Dabbling in Jet Lag
Located on the border between France and Germany lies the ever-quaint Colmar. It’s most known for its cobblestone alleys dotted with half-timbered colorful medieval buildings. But that’s not all! The local dishes are tantalizing, yet filling, and the museums are inspiring. Needless to say, it is obvious why this little town is so popular. In fact, it’s rated one of the most beautiful towns in France!
Since moving to Strasbourg, I’ve visited several cities in Alsace, and Colmar was one of my favorites. In summer, the city is decorated with hanging baskets of red, white, and pink flowers. And, in winter, it transforms into a winter wonderland as the Christmas market comes alive. It’s an enchanting city that’s impossible not to love. So, to help you make the most out of your trip, I’ve put together a complete list of things to see and do in Colmar.
Table of Contents
- A Brief History of Colmar
- The Best Things to Do in Colmar
- How to Get to Colmar
- Tips for Visiting Colmar
- Travel Video-Take a Virtual Tour of Colmar
A Brief History of Colmar
Like much of Alsace, Colmar’s history was influenced by both Germany and France. It’s been annexed at least four times in the last century, and, yet, it has somehow maintained its identity. In the words of Voltaire, it’s “a city half-German and half-French, and wholly Iroquoian.”
The story of Colmar, as an imperial city, began in the 13th century. During this time, religious orders settled in Colmar and built several churches, many of which can still be seen today.
The 15th and 16th centuries brought an enormous amount of wealth and growth to the city. So much so that this period is considered Colmar’s Golden Age. Of course, this ended when Colmar began the dance between Germany and France during the World Wars. And, for Colmar, the end of the Second World War (2 February 1945) is one of the most significant dates in its history.
The Best Things to Do in Colmar
1. Wander Down the Streets of the Old Town
Colmar’s Old Town will take you on a journey through time. Here you’ll find restaurants, cafés, and hotels set in buildings that date back to the 13th century. It’s a vibrant neighborhood that is teeming with history. Some of the highlights include Saint Martin’s Church and the stretch of buildings on Grand Rue.
There are several ways to visit Colmar’s Old Town, the most practical is by foot. But if you’re looking for a guided tour, make sure to check out one of Colmar’s City Trains.
Address of Saint Martin’s Church: 18 Place de la Cathédrale
- Little White Train (Place des Martyrs de la Résistance): For more information, click here.
- Tourist Train (3 Rue Kléberr): For more information, click here.
2. Take a Boat Ride on the Lauch River
The Lauch River weaves through some of the most picturesque sections of the city. And the waterways that pass through the Old Town have been dubbed La Petite Venise (or Little Venice) of Colmar. While you could follow the path of the river on foot, a boat ride offers something a little more special. You’ll float along in a small wooden gondola while a tour guide recounts an intimate history of Colmar. It’s a romantic setting that gives way to some spectacular unobstructed views of the city.
Useful Tip: The boat ride is about 25 minutes, and tickets should be purchased in advance.
Sweet Narcisse – Boats Trip Information
- Departure: Below the Saint Pierre Bridge
- Admission: 7€
- For more information, click here.
3. Watch the Sunrise over La Petite Venise (Little Venice)
Wake up early and watch the sky fill with hues of orange and pink over the most radiant buildings in the city. It’s a kaleidoscope of color that is absolutely sublime.
Colmar can be, at times, crowded and buzzing with tourists. So, this will give you the opportunity to see an otherwise busy city, completely empty.
The best places to watch the sunrise over La Petite Venise (Little Venice) are:
- Rue Turenne Bridge
- Rue des Écoles Bridge
4. Admire Colmar’s Most Vivid Street
If there is one thing that Colmar is known for, it is its colorful architecture.
Rows upon rows of streets are lined with pink, blue, yellow, green, and orange houses and shops. The most beautiful of which can be seen from the Bridge Rue des Écoles. In fact, this street alone draws tens of thousands of tourists each year.
Interestingly, these buildings were not painted for the sake of tourism. Up until the 18th century, they served two very specific purposes. First, they were used to distinguish the religion of a household. Blue represented Catholic, while red corresponded to Protestant. And second, they denoted the type of shop (i.e., bakery, butcher, etc.). Today, locals have done away with this tradition, and, instead, try to have a color different from their neighbor.
5. Divour a Flammekueche
Flammekueche is a regional specialty that is similar to pizza. This local delicacy consists of a thin crust topped with crème fraîche, lardons, onions, and local cheese. And, while the ingredients are simple, it’s an explosion of flavor in your mouth. Pair it with a glass of Pinot Gris and you’ll be in heaven. Of course, you can find flammekueche in every city in Alsace, but the best is in Colmar. Head to the local Farmer’s Market and walk to the café in the back. If you are going for lunch, arrive early. By noon, every seat is taken!
