Alsace is a region located in Northeastern France bordering Germany and Switzerland. It is primarily known for its postcard perfect villages with half-timbered houses and wine. You will notice a huge German influence in these towns due to its passing hands between Germany and France many times since the 17th century. So, you get a German feel in Alsatian towns’ architecture, culture, food and drinks.
Walking around Alsace is like stepping into a fairytale. Imagine a row of colorful houses, balconies adorned with flowers, a canal running through the town, where you can hop on a boat and say Hello to swans in the water 😊 Doesn’t it sound like a fairytale? A little fun fact – some of these towns were the inspiration behind the animated classic, Beauty and Beast.
Strasbourg and Colmar are the most popular towns in this region. There are a handful smaller towns, which are equally beautiful and located just a stone’s throw away from Strasbourg and Colmar. So, it would be a shame if you visit Alsace only for these two big towns and miss the rest.
All you wine lovers, you are in for a treat – this region has a 170-kilometer-long wine route. The local vineyards specialize in Riesling and Gewürztraminer grapes, which are used to make white wines. So in addition to exploring towns, you can visit vineyards and taste delicious wines this region produces. Even if you don’t have time to visit vineyards, there are plenty of wine bars and cellars in the cities where you can taste and purchase wines. If you are visiting in warmer months, you can cycle through the countryside, with a beautiful view of the vineyards, stop at the villages and castles and sip delicious wine.
I have always wanted to visit Alsace region in France and what better time to visit than during Christmas season! This region is beautiful all-round the year, but it truly comes alive during the holiday season.
Did you know Strasbourg is known as the Christmas Capital of Europe? Strasbourg Christmas market is one of the oldest in Europe. In fact, the first Christkindlmarkt in Strasbourg dates back to 1570.
The city explodes with Christmas cheer this time of year. You get to see unique light projections on buildings, countless teddy bears on storefronts and houses, lights over alleyways and big streets, and, of course, countless markets, where you can eat and shop your heart out. It truly is a Christmas wonderland!
Sip on delicious glühwein while wandering the cobbled streets, try local delicacies at the market stalls or shop for handmade gifts – sounds like your kind of trip? Then, keep reading to plan the perfect itinerary. Note that even if you plan to visit in other months, you can use the same itinerary and tweak it for the markets.
Also, since this region is close to Germany, we decided to combine our trip and visit some German markets as well. Click here for a detailed article on Germany’s markets. We also visited Germany’s Garmisch-Partenkirchen region on this trip. If you want to read more about this place, click here.
How to Get There
If you are already visiting Paris, then you can hop on a train (2 hour ride) or drive (around 5 hour drive) to get to Strasbourg.
If you are flying from overseas, then consider flying into Zurich, Switzerland or Frankfurt, Germany. From both these cities, you can drive to Strasbourg in just 2.5 hours.
Best Way to Get Around
We rented a car for the entire duration of our trip, which made it easier for us to explore this region. Even though the towns were busy with both local and international tourists, finding a parking spot was not an issue. Specially in Strasbourg and Colmar, there are plenty of parking garages in old towns. And in smaller towns, you can find street parking or parking lots right outside the city.
If you do not have a car, Strasbourg and Colmar are well connected via train. Once you get to Colmar, you can hop on the Christmas shuttle that runs Friday – Sunday from Colmar to Kaysersberg, Riquewihr, and Ribeauville and Eguisheim. I believe the frequency is every 20-30 minutes and costs around Euros 15 per person.
Best time to Visit
Alsace region is beautiful and there can be no bad time to visit this region. But the Christmas markets are iconic here.
The dates vary each year, but the Christmas markets are typically held sometime between November 22-26 each year to end of December. In some of the smaller towns, the markets may only be held on weekends. Also, in some towns, the markets close on December 24th while in others, they may continue till end of the year. Be sure to check this region’s website for actual dates while planning your trip.
I recommend visiting early in December or even November end for that matter. The international tourists are yet to arrive, prices are relatively low and there are still plenty of affordable accommodation options available. If you have flexibility in your schedule, try to come during the week rather than weekends. Plus, some of the markets are pretty small to the point, you barely have any breathing space if they are crowded. However, they tend to be quieter during the week.
Whichever dates you plan to visit, just make sure to book your hotel in advance, accommodation fills up quickly this time of year. Just to give you an idea, we booked our hotels in August for a November trip.
Dress warmly, but also be prepared for rain. Wear a hooded jacket or bring an umbrella. The temperature will be in the range of 0 – 5 degrees C but since you will be spending a lot of time outdoors, advise layering up. During our trip, it didn’t rain very heavily, but it rained almost everyday.
