museum and the charming House of Heads (Maison des Têtes) add to its cultural richness.

Culinary Delights and Local Cuisine

The gastronomic offerings in Colmar are a reflection of its cultural tapestry. Traditional Alsatian cuisine, known for its rustic yet refined flavors, is celebrated here. Signature dishes include ‘Baeckeoffe,’ a hearty meat and potato stew, and the iconic ‘Tarte à l’oignon,’ an onion tart that is both simple and sublime. Colmar’s culinary scene is also complemented by its wines, with local vineyards producing acclaimed varieties such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer, which are integral to the Alsatian gastronomic experience.

An Overview of Strasbourg: A Blend of Cultures

A bustling street in Strasbourg leads to the imposing Strasbourg Cathedral, which towers above with its intricate gothic façade and towering spire against a clear blue sky. Flanked by traditional European buildings and half-timbered houses, the scene captures the lively urban atmosphere juxtaposed with historic architecture.

Strasbourg’s Iconic Cathedral

Strasbourg’s skyline is dominated by its majestic cathedral, Cathédrale Notre-Dame, renowned for its intricate Gothic architecture. This 15th-century marvel, with its ornate façade and soaring spire, stands as a symbol of the city’s historical and architectural prowess. The cathedral’s astronomical clock, a masterpiece of Renaissance engineering, captivates visitors with its intricate mechanics and artistic beauty.

Modern and Historic Attractions

Strasbourg seamlessly intertwines its rich history with a vibrant modernity. The city’s historical heart, Grande Île, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, featuring cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses. In contrast, the European Quarter represents Strasbourg’s role as a contemporary political hub, home to important institutions like the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. The contrast between the quaint Alsatian houses in ‘La Petite France’ and the sleek, modern European institutions exemplifies Strasbourg’s diverse cultural and architectural landscape.

Gastronomy: A Fusion of French and German Flavors

Strasbourg’s culinary scene is a delightful mélange of French elegance and German heartiness. The city is famous for its ‘Choucroute Alsacienne’, a local take on sauerkraut, often served with a variety of meats. Another staple is ‘Tarte flambée’ (Flammekueche), a thin-crust pizza-like dish topped with crème fraîche, onions, and lardons. This blend of culinary traditions is further enhanced by the region’s wines, notably the aromatic Riesling and the smooth Pinot Noir, which are deeply rooted in the city’s gastronomic identity.

Colmar or Strasbourg: Weather and Best Time to Visit

Climate in Colmar Throughout the Year

Colmar enjoys a dry climate due to its location in the Alsace plain. Summers are warm, averaging 25°C, ideal for wine tours and al fresco dining. Autumn features vibrant foliage and grape harvests, enhancing the town’s charm. Winters, though cold with occasional snow, are picturesque, especially during the Christmas markets. Spring brings mild weather and blooming flowers, perfect for outdoor exploration and admiring the town’s architecture.

Festive holiday decorations light up a wet street in Strasbourg at night, with a radiant arch reading 'Strasbourg Capitale de Noël.' The scene is embellished with blue and gold illuminated stars and Christmas figures, reflecting off the glistening pavement alongside traditional half-timbered houses.

Strasbourg’s Seasons: Planning Your Visit

Strasbourg’s continental climate brings distinct seasonal charms. Summers are ideal for sunny canal tours and lively street festivals. Autumn offers cooler weather and a colorful cityscape, perfect for walks and wine tastings. Winters in Strasbourg are cold but magical, marked by it’s famous Christmas market. Spring, with the city in bloom, is excellent for sightseeing and outdoor leisure. Each season uniquely enriches the Strasbourg experience.

Colmar or Strasbourg: Accessibility and Transportation

Getting Around Colmar

Colmar’s pedestrian-friendly center is easily navigable on foot, ideal for enjoying its quaint streets and architecture. Bicycles are available for rent, offering an efficient way to see more of the city and its surrounding vineyards.

A reliable public transportation system, including buses, connects key tourist sites and residential areas. The centrally located train station provides frequent links to major cities like Strasbourg, Basel, and Paris, enhancing Colmar’s accessibility as a regional hub.

Navigating Strasbourg: Public Transport and More

Strasbourg’s efficient public transport, featuring an extensive tram network and complementary buses, connects major attractions and neighborhoods. The Strasbourg Pass offers tourists valuable benefits for public transport and city attractions. Additionally, the city’s comprehensive bike lanes and bike-sharing programs make cycling a convenient option for getting around.

Colmar or Strasbourg: Comparing Scenic Beauty

The Charm of Colmar’s Streets

Colmar’s streets are a visual feast, characterized by their enchanting beauty that transports visitors to a bygone era. The town’s layout is a labyrinth of cobbled lanes and colorful buildings, with floral decorations adorning every corner.

The ‘La Petite Venise’ area, with its canal-lined streets and half-timbered houses reflecting in the water, offers a picturesque setting reminiscent of a storybook. Walking through Colmar, one encounters a multitude of architectural marvels, each building narrating a tale of the town’s illustrious past.

Springtime in Colmar, France, with an idyllic cobblestone street flanked by colorful half-timbered houses. Blossoming pink cherry trees add a splash of color to the scene, where pedestrians stroll and enjoy the quaint atmosphere under the warm glow of street lamps.

Strasbourg’s Picturesque Canals

Strasbourg, in contrast, presents a different kind of scenic beauty. The city is interwoven with canals that add a serene charm to its bustling streets. The Ill River, meandering through the city, creates a network of waterways that beautifully segment the urban landscape.

