Strasbourg - the Capital of Christmas
If you are like me and get all warm and fuzzy around the holidays, then let me tell you about the Strasbourg Christmas Market. Strasbourg, France is known as the capital of Christmas and for good reason. Each year, over ten markets are set up throughout the city of Strasbourg. They are all slightly unique and each worth a visit.
Last year I visited and explored the Strasbourg Christmas Market and below I’ll tell you everything you need to know to plan your own holiday adventure!
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Why visit the Strasbourg Christmas Markets?
If you enjoy holiday decorations, shopping, or delicious street food then visiting Strasbourg at Christmastime is a no-brainer. First of all, Strasbourg itself is simply divine. The colorful homes and buildings, the cobblestone streets, and canals give it a fairytale ambiance. When you add over the top Christmas decorations and the smell of French-German street food? It is like walking through a gingerbread house inside a snowglobe. Strasbourg is known as the Capital of Christmas and is the home to the oldest Christmas market in France.
When are they open?
The Strasbourg Christmas Markets open November 25, 2022 and are open every day through Christmas Eve. The stalls (adorably called chalets) open mid-morning and are open until 8 or 9 p.m. They may stay open later on Friday and Saturdays, but close early on Sundays. Stay up to date on opening times on their website here.
History of the Strasbourg Christmas Market
The markets date back to at least 1570, although some say they were celebrated as early as the 12th century. Started as a way for villagers to stock up on provisions for the holiday, they continue in a similar fashion today. Although it is a French city, Strasbourg is on the border with Germany. Visitors today can see the historic influence of German culture (including German Christmas culture!) in the region. You can read more about the history of Strasbourg Christmas Market here.
Ok, but what do you do at the Christmas markets?
Truthfully, Christmas Markets are pretty much only good for enjoyment. Eat, drink, shop, gaze around at all the decorations in wonder!
What to eat at the Strasbourg Christmas Market
Since Strasbourg lies on the border with Germany you can find all sorts of French-German cuisine. There are tons of sweet and savory options available. Honestly, this was a time that I wished I wasn’t solo. I would have been able to try so many more foods if I could share them! I couldn’t even try all of the food, but what I did have was great. The potato pancakes with cheese sauce were particularly delightful. I actually only ate half and then took the other half back to my hotel to eat later. The next day I had käse spaetzle with speck (cheese noodles with bacon). It was cold and sleeting but I was so happy – like just look at the photo haha. You can also find sweet or savory crepes, with pretty much any filling you could hope for! If the chalet doesn’t have what you’re looking for, just keep wandering until you find another one. For breakfast on my last day I had a chorizo pretzel!
There are endless options for sweets, too. The different varieties of chocolates and cakes will satisfy any sweet tooth. You can also find gingerbread in fun shapes and sizes – for eating or for bringing back as a fun souvenir.
The weather can be quite chilly, so grab a warm beverage to drink as you peruse. I highly recommend vin chaud, a warm mulled wine with spices. You can find it at so many chalets in either red or white. If you don’t want alcohol, you can also get chocolat chaud – the creamiest and best hot chocolate you can imagine!
The drinks come in various sizes and in reusable cups. The cups change year to year, and you can definitely keep them if you want to. However, you can also return your cup and get a small deposit back. I kept one red boot mug and one plastic cup to bring home as souvenirs!
What to buy at the Strasbourg Christmas Market
Honestly – you can buy a ton of stuff at the Strasbourg Christmas Market. I found a vintage clothing chalet and a used book seller among the markets. However, some of the most traditional items to buy include wooden Christmas ornaments, candle holders, gingerbread, and paper lanterns. Winter accessories are also common goods at the markets. Scarves, hats, socks, and slippers are available in multiple fabrics and styles. I mentioned it above, too, but the reusable cups for vin chaud are an inexpensive item to bring home for yourself or as a gift!
Logistics & Details
In this section I’ll review how to get to Strasbourg, where to stay, getting around, and all the details you need to know. Although I know enough French vocabulary to get by, being fluent in German really helped me in Strasbourg. Most folks spoke at least a bit of English or my terrible French could at least get the point across, but since Strasbourg is so close to Germany a ton of people there speak German.
Actually, I have a funny story about language. I was buying a scarf as a gift in Galeries Lafayette and wanted to see if they’d wrap it. However, I really really lacked the words in French. It was frustrating for me and I know I was annoying the person trying to help me, too. The conversation went a bit like this:
Me: “c’est un cadeau…um….”
Me: “um, can you, c’est un cadeau… parlez vous anglais?”
Cashier: “non, parlez vous francais?”
Me: “um no, pardon…”
Me: “…. soooooo”
Cashier: “parlez vous allemand?”
Cashier: “Deutsh? German?”
Me: “oh my god yes! Ja! Ich spreche deutsche! Sprechen sie deutsch????”
And then proceeded to learn that gift wrapping was like ten euros lol so I didn’t do it. So in the unlikely event you speak German or French or English, you’ll definitely be able to communicate!
Getting to Strasbourg
Strasbourg is easily accessible by train from Paris, which is the route I took. The train ride was about 2.5 hours through the beautiful French countryside. You can also take the train from Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Basel, or numerous other French, Swiss, or German cities. The train station is right in the middle of town and close to all central accommodations! Strasbourg does have an airport, although it’s fairly small. You can definitely drive, too, just check to see the parking options at your hotel before assuming you can park nearby.
Where to stay
I highly recommend staying in the center of the city. You’ll want to be within walking distance of all the activities and there are a ton of options. My trip was fairly last minute, but I still found a nice hotel close to the train station for an affordable price. There are also numerous Airbnb options, too.
As I mentioned, Strasbourg is extremely walkable. You can pretty much walk end to end (of central Strasbourg) in thirty minutes. My hotel was a three minute walk from the train station and just 10 minutes from the center of the city. If you don’t want to or cannot walk, Strasbourg does have a tramway. It stops at most of the main areas and is affordable. You can check their website for timetables and ticket prices.
Other things to do in Strasbourg
Although you could spend days wandering the Christmas Markets, there is more to see in Strasbourg. In the center of the city you’ll find the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg. It is a beautiful and incredible gothic cathedral worth visiting. There is a Christmas market just outside, so it’s easy to hop in line while on your market adventure.
There are several museums to visit, too. Within just a few minutes of the city center you can find the Historical Museum of the City of Strasbourg, Alsatian Museum, and the Strasbourg Museum of Fine Arts.
Petit France is a quaint neighborhood that is worth spending some time walking. There are several adorable cafes along the canal to grab a coffee and croissant, too!
What to pack
In general you can pack for a trip to Strasbourg like any other European vacation, with a few specifications. First, it will be cold so be sure to bring a scarf and gloves. I experienced snow, sleet, and rain in the few days I was there so a waterproof coat is a must. This one is affordable, packable, and honestly is so warm. At times I was sweating even in the freezing wind! It squishes down really small, too, making it easy to throw in a suitcase. Lastly, be sure to pack a tote bag for all of the goodies you buy!
If you like Christmas at all then you must plan a trip, it’s beautiful, easy to get to, and the people are very warm. I recommend planning in advance to get the best rates, but there are plenty of hotels so you should be able to find places to stay.
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