Dabbling in Jet Lag
Alsace stands apart from any other region of France. For visitors, it offers a quaint mix of German and French cultures while showcasing medieval castles, vineyards, and traditional villages, all at the foot of the Vosges mountains. If you are looking for a destination that incorporates a rich cultural heritage engulfed in natural beauty, then Alsace is for you.
Since moving to Strasbourg, I’ve been able to explore every corner of this magnificent region. And, today, I want to share with you my favorite towns in Alsace. I’ve included some popular places to help you get acquainted with the area as well as some unknown spots. It has everything you need to help you plan your next trip!
Table of Contents
- What is Alsace Famous For?
- Map of the Best Places to Visit in Alsace
- The Most Beautiful Towns in Alsace
- More Amazing Places to Visit in Alsace
- Tips for Visiting Alsace
What is Alsace Famous For?
1. Colorful Half-Timbered Houses
Alsace is most known for its brightly colored half-timbered houses. And, while there are several theories on why they are so vibrant, two stand out. The first suggests that the color of the building was used to identify the type of business (butcher, baker, etc.). And the second says that the colors represented the religion of the household. Blue for Catholicism and red for Protestantism. Today, the goal is to have a color different from your neighbor.
2. Amazing Wine
From the bright summer sun to the nutritious soil, Alsace offers the perfect environment for wine growers. In general, there are seven varieties of grapes in Alsace, each one offering a unique wine. Some of the most famous include Gewurztraminer, Riesling d’Alsace, and Pinot Gris d’Alsace. You can sample Alsatian wine at any restaurant or winery in the region.
Flammekueche, more locally known as tarte flambée, is a regional pizza-like specialty that consists of thin dough topped with lardons, onions, and crème fraîche. While many restaurants use a regular oven, it’s not considered a ‘real’ flammekueche unless it’s cooked in a wood-fired oven. You can find this delicious treat anywhere in Alsace, with each town offering its own take on the recipe. It’s definitely a must if you are in the area.
4. Rich History
Over the last 200 years, Alsace has changed nationality (between France and Germany) at least four times. And, even though it, now, belongs to France, it still retains many of the laws it once had under German rule. It even has its own language, Alsacian, a dialect that mixes both French and German languages.
5. Lively Christmas Markets
The Christmas markets in Alsace are, no doubt, the most famous in France. Every winter, at the beginning of December, the region undergoes a spectacular transformation. Local vendors from around Alsace fill wooden chalets with handmade crafts and trinkets while buildings are decorated with festive displays. The streets are lit with colorful lights as onlookers sip hot glühwein (mulled wine) and nibble on Alsacian delicacies. It’s a fairytale-like winter wonderland that will leave you in awe.
Every year, during the months of February and March, storks flock to the region to nest. And it’s for this very reason that the stork has become the symbol of Alsace. In fact, the arrival of the stork marks the start of spring. If you keep your eyes peeled you can often spot nests on the roofs of houses throughout Alsace.
Map of the Best Places to Visit in Alsace
Below is a map of the Alsatian villages that will be covered in this post. (Click the map to open Google Maps.)
The Most Beautiful Towns in Alsace
Strasbourg is the economic and cultural hub of Alsace. It also serves as the formal seat of the European Parliament. This beautiful, charming city is a true mix of German and French cultures. Highlights include the Notre Dame Cathedral, La Petite France, and Parc de l’Orangerie. And, if you are visiting in winter, don’t miss the Christmas market! Plan to spend at least three days in Strasbourg if you want to take advantage of all this city has to offer.
Useful Tip: If you’re considering moving abroad to France, then Strasbourg should be at the top of your list. It’s an excellent city that is perfect for expats.
Since Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace, it’s very easy to reach. And, while Strasbourg does have an airport, I would recommend flying to either Paris, Frankfurt, or Basel. Each of these cities has several options for reaching Strasbourg.
- From Paris: Direct trains from Paris to Strasbourg take roughly 2 hours and there is no shortage of departures.
