Strasbourg is a popular tourist destination for its famous and rich Christmas decorations. Every year, Christmas markets delight the hearts of visitors all over the world. Christmas traditions have been rooted in the customs of Alsatians since 16th century. For four centuries now, the emblematic Christmas market has been working its magic in the European Christmas capital. The city was in a fairytale atmosphere with over 300 wooden chalets, spread around different squares, everywhere there are fresh surprises waiting to be discovered.
The Christmas market is the oldest in France, and one of the oldest in Europe. Strasbourg is, throughout the month of December, one of the most lights of Europe. A real fairy tale atmosphere, which enchants all visitors. The atmosphere that reigns in the city is unique. The streets are adorned with their most beautiful finery, the windows sparkle, the smells of cinnamon and spices evoke childhood memories, Christmas carols resound in the depths of the churches. The whole city is transformed into an enchanting setting.
Alsatians have always had these Christmas traditions, since November, they get together as a family to prepare the end of year celebrations as well as their famous bredeles, small shortbreads of all shapes and sizes. Some make their own Advent wreath, others prepare the crib, the fir tree with its garlands, mulled wine or gingerbread. Even today, all these traditions are still part of Alsatian life until December 24.
“Strasbourg, capital of Christmas” is exceptionally renowned. Every year, close to two million visitors flock to the Alsatian capital to experience its enchanting market. Its large Christmas tree, pretty wooden chalets, spicy smells, choirboys’ songs, magical Christmas decorations and illuminations attract thousands of people to Alsace at this time of year. For over a month, Strasbourg is imbued with a festive, spiritual ambiance with few parallels anywhere else in Europe.
As Christmas approaches, Strasbourg gets decked out in all its finery. As night draws in, the magic begins to work across the city. Thousands of Christmas lights and decorations sparkle and twinkle to create a bewitching atmosphere in the Alsatian capital. Taste the famous mulled wine or Alsatian cider, or a good hot apple juice, many activities on site, a Ferris wheel, an ice rink, rides and horse-drawn carriage rides with a magnificent fireworks display overwhelm you in the magical magic of Christmas.
The Christmas Market is spread across more than ten sites, all located within the Grande Île district. The beautiful historical centre was the first city centre to be classified entirely as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The buildings here are mostly medieval wooden truss houses and Baroque sandstone buildings. This area has a large number of exquisite buildings from the Middle Ages. When you stroll through the winding alleys of the old town, you can see the charming Gothic cathedral and Green style brick and wooden cottages, and feel the unique charm of the world cultural heritage.
For the four weeks of the Christmas Market, as soon as the night falls, the city lights up with magnificent illuminations that add magic to the air. The big Christmas tree on Place Kléber Square is the most enchanting of all. This majestic, beautifully decorated tree stands proud and impressive, at thirty metres high. A symbol of an Alsatian tradition that goes back five centuries, it is the ambassador of a city bathed in light.
On Place Broglie, at the base of the Opera House, on this square where the carefully trimmed plane trees are lined up in perfect rows, you’ll find one of the historical sites of the Christmas Market. The Christkindelsmärik (market of the baby Jesus) has been held here since 1570. This “little bit” of market is unique. Here, you’ll find exceptionally rich Christmas decoration stands, as well as the traditional mulled wine, with its sweet scents of cinnamon, cloves and citrus.
Strasbourg is the capital of the Grand-Est region of France and is most widely known for hosting a number of important European institutions. In history, Germany and France have alternated sovereignty over Strasbourg many times, so this city has the characteristics of both Germany and France, the fusion and collision of the two cultures has shaped its unique style. Strasbourg belonged to the Rhine area whose Christmas traditions were very strong with the famous St Nicholas’ Day.
The city is chiefly known for its sandstone Gothic Cathedral with its famous astronomical clock, and for its medieval cityscape of Rhineland black and white timber-framed buildings, particularly in the Petite France district or Gerberviertel (“tanners’ district”) alongside the Ill and in the streets and squares surrounding the cathedral, where the renowned Maison Kammerzell stands out.
The Cathedral’s celebrated splendour, during Advent, admire magnificent 17th-century tapestries telling the tale of the Virgin Mary’s life, as well as a monumental nativity scene that’s 18 metres long. To get a fresh perspective, you can also go up to the platform of the Cathedral. After climbing up the 330 steps, you’ll be rewarded by a breathtaking view of the markets and the urban landscape.
And to see the city from yet another point of view, we also recommend taking a tour boat ride. From the water, the architecture and decorations are even more stunning. The canal bridges criss-cross, along the way are old houses with brown roofs and black wooden slats on the outer walls. The flowers on the window sills are swaying in the wind. The occasional cruise ship slides over the water, sparkling, full of harmony and romance. Strasbourg has many exquisite and beautiful bridges, the most fascinating is the medieval covered bridge composed of three bridges and four ancient towers.