Particularly notable is the ‘La Petite France’ district, where the canals are flanked by quaint half-timbered houses, exuding a sense of historical tranquility. The blend of natural and architectural elements in Strasbourg creates a harmonious and picturesque urban tapestry that is both refreshing and awe-inspiring.

Colmar or Strasbourg: Wine and Vineyards

Wine Tasting in Colmar

Colmar, at the heart of the Alsace wine region, is surrounded by vineyards known for distinguished wines like Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Wine tasting here is both educational and enjoyable, with many wineries offering guided sessions to explore the wine-making process and unique characteristics of each varietal. Visitors can also gain insights into the region’s rich viticultural history from the hospitable local vintners.

A picturesque view of the Alsace wine route in France, featuring lush vineyard slopes under a clear blue sky. A cyclist enjoys the serene path adjacent to rows of grapevines, with a quaint village and its prominent bell tower in the valley, and ancient ruins of a castle on a nearby hill.

Strasbourg and the Alsace Wine Route

Strasbourg is the perfect starting point for the Alsace Wine Route, a 170-kilometer journey through rolling hills and quaint villages, rich in scenic beauty and wine heritage. Along the route, visitors can enjoy wine tastings, meet local winemakers, and explore charming villages like Riquewihr and Obernai, immersing themselves in the region’s traditions and cuisine. This route offers more than wine; it’s a cultural journey through Alsace’s historical vineyards and villages.

Colmar or Strasbourg: Events and Festivities

Colmar’s Festive Calendar

Colmar’s calendar is adorned with events like the magical Christmas Market and the summer Wine Fair, celebrating regional viticulture. The town also hosts the Colmar International Festival, featuring a blend of classical and jazz music. Seasonal events, including Easter markets and autumn harvest festivals, showcase Colmar’s cultural richness and traditions.

The Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg (MAMCS) with its modern glass façade reflecting the sky. In the foreground, a striking black and white mural adds a dramatic touch to the urban landscape, while visitors stroll by, enjoying the blend of contemporary art and architecture.

Celebrations and Events in Strasbourg

Strasbourg buzzes with festivities year-round, headlined by its globally renowned Christmas Market. The city’s cultural scene is vibrant with the European Film Festival and the Strasbourg Street Arts Festival. Music enthusiasts are drawn to the Strasbourg Jazz Festival and Musica. Historical commemorations like Strasbourg 600 blend the city’s medieval heritage with its contemporary European flair.

Colmar or Strasbourg: Outdoor Activities and Nature

Exploring the Vineyards Near Colmar

Hiking is a favorite, with trails winding through lush forests and vineyards, leading to stunning views. The ‘Route des Vins d’Alsace’, a must-visit for wine lovers, combines scenic walks with wine tasting. Cycling enthusiasts will love the well-marked paths along the canals and through the countryside, perfect for a leisurely ride or a more challenging excursion.

For a unique experience, try canoeing on the Lauch River, offering a serene way to explore Colmar’s enchanting ‘Little Venice’ district from the water. Families and nature lovers can indulge in birdwatching in the nearby nature reserves, where diverse flora and fauna thrive.

Tranquil scenery in Park de l'Orangerie, Strasbourg, showcasing a serene lake reflecting the clear blue sky and surrounding lush greenery. A classic white gazebo stands on the manicured lawn beside the water, creating a perfect symmetry with its reflection, and offers a picturesque spot for relaxation amidst nature.

Strasbourg’s Parks and Outdoor Spaces

Strasbourg offers a plethora of outdoor activities within its urban and surrounding areas. The city’s parks, such as the ‘Parc de l’Orangerie’ and the ‘Parc de la Citadelle’, are perfect for leisurely strolls, jogging, or simply relaxing by the lakeside.

Water enthusiasts can enjoy kayaking or boat tours along the Ill River, providing a unique perspective of the city’s architectural beauty.

How to Enjoy Colmar and Strasbourg in One Day

Embarking on a day trip from Strasbourg to Colmar offers a delightful exploration of Alsatian charm. The journey can begin with a convenient 30-minute train ride or an hour’s drive via the A35. In Colmar, start your morning meandering through the old town, including the enchanting “Little Venice” area, and perhaps visit a museum like Unterlinden or Bartholdi.

Savor a traditional Alsatian lunch with specialties like tarte flambée. The afternoon could be spent wine tasting at a local winery and strolling through the picturesque vineyards surrounding the town. Returning to Strasbourg in the late afternoon allows for an evening of discovery in this vibrant city, from its majestic cathedral to its blend of French and German-influenced dining.

Essential Info: I stayed in the Hôtel Cour du Corbeau Strasbourg while I was in Strasbourg. I thought it was decent value for the money and at a good location close to the train station. I would recommend them. Doubles start from 110 EUR ($120 USD). Find other Strasbourg hotels here.

I did not stay in Colmar as I only did a day trip from Strasbourg, so I cannot recommend any accommodations. Trains between Strasbourg and Colmar depart regularly throughout the day, with tickets priced at 12.50 EUR ($14) each way. Prepare to walk as the old town is around one mile from the train station.

Should I Go to Strasbourg or Colmar?

I personally loved visiting both Colmar and Strasbourg. Choose Colmar for its quaint, relaxed ambiance, leisurely experience amidst historic charm. Opt for Strasbourg if you prefer a lively, culturally diverse environment with a mix of historic and modern attractions. If possible, visiting both cities offers a complete experience of Alsace’s varied beauty, combining Colmar’s tranquil charm with Strasbourg’s dynamic cultural landscape.

I’d love to hear from you! Do you lean towards the enchanting streets of Colmar or the vibrant energy of Strasbourg? Share your preference!

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