15 Best things to do in Alsace (France)

Alsace, which borders Germany and has been contested by France and its neighbors for centuries, has left behind a character that unites the two.

This cultural fusion applies to everything from architecture to cuisine and language.

The spherical peaks of the Vosges Mountains dominate the west, creating a dry microclimate that has allowed Riesling-growing vineyards to flourish.

The towns on the Alsatian wine route are some of the most quaint you can imagine, with wooden houses, canals and colorful flower arrangements.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Alsace:

1. Strasbourg Cathedral

Strasbourg Cathedral

Until 1874, the 142-meter-tall building was the tallest building in the world for 227 years.

With its high Gothic carved stonework and enormous scale, it impressed everyone who saw it and was praised by epoch-making writers Victor Hugo and Goethe.

There’s plenty of room inside to keep the curious for hours, but the astronomical clock is an incredible mid-19th century ingenuity: it shows equinoxes, leap years, and all sorts of astronomical details.

Study the marvelous stained glass windows built between the 1100s and 1300s, and climb the towers for unparalleled city views.

2. Colmar


Colmar’s medieval center is so lovely that it’s almost impossible to take a bad photo.

It’s also pretty big, but you won’t mind getting lost as it seems like every cobblestone street has something beautiful to grab your attention.

That could be one of the countless half-timbered houses, a lovely church or a Renaissance mansion with arcades.

The water is also plentiful here, and there is a small area called Little Venice on the shore of La Lauch.

You can rent a paddle boat from the marina or take a 30-minute cruise to admire the crumbling old houses decorated with bright flowers.

3. Petite France, Strasbourg

petite france, strasbourg

The loveliest neighborhood of the city and one of the best-preserved old towns in Europe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The classic scene here is the creaking half-timbered house, several stories high, reflected in the waters of a canal or Illinois River.

The entire area is woven from waterways that in the past powered the city’s flour mills and provided livelihoods for freshwater fishermen.

If you don’t mind paying a little for this romantic place, there are plenty of places to sample typical Alsatian food.

4. Cite de l’Automobile

quote car

For car lovers, the Bugatti brand has an almost mythical quality.

These high-performance vehicles built by Ettore Bugatti until 1947 go down in history for their innovation and beauty.

There are 122 in this museum, which is remarkable when you consider that only 8,000 of the original Bugattis were built.

These are part of a record-breaking collection of 500 cars secretly collected by local textile tycoons, the Schlumpf brothers.

You’ll see how Schlumpfs managed to keep their fleet out of the public eye, even storing them in this former Mulhouse spinning mill, where only a few workers and friends have ever seen them.

5. Alsace Vineyard Route

Alsace Vineyard Route

On the eastern slopes of the Vosges Mountains lies the most picturesque village in the wine country of Alsace.

Kaysersberg, Eguisheim and Riquewihr are both heart-wrenchingly beautiful and significant to their winemaking history.

The surrounding rolling hillsides have comb-shaped vineyards planted with white Riesling and Gewurztraminer.

Head to the village to taste and buy some of the world’s most popular grand crus in the caves of half-timbered houses with winding cobblestone alleys.

Eguisheim is a place you won’t forget, with three concentric ornate cottages surrounding the central Plaza San Leon.

6. Fort Demuziger

Fort Demuzig

This massive fortress was built by Kaiser Wilhelm II in the late 19th century, when Alsace was under German control after the Franco-Prussian War.

It was built to defend Strasbourg and occupies almost the entire summit of the Breuchstals.

At the time it was a cutting-edge device, using reinforced concrete instead of masonry, with 42 heavy artillery pieces, including 8 howitzers, that could hit targets 8.5 kilometers away.

The tour includes only a small part of the fort, but it takes at least two hours to see everything.

7. Mont Sainte-Odile Abbey

Mont Sainte-Odile Abbey, Obernai

Nestled in the clouds of one of the most famous peaks of the Vosges Mountains, this nunnery offers a pleasant setting to visit its heritage and the panorama of the Alsatian plains.

The monastery dates back to the 7th century, and although it was destroyed by fire in the 1500s, it was completely rebuilt a century later.

Take a flight to visit the Chapel of Tears and the Chapel of Angels, then escape into the forest to see the 11-kilometer-long pagan wall that surrounds the summit plateau of Mount Odile.

No one is too sure who built the wall of 300,000 individual stones, reaching 3 meters in some places.

