9 Alsace Towns and Cities You Should Know About
I'm guessing you're interested in making a trip to Alsace (and lots of other parts of Europe too).
Normally your first stop will be an Alsace city.
Alsace cities make planning your trip easy. They have shops and restaurants. You don't need a car. You can take trains and the occasional taxi.
But here in Alsace, you may be surprised to find that we don't have that many cities.
And on many travel sites, they confuse the villages and the cities a bit. Some people come to Alsace thinking Colmar is a village, for example.
Or they stay in Strasbourg and miss out on all the other interesting villages and smaller cities in the region.
Here we are going to talk about ALL the Alsace towns and cities.
The ones you've probably heard of (and may have already visited) and some towns that you might really enjoy (that no one talks about much).
What is the Difference between an Alsace Town and an Alsace Village?
So what is the difference between a town or city and a village? you might be wondering.
In a village in Alsace, you can get to open, natural or green areas very quickly (maybe it's mountains, vineyards or big open spaces with few buildings).
In smaller towns, you usually still need a map to figure out where they are.
And it takes awhile to get to those green areas by foot. You might even make a few wrong turns while trying to get there.
This is how I separate the villages from the small towns (and cities).
And all the towns and cities have train stations of varying sizes. Alsace train stations aren't very big even in Strasbourg and Colmar by the way.
Chances are you've heard something about Strasbourg.
It's the capital city of the Alsace region (and now the Grand Est region). The largest city in Alsace (which is easy because we don't have many big cities).
The Capital of Christmas...we're famous for our Christmas markets.
Not part of the wine region...so if you're interested in wine, you'll have to leave the city.
And oh yeah...we have a pretty amazing medieval cathedral....and so many fascinating stories, history, culture, and more.
But there's a lot more you need to know about Strasbourg before your trip to Alsace...
Even though it's a small town in Alsace...
It's big enough to keep you busy on your next visit. This town has made quite a few "must see" lists for travel in France.
Colmar can compete with Strasbourg for your attention despite its smaller size.
And it's very centrally located in the Alsace region.
But Colmar is not Strasbourg. These are two unique and different cities with different stories to tell you.
So if you are wondering "Which is better Strasbourg or Colmar?" Well, I can only show you what they have to offer. Because they are both interesting (and beautiful) in different ways.
Mulhouse is the second largest city in Alsace.
And the town that most tourists can't pronounce the right way. A little hint, there is no "ow as in cow" sound in French.
Not that Mulhouse is really a French town name.
But it may be a little early to start talking about the Alsatian language and its pronunciation.
It's not a town where you see much tourism (well, not like Strasbourg and Colmar). But it has something to offer certain visitors.
And if you like stories, this Alsace town has plenty.
If you're wondering if Mulhouse, has an airport, the answer is no...and yes. There is no airport in the town itself. But it has an airport...technically.
Haguenau is the fourth largest city in the region.
And it's the biggest one in the enormous area north of Strasbourg (that not too many people go to but should if they love history and culture).
The favorite town in Alsace of certain Holy Roman Emperors...
Frederick Barbarossa (and quite a few other emperors) loved to make stops in Haguenau to do a bit of hunting in the enormous forest around the town.
There's even a story with Richard the Lion Heart in this Alsace town.
And that big forest (the one the emperors love so much) is where we can find the clay to make our traditional Alsace pottery. Maybe you've seen it. Most of it is very colorful and we still use it here in the region.
We still make our traditional pottery, but we get clay from many different sources now.
Sitting right next to the border between Alsace and Lorraine is the important town of Saverne (with lots of medieval castles if you're into that).
An Alsace town named for a place to get a drink on a Roman road...
And before the Romans there was a large Celtic community too. So Saverne has been a popular place to be for thousands of years.
The Bishop of Strasbourg (a pretty important and powerful guy in Alsace) even moved to this town and built an enormous and beautiful palace.
And if that doesn't get your attention...they also make their own beer!
That's right, one of Alsace's well known beers is made in this town. We're far away from the wine region here, so you'll have to make do with the castles, palaces, beer and much more.
One of the most centrally located towns in Alsace...
Almost exactly the same distance (give or take a few kilometers) to the most northern point of Alsace as to the most southern point in the region.
But Selestat has much more to offer...
This town was home to one of the most prestigious schools in the 1400s and 1500s.... and not just in Alsace. The wealthy sent their boys to Selestat from Lorraine, Switzerland, and Germany.
And if you like old books...they have an amazing collection of old books...really old books. Like handwritten texts from the 700s and 800s all the way to the first printed books in the 1400s and 1500s.
But there's more than just books in Selestat...
