Strasbourg is the capital of north-eastern France and unofficially of Europe. Its grand and charming Grande Île was the first city centre to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not one to rest on its laurels, the city is now home to many important European institutions, and so travelling by train to Strasbourg is made convenient from all over France and its neighbouring countries. Numerous high-speed TGV lines pass through the city, with Frankfurt to Strasbourg taking 2h20mins and Paris to Strasbourg direct as little as 1h44mins. The city is undeniably pretty all year round, but it is nicknamed the ‘Christmas Capital’ for being the quintessential destination for Christmas markets, gingerbread and an irresistible festive cosiness!
Taking the train to Strasbourg means travelling deep into the heartland of Europe. Its main station, Gare de Strasbourg-Ville, lies to the west of the centre and is a great example of the combined historic and modern architecture that this city carries off effortlessly. Leaving the station on foot, visitors can be on the canal banks of Grande Île within 5 minutes. Taking the quayside south leads past the École Nationale d’Administration, one of the most elite schools in France. Next door, the glass-fronted Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain has a collection of works by Kandinsky, Picasso, Monet, Gustave Doré, and more. From here, the Vauban Dam (a 17th-century bridge, weir and defensive structure) provides some of the best views of Grande Île and leads to ‘Petite France’.
This delightful medieval district is criss-crossed with canals and lined with half-timbered houses. Église Saint-Thomas is a 10-minute stroll from the bridge and one of the few protestant churches remaining from the Reformation. Palais Rohan, ‘Versailles in miniature’, is a little further along. The resplendent 18th-century regal abode now houses several museums. On the palace’s doorstop, Cathédrale Notre-Dame is a jaw-dropping Gothic edifice, complete with gargoyles, a Renaissance astronomical clock and kaleidoscopic rose windows. Should touring this culturally-dense city work up an appetite, local dishes such as Sauerkraut and Tartes Flambées should be sampled before heading back to Strasbourg train station.