- From Frankfurt (Germany): Trains from Frankfurt to Strasbourg usually involve one change and take about 2 hours. Lufthansa also offers an express bus between Frankfurt’s airport and Strasbourg.
- From Basel (Switzerland): Direct trains from Basel to Strasbourg are as frequent as those from Paris and take about 2 hours.
Colmar is most renowned for its colorful half-timbered medieval and early Renaissance buildings. It’s easy to get lost in the side streets while admiring the gorgeous architecture. Needless to say, there are endless things to do in Colmar. My favorites were visiting the Unterlinden Museum and watching the sunrise over Little Venice. Don’t forget to try the flammekeuche at the local farmer’s market, it’s the best in Alsace.
- From Strasbourg: Trains run hourly and take roughly 45 minutes.
- From Freiburg (Germany): While Freiburg appears very close, public transportation to Colmar is not direct. It requires, at least, 2 changes and takes about 2 hours.
- From Basel (Switzerland): Trains run regularly and take about 1 hour.
Located in the Haut-Rhin region of France, Riquewihr is one of the most picturesque villages in Alsace. This medieval town has retained its rustic charm from the 16th century, creating a sense of timelessness.
From the Old Town to world-renowned wineries, Riquewihr is something not to be missed. It’s also a great base for exploring the nearby forests or biking Alsace’s Route des Vins (Wine Route).
Getting there: From Strasbourg, take the train to Colmar (45 minutes) then take Bus 106 to Riquewihr (30 minutes).
Ribeauvillé is situated 16 kilometers (9.9 miles) north of Colmar at the foot of the Vosges mountains. Its narrow streets are adorned with medieval-style houses and cafés. And every Saturday morning, there is a market in front of the Hôtel de Ville. For stunning panoramic views hike up to one of Ribeauvillé’s three castles (Château de Saint-Ulrich, Château du Girsberg, and Château du Haut-Ribeaupierre). They are all accessible via a marked trail.
If you are in Ribeauvillé on the first Sunday in September, don’t miss the Fête des Ménétriers de Ribeauvillé (also called Pfifferdaj). It’s one of the oldest and most popular festivals in Alsace. Since the 14th century, this end-of-summer festival has brought together medieval enthusiasts to celebrate the guild of minstrels that was under the protection of the lords of Ribeaupierre in the Middle Ages. It’s something not to be missed!
Getting there: From Strasbourg, take the train to Colmar (45 minutes) then take Bus 106 to Ribeauvillé (45 minutes).
Located 5 kilometers (3 miles) south of Colmar, lies yet another charming town in Alsace. Like many others, Eguisheim has won many awards, including the most beautiful village in France. But this is not the only reason tourists flock here. Eguisheim has a long-standing reputation for producing the best wines in the region. In fact, there’s even a wine trail called ‘Sentier viticole Eguisheim’ that weaves through the vineyards, explaining different varieties of grapes and how wine is made. It’s definitely something not to be missed.
Eguisheim is also an excellent destination for hikers and cyclists. There are several marked trails that lead to various viewpoints, the most popular being Les Trois Châteaux d’Eguisheim (The Three Castles of Eguisheim).
Useful Tip: If you have a car, I recommend driving Route des 5 Châteaux. It passes by Les Trois Châteaux d’Eguisheim as well as two other castles (Châteaux de Hagueneck and Châteaux du Hohlandsbourg). All five castles have free admission.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, take the train to Colmar (45 minutes). From Colmar, taxis and buses are readily available. If you decide to take the bus, you’ll need to walk (less than 5 minutes) to the bus stop called Diaconat. From there, Bus 7 runs regularly to Eguisheim. (The closest bus stop to Eguisheim is Ricoh.)