8. European Parliament, Strasbourg

European Parliament, Strasbourg

The building is large, with a labyrinthine network of corridors, stairs and elevated walkways.

Since it’s not strictly a museum, you may need to register some time in advance to visit.

The building is impressive, but not particularly beautiful, but the importance of the place is more in what the European Parliament symbolizes than what it looks like.

If you came when the EP was set here instead of Brussels, you might be able to join the debate and learn how this large institution works.

9. Train City, Mulhouse

train city, mulhouse

The Cité du Train is not just any locomotive museum; it is the largest in the world, with 103 exhibits in 15,000 square meters.

The exhibition “Le siècle d’or du chemin de fer” (the golden age of railways) was a highlight and part of a multi-million euro renovation project at the end of the 20th century. This tells the social history of the French railways; the affluence and sudden mobility enjoyed by the rich and what that meant for the workers who built the network.

There’s a cast outdoor section with plenty of locomotives and carriages, as well as an older indoor gallery that shows you exactly how steam, diesel and electric trains work.

10. Écomusée d’Alsace, Ungersheim

Écomusée d'Alsace, Ungersheim

This heritage museum managed to save some 70 traditional Alsatian houses from demolition and rebuild them here one by one.

Most date back to around the 1400s and constitute the largest outdoor museum in Europe, with 100 hectares of village, farmland and forest.

As you stroll from house to house, you’ll see traditional artisans at work; in fact, the museum is a training center for veteran craftsmen such as potters, wheelsmiths, and blacksmiths.

You can sample traditional Alsatian food while the kids hop on a vintage carousel from the 1800s.

11. Musée Lalique, Wingen-sur-Moder

Musée Lalique, Wingen-sur-Moder

René Lalique was a glass designer whose career spanned the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements.

He designed jewelry for Cartier in the 1890s, and by the 1920s he was known for his glass art creations.

Located on the site of the glass factory he established in 1921, the museum displays a wide variety of Lalique’s work, with a particular focus on his glass and crystal designs.

These vases, figurines and even car hood ornaments are displayed in specially illuminated galleries to showcase the full details of Lalique’s craftsmanship.

12. Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, Orschwiller

Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, Orschwiller

One of the greatest castles in France, Haut-Kœnigsbourg enjoys its most authoritative position on a rocky ridge with boundless views of the Alsatian plain.

It was built in the 1100s to control the wine, silver and salt routes in the area, but was destroyed by the Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War in the 1600s.

When Alsace was part of the German Empire, Kaiser Wilhelm II restored the fort as closely as possible to its 1600s appearance.

The interior is now richly decorated with medieval tapestries, while the basement houses a fine collection of authentic swords, armor and crossbows.

13. Mulhouse Printed Textile Museum

Mulhouse Printed Textile Museum

In 1833, the textile manufacturers in Mulhouse united to form the Societé Industrielle and archived the countless designs they produced, as well as designs from different historical periods around the world.

The archives are the foundation of this attraction, which will appeal to fashion fans and anyone interested in industrial history.

Six million printed patterns are stored in 50,000 textile documents, from everyday and practical designs familiar to everyone, to the most prestigious symbols of luxury in history.

14. Vosges Adventures

Vosges Adventure

This legendary mountain is a rambler’s dream because of its relatively shallow slopes and rounded peaks.

Vineyards and cool beech and fir forests give way to verdant pastures at higher elevations.

There’s a bewildering array of signposted trails, but everyone should be eager to walk at least a section of Crest Road, which runs 77km from Cernay to Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and features farmhouse hotels for overnight stays.

Electronically assisted bikes are also taking over and giving you fresh air and the freedom of two wheels without much effort! There are rental companies in the Vosges region that offer these and more traditional bikes.

15. Local Food

Caramel Ham

Like almost everything else in the region, traditional Alsatian cuisine is a fusion of French and German influences.

Choucroute exemplifies this perfectly, with sauerkraut heated with Riesling and combined with charcuterie including ham hocks, frankfurters and morteau saucisson.

Tarte flambée is bread dough rolled flat, topped with cheese, onions and lard, and baked.

Alsace is also full of streams and lakes that provide life for freshwater fish such as carp.

There’s even a fried carp route around Sundgau Alsace, and the village specializes in this delicacy, which pairs perfectly with the region’s Riesling.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Alsace, France
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