Christmas in Strasbourg

by Amanda Palumbo
Stripes Europe

Strasbourg is one of Europe’s most picturesque villages. When the holidays arrive, the city turns into a magical wonderland filled with cheerful lights, Christmas music and delicious food. The Strasbourg “Christkindelsmärik” is one everyone should add and mark off their Christmas market bucket list.

Why Strasbourg is unique

Strasbourg is a small village located near the German-French border in the Alsace region. For a city of its size, two or three markets would be plenty but not for the self-professed Capital of Christmas. Strasbourg has 11 markets stretching across its city streets. Everywhere you turn you’ll see booths filled with treats, crafts and warm beverages.

These markets are a long-standing tradition, dating back to 1570. Before that, they were called “Klausenmärik” (Saint Nicolas market), which started in the 12th century. Then, the markets were only three days and for last-minute shoppers to pick up bread, treats, candles, trees and gifts. The markets have come a long way. In 2018, there were more than 300 stalls featuring both German and French cuisine, handmade gifts and decorations.

Sites you won’t want to miss

Whether you’re there for a day trip or spending the weekend, there are so many sites to see but a few you’ll want to make a priority. The Great Christmas Tree at Place Kléber is a magnificent site and not hard to miss. Last year’s tree was nearly 100 feet tall! Just to give you perspective, last year’s Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in New York was only 72 feet. It took 300 man hours to prepare Strasbourg’s tree and hang the nearly 1,300 twinkling lights and illuminated ornaments. Each year there’s a new theme for the tree. Last year, it was “Christmas of yesteryear” with decorations inspired by local traditions like apples, candles and Christmas cookies.

The Nativity Scene Tour is one both adults and kids will want to see. There are dozens of scenes in all sorts of styles. You’ll see the traditional wooden scenes, creatively crafted scenes and of course, living nativity scenes. The displays are all throughout the markets in store windows, the Episcopal Palace and Strasbourg Cathedral.

The Promenade of Stars at the Docks can be viewed from the “quai des bateliers” (Boatman’s Dock). You’ll get breathtaking views of the lights, the cathedral, the lit up half-timbered houses and Palais Rohan. It’s definitely the spot to snap pictures of the lights and maybe grab a selfie or two.

What to eat and drink

Like all Christmas markets, mulled wine in all sorts of flavors will be flowing. You can order it in German, Glühwein, or in French, “vin chaud.”  The kids can grab a mug of “Kinderpunsch,” the non-alcoholic version.

If you’re hungry and chilly, the best thing to order is the hearty Alsatian dish served during the holidays, “Choucroute,” shredded cabbage, pickled in wine and served with sausages and other cured meats. It’s a dish that will both fill you up and warm you up.

You’ll also see a lot of booths selling “Flammekueche,” an Alsatian favorite. It’s a wood-fired French pizza topped with cream, bacon and onion.

To munch on something sweet lookout for “bredele,” bite-size Christmas cookies in unlimited flavors from citrus and cinnamon to anise. The kids will love a “mannele,” a brioche bread made in the shape of Saint Nicholas filled with chocolate or raisins.

You can also grab a paper cone of chestnuts, quite literally roasted on an open fire.

Fun for the kids

Strasbourg has a special Christmas market just for kids! The Children’s Village at Saint Thomas has arts and crafts for the little ones. They can decorate Christmas cookies, make paper stars and Christmas cards. There’s a play area for kids under six as well, where Pere Noel (Santa Clause) pays regular visits when he’s taking a break from organizing his naughty and nice list.

At Place Kléber there’s an all-ages ice rink, with a special area for children to skate.

How to get there

Strasbourg is easily accessible by train from just about anywhere in Germany. It may honestly be the best way to get there because parking can be hard to find during the Christmas markets.

If you’re driving from within Germany, it’s about a two-hour drive from the KMC and Stuttgart area and a five-hour drive from south Bavaria. There are park-and-ride car parks that connect with the city’s tram system that can be found here. Your tram ticket is included in the price to park.

Where to stay

Hotels will be pricey for the markets. The closer to the city center, the higher the price and prices go up closer to December. You can stay in nearby Illkirch-Graffenstaden for half the price. Illkirch-Graffenstaden is just a 30-minute tram ride to Strasbourg. Across the river in the German city of Kehl, hotels are about a third of the price and you can get to Strasbourg in 40 minutes via public transportation.

Strasbourg is one of Europe’s most magical cities any day of the year but at Christmas, it truly turns into a holiday fairytale you won’t see anywhere else. If you’re only able to visit one Christmas Market this year, Strasbourg is the place. For more information on dates, events and parking head to the Strasbourg Christmas market website. 

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