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Strasbourg: ten must-see AND unusual visits!


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In this article, I propose you an itinerary with ten must-see AND unusual visits to discover in Strasbourg! This itinerary can be done in two full days or over three days at your own pace.

 

SUMMARY

  1. The Notre-Dame de Strasbourg Cathedral, its astronomical clock and its vault of the future

  2. A boat trip on the Ill with Batorama

  3. The Art Deco façade of the Rhine School of Arts (HEAR)

  4. The Raven Bridge and the Raven Court

  5. The Historic Wine Cellar of Strasbourg Hospices

  6. The medieval district of the Petite France: the postcard, the smallest house in the city and the oldest tree in Strasbourg

  7. The Château Musée Vodou

  8. The façade of the Egyptian House

  9. The contrast between the European Parliament and the Cité Ungemach

  10. The Orangery Park and its stork farm

 

1. The Notre-Dame de Strasbourg Cathedral, its astronomical clock and its vault of the future



Let's start with the must-see of all must-sees when visiting Strasbourg: the breathtaking gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral! In order to take the pleasure of discovering it little by little, I suggest you, from the Place Gutenberg, to take the touristic Rue Mercière and to go up this last one until the cathedral. When you are in front of it, take the time to observe its façade and its height.


Founded on the remains of an ancient cathedral, it was built between 1015 and 1439, making it the oldest gothic cathedral in the world. It was built to make the city of Strasbourg shine on Christian Europe during the Middle Ages. It is built in pink sandstone from the Vosges, a friable rock that has required numerous restorations. Notice on its façade its three richly decorated portals, its multitude of sculptures, testimony of its long history through the ages.


In addition, the spire of the cathedral culminates at 142 meters high, which makes it the highest building in the Christian world until the nineteenth century and the second highest cathedral in France, after that of Rouen (151 meters). Finally, it is the most visited cathedral in France since Notre-Dame de Paris unfortunately had to close its doors to the public on April 15, 2019 following its terrible fire.



Once inside the cathedral, observe its slender nave, its remarkable stained glass windows dating from the 12th and 14th centuries, most of which are original, as well as its magnificent rose window of 14 meters in diameter. Finally, don't miss its monumental organ, shown in the second photo in the center, which has an impressive case with automata!



Do not leave the cathedral before admiring its astronomical clock, a masterpiece of Renaissance clockwork and mathematics, created in 1574 and whose current mechanism dates from 1842. It indicates the time, calendars, as well as astrological data. In front of the clock stands the Pillar of the Angels, which represents a different Last Judgment with Christ and the 4 angels blowing the trumpet.


On the video above, you can see the astronomical clock come to life at 1:45 pm. Nevertheless, it is highly recommended to attend the projection of the film on the astronomical clock and its history at 12:00 noon (paying), then the parade of the Apostles at 12:30 pm, when the automatons come to life in full! At this moment, you can see the four ages of life, personified by a child, a teenager, an adult and an old man, passing in front of Death. Higher up, the apostles parade before Christ. Their passage is punctuated by the flapping of wings and the crowing of a large rooster.


You can also go up to the Cathedral's platform at an altitude of 66 meters (330 steps in a spiral staircase - for a fee), but, being prone to vertigo, I didn't go for it. Nevertheless, it is highly recommended to enjoy a sublime view of the city and its surroundings, but also of the copper roofs and the spire of the cathedral! If the weather is good, you will even have the chance to see the Vosges mountains and the Black Forest in Germany.


The platform also offers you a trip back in time with the VR application Strasbourg Cathedral, allowing you to contemplate a panorama of the city in 1490 and in 1730 thanks to 3D reconstructions!


Finally, the ideal season to visit the cathedral is between July and August because it is then animated every evening by a sound and light show that allows to better apprehend all the details of the façade.