Notable medieval streets include Rue Mercière, Rue des Dentelles, Rue du Bain aux Plantes, Rue des Juifs, Rue des Frères, Rue des Tonneliers, Rue du Maroquin, Rue des Charpentiers, Rue des Serruriers, Grand’ Rue, Quai des Bateliers, Quai Saint-Nicolas and Quai Saint-Thomas. Notable medieval squares include Place de la Cathédrale, Place du Marché Gayot, Place Saint-Étienne, Place du Marché aux Cochons de Lait and Place Benjamin Zix.
In addition to the cathedral, Strasbourg houses several other medieval churches that have survived the many wars and destructions that have plagued the city: the Romanesque Église Saint-Étienne, partly destroyed in 1944 by Allied bombing raids; the part-Romanesque, part-Gothic, very large Église Saint-Thomas with its Silbermann organ on which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Albert Schweitzer played; the Gothic Église protestante Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune with its crypt dating back to the seventh century and its cloister partly from the eleventh century;
The Gothic Église Saint-Guillaume with its fine early-Renaissance stained glass and furniture; the Gothic Église Saint-Jean; the part-Gothic, part-Art Nouveau Église Sainte-Madeleine etc. The Neo-Gothic church Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux Catholique (there is also an adjacent church Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux Protestant) serves as a shrine for several 15th-century wood-worked and painted altars coming from other, now destroyed churches and installed there for public display; especially the Passion of Christ. Among the numerous secular medieval buildings, the monumental Ancienne Douane (old custom-house) stands out.
The German Renaissance has bequeathed the city some noteworthy buildings (especially the current Chambre de commerce et d’industrie, former town hall, on Place Gutenberg), as did the French Baroque and Classicism with several hôtels particuliers (i.e. palaces), among which the Palais Rohan (completed 1742, used for university purposes from 1872 to 1895, now housing three museums) is the most spectacular. Other buildings of its kind are the “Hôtel de Hanau” (1736, now the city hall); the Hôtel de Klinglin (1736, now residence of the préfet); the Hôtel des Deux-Ponts (1755, now residence of the military governor); the Hôtel d’Andlau-Klinglin (1725, now seat of the administration of the Port autonome de Strasbourg) etc. The largest baroque building of Strasbourg though is the 150-metre-long (490 ft) 1720s main building of the Hôpital civil. As for French Neo-classicism, it is the Opera House on Place Broglie that most prestigiously represents this style.
Strasbourg also offers high-class eclecticist buildings in its very extended German district, the Neustadt, being the main memory of Wilhelmian architecture since most of the major cities in Germany proper suffered intensive damage during World War II. Streets, boulevards and avenues are homogeneous, surprisingly high (up to seven stories) and broad examples of German urban lay-out and of this architectural style that summons and mixes up five centuries of European architecture as well as Neo-Egyptian, Neo-Greek and Neo-Babylonian styles. The former imperial palace Palais du Rhin, the most political and thus heavily criticized of all German Strasbourg buildings epitomizes the grand scale and stylistic sturdiness of this period. But the two most handsome and ornate buildings of these times are the École internationale des Pontonniers (the former Höhere Mädchenschule, with its towers, turrets and multiple round and square angles and the Haute école des arts du Rhin with its lavishly ornate façade of painted bricks, woodwork and majolica.
Notable streets of the German district include: Avenue de la Forêt Noire, Avenue des Vosges, Avenue d’Alsace, Avenue de la Marseillaise, Avenue de la Liberté, Boulevard de la Victoire, Rue Sellénick, Rue du Général de Castelnau, Rue du Maréchal Foch, and Rue du Maréchal Joffre. Notable squares of the German district include Place de la République, Place de l’Université, Place Brant, and Place Arnold. Impressive examples of Prussian military architecture of the 1880s can be found along the newly reopened Rue du Rempart, displaying large-scale fortifications among which the aptly named Kriegstor (war gate).
As for modern and contemporary architecture, Strasbourg possesses some fine Art Nouveau buildings (such as the huge Palais des Fêtes and houses and villas like Villa Schutzenberger and Hôtel Brion), good examples of post-World War II functional architecture (the Cité Rotterdam, for which Le Corbusier did not succeed in the architectural contest) and, in the very extended Quartier Européen, some spectacular administrative buildings of sometimes utterly large size, among which the European Court of Human Rights building by Richard Rogers is arguably the finest. Other noticeable contemporary buildings are the new Music school Cité de la Musique et de la Danse, the Musée d’Art moderne et contemporain and the Hôtel du Département facing it, as well as, in the outskirts, the tramway-station Hoenheim-Nord designed by Zaha Hadid.
The city has many bridges, including the medieval and four-towered Ponts Couverts that, despite their name, are no longer covered. Next to the Ponts Couverts is the Barrage Vauban, a part of Vauban’s 17th-century fortifications, that does include a covered bridge. Other bridges are the ornate 19th-century Pont de la Fonderie (1893, stone) and Pont d’Auvergne (1892, iron), as well as architect Marc Mimram’s futuristic Passerelle over the Rhine, opened in 2004.