Autumn would be yet another beautiful time to visit this region. Picture row upon row of vineyards covered in autumnal hues – what a beautiful sight it would be!
Where to Stay
Strasbourg and Colmar have the most hotels and Airbnbs – you can base yourself in either of the cities and make day trips to the other.
Since we had se aside four days to explore this region of France, we split our stay between Strasbourg and Colmar, two nights each. Since some of the smaller towns are closer to Colmar, staying in Colmar made it convenient to explore them all.
In Strasbourg, we stayed at AC Hotel Strasbourg, located around 10-12 minute drive from the old town. It was well connected via tram, which took us right to the foot of the markets. Plus, we managed to find free parking, which would have been impossible to find in the city! And you know how expensive overnight parking can get in any big city!
In Colmar, we picked this cute Airbnb which was around 5-7 minute drive from the city. The house was spacious, with a HUGE balcony and was more than perfect in every way! They even provide bikes free of charge, which would be an excellent way to explore this region. We would have certainly used it if we were visiting in warmer months.
What to Eat and Drink
Mulled wine aka vin chaud, which is basically a concoction of citrus fruits, spices and wine, is the perfect drink to sip on in cold weather. You get in both white and red wines but personally preferred the red ones. While buying a glass of mulled wine, you will also need to pay a deposit for the glasses (around Euros 3-4). After you are done drinking, return the mug at any of the stalls to get the deposit back. Or you can just keep it as a souvenir. Each city has its own unique mug so instead of buying magnets, you can keep them as souvenirs.
If you are looking for non-alcoholic drinks, then you can sip on hot apple cider, hot orange juice with honey and hot chocolate.
If beer is your preferred alcohol of choice, do not fret, we saw some stalls selling craft beer as well.
Apart from these drinks, chocolates and candies, you will find traditional Alsatian specialties like:
- Bretzel – A variation of brioche and bread typically available in plain, sugar or salted flavors.
- Flammekueche / tarte flambee – specialty pizza of this region. It is made with thin pasty like dough, white sauce and typically topped with bacon bits, thinly sliced onions and cheese.
- Pain d’epices / gingerbread – a delicious cake made from dried fruit, spices, honey and fruits.
- Mannele – A delicious brioche made in the shape of a man and best enjoyed dunked in hot chocolate.
- Spaetzele – A very creamy Mac and cheese and typically has bacon bits.
- Bredele – Alsatian cooked typically flavored with cinnamon, orange, chocolate, walnuts.
- Berawaka – A dense cake made of candied fruit that has been macerated in brandy.
In addition to this you will find maroni (roasted chestnuts), hot dogs, baguette sandwiches, foie gras, pretzels, crepes, waffles etc. in almost all the Christmas markets.
Keep in mind that most vendors do not accept credit or debit cards, so be sure to bring plenty of cash. Also, you don’t want to waste your time searching for ATM and paying an ATM fee while withdrawing money overseas.
Places to Visit
Take one walk in this city and you are bound to be mesmerized by the holiday spirit in the air. The streets, houses, windows and balconies twinkle with beautiful lights and decorations each year. Every year, a thirty-meter tall Christmas tree is brought to Place Kléber and decorated with colorful ornaments and shimmering lights.
Strasbourg has about a dozen Christmas markets totaling about 300 stalls. The markets vary in size. A few of them are large and some are just a few stalls tucked in a little square. That being said, they are all worth checking out.
While a stroll in the city during the day will help you appreciate the cutesy details on facades and streets, as the sun sets, you see thousands of lights and decorations sparkle to create an enchanting atmosphere.
Christmas markets in Strasbourg open around 11 am and close by 7 / 8 pm which is a little early compared to other European Christmas markets. However, since the sun sets around 4:30 pm you still have plenty of time to see the markets and streets all lit up at night.
Here are some of the key markets not to be missed in the city:
Here you will find the giant Christmas tree , which is lit up every hour. The light show lasts around 5-10 minutes. We ended up watching it 3-4 times and loved it each time! It will 100% get you in the Christmas spirit.
This one is notable for its prestigious surroundings: The Opera House, the City Hall, the Governor’s Palace, the Prefect’s Palace, the Strasbourg building of the Banque de France and the historic Mess building. I loved the market stalls here as they had the most diverse offerings in terms of items on sale as well as food. For instance, picked up zatar bread and fries from here, which I didn’t find in any other markets in this region.