When you leave the cathedral, turn right and look at the Cathedral Hotel with its blue and white façade and... its shell planted in its right side, dating from the Prussian war of 1870, when nearly 200.000 shells fell on Strasbourg! When the city was rebuilt, some citizens of Strasbourg planted shells in their façade to remember. Currently, there are seven more scattered around the city. Moreover, if you want to make a whole walk on the theme of the shells still implanted in the façades of Strasbourg, go and have a look on Kuriocity which has listed them.


Finally, just behind you is the magnificent Maison Kammerzell, built in 1427 and classified as a historical monument, which houses the hotel and restaurant of the same name, famous for its fish sauerkraut! Notice the windows made of bottle bottoms.



In front of the Kammerzell House, retrace your steps to the right, pass the cathedral again, then turn left to admire the cathedral from the Place du Château.


Once on this square, go in front of the part of the cathedral appearing on the third photo, look at the ground and you will see under your feet a mysterious bronze plate affixed in 1995, covering a concrete bunker containing a time capsule to be opened only in... 3790!


It is in fact the work of the Strasbourg artist Raymond Waydelich. This time capsule accompanies a science-fiction book, published the same year as the capsule's inauguration. The book is entitled "Mutarotnegra", which, read backwards, is "Argentoratum", the first name of Strasbourg when it was a Roman camp. This science-fiction work takes place in the year 3790, when, after a great catastrophe, people from the future rediscover our present world, hence the need to help these people with a time capsule containing, for example, messages written by people from Strasbourg for future generations, documentation on the history of Strasbourg and Alsace, wine, beer, maps and menus of Strasbourg restaurants, supermarket items or even objects of everyday life, such as a pretzel, a balloon, panties, etc.



I suggest that you leave the Place du Château by taking the lovely little Hans Haug Passage (Hans Haug was the curator of several museums in Strasbourg). You will then pass along a medieval garden created by Hans Haug himself and presenting a collection of old plants in the form of 9 squares (medicinal, household and spice plants). Once you leave the Passage, turn left, walk up Rue du Maroquin and turn right at the Alsatian decoration and souvenir store "Le Coin d'Alsace" to discover "Zuem Strissel", the oldest restaurant in Strasbourg!


Zuem - Zum - Strissel - Strasbourg - Alsace - Plus - Vieux - Restaurant - Oldest - Autruche - Ostrich - 1320 - Winstub - Wine - Lounge - Vin - Alsatian - Specialties - Spécialités - Alsaciennes - Flammekueche - Tarte - Flambée - Flambéed - Pies - Choucroute - Sauerkraut - Baeckeoffes - Décor - Traditionnel - Alsacien - Setting - Colonne - Tête - Bélier - Column - Head - Ram - Renaissance -  Stained - Glass - Windows - Vitraux - Statue - Guild - Chest - Coffre - Corporations - Solara - Blog

"Zuem Strissel", meaning "At the ostrich", has been a restaurant since at least 1320, that's saying something! Close to the old Customs House, the medieval place where all goods arriving in the city were unloaded, the Strissel was the place where merchants met and transacted business. It used to be a brewery, before being transformed in 1920 into a "winstub", i.e. a "wine lounge". Today, it offers many Alsatian specialties: flambéed pies, sauerkraut, baeckeoffes (a stew made of three meats marinated in spices and Alsatian white wine - lamb, pork and beef -, vegetables and potatoes), etc.


At the entrance, you can see the capital of the column carved with rams' heads evoking the original name: "Zum Widderer" ("To the ram"), its current name having been adopted in the 17th century. Inside, you can find a typical Alsatian setting, see stained glass windows and statues from the period and the remarkable Renaissance guild chest in the room on the first floor.


Go back to the Place de la Grande Boucherie, before turning right towards the Jetty Batorama Cathedral, for a boat ride on the Ill, the river crossing Strasbourg.

 

2. A boat trip on the Ill with Batorama



A boat trip on the Ill river is a must to discover Strasbourg from another angle! Batorama offers various cruises depending on the season in transparent glass boats, allowing a panoramic view, and with headphones along the way, allowing you to hear in twelve available languages the history of the city in real time. I highly recommend it!


