7 Reasons to Visit Strasbourg during Christmas Time

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Photo credit: Alexandre Prévot on Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

Imagine strolling around snow-covered wooden chalets scattered all over the city.
While sipping on a cup of mulled wine and watching quaint half-timbered houses lit up with thousands of festive winter lights.
The scent of choucroute here, the savour of flammekueche there…
This is Strasbourg during Christmas time.

Located on the eastern border of France with Germany, Strasbourg is charming at any time of the year. Since 2014, we’ve visited the capital of Alsace more than ten times and at all four seasons. Our verdict: Christmas time is definitely the most unique moment to explore Strasbourg. Here are 7 reasons why.

1. Strasbourg is home to the oldest Christmas Market in France, and probably of Europe

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Christmas markets originate in the German-speaking parts of Europe and go back to the Late Middle Ages. The one in Munich dates back to 1310, and is often considered as the oldest one in Europe.

However, there were forerunners of Christmas markets in Europe dating back much earlier. The Krippenmarkt (Crib market) in Vienna for instance opened in 1298. While the Klausenmärik (Saint-Nicolas market) in Strasbourg even goes back to the 12th century. The reason, why at that time Saint-Nicolas Day on the 6th of December was more important in Strasbourg than Christmas, is because the region of Alsace was still Christian in the 12th century. Strasbourg became Protestant only in 1529. And in 1570, Johannes Flinner, an intransigent preacher at the Strasbourg Cathedral, decided to erase all references to Catholicism in the city. He abolished the Klausenmärik, and replaced it with a Christkindelsmärik (Baby Jesus Market) instead.

Therefore, if we take into account the city’s history and the existence of a Klausenmärik as an antecedent of nowadays Christmas markets, then Strasbourg’s Christkindelsmärik can well be considered as being the oldest Christmas market in Europe.

2. The Strasbourg Christmas Market is one of the largest in the world

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In the Middle Ages, Strasbourg’s Christmas market was held in front of the Cathedral. And it was openend only during 3 days prior to Christmas Eve.

But from the mid-19th century onwards, the Christkindelsmärik expanded more and more over the whole city of Strasbourg, and was extended to 36 days. Little by little, stalls were set up at the Place Kléber, the Place d’Armes, the Place des Halles, the rue des Grandes-Arcades and the Place Broglie.

Today, the Christkindelsmärik is still opened for over a month long, from the last week of November until the last day of December. With over 300 wooden chalets spread over 11 sites in the historic city centre, Strasbourg’s annual Christmas market is currently one of the largest in the world.

There are zillions of choices of gift ideas from home decorations to custom clothing, vintage furniture and crafts made by sustainable and responsible local organisations. Truth be told, after all these years, we still don’t know if we have really seen each and every one of the stalls or not. This is one of the reasons why we keep going back to Strasbourg during Christmas time.

3. Strasbourg’s Christmas Tree: the star of the Alsatian capital

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Since we both grew up in a Christian country, we can’t imagine Christmas without a well-decorated Christmas Tree. And neither does the city of Strasbourg…

In fact, the tradition of decorating a Christmas Tree is believed to come from the capital of Alsace. The first record of a City Christmas Tree as we know it today dates back to 1604 in Strasbourg.

The one on the Place Kléber is a 30-meter high fir tree adorned with over 7 kilometres of twinkling fairy lights. It is the heart and the symbol of Strasbourg during Christmas time.

When we were visiting the city for Halloween, we were surprised to see so many locals watching excitedly the arrival of the Christmas Tree on the Place Kléber. It turns out that every year the French National Forestry Office starts to search for the perfect tree for Strasbourg as early as March. And it takes no less than 200 man-hours to prepare the tree once it is set on site. First they need to impant hand-picked branches of other trees to give “the star” a fuller appearance. Before they decorate it with baubles, angels and flashing lights.

One thing is sure: the city of Strasbourg is proud of their Christmas Tree!

4. Strasbourg’s got the most original Christmas illuminations

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Paris might be the City of Lights. But Strasbourg’s illuminations during Christmas time are much more stunning.

Every time we arrive in Alsace’s capital for the winter holidays, we’re mesmerized by the city’s “Gate of Lights” at the Rue du Vieux-Marché-aux-Poissons. Two giant bears made of twinkling light bulbs, bound by a star hoop sparkling with white and gold, invite Strasbourg’s visitors to dive into the magic of Christmas.

