Located on the border between France and Germany, Colmar is most noted for cobblestone streets lined with half-timbered colorful medieval and early Renaissance buildings. There so many fun things to do in Colmar that it’s even rated as one of the most beautiful towns in France. You can spend hours getting lost in the side streets, admiring the beautiful architecture, or divulging in a delicious flammekueche with a glass of Riesling. Needless to say, it is obvious why this little town is so popular.
Here is a complete list of the best things to do in Colmar to help you get inspired and plan your trip
A Brief History of Colmar
Colmar, from the Roman Columbarium, was first mentioned in 823, in a charter by Emperor Louis le Pieux, son of Charlemagne, however, it was not until 13th century that Colmar became an Imperial City. At this time religious orders established themselves in Colmar, and began building numerous churches and monastic buildings some of which are still standing today.
In 1354, Colmar took part in the establishment of the Decapole, federation of ten cities of Alsace united to defend their privileges and Imperial City status.
The Ancienne Douane (Old Customs House or Koïfhus) building was completed in 1480 and was used to hold political meetings until 1678.
After the revolution, Colmar was dubbed a “Royal City of France.” However, the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) caused great destruction, that forced the King to place Colmar under protection.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, Colmar saw the Golden Age and the wealth of the city grew, which resulted in lavishly constructed buildings throughout the city.
One of the most recent significant dates in the history of Colmar is 2 February 1945, which marked the end of the second World War.
Perhaps Colmar was best described by Voltaire, who stayed in Colmar for 13 months between 1753 and 1754, and said Colmar was “a city half-German and half-French, and wholly Iroquoian.”
Best Things To Do In Colmar
1. Visit the Old Town
Colmar’s Old Town is perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when visiting this Alsatian town. The streets are lined with colorful houses and decorated with beautiful flowers.
There are several ways to visit Colmar’s Old Town, the most practical is by foot. You can easily get lost admiring the beautiful architecture. The other possibilities include taking one of the two tourist trains or take a walking tour. I chose to visit the Old Town without a tour, which gave me more freedom to pop in the little shops along the way.
2. Take a Boat Ride on the Little Venice of Colmar
Colmar is home to the Lauch river that runs through some of the most beautiful sections of Colmar. It has been dubbed the Little Venice of Colmar. While you could easily walk along the river, taking a boat ride offers a different view. In addition, the driver recounts the history of Colmar with little stories behind the buildings along the way.
The boat ride is roughly 20 min. I would recommend arriving early in the morning when the river and the surrounding streets are less crowded.
3. Watch the Sunrise over Little Venice
Wake-up early and avoid the crowds. Before 8am, the streets along the Little Venice of Colmar are calm and the sun bounces off the colorful buildings to give stunning photographs. It is surprisingly calm in the morning and you can really take your time to explore the area and capture the beauty of Colmar without the crowds. As an added bonus, the sunrises are really stunning!
4. Admire Colmar’s Most Colorful Street
Colmar is noted for its colorful buildings, and the most colorful street attracts thousands of tourists per year. Interestingly, these colors were once used to distinguish the religion of its inhabitants. Blue denoted that the family was catholic, while red corresponded to a protestant family. Nowadays, the goal is to have a different color than your neighbors.
I would recommended passing by early in the morning to avoid the crowds. During the day it can be rather packed, and it is nearly impossible enjoy this beautiful street.
5. Eat Lunch at the Farmer’s Market
This market is more than just a market. Everything you would want to bring home from the beautiful city of Colmar is available here: Alsatian wines, local cheese, and souvenirs. You can even relax and enjoy a cup of coffee and local pastries in one of the coffee shops. But the best part of this market is the flammekueche. Make sure to order at the cafe that hangs over the river. To date, it’s the best I have ever had. If you are going for lunch, arrive early. By noon, every seat is taken!
6. Admire La Maison des Têtes
La Maison des Têtes was originally built in 1609 on behalf of the merchant Anton Burger and is one of the most famous houses in Colmar.
This Renaissance style house is the work of architect Hans Burger. Its name comes from the 106 small human heads that adorn the outside of the building. Interestingly, the windows are of different widths and their vertical placement is irregular making it a unique visual experience.
7. Visit the Pfister House
The Pfister House was built in 1537 for the hatter Ludwig Scherer, who made his fortune with money trading in the Val de Liepvre. Despite its medieval features, the house is the first example of architectural renaissance in Colmar. With its two-story corner oriel, wood gallery, octagonal turret, and mural paintings that represent biblical and secular scenes, the Pfister house became one of the symbols of the old Colmar.
The streets near the Pfister house can become crowded in the afternoon, and I would recommend passing by in the morning to appreciate its beauty.
8. Visit Musée d’Unterlinden
In the 13th century, Musée d’Unterlinden housed the Dominican religious sisters’ convent. Today, it is home to the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald. Musée d’Unterlinden also features a large collection of local and international artworks and manufactured artifacts from prehistorical to contemporary times. It’s impressive collection even won it the title of Musée de France. And, with roughly 200,000 visitors per year, it’s the most visited museum in Alsace.
I would recommend arriving in the morning to avoid the crowds. You can spend several hours wondering the corridors of this magnificent museum, and is definitely worth a visit.
9. Visit Musée Bartholdi
Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi was a French sculptor who is universally best known for designing Liberty Enlightening the World, commonly known as the Statue of Liberty. Throughout his life Bartholdi maintained his childhood family home in Colmar, and, in 1922, it was made into the Musée Bartholdi.
This museum is entirely dedicated to presenting the artist’s work. Family furniture, personal souvenirs, models, drawings, paintings, engravings and photographs are presented on three floors.
Batholdi’s work can be seen throughout Colmar. Some of his most notable pieces include:
- Monument du Général Rapp – 1856 (Bartholdi’s earliest major work)
- Fontaine Schongauer – 1863 (in front of the Unterlinden Museum)
- Fontaine de l’Amiral Bruat – 1864
- Fontaine Roeselmann – 1888
- Monument Hirn – 1894
- Fontaine Schwendi, depicting Lazarus von Schwendi – 1898
- Les grands soutiens du monde − 1902 (statue in the courtyard of the museum)
10. Visit Musée du Jouet (Toy Museum)
Housed in a former cinema, the Colmar Toy Museum welcomes children and adults for a fun, themed visit. The museum displays a collection of toys (on three floors) from the 19th century to the present day. It is a quick glimpse of how society has changed over the years. It’s also a great place to rediscover the toys that marked your childhood!
There are antique toys, characters from cartoons, vintage teddy bears, the first Barbie dolls, video games, Playmobil, and much more. Interestingly, the toys and games on display come from all around the world.
This little museum was by far the most unique activity I did in Colmar. And it gave me a chance to reminisce over my childhood memories.
Summary of My Experience in Colmar
Colmar is one of the most beautiful towns I have seen. I spent hours admiring the beautiful architecture and colorful buildings. Colmar was also the place where I had the most delicious flammekueche. This little medieval town does not require more than 1-2 days, making it easy to visit on any trip in France.
I would recommend visiting Colmar during the week, as the weekends can be overcrowded. If you do decide to travel on the weekend, I would recommend making reservations for dinner because the restaurants are usually completely full.
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Hope you enjoyed my post on the best things to do in Colmar and found it useful. Here are some of my other articles from France that I think you might find interesting.
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