The only walk I could do in February 2023 was "Strasbourg, the European", a pleasant 6km walk (45 minutes) starting and returning to the Cathedral Jetty. This route took us first to the gates of the medieval district of the Petite France before going down the Ill River to the east of Strasbourg through the imperial sector built during the German annexation from 1871 to 1918. Then, after a passage in the residential districts of Strasbourg, the itinerary led us to the European institutions, with an ideal point of view to discover them from the water, before taking the way back.


Once back at the Jetty, I suggest you to walk along the Ill on the same side towards the Pont Saint-Guillaume, which you can cross before taking the Rue Saint-Guillaume, up to 1 Rue de l'Académie, where you can discover the magnificent Art Deco façade of the Rhine School of Arts.

 

3. The Art Deco façade of the Rhine School of Arts (HEAR)



Hidden from view, don't hesitate to enter the courtyard of the Rhine School of Arts (1 Rue de l'Académie). Indeed, this last one presents a magnificent Art Deco façade which deserves that one goes there to throw a small glance! This school was founded by the city of Strasbourg in 1890 in order to encourage the artistic revival of the region. Its main façade is made of yellow bricks, but is richly decorated with ceramics which illustrate the teachings given by the school: architecture, painting, sculpture, geometry, etc... Finally, plant motifs are integrated between the bays of the façades.


I suggest that you then go back up the Rue Saint-Guillaume in the opposite direction and walk along the Ill on the other side, towards the Raven Bridge and the Raven Court.

 

4. The Raven Bridge and the Raven Court



The Raven Bridge is a bridge with a sinister reputation! Indeed, in the Middle Ages, it was the place of public executions and was called the "Bridge of Torment". Those condemned to death were locked in a cage and exposed on the bridge to the eyes of passers-by for a few days, only to be thrown into the water afterwards. Terrible, especially since the Ill was used as a sewer...



Behind you is the Raven Court, at No. 1 Quai des Bateliers, now housed in the MGallery Hotel. Do not hesitate to pass the entrance porch to come and admire it. Indeed, this courtyard is home to a magnificent Renaissance ensemble, notably composed of carved woodwork and secret passageways. It is a former post house from the 16th century, where prestigious travelers such as Voltaire were welcomed! The other side of the MGallery Hotel overlooks the 6-8 Rue des Couples.

 


Personally, I had a hard time finding the entrance to the Historic Wine Cellar of Strasbourg Hospices, so I'll tell you how to find it easily.


If you are on the Place du Corbeau, you can walk up the Rue des Bouchers to the Place Robert Waitz. Go under the Hospital Gate, turn right, walk into the Hospital, turn right, continue and you will see the sign for the Cellar. You can go down the stairs that will lead you there. The visit is free, only the audio-guide is charged if you want (3 euros). Nevertheless, many explanatory panels punctuate the visit of the cellar.



The first unusual aspect is that the Civil Hospital of Strasbourg has this jewel to be discovered absolutely, which is the Historic Wine Cellar of Strasbourg Hospices, created in 1395 to raise a selection of Alsatian wines in a surface of 1200 m². Perpetuating a tradition of several centuries, Alsatian winegrowers have since restored the cellar in 1996 to raise their best wines.


The second major unusual aspect is that this cellar houses three casks dated 1472, 1519 and 1525 and one of them contains 300 liters of a legendary vintage of 1472, the oldest white wine in the world kept in casks. In fact, a sample of this 1472 wine was extracted from the barrel and bottled, under lock and key of course! This wine has been served during rare historical events and, notably in 1944, to General Leclerc, liberator of Strasbourg. It's too bad not to be able to take a little drop of it... ;-) According to the descriptions provided, its color is golden yellow, maderized, and it presents a taste of thatch.


Finally, you will also have the chance to discover masterpieces of cooperage of all sizes, but also the tombstone of Joseph Lautenschlager, master builder of the Cathedral of Strasbourg, or a small museum of the vine, among others!


Direction, from now on, the medieval district of the Petite France and, more precisely, the Pont Saint-Thomas!