Kaysersberg or Emperor’s Mountain received its name from the high fortress, Château de Schlossberg, that overlooks the village. While it served as an important strategic location in the past, it’s now one of the prettiest towns in Alsace. In fact, it receives nearly 700,000 tourists per year, so don’t expect to get off-the-beaten-path here. Popular activities include hiking in the Vosges mountains, biking on one of the many trails, and enjoying delicious wine.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, take the train to Colmar (45 minutes) then take Bus 145 to Kaysersberg (15-30 minutes).
Rosheim dates back to the 8th century, and, to this day, it has retained many relics of its glorious past. The most impressive archeological relic is Saints Peter and Paul’s Cathedral. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in the region. For some of the oldest civil construction in Alsace, stop by the Roman and Pagan House in the town center.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, trains run regularly and take 25 minutes.
Obernai is located in the Bas-Rhin department and lies on the eastern slopes of the Vosges mountains. After Strasbourg, it’s one of the largest cities in Alsace and serves as a gateway to Alsace’s famous Route des Vins (Wine Route).
Overlooking the city is Mont National. This historical monument pays tribute to the Alsatian soldiers, who were forced to serve under the German army in World War II. Not only is it a place overflowing with history, but it also offers stunning panoramic views. So, if you’re asking yourself, “Is Obernai worth it?” The answer is yes. But you don’t need to spend more than one or two days here.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, trains run regularly and take 40 minutes.
Barr is an undiscovered gem in Alsace. Most who venture this way stop in Obernai and continue south without ever giving Barr a thought. While there are not an overwhelming number of highlights, I found Barr to be more beautiful than Obernai. There are also plenty of day hikes in the area. The most popular, include the hike to Landsberg Castle and Mont Sainte Odile. Both trails start at the Saint-Martin Protestant Church.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, trains run regularly and take 55 minutes.
Dambach-la-Ville is one of the best places to visit in Alsace. Highlights include Saint Sébastien chapel and Château de Bernstein. And as the oldest wine-growing village in Alsace, touring a wine cellar should be on every visitor’s list. Ruhlmann-Schutz and Alsace Charles Frey both offer excellent tours. Tours and tastings are free, but you’ll need to book a reservation if you want to guarantee a spot.
- Ruhlmann-Schutz – 34 Rue du Maréchal Foch
- Alsace Charles Frey – 1 Rue du Pinot Blanc
Getting there: From Strasbourg, trains run regularly and take an hour.
Located 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) west of Colmar, in the valley of Vosges lies one of the most charming towns in Alsace, Munster. And while it may seem small, there are a ton of things to see here. Meander around the city and appreciate the unique architecture, stop at a fromagerie (cheese house) and try some Munster cheese, or follow the Chemin du Narrenstein (Narrenstein trail) to the most stunning view over the city. And, if you’re looking for an adventure, hike to Hohneck. As the third-highest peak in the Vosges mountains, it’s no easy hike. But the spectacular vistas that await are worth the effort.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, take the train to Colmar (45 minutes). Change trains at Colmar, and take the train to Munster (34 minutes).
From enchanting castles and magnificent churches to beautiful scenery and pristine hiking trails, Andlau has everything. In fact, it was even dubbed one of the most adored villages in France in 2014. Some highlights include the Abbey of Sainte Richarde, a Romanesque masterpiece, the Kastelberg gazebo, which offers splendid views over the city, and Ateliers de la Seigneurie, a museum dedicated to the history of Alsace. Château de Spesbourg and Château d’Andlau are also not to be missed. (Entry is free for both castles.)
Getting there: Transportation to Andleau is almost nonexistent. I would recommend taking the train to Barr and then walking to Andlau. It takes about 50 minutes.
Hunawihr lies between Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé, and, while it may not be as popular as these two, it’s definitely worth a visit. This little town is home to only 602 citizens and is a great place to enjoy complete serenity. Walk among the vineyards and relish the amazing views. Given its size, there are not a lot of options for accommodation. I would recommend staying in Riquewihr or Ribeauvillé and visiting Hunawihr as a day trip.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, take the train to Colmar (45 minutes) then take Bus 106 to Hunawihr (45 minutes).
