France: Alsace

Colmar

Alsace, France had always been a bucketlist destination for me, so I was thrilled to finally be able to visit, even if it was just for a long weekend! We decided to make Colmar our home base for the 3 days we were there and take little trips to as many of the nearby villages as possible. The one place on our list we didn’t get to go was Strasbourg but I feel like it deserves a trip all of its own. We will be back for you, Strasbourg!

In the meantime, we thoroughly enjoyed Colmar and all the villages below. I will describe them in the order that we liked them – favorite first! This was a whirlwind trip for us but it just goes to show that you can actually see a lot in this region in a short period if you’re strapped for time. Of course these places are perfect for a relaxing, leisurely holiday too, but it’s good to know you can fit Alsace in your plans even if you only have 2-4 days. I recommend picking one of the villages to stay in (we loved Colmar) and doing little day trips to the places you want to see most. At the end I will list other villages you may want to add to your itinerary but that we didn’t get to visit this trip.

The Alsace region is best known for Bavarian-inspired towns nestled in a lively wine region just east of the northeast Vosges mountains in France. For more info on the wine route, see the official tourist site here. There are plenty of shops, bakery cafes, restaurants and markets to peruse – and that is precisely what you can expect to do in Alsace. It is a place to just take in the beauty and charm of it all!

Colmar

Colmar is the third largest city in Alsace and arguably the most popular of these “quaint” towns. It looks like it was plucked straight out of Beauty and the Beast! It is known for the iconic “Petite Venise” section of town that straddles the canal. There you will find markets year-round, seasonal festivals in the nearby square, and lots of little eateries. Further into the Old Town, the Dominican Church and St. Martin’s Church are landmarks to note as you zigzag through the picturesque city streets. All of the buildings are impossibly colorful and expertly display the classic Bavarian-style timber framing. Don’t miss the Maison Pfister for its architecture, note the Koïfhus for its history (from 1490), visit Musée Bartholdi to see more works from the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty (a mini replica of which is located on a roundabout just outside of town), or the Musée du Jouet de Colmar to view toys that date back to the 1800’s.

Petite Venise is a must-see section of Colmar’s Old Town

Riquewihr

We visited Riquewihr as a backup when we couldn’t find parking in Ribeauvillé and it turned out to be awesome! We loved it – even though it was also quite busy – second best to Colmar. The streets are wide and specialty shops are plenty. We had our first taste of frog legs here! There are lots of places to try wine from various local wineries and plenty of shops around little side streets to grab a crêpe or street food. Riquewihr would also be a great place to stay and visit nearby wineries! Like the other towns, paid parking is plentiful on the outskirts of town, and everything is within walking distance from parking.

Walk all the way towards the Fontaine de la Sinne tower!

Ribeauvillé (Château de Saint-Ulrich)

Nearby Ribeauvillé has a similar feel to Riquewihr with its colorful main street and lots of shops. We loved the tower, bakeries, tea and cheese shops. And the kids got a kick out of the Sproftacchels (face-in-the hole boards). The distinct feature of Ribeauvillé is the view of Château de Saint-Ulrich in the distance as you’re walking through town, visible in the photos below. It is also surrounded by vineyards! You can visit the chateau and vineyards as well. There are many parking lots around the outer parts of town, but they are quite small and fill up quickly. I recommend making Ribeauvillé an early morning stop to avoid crowds and traffic jams like we experienced!

Fun with period-inspired faces!

Kayersberg-Vignoble

Kayersberg-Vignoble was especially memorable for us as we visited during an artisan market where there were endless stalls of beautiful pottery everywhere. We couldn’t leave without purchasing a few lovely items. We didn’t have a meal here, but we did notice this town is crowned by a castle (Château du Schlossberg). Don’t miss the Pont Fortifié bridge for the iconic view of the colorful timber frame homes straddling the Weiss River. This is also where the only public toilets are located in town and they’re nice! This town is very small compared to the others, but worth the stop, especially if you find yourself there on an artisan market day! I was truly blown away by the pottery. The bakeries in Kayersberg have also been recommended to me – take note! There is ample (paid) parking around the outskirts of town and everything is within walking distance.

Eguisheim (Château du Hohlandsbourg)

This town has one of the most photographed streets in Alsace: Rue du Rempart. It’s worth visiting just to see this little street where gnomes must live – but the town itself was very small and not our favorite. Saint Leon square with its fountain and church are lovely, as is the area near Domaine Emile Beyer – Vins d’Alsace (try the wines!). But besides the wineries and eateries, it’s a fairly sleepy place compared to neighboring towns. Just outside of town are Les Trois Châteaux d’Eguisheim: Château du Schrankenfels, Château du Schwartzenbourg, and Château du Hohlandsbourg, all of which you can hike to! This can be a quick stop on your tour of Alsace if you just want to see the highlights. Tip for Rue du Rempart: check the weather. It photographs better when the sun is either above or facing the buildings on the narrow street, not behind. Get there early to avoid lots of people in your photographs!

Chateau du Haut-Kœnigsbourg

This was a highlight for us, but also not technically a town. Castle Haut-Kœnigsbourg is seated high up on a hill in the Vosges mountains and has easy access via a mountain road. It was built in the 12th century and has incredible history you can learn all about when you tour the place. If you want a good parking spot and fewer crowds, get there early! There is a little pavilion you can buy light fare at and a great souvenir shop to buy medieval-inspired gifts. The views from the castle are incredible! Adult tickets are €9, kids 6-17 are €5 and under 6 are free. During holidays and breaks it is recommended to buy tickets ahead of time and during Covid times, you need to have a covid-safe pass to enter.

Strasbourg

Strasbourg is the biggest and northernmost city in the Alsace region and definitely has more of a city feel. It has a noteworthy Christmas market that is known as the oldest in France, dating back to 1570! If you can only visit Strasbourg one time, definitely go during the holidays. There is nothing like wandering these streets, packed with 13 huge markets all over the city, activities for kids, more mugs than I could count, and so much good food. Don’t miss the Petit-France neighborhood, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, and the main square at Place Kléber. There is so much to see! Strasbourg is also a popular place for concerts so keep an eye out, now that restrictions have lifted.

Here is a list of more things to do in Strasbourgh: Visit Strasbourg. And stay tuned for a blog all about the Christmas markets in Europe!

NOTES: Although these are our favorites in the region, also worth mentioning are Sélestat and Bergheim. All of the little villages get decked out for the holidays and are full of Christmas spirit! Sélestat has lovely ramparts, chateau and old clock tower. Bergheim is a completely fortified town which makes it unique in the region. The Porte Haute is famous, as well as the local history museum: La Maison des Sorcières. Also fortified is Obernai, located between Strasbourg and Sélestat. Check out the ramparts and Chateau de Hell! Finally, less known is Mulhouse on the southern tip of Alsace. We didn’t get to visit, but it is the second largest city in Alsace after Strasbourg and before Colmar, about 40 minutes south of Colmar. There are some wonderful museums here including Cité du Train, Cité de l’Automobile, and Musée de l’Impression sur Etoffes!

When staying in Alsace, find lodging that fits your needs and plan to drive a little each day. I recommend Colmar, Riquewihr or Ribeauvillé to stay as there are so many good places to eat each night when you return to your lodging. But truly any little village in the region works if you find a comfortable Air BnB! It’s all within driving distance, and once you park in a town, everything is walkable. If you like hiking, there are plenty of nice trails in the Vosges mountains! For more information on hiking in Alsace, check out the website here.

Mulhouse in Alsace, France has great museums!

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