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A Holly Jolly Guide To Strasbourg During the Holidays

Local guide and tour manager Florence Desvernois unwraps the top holiday activities in France’s capital of Christmas.

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Hi, I'm Anna!

Anna Richards is a travel and outdoor writer living in Lyon, France. Her work has been featured in The Independent, SUITCASE, The Telegraph, and many others.

The cobbled streets and covered bridges around Strasbourg’s Gothic cathedral (Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg) were a childhood playground for Florence Desvernois, who now runs tours in the city where she grew up. Her parents were students, living in a small, rooftop apartment overlooking the cathedral, and so Desvernois and her friends explored the history-rich Petite France district to the scent of roasting chestnuts.

After 20 years of traveling widely and guiding overseas, she returned home to run holiday-themed tours in Strasbourg France, and the neighboring towns of Colmar, Riquewihr, Obernai, and Bergheim. The timber-framed houses and French-German fusion of Alsatian towns are intoxicating at any time of year, but never more so than during the Christmas season. Here’s her insider’s guide to things to do in Strasbourg at Christmas.

What makes Strasbourg great for the holidays

Strasbourg tour guides.
Florence Desvernois is a local guide for holiday-themed tours in Strasbourg.Foto: Ophorus Tours

Discover Strasbourg's best holiday bites.

Not only is the main Christmas market in Strasbourg the largest in France—with over 300 wooden chalets and a Christmas tree just shy of 100 feet (30.5 meters) tall—it’s also the oldest, appearing on records as early as 1570 when it was called Christkindelmärik (The Market of Baby Jesus.) The chocolate-box town Colmar, where Desvernois also runs tours, regularly tops lists of the most picturesque Christmas markets in Europe—and is often hailed as the most picturesque town in France.

Much of the produce sold at this Christmas market in Strasbourg comes from Alsace, a region that changed hands between France and Germany multiple times before World War II. Mulled wine, crémant (sparkling wine), and gingerbread are just some of the culinary delights, along with Christmas gifts and handmade crafts such as Christmas baubles.

“During the 19th century, Alsace was hit by drought,” explains Desvernois. “Typically locals had decorated their Christmas trees with apples, but with food scarce, local craftsmen had the idea of blowing balls of glass to create Christmas decorations instead. The Christmas bauble was born!”

Where to try Strasbourg’s top holiday sips and snacks

Mulled wine for sale at a market in Strasbourg.
Stop by a Christmas market in Strasbourg for some delicious mulled wine.Foto: Hadrian / Shutterstock

Wine and dine in Strasbourg this holiday season.

Strasbourg sits firmly on the Alsace Wine Route, so wine (mulled or otherwise) is a must. “Get a glass of sweet, aromatic Gewürztraminer,” says Desvernois. “It pairs perfectly with gingerbread, tarte flambée, and a slice of Muenster (a soft cheese made from unpasteurized cow’s milk).” The German influence is also apparent in the selection of beer on offer, and ale lovers can even try mulled beer at Place des Meuniers—the quintessential Strasbourg Christmas activity.

If you’re visiting Strasbourg in winter, be sure to save room for dessert, advises Desvernois. “On cold days, the best way to warm up is with a hot chocolate from Bistrot et Chocolat, behind Strasbourg Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg). Torche aux marrons (Strasbourg’s famous chestnut cream and meringue dessert) is available from most of the city tea rooms, but for bredele (Alsacian butter cookies) the market outside the Rohan Palace (former residence of Strasbourg’s nobility) is best.”

Where to go Christmas shopping in Strasbourg

Ornaments for sale in Strasbourg.
Strasbourg’s Christmas markets are the perfect place to shop for holiday trinkets.Foto: Ophorus Tours

Top Strasbourg spots for holiday souvenirs.

Save room in your suitcase: Christmas markets in Strasbourg are typically open from 11am to 8pm daily, so there’s plenty of time for Strasbourg holiday shopping. Desvernois recommends hitting the markets at around 4pm, as the sun sets and the chalets light up. For eco-friendly Christmas gifts, head to Strasbourg’s OFF Market which serves organic produce and recycled and upcycled crafts, along with wine tastings, concerts, and other events.

For more Strasbourg holiday shopping away from the markets, La Maison de Hanssen et Gretel sells locally made ceramics, kelsch (red check) tablecloths and napkins, and⁠—in keeping with the shop’s name⁠—plenty of gingerbread. “The collective of local craftspeople at Le Générateur is fantastic too,” says Desvernois. “They sell jewelry, clothes, artwork, bags, and so much more.”

Where to stay in Strasbourg this Christmas

Hotel Cour du Corbeau is one of the oldest hotels in Europe.
Hotel Cour du Corbeau is one of the oldest hotels in Europe.Foto: Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock

Where to enjoy a cozy winter experience in Strasbourg.

Strasbourg isn’t short on accommodation, but it pays to book early during Christmas in Strasbourg. It’s difficult to beat the location of Hotel Cour du Corbeau, a 4-star hotel right by the cathedral and close to most of the top things to do in Strasbourg at Christmas. One of the oldest hotels in Europe, it has seen centuries’ worth of Christmas markets pass through Grand Île, Strasbourg’s city center. The exposed beams in the rooms and flower-lined balconies of the dark wood building are like falling into a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

Top holiday activities in Strasbourg

Strasbourg cathedral at night.
The Strasbourg Cathedral is a must during Christmas.Foto: Marina Datsenko / Shutterstock

Strasbourg’s top festive season activities.

The Strasbourg Cathedral is unmissable, and throughout December it’s lavishly adorned with Christmas decorations complete with a nativity scene, making it one of the most popular things to do in Strasbourg at Christmas. Desvernois recommends coinciding your visit with a carol service. About 330 stairs climb up to the cathedral guardhouse and viewing platform for superb views over the old city, particularly impressive when the markets and Christmas lights are in full swing.

“Try to coincide your trip with the medieval Christmas market in Ribeauvillé,” says Desvernois. Under an hour from Strasbourg, it’s held over two weekends during the December Christmas season and offers insight into what Alsatian Christmas markets were like during their advent.

And finally, with the 105-mile (169-kilometer) long Alsatian Wine Route winding through the area, it would be a shame to leave without adding a tasting to your list of things to do in Strasbourg at Christmas.

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