Place de la Cathédrale
The Christmas market by the Cathedral is one of the bigger and busier ones. If you are traveling with kids, you have to go here for the carousel. You can even visit the inside of the cathedral for its nativity display – but be prepared to stand in line. You can also climb up to the top of the Strasbourg Cathedral to get a panoramic view of the Christmas markets.
One other unique thing to see here is the Astronomical Clock. This masterpiece is the work of scientists, engineers, and Swiss clockmakers. The current mechanism dates from 1842. The main attraction of the clock is its animated figures which come out to delight the public every day at half past noon. During this performance, visitors are treated to views of the different ages of life, personified by a child, a teenager, an adult and an old man, who all parade past Death. Higher up, the apostles have their own parade, before Christ. Since we were visiting on the opening weekend, the markets were very crowded and there was a huge queue to get inside the cathedral. Hence, we skipped it.
Place du Temple-Neuf
One of the cozier markets in the city.
Place Saint-Thomas Christmas Market
This charming little market is on the way to Petit France and is underneath trees and twinkle lights. Here you can enjoy food and beverages, with bredeles, pretzels, pain d’epices loaves, foie gras, and local beers and wines available for purchase.
Located in the heart of Petite France in Strasbourg, you will love this market. Located at the Western end of the Grande Île, it is beautifully illuminated at night. This market mostly sells local food products including candies, chocolate, pates, jams, and more! Recommend visiting after sunset for the lights.
You don’t get the name ‘Capital of Christmas’ for nothing. As you know, I visited various markets on this trip and I have to say, Strasbourg had some of the best lights and displays.
Keep your eyes open and up everywhere you go! While almost every street and alley is beautifully decorated and lit up, here are some spots you have to visit:
The Carré D’Or Area
This little neighborhood, not too far from the Cathedral, is one of the prettiest spots in the whole city. A couple of streets here are fully decked up; from glittering light strands to teddy bears, polar bears, penguins, nutcrackers, and glittering stars above the shops. Also, be sure to stop by this store called ‘La Maison de Hanssen &Gretel’. Wander around the streets here both during the day and night and you will not be disappointed!
The Notre Dame Cathedral is beautiful from all angles, but I think the best is from Rue Merciere. There are angel lights that line the street framing the tower of the Cathedral. It is a stunning sight!
Teddy Bear House
Teddy bears are a common decoration on the buildings in Alsace region. But the cutest and most popular teddy bear found can be found in a small alleyway next to the Cathedral. Type in “Le Gruber” on google maps to find this exact location. To be honest, this entire street is beautiful and worth a stroll.
This store is beautifully illuminated and so is the street adjacent to it.
Apart from the above, you must take a stroll in La Petite France, the most charming neighborhood in the city. Located on the banks of the Ill River, this picturesque district is full of colorful houses. On a sunny day, the beautiful reflections make for a lovely sight! I recommend visiting first thing in the morning when it is peaceful. You can even take a boat tour along this river and admire the views from the river. The boat is covered so you can hop on a ride even in colder months. There are also a few markets here which you may want to check out.
For the most beautiful views, I recommend Pont du Faison, Quai de la Petite France, and Place Benjamin Zix in front of Maison des Tanneurs.
Colmar is the second most popular town in this region after Strasbourg. This town is much smaller compared to Strasbourg. But if you are like me, you can spend hours wandering around aimlessly and photographing the beautiful streets and corners here.
Colmar, like Strasbourg, is most photographed in the spring and summer when you see countless flowers hanging from windows. However, the holiday season bring about a whole different look and trust me when I say, it is absolutely magical.
Colmar’s Christmas markets are much smaller than the ones in Strasbourg, and hence, easily doable in a day. There are six markets in total and all very close together to each other.
- Place des Dominicains – It is one of the largest Christmas markets in Colmar. You can find everything that is expected from a traditional European market, from vin chaud to handcrafted goods.
- Place Jeanne d’Arc – Here you will find local wines, gingerbread, bredele, and much more!
- Petite Venise – The most picturesque spot in Colmar. You will find the Colmar Children’s Christmas Market here with highlights such as a mechanical Nativity Scene and posting a letter to Father Christmas! Also, if you go in the evenings, you get to see beautiful light projections on buildings along the river.
- Place de l’Ancienne Douane – It is the most beautiful here in the evenings when the former Customs House is beautifully illuminated with lights.
- Place de la Cathedrale
- Koifhus – It is an indoor Christmas market which focuses on handcrafted goods and vintage products.