One of the most popular towns to visit in Northern Alsace (after Strasbourg of course).
So you can expect to find lots of souvenir shops, tour buses and other tour groups walking around in the pretty town of Obernai.
You might have thought that Obernai is a village, but it's more of a town (or an extremely large village). You should be able to easily visit the historic parts of town by foot of course.
And it's the official birthplace of Alsace's patron saint, Odile.
Well, maybe. Her father was an extremely important guy here in Alsace, so maybe she was born in their castle in the mountains above the town or in the palace in town.
Oh, the challenges of noble life in the 600s...
8. Saint Louis
You may be wondering why I've included the town of Saint Louis.
Mainly because if you're visiting Alsace, there's no really good reason for you to explore this growing (but not so exciting town).
But...you may need to know about it for travel purposes.
Because Saint Louis is the unofficial suburb of Basel Switzerland. Nearly everyone living in this town works in Switzerland.
And when you fly into the Basel Mulhouse airport, you will technically be in Saint Louis.
Basel is not an Alsace city, but it's our closest neighbor.
It's a Swiss city and it is so close to our region that part of Alsace is a suburb of Basel. And there's even a Basel tram that goes to one of our train stations
And it's a fabulous city (that for some reason Swiss guide books ignore).
If you're looking to add a little bit of Switzerland to your trip, Basel is an easy add-on. Just remember to adjust your budget, because everything in Switzerland is much more expensive than Alsace.
Frequently Asked Questions about Alsace
Are you just getting started thinking about coming to Alsace?
Let's get you started off right with some of the most need-to-know details about your (hopefully) new favorite.
What is Alsace France?
Alsace is one of the smallest regions in France.
Technically we're now part of the Grand Est region since 2016 (with the Lorraine and Champagne regions).
Although most Alsatians (and the regions of Lorraine and Champange) don't really like being put into one big region.
So, I would stick to calling us Alsace and Lorraine and Champagne.
You can find us in the north-eastern corner, right next to Germany and Switzerland. In fact some may say that we are the part of France that pokes into Germany a little bit.
If you learn anything about our history, you'll discover that it was a detail worth fighting over.
There was so much fighting.
And although Alsace is a part of France now, it wasn't always the case. So Alsatian culture is pretty different than the rest of France.
An Alsace Map: How to Find Alsace on a Map
So, where is Alsace exactly?
France isn't a huge country, but planning your trip with a little France geography in mind can make your travel plans much easier to organize.
And Alsace is in a fantastic part of Europe, especially if you love travel.
I can tell you that all of us here living in Alsace definitely take advantage of it.
You are really centrally located (Europe-wise) in Alsace.
And I may be a little biased, but I think the eastern side of France is the best. So many fascinating and delicious places to visit on OUR side.
Is It the Alsace Wine Route or the Alsace Wine Region?
Maybe you're heard that we make wine in Alsace.
And we do! Technically even the Celts made something alcoholic with the wild grape vines growing in Alsace.
But for most of Alsace, wine making started in the 400s or 500s (maybe a little earlier in some areas).
But what is the Alsace wine route? And is it the same thing as the wine region?
Yes and no.
The Alsace wine region is the part of Alsace where we are allowed to farm grapes for wine making (and we also usually make our own wines too here).
The Alsace wine route is a line drawn through the Alsace wine region.
Kind of a connect the dots with the wine making villages.
And it's about 170 km or 106 miles long from top to bottom.
You see, there is no one road called the wine route. We have some roads named "wine road" but they are not all connected up. And they have very little to do with the Alsace wine route or road.
If you get in your car and follow the Alsace wine route, you will zig zag your way up or down the Alsace wine region.
Just to warn you, it's not a straight line.
In fact it's very crooked. You will have to make turns. And it's on mostly two-lane roads. So don't plan to do it in an afternoon.
And be careful. You'll be sharing the road with other tourists.
Some of them are more interested in getting that photo of a stork than paying attention. Or they already made a few stops at wine makers to sample and buy wine.
Or they may be hopelessly lost and they're trying to figure out where their next turn is.
Personally my "favorites" are the camper vans going 25 kilometers per hour (16 mph).
Alsace Villages Map: Where Are All the Cute Villages?
There are just too many Alsace villages to fit them all on a map.
But I did try to squeeze as many as I could. If you're interested in checking out some Alsace villages, you can go to these two completely different and more comprehensive guides on the subject.
Is Alsace Worth Visiting?
Personally, after over 12 years of introducing Alsace to English speakers, I say yes.
Of course I'm clearly biased.
But I would never recommend Alsace to someone if they wouldn't enjoy it. I'm just not that kind of person.
And ultimately, it depends on what you love doing on vacation.
