Visit Strasbourg and Mulhouse: Two Top French Cities for Incredible Architecture and Art

Top French Cities: Strasbourg and Mulhouse
Photo Credit: Christophe Urbain / Strasbourg Tourism Office

Have you traveled to Alsace France? Nestled on the border of France and Germany, this region merges both French and German influence for a unique combination of half-timbered houses and magnificent Gothic architecture. When you visit Strasbourg and Mulhouse, the two main cities of Alsace, you’ll marvel at the distinct Alsatian style and way of life that you won’t find anywhere else in France.

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Both Mulhouse and Strasbourg are part of an association known as the “Top French Cities” for their classic attractions, creative spirit, and energetic revitalization through art and architecture. I recommend spending at least a couple of days in each city as you’ll find lots of things to do in Mulhouse and Strasbourg alike. Here’s my Mulhouse and Strasbourg itinerary for lovers of art and architecture, specifically historic buildings that are revitalized and repurposed into new and usable spaces.

Visit Strasbourg Itinerary

Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Petite France - colorful houses

There are lots of amazing things to do in Strasbourg, France, even if you only have one day in Strasbourg. When you visit Strasbourg, you’ll be delighted with historic attractions, quaint cobblestone streets, and beautiful scenery along the riverbank. The annual Christmas Market in Strasbourg around the cathedral attracts many visitors from all over the world.

What to Do in Strasbourg: Main Attractions

Strasbourg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it has such a well preserved, historic city center. In this Strasbourg travel guide, we’ll explore some of the top attractions that you must see, as well as some other important present and upcoming marvels in the world of art and architecture.

La Petite France

Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Petite France

It’s called a fairy tale town for good reason; the Petite France area of Strasbourg is like stepping into the scene of a dreamy movie or book. It’s easy to feel like Belle from Beauty and the BeastAt Petite France, the River Ill splits into numerous smaller channels with lots of narrow, winding streets around them. Take some time to wander around Petite France to soak up all the sights and sounds. I personally loved going here very early in the morning to watch the town wake up. Go for a stroll and stop by a local patisserie for a coffee and pastry.

Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Half timbered buildings
Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Petite France in the morning
Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Justin in Petite France
Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Justin Plus Lauren in Petite France

Strasbourg Cathedral

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg is one of the most stunning gothic churches in Europe. It’s not to be missed, and it’s hard to miss this massive structure at Place de la Cathédrale. Victor Hugo once referred to it as a “skillful combination of monumental size and delicateness”. 

Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Strasbourg Cathedral
Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Cathedral Notre Dame Strasbourg France
Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Statues on the Strasbourg Cathedral

The cathedral is over 1000 years old and originally constructed on the site of a Roman temple. One of the best things to do in Strasbourg is climb the narrow and winding staircases to the top platform of the cathedral. From the platform of the cathedral, you can look over the entire town on two different sides.

Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Top of the Strasbourg Cathedral
Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Strasbourg Cathedral platform

The astronomical clock inside the cathedral is quite beautiful, too. The first astronomical clock in Strasbourg, built in 1352-1354, stopped working in the 16th century. The present day mechanism dates from 1842. You can watch the show at 12:30pm each day with a parade of an assortment of miniature figures (except on Sundays and public holidays).

Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Astronomical Clock

Ponts Couverts and Barrage Vauban

The Ponts Couverts and Barrage Vauban are more notable sites around Strasbourg. First, the Ponts Couverts are a set of three bridges and four towers for a 13th century defensive structure on the River Ill. As the name suggests that these are covered bridges, the roofs were removed back in 1784. The Ponts Couverts were classified as a Monument historique in 1928.

The Ponts Couverts in Strasbourg France - Visit Strasbourg

The Barrage Vauban (or Vauban Dam) is a bridge and defensive structure constructed in the 17th century on the River Ill. If there was an attack on the city, the barrage could raise the water levels to flood the land south of the city, making them impassable to the attackers. Admission to the barrage and the terrace is free and open daily to visitors.

Park L’Orangerie

Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Park L'orangerie

If you’re seeking green space during your one day in Strasbourg, head directly to Park L’Orangerie. There are many paths, rows of trees, and duck ponds. We even saw a library of books where you could exchange, take, or drop off your reading material. Park L’Orangerie is the perfect picnic spot, place to curl up with a book, or place to ride your bike.

Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Park L'Orangerie Library
Top Things to do in Strasbourg France: Park L'Orangerie

Strasbourg is a City of Culture

Strasbourg is a fantastic city to dive right into French culture. There are so many museums, palaces, and concerts to attend, as well as modern festivals to get a taste of the local culture.