Since the 17th century, Mittelbergheim has been a true wine-growers village. And almost every house on the main street offers wine tasting. Not only that but with a population of 600, it’s the perfect place to visit if you’re looking to get off-the-beaten-path and escape the crowds. Spend the day sipping handcrafted Alsatian wine while taking in the stunning views over the beautiful vineyards or pack a lunch and enjoy it at one of the many picnic areas.
Getting there: Transportation to Mittelbergheim is almost nonexistent. I would recommend taking the train to Barr and then, walking to Mittlebergheim. It takes less than an hour.
Guebwiller is a destination for those who love nature and outdoor activities. In fact, its claim to fame is the Grand Ballon, the highest peak (1424 meters or 4671 ft.) in the Vosges mountains. And from the town center, it’s only 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) to the top.
If you’re short on time or don’t want to tackle the Grand Ballon, Guebwiller has plenty of things to see. Highlights include the Romanesque church of Saint Léger, the Convent of the Dominicans, the Synagogue of Guebwiller, and the Theodore Deck and Museum.
- From Strasbourg (France): Take the train to Bollwiller (51 minutes) then take bus 68R054 to Guebwiller (20 minutes).
- From Basel (Switzerland): Take the train to Mulhouse (20-30 minutes) then take the tram to Rattachement (15 minutes). Then take bus 68R054 to Guebwiller (40 minutes).
On the eastern slopes of the Vosges mountains lies a hidden gem that is rarely talked about, Turckheim. This quaint Alsacian village is small but boasts some of the most spectacularly beautiful streets. In summer, buildings are adorned with hanging baskets of colorful flowers and lush vines, while winter brings the ever-enchanting Christmas market. Meander around the village then stop at a café in the town center near Hôtel de Ville. Or walk among the vineyards and take in the views of the city from above.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, take the train to Colmar (45 minutes). Change trains at Colmar, and take the train to Turckheim (10 minutes).
Unlike the majority of towns in Alsace, Cernay is most known for its Stork Park. Every year at the beginning of Spring, as the flowers start to bloom, around 60 strokes flock to this little town. It not only marks the end of winter, but also symbolizes new life, fertility, and happiness. In fact, Cernay has played a critical role in their conservation, with nearly 30 storks being born each year. Their nests are dotted on the roofs throughout the town, and they visit the park during mealtimes. You can tour the park for free and, even, catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures up close! Of course, there’s more to do in Cernay than visit the Stork Park. From the fortified walls that date back to the 12th century and the Musée de la Porte de Thann to endless bike paths, you won’t get bored here!
Getting there: From Strasbourg, take the train to Mulhouse (55 minutes). Change trains at Mulhouse, and take the train to Cernay (20 minutes).
Situated between Strasbourg and Colmar, Sélestat is one of the largest cities in Alsace. Its convenient location makes it an ideal base for exploring the area, especially the Alsace Wine Route and the glorious Haut-Koenigsbourg castle. Of course, the city itself is full of things to do. Highlights include the medieval churches, the old town, and the renowned Humanist Library. In fact, this library is one of the most significant cultural wonders in Alsace. They have thousands of artifacts on display, some dating back to the 15th century. So, if you’re in town, it’s an absolute must-see.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, trains run hourly and take about 30 minutes.
Nestled in the mountains, at the end of the train line, lies an absolute hidden gem, Kruth. It’s so secluded that you won’t find this Alsatian town in any guidebook.
And unlike the places listed above, Kruth isn’t known for its wine or colorful buildings. Instead, it’s home to beautiful vistas, gushing waterfalls, and endless hiking trails. If you love nature and the outdoors, you could spend a few days here, but one day is enough if you’re short on time. Highlights include touring Château du Wildenstein for a magnificent panoramic view over Kruth, walking around La Thur Lake, and marveling at the Cascade du Bockloch.