Farmer’s Market Address: 13 Rue des Écoles
6. Visit La Maison des Têtes
La Maison des Têtes or The House of Heads sounds like a horror museum, but it’s, actually, a work of art. Small human heads, made of stone, adorn the outside of the building, while windows of different sizes are haphazardly placed between the heads. To say it’s eccentric would be an understatement.
Originally, it was nothing more than a mansion for Anton Burger, a wealthy merchant in the early 1600s. Today, this masterpiece has been turned into a 5-star luxury hotel. If you can afford a night here, it will surely be spectacular, but, if you’re short on cash, you can admire it from the street.
Address: 19 Rue des Têtes
7. Admire the Pfister House
The Pfister House was the home of Ludwig Scherer, a financial guru in the mid-15th century. At first glance, it appears to be a medieval-style home, but, it, actually, was the first example of Renaissance architecture in Colmar. Its most notable features include the corner bay windows that hang over the street below and the paintings inscribed on the wood panels. Unfortunately, you can’t tour the inside of the house, but don’t let this deter you from stopping by. It’s a work of art!
Address: 15 Place de la Cathédrale
8. Tour the Musée d’Unterlinden
In the 13th century, Musée d’Unterlinden was a convent for the Dominican religious sisters. Today, it’s one of the most spectacular museums in Alsace with over 200,000 visitors per year. It even won the title of Musée de France, one of the most prestigious awards for a museum! Not only is it home to the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald, but there’s also a large collection of local and international artworks.
Address: Place des Unterlinden
Admission: 13€ (Tickets can be bought online here.)
9. Visit Musée Bartholdi
Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi was a French sculptor who is best known for designing the Statue of Liberty. And the Musée Bartholdi is a museum built from his former childhood home. From heirlooms to paintings and photographs, it’s a magnificent collection spread across three floors.
Address: 30 Rue des Marchands
Admission: 6.70€ (For more information, click here.)
While the museum is the best place to see his work, there are several additional pieces placed throughout Colmar. Some of the most famous are listed below:
- Monument du Général Rapp
- Fontaine Schongauer
- Fontaine de l’Amiral Bruat
- Fontaine Roeselmann
- Monument Hirn
- Fontaine Schwendi
- Les Grands Soutiens du Monde
10. Reminisce at the Musée du Jouet (Toy Museum)
Housed in a former cinema, the Colmar Toy Museum is a place that will bring you pure joy. Here you’ll find a fantastic display of toys from the last two hundred years, including Barbie dolls, video games, Playmobile, and much more. And, while you can’t play with any of them, it will make you giddy to rediscover the toys that marked your childhood!
Address: 40 Rue Vauban
Admission: 6€ (For more information, click here.)
How to Get to Colmar
While Colmar might not seem like it’s conveniently located, it’s, actually, very easy to reach.
- From France: The closest major city in France to Colmar is Strasbourg. From Strasbourg, it’s about 1 hour by train.
- From Germany: The closest city in Germany to Colmar is Fribourg. But there are no direct trains. You will have to change at least once. The trip takes about 1-2 hours. Frankfurt is much farther, but its airport is very coinvent. If you’re coming from Frankfurt, it’s easier to get to Colmar via Strasbourg.
- From Switzerland: The closest city in Switzerland to Colmar is Basel. Trains are direct and take under an hour.
The three closest airports are listed below:
- Frankfurt Airport (Frankfurt, Germany)
- Charles de Gaulle or Orly Airport (Paris, France)
- EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg (St. Louis, France)
If you are flying into one of these airports, use the information above to reach Colmar by train.
Tips for Visiting Colmar
- Wake up early. Colmar is a popular city, and for good reason. But, during peak tourist season, it’s packed. If you want to experience the city without the people, wake up before 8 am.
- Best time to visit. April-June and September-October are the best times to visit Colmar. There are fewer tourists and the weather is pleasant. If you want to see the Christmas market, then December is the best month to visit.
- Strasbourg or Colmar. If you are wondering which city is better, the answer is: both are great. Colmar is not far from Strasbourg, so if you have an extra day, do a day trip!
- Check opening times. Many restaurants, museums, and cafes are closed on Sunday and Monday.
- Consider visiting during the week. The weekends in Colmar are crowded, but it’s empty during the week.
From vibrant buildings and historical landmarks to local delicacies, Colmar is a city that is sure to wow you. If you’re looking to visit this part of France, it should, definitely, be on your list. And, make sure to use this guide to help plan your next trip!
Travel Video-Take a Virtual Tour of Colmar
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