Wondering what Alsace is famous for?
Since moving to the capital of Alsace, Strasbourg, in 2019, I’ve been on a mission to uncover its hidden gems. I’ve immersed myself in the culture, indulged in the local cuisine, and traveled all over the region.
So, it’s safe to say I’m an expert on everything in this part of France.
Below I’ll go into detail about what Alsace is famed for and share some of the region’s best-kept secrets.
Overview: What is Alsace Famous For?
If you’re short on time, I’ve put together a quick summary of this guide.
Here’s a list of what Alsace is most known for:
- The Alsace Wine Route
- Fairytale Villages
- Delicious Food
- Christmas Markets
- The Strasbourg Cathedral
- Fine Wine
17 Things Alsace is Famous For
Alsace stands apart from any other region in France.
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.
Here are 17 things you won’t want to miss.
1. Fairytale-Like Villages
The villages in Alsace look like they are straight out of a storybook.
Their narrow, cobbled streets wind around rows of colorful timber-framed houses. And the windowsills on every building are decorated with hanging baskets of geraniums.
When I think I’ve found my favorite, I stumble on another. And, for some places like Colmar, where I visited a hundred times, I never get tired of wandering its streets.
One of the most charming villages is Riquewihr. Its main street, Grand Rue, is lined with colorful buildings and surrounded by medieval fortifications.
Then there’s Turckheim. It’s less than 30 minutes by train from Colmar, but it’s often overlooked.
I loved roaming down the side streets.
I discovered so many beautifully decorated houses. But my absolute favorite spot had to be the Jardin de Ville.
From there, I had a fantastic view of the Hôtel de Ville as you can see in the photo I took above.
2. Charming 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 fill wooden chalets with handmade crafts and buildings are decorated with festive displays. The air smells of roasting chestnuts and cloves.
It’s a real-life winter wonderland.
Strasbourg hosts one of the oldest and largest Christmas market in France, dating back to 1570. And it’s as enchanting as advertised. I’ve gone every year since 2019 and I still can’t get enough.
There are also smaller, more intimate markets in other cities that are equally charming. Colmar and Kaysersberg are the most well-known among these.
But the one in Munster was my favorite.
They had a few wooden chalets and small burning logs where I could warm my hands.
Most of the market was in front of the Protestant Church (Place du Marché) so I was able to visit everything in a few hours.
And, best of all, there wasn’t a tourist in sight.
3. 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 Gewürztraminer, Riesling d’Alsace, and Pinot Gris d’Alsace.
You can sample Alsatian wine at any restaurant or winery in the region. But I love going to dedicated wine-growing villages. Mittelbergheim and Dambach-la-Ville are my two favorite places.
In Mittelbergheim, I loved the wine from Domaine Armand Gilg Vigneron Indépendant Vins et Crémants d’Alsace.
And, in Dambach-la-Ville, the wine from Ruhlmann-Schutz and Alsace Charles Frey was incredible.
4. Hearty Cuisine
Alsace is renowned for its hearty cuisine. It combines the best of French and German traditions to make some tasty dishes.
One of the most famous is flammekueche, more locally known as tarte flambée.
It’s a 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.
I’ve tried hundreds from all over the region and the best ones are from the Binchstub Broglie in Strasbourg. They even have dessert ones!
Another popular dish is choucroute garnie. It’s made up of sauerkraut, various cuts of pork, smoked sausage, and potatoes.
The best place to try this dish is at Restaurant Gurtlerhoft in Strasbourg. It reminded me of something my grandma would prepare, that’s how good it was.
Then, if you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss out on trying kougelhopf, a traditional Alsatian bundt cake.
5. Rich History
Alsace goes back thousands of years, but its most recent history has had the greatest impact.
Fast forward to the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) and Alsace was annexed to Germany.
It remained German until the end of World War I in 1918, when Alsace returned to French control as part of the Treaty of Versailles.
The region was again taken by Germany during World War II but was returned to France once more at the end of the war in 1945.
It’s this complex history that has shaped the culture and traditions you see today. And, for an expat like me, it’s fascinating to see this melting pot of French and German customs.
There are also a ton of museums where you can learn more about its history.
Of the ones I’ve been to, the MM Park France and the Musée Alsacien are the best museums that cover the history of the entire region.
Then, the Musée Historique de la Ville de Strasbourg is the most comprehensive museum about the history of a single city.
Every year, during 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.
But my favorite spot to catch a glimpse of these beautiful birds is at the Stork Park in Cernay. I’ve gone several times and it’s an impressive sight, especially during feeding times.