The largest square at the centre of the city of Strasbourg is the Place Kléber. Located in the heart of the city’s commercial area, it was named after general Jean-Baptiste Kléber, born in Strasbourg in 1753 and assassinated in 1800 in Cairo. In the square is a statue of Kléber, under which is a vault containing his remains. On the north side of the square is the Aubette (Orderly Room), built by Jacques François Blondel, architect of the king, in 1765–1772.
Take one last stroll along the Promenade aux Étoiles (a star-studded walk) and enjoy the heritage of Strasbourg, made even more beautiful by the shimmering Christmas lights. From Pont du Corbeau (Raven Bridge) to St. Guillaume bridge, 400 stars fill with the spirit of Christmas.
The historical Petite France district with a unique, magical ambiance thanks to the subtly decorated half-timbered houses, beautifully reflected in the canal, and, in Louise Weiss and Suzanne Lacore Squares, you’ll find the Advent Village. In this festive village, you’ll get to discover the traditions of Christmas in Alsace, see a show, or taste the products of the “Irréductibles petits producteurs d’Alsace”
Next, make your way to the “Off” Christmas Market on Place Grimmeissen. At this local, socially aware market, about thirty stalls, staffed by players of the social and solidarity-based economy. The charming Christmas markets on the squares of Place Benjamin Zix and Place Saint-Thomas. At lunchtime, you can grab a bite to eat at one of the many stalls; a great way to try some of the delicious Christmas Market specialities not to be missed!
Place Kléber, where the Village du Partage (Village of Sharing) is spread out around the Great Christmas Tree. At 5 o’clock, the Great Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, set to music, on Place Kléber. It’s always spectacular and moving. The historic market “Christkindelsmärik” is considered the heart and soul of the Christmas experience in Strasbourg. Admire the facade of City Hall, beautifully adorned with festive decorations honoring the characters of the history of the Christkindelsmärik.
Strasbourg offers everyone the emotion of being transported in the Christmas magic. As Christmas draws near, Strasbourg dons all its finery. From Pont du Corbeau up to Pont Saint-Guillaume, close to 400 stars hanging here and there and enhance the rich historical and architectural heritage of Strasbourg. The streets, houses, bridges, church facades and most beautiful monuments are clothed in light and offer everyone the emotion of being transported in the Christmas magic. Discover the many illuminated decorations produced by Vitrines de Strasbourg in partnership with the City of Strasbourg. The air, water and land are all lit up to create a unique atmosphere.
Towering over Place Kléber, the Great Christmas Tree is the iconic symbol of Strasbourg Capitale de Noël. It shimmers majestically in an enchanted setting and appears like a dream of a starry night. For this 2022 event, its decorations revisit some of our ancestral traditions with a modern twist. It is decorated with rough wood shapes, light and airy white spheres and red baubles.
At the pont du Corbeau, you reach rue du Vieux-Marché-aux-Poissons. Go through the Gate of lights and enter the magical world of Strasbourg Capitale de Noël. Christmas baubles with surprise decorations edged with red fringes will guide your steps towards the Great Christmas Tree. At the intersection of rue Mercière lead you to the Place de la Cathédrale. On rue des Tonneliers, look up and admire the illuminated suspended barrels, a few steps away is the Blue Tree and the giant manneles of rue des Hallebardes, and rue de la Mésange with its giant forest. On Grand’Rue, notice the giant chandelier and its magical decorations. After the twinkling stars of the Petite France, make your way towards rue du 22 Novembre and place des Halles to see other illuminations.
Discover the excellence of the craftsmen present in Strasbourg, from the stalls brimming with gourmet delights and exceptional items that symbolize Christmas in Alsace. There are many such traditions linked to craftsmanship know-how. Decoration, fine foods, original gifts, and more. Strasbourg, Capital of Christmas celebrates the work of these local producers who work in harmony with the terroir and their materials. For many years, Strasbourg has enjoyed the Ville et Métiers d’Art (Arts and Crafts City) label, which rewards endeavours to preserve, showcase and promote the sometimes centuries-old know-how of artisan trade associations and artistic craftsmanship.
The region’s designers and artisans are behind the decorations that light up the city, sheltered by the stalls. Their hands shape what creates the magic and charm of Christmas: wooden toys made in Alsace in one place, pottery from Soufflenheim and Betschdorf in another, craft beers here, Advent wreaths over there and Christmas baubles made of glass blown at the International Glass Art Center in Meisenthal, etc.
The Christmas flea market organized by Strasbourg’s second-hand market traders association (ABFNS), this flea market is held in the large hall of the L’Aubette building on Place Kléber. You will find a host of antique and second-hand dealers who will be displaying antique items and works of art for sale, ranging from Alsatian painting and pottery to furniture, along with design, vintage, old linen and tableware items, providing a diverse selection. Offering a delight for the eyes and the excitement of unearthing a real gem, you will find ideas for authentic gifts.
The Alsatian federation of crafts (Frémaa) highlights the talent and expertise of some sixty craftsmen and women with an utterly charming pop-up store where those with an eye for unique items can find distinctive hand-made gifts. Ceramicists, glass-makers, cabinetmakers, jewellery and fashion designers reveal their latest collections.