Set on the Franco-German border, the city of Strasbourg, capital of the region of Alsace, has seen its history and culture shaped by both countries throughout the centuries. The result is a city characterised by a medieval and village-like charm intertwined with a dynamic contemporary twist and international scene.
The legacy of Alsace’s complex history sets it apart from the rest of France and has created a mix of Franco-German influences on the region’s architecture, identity and cultural scene, including language and food. Despite the hostilities that have mired its history, the region now thrives economically, socially and politically and benefits from strong collaborative ties with Germany. The Jardin des Deux Rives (Garden of Two Banks) and its bridge over the river Rhine opened in 2009 and is a strong testimony of this Franco-German friendship.
Culturally, Strasbourg stands proud with its own Opera House, National Theatre (TNS), Conservatory of Music and various music and cinema festivals. In addition to official line-ups, frequent live music events are organised throughout the town. Academically, Strasbourg boasts one of the largest universities in France, with over 42,000 students, from European and international horizons, and many research institutes. Environmentally friendly, the city caters for cyclists and pedestrians alike and has a large network of public transport, including a tramline and a shared public bicycle scheme (Vél’hop). This comprehensive networks extends beyond the urban areas and Strasbourg is connected via the TGV (high speed train) to numerous national and European cities.
The Grande Ile (Big Island), in the midst of the River Ill, forms the heart of the city, and is alive throughout the year, from the warm summer months when tourists and locals take to the terraces for some regional wines and beers to wintery December when numerous merchants sell mulled wines and handicrafts at Christmas markets dotting the area. Grande Ille is also a prime example of a fortified medieval town – relics of times past pepper the urban landscape and are worth keeping an eye open for. The Place Kléber (the main centre square), the Place Gutenberg – named after the 15th-century inventor of the printing press – and the Aubette (former military building turned leisure centre) cluster to form the city centre and are all within walking distance of each other. The area was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1988.
Grandiosely prominent in the Vieille Ville (Old Town) is Strasbourg’s greatest landmark: the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, renowned for its pink sandstone facade, unique tower and gothic style. Around the cathedral, an impressive array of museums, cafés and restaurants accommodate tourists and locals alike.
Stunningly picturesque, la Petite France (southwest of the Grande Ile) is Strasbourg's medieval quarter and one of the most touristic areas. With its bridges and canals, half-timbered houses and narrow streets, the neighbourhood’s village feel and charm contrast sharply with the modern and clean-cut lines of the European institutions. In the northeast of the city, the Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament line the horizon and re-affirm Strasbourg’s place and pivotal role as the capital of Europe and guardian of human rights.