7. The Strasbourg Cathedral
A must-see in Alsace is the Strasbourg Cathedral. Not only is it one of the most famous cathedrals in the region but also the country.
This stunning Gothic masterpiece took over 300 years to build and stands at an impressive 142 meters (465 feet) tall.
I love waking up early and watching the sunrise behind the spire. The area around the cathedral is always empty so it gives me time to admire the beautiful architecture.
But that’s not all there is.
It’s also home to an astronomical clock that comes to life every day at half past noon.
Then, there are the views from its platform. I have yet to find a better panorama of Strasbourg.
When I went, I could see as far as the Vosges mountains.
8. The Alsace Wine Route
No visit to Alsace would be complete without exploring its picturesque wine route.
It stretches from Marlenheim to Thann totaling 170 kilometers (105 miles). Along the way, you will find over 120 villages, each one known for their wine production, history, and architecture.
There are so many ways to explore this route. The most popular way is to drive. And, if you don’t want to rent a car, you can also take the train, bike, and even walk.
If I’m short on time I take the regional TER Grand Est. It stops at some of my favorite villages like Obernai, Barr, Colmar, and Thann. It’s easy, affordable, and efficient.
But when I want to spend several days on the Alsace Wine Route, I hop on my bike.
The terrain is mostly flat, the scenery is stunning, and there are plenty of places to stop.
Of the sections I’ve explored by bike, riding from Ribeauvillé to Kaysersberg was my favorite.
It took me three days because I stopped in Hunawihr, Riquewihr, and Mittelwihr. But it could easily be done in a day.
9. Enchanting Castles
Alsace is home to some of the most enchanting castles in France. And the list of my favorites continues to grow.
They all offer extraordinary views and are full of history.
The most popular is the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg. It dates to the 12th century and has undergone significant restorations.
It’s one of the few castles where you can tour furnished rooms and see what it looked like at its peak.
But, of the intact castles, my favorite was the Château du Haut-Barr. The views were incredible, and it was free to visit.
It was also very easy to get to. I went on a day hike from Saverne and stopped off at several other viewpoints (Tour du Brotsch and Rocher du Brotsch) along the way.
Below is a list of other castles that I’ve been to and recommend:
- Château du Hohlandsbourg
- Château de Saint-Ulrich
- Château de l’Ortenbourg
- Château de Kaysersberg
10. Fascinating Museums
I’m a huge history buff and I love learning about Alsace’s history. It’s helped me understand more about the region and its culture.
And there’s no better place to learn about Alsace than in its museums.
One of my favorites is the Musée Alsacien in Strasbourg. It showcases traditional rural life and customs of the region.
They have a vast collection of objects, including furniture, clothing, and tools. And, besides my apartment, it’s one of the few places where you can walk inside a half-timbered house.
Then there’s the Musée Unterlinden in Colmar. This is the most visited museum in the region and rightly so.
It’s home to many famous works of art, including the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald.
But the museum that had the most impact on me was the Struthof Concentration Camp.
It’s a sobering reminder of the atrocities that occurred during World War II.
I struggled to get through certain parts, so be prepared for an emotional experience.
Helpful Tip: Mulhouse is also well-known for its museums. The Cité de l’Automobile and the Cité du Train are the two most famous ones.
11. Colorful Half-Timbered Houses
The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive in Alsace is the colorful half-timbered houses. It’s what makes towns like Colmar instantly recognizable.
But there’s more to these colors than just aesthetics.
Historically, the color indicated the homeowner’s profession.
Carpenters, for instance, used blue, while blacksmiths painted their homes red, bakers opted for yellow, tanners chose green, and those in stonework went for beige.
Another theory suggests that the colors blue and red stood for the religious affiliations of the household. Blue symbolized Catholicism and red represented Protestantism.
Over the years, these traditions have disappeared. Homeowners now select colors based on individual tastes.
And you’ll find most towns have at least a few streets that are full of colorful half-timbered houses.
A few of my favorite villages are Strasbourg, Eguisheim, and Turckheim.
But nothing beats Colmar.
Every street I went down had colorful houses, but Quai de la Poissonnerie was the most spectacular.
12. The European Parliament
Alsace, particularly Strasbourg, became a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation and European integration shortly after World War II.
Today, Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament and one of the four capitals of the European Union. It’s also home to the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.
And, of these institutions, you can visit the European Parliament (for free).
The visitor’s center or the Parlamentarium has self-guided tours where you can learn about the history of the European Union.
I enjoyed seeing how these 27 member states come together to create laws and policies that affect an entire continent.