Marche Gourmand is yet another lovely place to visit during lunch / dinner as it has several stalls showcasing local restaurants with delicious cuisine. It only sells food and drinks here so it is the perfect place to try local delicacies.
Grand Rue is the main street in Colmar lined with tons of shops, cafés, and hotels. One of the most photographed spots in here is Maison dite au Pèlerin, where you will find the Christmas tree. A few steps further, is yet another insta worthy spot – Au View Pignon. Go during the day as well as night to see this square beautifully lit up.
For me, the most picturesque spot in the city is undoubtedly Petit Venise. Lined with colorful row of houses in bright colors with a canal on its side, it looks postcard perfect. Walk by Quai de la Poissonnerie, where the fishmongers used to live back in the day. Today, you will find some bakeries and restaurants here where you can grab a seat and admire the view. Some of them even have an outdoor seating which you can enjoy in warmer months.
Walk along the river, admire the colorful row of houses, or grab a seat in one of the cafes along the river.
A few steps away is Rue Turenne Bridge which provides a fantastic view of the river with beautiful facades on either side. During the holiday season, they have children’s choir singing traditional carols on boats in these canals. And you get to see cute holiday decorations here and light projections on buildings post sunset.
Some other places worth checking out in the city are Claude Kraetz Bakery, Au Croissant Dore, Brasserie de Tanneurs, Masion Pfister, Sezanne. Also, stop by the covered market hall where you can find small shops selling fresh produce, meat, pastries, meat as well as prepared dishes like pasta.
Located just 15 minute drive from Colmar, is the beautiful town of Eguisheim. And it looks even more charming during the holiday season thanks to the twinkling lights and decorated buildings.
The market here is pretty small but you will surely find some amazing handcrafted items to bring home along with tasty treats!Pick up a Discovery Trail map from the tourist information office and as you will see, most of the sights to see are withing a walking distance from each other. Walk around the alleys along cobblestone streets and admire the little details.
Saint Leon Square and Chapelle Saint-Léon IX are some of the other beautiful spots in the city worth checking out.
This town ended up being my favourite after Colmar. And this was before I knew it was elected the favorite village of French in 2017!
The best part was that this town wasn’t as crowded compared to its neighboring towns. May be because we went on a weekday so we could explore the town at our time and pace.
The town itself is nestled below a hill of vineyards and has delightful cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses. If you have time, you can climb to the castle – from the center of the village, it is easy to climb to the top of the castle and you get a lovely view of the town and vineyards.
Best thing to do here? Simply wander around the streets and enjoy the beautiful cobbled streets, half-timbered houses and the castle of Kaysersberg! It is pretty small so can be easily doable in an hour or two. Try some bredele, find handcrafted toys and decor, and sip mulled wine from a lovely little glass mug.
This beautiful town is located in the heart of the Alsace wine region, making it one of the best Christmas markets in the Alsace in France! With gorgeous views of vineyards, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Riquewihr any time of the year.
Oh, and for wine lovers, there are so many great stands selling local wines from local vintners! Try Rieslings, Pinot Blancs, and some Pinot Noir in the middle of the market.
Sadly, we ended up visiting on a Sunday (during the opening weekend) and this town was very very crowded. Plus, given the narrow streets, it felt very claustrophobic. We were overwhelmed and ended up spending just an hour. But whatever little we ended up seeing of the town, it was super cute! I guess that also explains why this town was so crowded 🙄
Yet another popular town along the Alsace wine roue is Ribeauvillé, located 10 minutes by car from Riquewihr.
They host a medieval Christmas market for two weekends in December, each year. Since we visited in November end, we were not able to experience the market. Nonetheless, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the city. The main street, Grand Rue, is lined with beautiful half-timbered houses, stores, beautiful and ornate signs and cafes.
If you have additional time on hand, then you can hike the three castles of Ribeauvillé, Saint-Ulrich, the Ribeaupierre and the Girsberg. Here you will get beautiful views of the vineyards and the village, which I bet would look stunning in spring, summer, and autumn months.
This town is often overlooked but it lies exactly between Colmar and Strasbourg and makes for the perfect day trip.
The historical city center is not very big, and can be easily covered on foot. There are beautiful medieval half-timbered houses, Renaissance buildings, very pretty courtyards all beautifully decorated during the holiday season.
We got here right before the markets opened and enjoyed a peaceful stroll in the city before the inflow of tourists! Also picked up a hot chocolate from L’Eden – one of the best we had on this entire trip!
*All prices are as of November 2023