Do you like history in general?
You'll love Alsace, because we have tons of stories from many different periods. World War One and World War Two for example. But also plenty of strange, amusing and sometimes sad stories from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution.
Do you like to take photos?
You don't need any talent to take great photos in Alsace.
It's hard to take a bad photo here. Especially with all the new gadgets we have now. And I know where all the best spots are. I have at least a few thousand photos.
Do you love white wine?
Oh boy, will you love Alsace. You may never want to leave. Not many wine regions produce exceptional white wines like we do.
I've only just scratched the surface with the possibilities here in the region.
And each of those questions could be the focus on your stay here.
What is Alsace Famous for?
In each part of the world, Alsace is not always famous for the same things.
In Europe (and especially France), Alsace is known for its different food. It's the best place in France to get our very popular (and traditional) version of sauerkraut, for example.
It's quite different than any sauerkraut I've had anywhere else.
Of course we have many different dishes here too.
Many people can't help but fall in love with our beautiful and colorful 300-500 year old cottages and our window boxes filled with flowers.
We love to garden in Alsace and we can grow nearly any kind of flower.
And you can't take a photo without flowers in it somewhere (except in winter of course).
You may have seen pictures of some of our Christmas markets too. We have a very old tradition of them here (over 500 years long).
And it's not just the markets that are a big tradition.
We have celebrated Christmas in Alsace in our own unique way for much longer. Of course now we celebrate the Christmas season officially for nearly 5-6 weeks each year nowadays.
Alsace is also famous for its wine.
Of course we have a small wine region in France, so finding it in every shop in every country is just not possible.
But you might be able to find some of it in larger towns where you live.
Of course our best wines (also known as our Terroir wines and our Grand Cru wines) are much harder to find outside of Alsace because they are produced in limited quantities.
What Cities are in Alsace Lorraine?
Well, the first thing to remember is that Alsace and Lorraine are two different regions.
There are moments in history where they have connections, But for the most part, Alsace and Lorraine are distinct regions with unique cultures, languages and histories.
Strasbourg is the largest city in either region and has been the capital of Alsace for a very long time.
The largest city in Lorraine is Metz (named for a Celtic settlement before the Romans arrived).
After Metz, the larger towns in Lorraine are Nancy, Epinal, and Bar le Duc.
In Alsace, the larger towns after Strasbourg are Mulhouse, Colmar, and Haguenau.
Of course, please keep in mind that neither of these regions have many large towns. Strasbourg has nearly 300,000 people and Metz a little more than 100,000 people.
Is Alsace German or French?
At the moment Alsace is in France.
And we all hope it stays that way. I don't think anyone wants another major war here in Western Europe.
But it wasn't always like this.
France and Germany (as well as the French Kingdom and the Holy Roman Empire) have not always had good relations. They've gone to war so many times.
The Franco Prussian War, the Thirty Years War, World War One and World War Two are just a few of the biggest or most recent wars.
So there have been times (and some very long periods of time) when Alsace was not French.
In fact Alsace spent most of its history as a part of the Holy Roman Empire (which was a Germanic empire).
Which Is Better Strasbourg or Colmar?
Oh my, this is probably the hardest question to answer.
Because each city is different. They don't look anything alike nowadays. You'll probably want to take hundreds of photos in either town (but for different reasons). Their historic monuments are quite different.
For example, Colmar doesn't have a cathedral.
But each Alsace city has some fantastic stories. You wouldn't believe some of the interesting things that happened in Strasbourg and Colmar.
And both cities have plenty of shopping and great restaurants.
It ultimately comes down to what you enjoy doing the most. And what you are planning to do while you are in Alsace.
For example, if you are planning to drive in Alsace, I don't recommend either town as a place to stay. Parking and navigating in the historic areas of both cities is not a relaxing experience for most people.
Or if the wine region is a very important part of your travel plans, Strasbourg is a little further away from most of the wine route.
Of course there are many other advantages and disadvantages for choosing Colmar or Strasbourg as your place to stay in Alsace.
And the best way to make a great decision is to know what you would love to do.
In any case, I hope you won't spend all your time in just Strasbourg or Colmar.
As great as both of these cities are, we have lots of equally wonderful villages and historic sites for you too.
Ready to Plan Your Next Trip to Alsace?
Now that you know a little bit more about Alsace, are you ready to come see it for yourself?
You should have enough info to know if our adorable region is right for you. And of course this is where to fun begins.
Planning a trip to Alsace can be that thing you avoid doing for months or...
The most fun you've ever had.
Let's make it as much fun as the trip itself. Looking at photos, reading about it, getting more and more excited as the days and weeks pass.
I promise to do my part...
What about you?