I went for a second time after I submitted my application to become a French citizen, so it was a very meaningful experience for me. It was like going to Washington D.C. in the United States.
13. The Vosges Mountains
The Vosges mountains are my home away from home. And it’s one of the many reasons I decided to move to this part of France.
From hiking and adventure cycling to skiing and snowshoeing, there are tons of outdoor activities. Plus, getting to the Vosges mountains is easy, even without a car.
I’ve hiked hundreds of trails here and never get tired of the breathtaking views.
Some of my favorite hikes have been to the Grand Ballon, Le Hohneck, and the Lac Blanc.
The Vosges mountains are also famous for its ski resorts, making it a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts.
But even if you’re not into skiing or hiking, you can still enjoy the beauty of these mountains by car. The Grand Ballon, Le Hohneck, and the Lac Blanc all have paved roads leading up to them.
There’s even a road called Route des Crêtes that weaves through the mountains. It’s one of the most scenic drives in the area.
Not only is Alsace known for its hearty cuisine, but also its gingerbread.
Known as “pain d’épices” in French, gingerbread has been a staple dessert in Alsace since the Middle Ages.
It’s typically made with honey, rye flour, and cinnamon. Then, it’s decorated with frosting or candied fruits.
This delicious treat is so popular there’s, actually, a museum dedicated to it.
The Musée du Pain d’Épices is in Gertwiller, otherwise known as the gingerbread capital.
Here you can learn about the history of gingerbread in Alsace and even sign up for a hands-on workshop. But my favorite part was getting to try some. It was so good I bought a few cookies to take home with me.
Helpful Tip: If you can’t make it to the museum, I recommend the Fortwenger Strasbourg Cathedrale shop. They have some of the best gingerbread cookies I’ve ever had.
15. Its Dialect
While French is the official language in Alsace, you’ll also hear a unique dialect spoken by locals.
Alsatian, or Elsässisch, is a Germanic language with heavy influences from French. It’s often described as a mix between German and French.
Even though it’s not an official language, Alsatian has been recognized as part of the region’s cultural heritage.
When I first moved to Strasbourg, I noticed that street signs were written in both French and Alsatian.
I’ve also met quite a few locals who speak this dialect, especially in smaller towns like Molsheim.
It’s not something I hear often and many of my friends who come from Alsace don’t speak Alsatian. However, there have been efforts to promote this dialect in recent years.
16. Mont Sainte-Odile
One of the most spectacular places I’ve been to in Alsace is Mont Sainte-Odile.
It was originally a convent dedicated to the patron saint of Alsace, Odile.
While the church is still active, most who visit come for the hotel and views. You can tour the church and the grounds, and even eat at the hotel’s restaurant.
I visited on a hike from Rosheim and stayed at the hotel for one night.
The climb to the top was intense and long, but worth the effort. I got to watch both the sunset and sunrise from the terrace of the former abbey, and it was incredible.
You can also drive to the top and do a day hike in the area if you’re short on time.
Helpful Tip: The gate to the terrace opens at 7:00 am, so if you go in summer when the days are longer, you might miss the sunrise.
17. Alsatian Beer
Not only is Alsace known for its wine but also its beer.
In fact, it’s one of the largest producers of beer in the country!
Météor and Kronenbourg are the most popular, but my favorite beers come from the microbreweries.
Both Brasserie Boum’R and Brasserie TAAL produce some of the best beer I’ve had. You can even tour their facilities and learn about their beer-making process.
But you don’t have to go to a brewery to try beer from Alsace. Most bars and restaurants have quite a selection.
My two favorite spots to try local beers are Les Berthom and Binchstub Broglie. Both are in Strasbourg and have a huge selection.
Conclusion: What is Alsace Known For?
Alsace is a magical blend of history, culture, and picturesque landscapes.
There are so many things that it’s famous for it’s hard to choose my favorite. I love that it has its own identity, and it stands out from all the other regions in France that I’ve been to. When you’re in Alsace you know you’re in Alsace.
As cliché as it sounds, there is something for everyone here.
Now that you know what makes it famous, it’s time to start planning your trip.
Here is a list of websites and applications that I use to plan my trips in France.
Read More Articles About France
I hope you enjoyed my post and found it helpful. Here are some other articles that I think you might find interesting.
- Renting a Car in Strasbourg – The Ultimate Guide
- 11 Incredible Alsace Tours (A Local’s Guide)
- 18 Best Things to Do in Strasbourg on Sunday (from a Local)
- 2 Days in Strasbourg: The Perfect Itinerary (from a Local)