In the historical centre, we have to slow down to marvel at the stars, angels and snowflakes that garland the cobbled streets. The façades of the half-timbered houses around the Cathedral all sport giant wrapped presents, seasonal teddy bears or gigantic gingerbread men. Every window, balcony and even church twinkles with thousands of lights and Christmas decorations.

Other than the famous Christmas Tree on the Place Kléber, our favourite Christmas illumination in Strasbourg is the 10-metre-high blue tree that stands on the Place Gutenberg.

  5. The Notre-Dame of Strasbourg holds an exceptional Astronomical Clock and one of the largest Nativity Scenes

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We’re both agnostics. But as lovers of architecture and history, we always like to visit sacred buildings when travelling. As much as we love exploring palaces and castles. The Notre-Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg is actually among our favourite architectural gems in Europe. And we have spent many hours examining the details on both the outside and the inside of this medieval masterpiece.

In fact, what is interesting are not only the Cathedral itself and the Gothic sculptures. But also what this building holds inside.

First of all, this would be the Astronomical clock built in 1843, located on the right side of the altar. Listed as a national monument object in 1987, this Renaissance masterpiece features a perpetual calendar, a mechanical model of the solar system (with the real position of the sun and the moon), and even the solar and lunar eclipses.

The other gem that is displayed inside the Notre-Dame de Strasbourg is the annual Nativity Scene. Measuring about 20 metres long, this splendour is actually one of the largest Nativity Scenes in France, and is of course only exhibited during Christmas time.

The crib was acquired in Bavaria by the canon Eugène Muller in 1907. But many figurines have been added since then. Apparently, a new piece of decoration is added once a year. Thus making this Nativity Scene an ever-growing piece of religious art.

  6. Alsatian food: the perfect blend of French sophistication and German gluttony

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Located in France but only a few kilometres away from Germany, Strasbourg was a German city until the 17th century. And again during WWI and WWII. Due to its unique location and history, the capital of Alsace is therefore immersed in both French and German cultures.

In terms of food, this city is a true paradise! It offers the perfect blend of French sophistication and German gluttony. While Alsatian dishes are absolutely delicious, they are quite rich and heavy. Therefore, it’s best to taste them in winter.

Whenever winter is knocking at the door, we love to drive down to Strasbourg to feast in one of the many traditional Winstubs, may it be a foie gras or escargots, followed by a succulent choucroute, a crunchy Flammekueche or a Baeckeoffe (traditional Christmas dish in Alsace).

While wandering through the Christkindelsmärik, we always buy a piece of strong smelling Munster cheese. But also dried fruits in every Crayola shade, gingerbread, bretzels… And of course tons of homemade cookies, each branded with a poetic name and taste: flavored with aniseed, sprinkled with cinnamon, glazed with sugar, or shaped like stars. To all the foodies out there, Strasbourg in Christmas time is your paradise!

7. Strasbourg has the greatest choice of original holiday-seasoned drinks

 

Photo credit: verchmarco Nahaufnahme von einem Glas Glühwein mit einer Scheibe Zitrone und einer Stange Zimt via photopin (license)

Christmas time in Europe goes hand in hand with hot mulled wine. In France, it’s called vin chaud, in German-speaking countries Glühwein, and in Scandinavia it’s Gloog. But whatever it is called, hot mulled wine is an absolute must during Christmas time. In Strasbourg, it is served steaming hot from copper cauldrons. May it be at the Christmas markets or in one of the many restaurants. The red wine is mixed with honey or citrus fruit, and spiked with spices like cinnamon, aniseed, nutmeg and cloves.

For a non-alcoholic thirst-quencher, we love to drink hot blueberry nectars. But also spicy warm orange juices, or boiling hot apple juices with cinnamon.

Strasbourg also sells a special Christmas drink that cannot be found in any other French city: the Lait de Poule. It’s actually a traditional eggnog, but unlike the ones sold in Luxembourg, Germany or in the United States, it’s homemade and infused with strong alcohol like brandy, rum, eau-de-vie or kirsch (a liquor made from cherries).

And finally, there are also many special craft beers that can be found in Strasbourg during Christmas time: rich with malt and fragrant with spices. Kerstin’s favourite is the Cervoise, which was already a holiday season hit in the Middle Ages.

With its rich history, magical decorations and all the delicious food and drinks, Strasbourg can rightfully be called the Capital of Christmas. Do you agree?