Useful Tip: There is a small trail that begins at Cascade du Bockloch. Follow the zigging path to see more wonderful waterfalls. It’s about 30 minutes to the top.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, take the train to Mulhouse (55 minutes). Change trains at Mulhouse, and take the train to Kruth (1 hour).
More Amazing Places to Visit in Alsace
1. Mont Sainte Odile
At an elevation of 767 meters (2516 ft.), in the heart of the Vosges mountains, Mont Sainte Odile is a symbol of Alsace. For centuries it served as an influential convent dedicated to the patron saint of Alsace, Odile. While the church is still active, the remaining buildings have been converted into a hotel. Today, it mainly serves as a tourist attraction offering spectacular panoramic views over the region. From here you can even see Strasbourg’s Notre Dame Cathedral!
Getting there: While you can visit Mont Sainte Odile via public transport, I would recommend hiking. The three most common starting points are Barr, Obernai, and Rosheim.
2. Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle
Built during the Middle Ages, Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle is one of the largest castles in Alsace. Up until the Thirty Years War, when it fell to Swedish forces, it served as a lookout point for the region. But, after its collapse, it was burned to the ground and abandoned for more than 200 years. Extensive renovations restored the castle to its original glory. And, today, this is an absolute must-see destination in Alsace, especially if you’re a history buff! Tickets can be bought online (here) or onsite.
Getting there: Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle can be accessed by car or public transportation. By car, it’s 55 kilometers (34 miles) south of Strasbourg and takes about 40 minutes. Click here for driving directions. If you prefer to take public transportation, it can be easily reached from either Colmar or Strasbourg. First, take the train to Sélestat, then take the Haut-Koenigsbourg Shuttle directly to the castle.
3. Route des Vins (Wine Route)
Stretching from Marlenheim to Thann, the Alsace Wine Route is the most famous in France. This 170-kilometer route weaves in and out of all the Alsatian villages listed above. You’ll indulge in delicious wine and food while taking in some of the most spectacular scenery. It’s something not to be missed if you’re visiting Alsace!
Useful Tip: My favorite winery is Horcher Wines in Mittlewihr. It’s a small family-owned vineyard with delicious wine. If you are looking for an intimate setting, this is the place for you.
Getting there: Click here for a complete map of the Alsace Wine Route. If you’re short on time, the easiest way to travel along the Wine Route is by car. But if you have more time, try biking it. Strasbourg, in particular, has several options for renting a bike (click here for the best option.)
Tips for Visiting Alsace
Best Time to Visit Alsace
- The best time to visit Alsace is April-June and September-November. During these times, the weather is pleasant and there are fewer people.
- If you want to see the Christmas Markets, early December is the best time. At the end of December, accommodation can be difficult to find and the hoards of tourists are unbearable.
- No matter which time of the year you choose to visit Alsace, you should plan to spend at least a week exploring the region. This will allow you to see the highlights as well as some of the lesser-known places, giving you a completely immersive experience.
Get In and Around
The two most accessible cities in Alsace are Colmar and Strasbourg. Both cities are easily reached from Paris (France), Frankfurt (Germany), and Basel (Switzerland). Trains run regularly and are, often, direct. Then, the best way to travel around Alsace is by train, car, or bike (via the Alsace Wine Route). While a bike is the most economical choice, it’s not the most practical. If you’re short on time, traveling by train or renting a car is the best option.
Where to Stay
While every city in Alsace has accommodation, the towns that have the most options are Strasbourg, Colmar, Obernai, and Sélestat. Not only that but trains and buses run regularly to and from these cities, making it easy to visit some of the smaller places.
Alsace is a must-see region in France. Whether you love history, culture, or nature, there is no shortage of things to do. Use this guide to organize your next trip and take advantage of all this wonderful region has to offer!
Check Out My Other Articles on France
I hope you enjoyed my article on the most charming towns to visit in Alsace and found it useful. Here are some other articles about France that I think you might enjoy!