Palais du Rhin, Strasbourg
Palais du Rhin

Museums of Strasbourg

Strasbourg has over 10 museums that would take weeks to fully explore. The Rohan Palace is home to the Archeological Museum (Musée Archéologique), Decorative Arts Museum (Musée des Arts Décoratifs) and the Fine Arts Museum (Musée des Beaux-Arts). The Musée Alsacien is devoted to traditional daily Alsatian life. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain) is one of the largest modern art museums in all of France.

Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (Credit: Musées de la Ville de Strabourg / M. Bertola)
Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (Credit: Musées de la Ville de Strabourg / M. Bertola)

Festivals of Strasbourg

The most famous Strasbourg festival is the annual Strasbourg Christmas Market. It’s one of the oldest holiday markets, dating back to 1570. There are over 300 wooden stalls, a giant Christmas tree, kilometers of dazzling Christmas lights, spectacular concerts, and so much more.

Strasbourg is also home to ST’ART, the second largest contemporary art fair in France. There are over 25 art galleries and over 60 works of art to discover. It allows the general public to explore new artistic avenues and modern approaches to design.

Musica is an international festival of contemporary classical music in Strasbourg. Established in 1982, Strasbourg welcomes renowned artists and new generations of musicians to perform the most significant works of the 20th century, along with new musical works, in a free creative space. Musica happens every autumn in Strasbourg, and you’ll be able to attend concerts throughout the span of a couple of weeks.

Discover Music in Strasbourg

Speaking of music, Strasbourg is an incredibly musical city beyond the Musica festival. The city’s philharmonic orchestra was founded in 1855, and there’s also a National Opera and a National Theater.

Repurposing and Revival in Strasbourg

While Strasbourg has many preserved historic buildings and spaces in the city, they’re also a city of renewal. Many old and unused buildings are being repurposed to new and modern spaces while retaining original structures. It’s quite fascinating to see a historic city also undergoing so much revival. Keep an eye on these spaces as they’ll be opening in the next short while.

Old Tobacco Factory into a New Generation Hostel

Credit: AEA Architectes

Hostel de la Manufacture is a new generation hostel in Strasbourg renovated from an old tobacco factory. A portion of the tobacco factory will be transformed into a 264 bed youth hostel. Furthermore, other spaces of the tobacco factory will turn into a lively space for the arts, sciences and entrepreneurship. This creative space will open by 2022.

Credit: AEA Architectes

Old Police Station into a 5-Star Hotel

A historic building in Strasbourg that was once a police station, a court, and a jail is being repurposed as Strasbourg’s newest 5-star hotel. The building at 11 rue de la Nuée Bleue dates back to the 19th century, and this prestigious hotel is slated to open in November 2020.

Old Wine Warehouse into a Cultural Center

An old COOP wine cellar in the Port-du-Rhin district of Strasbourg will be completely revived as a cultural center with artists’ studios, meeting places, and an international food court. The wine cellar building will transform into the Social Union, the Comma and the KaleidosCOOP by the end of 2020.

The Social Union will be a conservation and study space for the museums of Strasbourg. While many pieces will be stored there, visitors and residents alike will be able to view works within certain rooms. The Comma will accommodate artists and production workshops to encourage collaborative creation. Last, the KaleidosCOOP will house co-working spaces, offices, and a cafe overlooking a terrace. As you can see, there are many reasons to visit Strasbourg for its exciting historic monuments and future repurposed creations.

Things to Do in Mulhouse France

Things to do in Mulhouse France
Credit: Mulhouse Tourism Office

There are many places to visit on a trip to Mulhouse, France. While Mulhouse is a major manufacturing center, there are many impressive museums, especially those devoted to transportation. As a major player in the Industrial Revolution, Mulhouse’s nicknames include “the French Manchester” and the “city with a hundred chimneys.” Mulhouse is a city undergoing a major renewal and revival, so you’ll want to plan your trip to this less visited French city before everyone else does.

What to Do in Mulhouse: Main Attractions

What to Do in Mulhouse: Main Attractions
Credit: Mulhouse Tourism Office

There are many main attractions in Mulhouse for every interest. From impressive and world class museums to interesting historic architecture, you can spend at least a couple of days in Mulhouse. It’s fascinating to note that even though there are many museums recognizing the various past industries in Mulhouse, these local industries are still very much at play in the city. The Peugeot factory in Mulhouse remains the city’s largest employer, and Dollfus-Mieg et Compagnie (DMC) is one of the largest producers of embroidery and yarn in the world.