 

6. The medieval district of the Petite France: the postcard, the smallest house in the city and the oldest tree in Strasbourg


The Petite France district is today one of the most touristic and picturesque places in Strasbourg, recognizable by its colorful half-timbered houses with sloping roofs and its aspect of small Venice of the East with its omnipresent canals. In the Middle Ages, this district was occupied by tanners, millers and fishermen, as the names of its streets testify. You can still see today the "open" roofs that were used to dry the tanners' skins.


Nevertheless, the origin of the name of this district is less charming than its appearance. Indeed, it owes its name to the syphilis epidemic. In the 16th century, soldiers suffering from the "French disease", as it was called, were treated in a hospice located in this neighborhood.



At the entrance of the Petite France, you will find the Pont Saint-Thomas. It is one of the oldest cast iron bridges in France, built in 1841. It has survived bombings and the last three wars, a solid structure!


You can take the Pont Saint-Thomas, before going along the Ill to the next Pont Saint-Martin, which you can also cross, then turn right into the Rue des Moulins.



In the heart of the Petite France, you can find the smallest house in Strasbourg, here in blue on the third photo! If you wish to discover it, it is located at the following address: 9 Rue des Moulins.


You can now continue to walk up the Rue des Moulins, before turning left and walking up the entire Quai du Woerthel. You will then approach the next house to be discovered from the side.



Indeed, you will discover the house which is on many photos of Strasbourg: the Maison des Ponts Couverts (at the 3 Ponts Couverts). But you probably don't know that this house is in fact a meeting point for parents and children, i.e. a place that allows parents and children to keep or re-establish their links in case of crisis or serious family breakdowns.



You are then along the Ponts Couverts. They are so called because they used to have wooden roofs, which disappeared in the 18th century. They are dominated by three towers of the 13th century, vestiges of the old ramparts, guarantors of the independence of the Strasbourg Republic of the time.


Immediately after Strasbourg became part of France in 1681, a new belt of fortifications was built by Vauban, at the request of Louis XIV: the Barrage Vauban, which you can walk towards. Thus, in case of an attack, by closing the sluice gates, one could flood the lands located in the south to make them impassable by the enemy. To improve the protection of the building, the roof was covered with an earthen embankment in order to cushion the impact of shells. Today, you can walk inside the pedestrian corridor in the Barrage and climb to the roof of the Barrage which serves as a terrace and offers a panoramic view of the Ponts Couverts, the Petite France and the Cathedral.


Leaving the Barrage Vauban, you can walk around the Institut National du Service Public (INSP), cross the Pont de l'Abattoir, then walk up the Quai Turckheim to the Quai de la Bruche.



Indeed, at the exit of the Petite France, on the Quai de la Bruche, is the oldest tree in Strasbourg, a plane tree planted in 1667. Come and say hello to it!


You can then take the direction of the Château Musée Vodou, near the Strasbourg train station. A walk of about 15 minutes awaits you, in a neighborhood which, I must admit, is not necessarily the most pleasant.

 


I think that in terms of unusual, we can hardly do better! Indeed, Strasbourg is home to a rather special museum: the Musée Vodou. It is the most important private collection of West African vodou objects in the world (more than a thousand pieces). This collection was built up by a passionate man, Marc Arbogast (former director of the Alsatian brewery Fischer-Adelshoffen), during his travels in West Africa, the cradle of Vodou. The visit allows to learn a lot about this religion.


The second unusual aspect is that this museum is located in an old and sublime water tower, built shortly after the annexation of 1871 and located near the Strasbourg train station. Thus, as you go up the spiral staircase (or the elevator), you will discover different themes around Vodou on each floor.


The only problem is the entrance fee: 14 euros for an adult. But, the collection is private and unique in the world, to discover absolutely to open its spirit, if I dare say! By the way, I leave you on this video below containing the last reflection with which we leave in head of the Musée Vodou...



You can now take the direction of the Egyptian House (30 minutes walk, or 10 minutes by bike or bus, or choose to take a cab for 10 minutes drive)!

 

8. The façade of the Egyptian House