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7 Reasons to visit Strasbourg during Christmastime © Travelwithmk.com

7 Reasons why you should visit Strasbourg during Christmastime © Travelwithmk.com

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Travelers - Storytellers

Travelers at heart, Mei and Kerstin have been roaming the world together since 2002. Expats for over a decade, they used to live in Bordeaux, Paris, Athens, and San Francisco. They recently returned to their motherland to get married, and decided to stay to re-explore Luxembourg in depth. While they both have a full time job, they continue to feed their wanderlust by traveling the world whenever they can.

40 Responses

  1. Stuart Forster
    | Reply

    I love the idea of visiting Strasbourg ahead of Christmas. I have visited the city in summer and thought it was very impressive, thanks to the proliferation of historic buildings.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yes, Strasbourg has many extraordinary buildings, and for architecture lovers it’s a great city to explore!

  2. Carmen Edelson
    | Reply

    I had no idea it was home to the OLDEST Christmas market in Europe. Okay, Strasbourg is seriously going on my list. My dream is to take a river cruise in December and see all of these amazing markets, but I’d be happy with just visiting this one if I had to choose!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Oh yes, the river cruise in Strasbourg is awesome! We took it twice and learnt many things about the history of Strasbourg.

  3. Erica
    | Reply

    Who doesn’t love a good Christmas market?! And this one sounds absolutely spectacular. Love the photos, love the tips and definitely adding Strasbourg to my list.I always love vising border towns, I think places with a mixture of culture are so rich in culture. I can’t believe you’ve been ten times!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thanks Erica! Yes, you should definitely visit Strasbourg. And we’ve been there so many times because our nephew is studying at the University of Strasbourg so it’s always a good idea to visit him and the city! 🙂

  4. Alice Ford
    | Reply

    You are really making me want to fly to Strasbourg for a hot mulled drink and some holiday lights. This is a place I have never been, but would love to visit. The history is crazy a Christmas market for more than 700 years! WOW!

  5. Navita
    | Reply

    Just looking at the beautiful pictures and Christmas charm is reason enough for me to visit Strasbourg. Interesting to learn that it is home to the oldest Christmas market in France and that it is the largest in the world. Would love to try the amazing food and choice of original holiday-seasoned drinks. Hope to plan a trip during Christmas time in Strasbourg.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      We also hope you’ll get to visit Strasbourg during Christmas this year, Navita! 😉

  6. Lara Dunning
    | Reply

    Visiting Europe for the Christmas markets is something I’ve always wanted to do and this one sound lovely, and it seems like you get a mix of both countries too. The Notre-Dame Cathedral is stunning! That is a crazy ton of man hours for the tree. Funny they start searching in March. That is some serious tree hunting.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yes we were also very surprised to learn that they start their Christmas tree hunting in March! So basically right after taking away the tree of the previous year they already have to start looking for the next one! 😀

  7. Jing
    | Reply

    I’ve always wanted to try spending Christmas in Europe to experience the Christmas market and see the Christmas lights illuminating great architectural structures. I will now remember Strasbourg as the place to be at this time.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yep! Don’t forget to add Strasbourg to your itineray next time to visit Europe during winter season!

  8. Claire
    | Reply

    Wow I had no idea the Christmas market at Strasbourg was so big! That’s one of my favourite things about Europe in December at Christmas so I’d love to go to the one here!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      You might want to try to go to Strasbourg this December, Claire! 😉

  9. Tami
    | Reply

    I can certainly see why Strasbourg would be high on the list of places to visit at Christmastime. With all the lights, Christmas markets, wassail, churches and nativities, it would provide a perfect Christmas setting!

  10. melody pittman
    | Reply

    This is one of my favorite places to visit in the world, though I haven’t been there for the holiday markets. Strasbourg is just so dreamy and adorable, I could get lost there for weeks and be the happiest person in the world! Thanks for giving me even more desire to fulfill my bucket list and go see the Christmas markets here.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      You’re welcome Melody! Glad that we inspired you to visit Strasbourg during Christmastime. We’re sure you’ll love it there! So don’t worry, go ahead and stay in Alsace for several weeks, there are plenty of wonderful places to explore! 🙂