Cité de l’Automobile

Things to do in Mulhouse - Cite de l'Automobile
Credit: Mulhouse Tourism Office

Cite de l’Automobile is the largest car museum in the world, and it’s one of the best places to visit in Mulhouse. For car lovers, it’s an absolute must visit museum. This massive complex houses over 400 classic cars, and documents the history of the car from its conception to the present day.

Cité du Train

Things to do in Mulhouse: Cité du Train
Credit: Mulhouse Tourism Office

As a city with a great industrial past, it’s no surprise that Mulhouse is also home to the Cite du Train. It’s the largest railway museum in Europe, and explores the history of train travel in both indoor and outdoor exhibitions. There’s even an authentic 1883 steam locomotive at the museum, too!

Musée de l’Impression sur Etoffes de Mulhouse

Musée de l’Impression sur Etoffes de Mulhouse
Credit: Mulhouse Tourism Office

This unique and fascinating museum, Musée de l’Impression sur Etoffes de Mulhouse, is devoted to printed textiles and the history of printed fabrics. You can discover traditional printing techniques using wooden machines and copper rollers. As production grew more mechanized, the museum explores how that impacted this industry in Mulhouse. There are also printing workshops for those seeking a more hands-on experience.

Temple Saint-Étienne

Constructed in 1859, Temple Saint-Etienne is a Gothic revival style church, and it’s the tallest protestant building in France. It’s also the only protestant church in a main square in France, and it has the largest set of bells out of any protestant church in France. While it’s a relatively new church, it has many old components, including glass windows from the 14th century and choir stalls from 1637.

Mulhouse is a City of Artistic Creation

Motoco in Mulhouse
Credit: Mulhouse Tourism Office

Even as a city steeped in industrial traditions, art is alive and everywhere in Mulhouse. There are many opportunities to discover and take part in the local art scene through art workshops, events, and public art all over the city.

Motoco

Motoco in Mulhouse
Credit: Mulhouse Tourism Office

At a former industrial building of DMC, Motoco is a place where 140 artists gather to inspire and create. This site is the biggest industrial site undergoing this kind of transformation in Southern Alsace. Motoco (which stands for “More To Come”) is a beehive for craftspeople and artists within the local community. There are studios and several open spaces for photographers, sound engineers, graphic artists, woodworkers, and more. Motoco hosts over 100 events annually with creative workshops and artistic features.

Street Art in Mulhouse

Street art in Mulhouse
Credit: Mulhouse Tourism Office

If you love street art and public art, plan a trip to Mulhouse today. One of the best things to do in Mulhouse is checking out the art all over the city. There are all kinds of unusual sculptures and statues in Mulhouse, including cow sculptures in the front of the town hall and sheep at Porte Haute.

As for street art, one of the town’s oldest painted walls dates back to a decorated facade in 1552! As you can see, there’s a long tradition of murals in Mulhouse. In more recent times, artists have the freedom to paint art all over town, and you’ll find most walls splashed with color.

Street art in Mulhouse
Credit: Mulhouse Tourism Office
Street art and public art in Mulhouse
Credit: Mulhouse Tourism Office

Getting From Strasbourg to Mulhouse

It’s very easy to travel between Strasbourg and Mulhouse by train. I recommend spending a couple of days in Strasbourg, then travel from Strasbourg to Mulhouse by train and spend another couple of days in Mulhouse (or vice versa). The average train ride between Mulhouse and Strasbourg is 56 minutes, although the quickest route is 40 minutes. Trains depart Strasbourg to Mulhouse around 05:00 and the last train leaves around 23:00, with an average of 29 trains per day. Needless to say, it’s a very popular route and you won’t have any issues traveling between both cities.

You can also travel by car between Strasbourg and Mulhouse. You might find some difficulty parking near the Strasbourg’s Old Town, and may wish to choose a hotel with parking. For instance, when I stayed in Strasbourg at the Hotel Cour du Corbeau, there is paid parking available to guests at an extra fee. If you prefer renting a car, I suggest comparing car rental prices here for the best possible rate.

When traveling overseas, I always recommend protecting yourself with travel insurance. It’s great to have peace of mind just in case you encounter any medical emergencies or need to return home quicker than anticipated. You can compare travel insurance policies here to find optimum insurance at the best rate.

More Top French Cities

If you’re looking to explore France beyond Paris, I suggest that you visit Strasbourg and Mulhouse in Alsace. Looking for even more top French cities beyond Strasbourg and Mulhouse? You can embark on an extended Eastern France itinerary adding a trip to the cities of Metz and Nancy. Browse the following city guides to plan your vacation today:

This post is sponsored by France Tourism as part of their Top French Cities campaign.

What attractions or places would you most like to visit in Strasbourg or Mulhouse?

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