  11. Nisha
    | Reply

    I have been to Germany and I have been to France but somehow Strasbourg was left out. I love Christmas markets and now you have given me more reasons to go there. Didn’t know there is so much to see in Strasbourg during Christmas. Would love to taste its specialty the Lait de Poule. And the Alsatian food as well. French food and wine are great and so are German.
    I am sure The Notre-Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg would be a treat to our eyes.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Awww!!! Sorry you didn’t get to visit Strasbourg! Hopefully you’ll get to go there next time you come to Europe! And make sure to visit during Christmastime. 😉

  12. When I lived in Germany we’d drive down to Strasbourg all the time! It’s such a charming city, but it is especially beautiful during Christmas time. To be honest, Christmas markets are what I miss most about living in Europe.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Germany also has its charming places, but we must admit that we prefer Strasbourg to many medieval cities and towns in Germany. And honestly, we can’t imagine Christmastime without Christmas markets! So we totally understand that you miss the European Christmas markets! 🙂

  13. sherianne
    | Reply

    I’m drooling. I did a European Christmas Market trip a couple years ago and missed Strasbourg. Travel regret for sure. I would love to see the Nativity Scenes
    At Notre-dame and try Lait de Poule

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Don’t worry, Strasbourg will wait for you! This year maybe? If not, then in 2019! 😉

  14. The Christmas markets in Europe are incredible, nothing like we have at home (Australia). Strasbourg seems to be the one to head to, and it is the oldest on in France.

    The lights are truly magical during Christmas. Paris must be so jealous!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Haha! We also wonder if Paris is jealous of Strasbourg or not! 😀

  15. Cathy Salvador Mendoza
    | Reply

    The Strasbourg Christmas Market is one of the largest in the world? Wow! How awesome is that! I wish I could visit here this year! I, too was born and raised in a Christian country so can’t imagine seeing a certain place for example, my house or the Philippines that’s not been decorated by Christmas lanterns or designs! So truly beautiful Strasbourg! So bright and shining and I could totally feel the presence of Christmas!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Oh it must be so special to spend Christmas in a warm country like the Philippines! 🙂 But if you get a chance next year, do visit Strasbourg during Christmastime!

  16. Carissa
    | Reply

    I can definitely agree that Strasbourg can be called the Capital of Christmas because wow all these magical lights and of course the Christmas markets! Also their effort of decorating their own Christmas Tree is admirable. You can see that Christmas is really their favorite season of the year!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      We’re not sure if Christmas is really their favorite season, but from all their holiday decorations and illuminations we can definitely say that Strasbourg doesn’t joke about being the capital of Christmas! 😀

  17. Lisa
    | Reply

    The “Gate of Lights” sounds spectacular to see in person! And I would love to try the amazing drinks that you mention 🙂 The Lait de Poule sounds like a must-try!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      You’ll certainly love the holiday drinks in Strasbourg, Lisa! 😉

  18. Jenn and Ed Coleman
    | Reply

    I love your history lessons. I never would have thought that a French city would have the oldest Christmas Market or Christmas Tree. Both of these are such Germanic traditions. But, it’s so close to Germany and throughout history belonged to both countries and certainly both cultures it makes perfect sense.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yes, since Strasbourg belonged to Germany for so long, there are actually more German traditions than French. But it’s really the mix of both cultures that makes this city so interesting!

  19. mapcameratravel1
    | Reply

    OMG ! Those Chritsmas illuminations looks so dreamy. I feel entire europe is wonderful to visit during christmas time. All your pictures are so wonderful . will surely add this in queue when we decide to go to france. Thanks for introducing us to this wonderful place.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thanks dear! Let us know when you decide to visit France, so we can send you some tips!

  20. trimmtravels
    | Reply

    I almost visited Strasbourg as a day trip from Paris this summer and decided to go to Belgium instead (except it got messed up and I wound up staying in Paris so I wish I had done Strasbourg). Anyway, I didn’t know that it is home to the oldest Christmas market in probably all of Europe, so cool! I’m headed to Vienna to the Christmas markets there this December. I love a beautifully decorated tree. Strasbourg definitely has it going on for Christmas and I think this might have to be next year’s Christmas market destination…or I might even add it on to this year’s if I can. I definitely think it can be called the capital of Christmas!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Oh so sorry you didn’t get to visit Strasbourg this summer, but if you can squeeze in a day or weekend trip to Strasbourg this December, you’ll see how beautiful (and beautifully lit) this city is! Let us know how you’ll like it. 🙂 And enjoy your time in Vienna!

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