If you plan on visiting the Alsace region in the East of France for a couple of days, you may wonder if Colmar or Strasbourg is a better choice as a base location.
With a population of 280K, Strasbourg is much bigger than Colmar (77K residents) but has a similar-sized historical center. Both cities are picturesque and authentically Alsacian. While Strasbourg has a stunning cathedral, better canal scenery and boat rides, more art museums, and richer architecture, Colmar is more picturesque and quaint, has an art museum hosting a renowned altarpiece, and is the gateway to the Alsacian wine country and its scenic villages.
Travelers generally agree the Alsace region of France is a rich-colored fertile agricultural area with beautiful villages, distinctive local language and customs, and friendly people.
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Colmar or Strasbourg: what travelers say
- Strasbourg is more of a city while Colmar is a reasonably large town. The architecture and scenery in the two places have similarities, though many travelers feel that Colmar is quainter.
- Colmar is a beautiful, medieval town with a world-class museum – Musee d’Unterlinden. The town also has a few impressive churches, including the Dominican church with its Schongauer’s (Rosebud) Madonna. Colmar also has gothic, renaissance and baroque buildings.
- In Colmar, the architecture is picturesque and the “Petite Venise” neighborhood along the river is pretty and popular with tourists.
- Many people like to stay in Colmar because it’s close to the Vosges mountains and some beautiful old wine villages like (Riquewihr and Eguisheim. In fact, if you are into wines, Colmar would be a good choice to stay in.
- On the other hand, for people who are interested in art and art museums, Strasbourg offers a lot. Strasbourg is larger than Colmar and more of a city, yet, the town center where most tourists congregate is small and great for just wondering around.
- Strasbourg is worth visiting for its stunning gothic cathedral. Some travelers judge it as the finest of its kind in Europe.
- Travelers recommend taking the boat trip to the EU headquarters. A tour of the buildings and surroundings are well worth a visit.
- Strasbourg has a lot going on compared to Colmar. The city feels busier with its trams going up and down while there are no trams in Colmar. Strasbourg has more canals than Colmar, in fact, the historic center of Strasbourg is an island surrounded by water.
- Some travelers find Colmar absolutely charming and cute, a place for taking loads of photographs. Others feel that the town is a bit too cute; they find Strasbourg more interesting and genuine.
- At the same time though, Colmar is a smaller town, not so hectic, less crowded and pleasant to walk around in. Because it’s more peaceful some people prefer to stay in Colmar and do day trips to Strasbourg. On the other hand, there are those who enjoy the bustle of Strasbourg and they stay in Strasbourg and take day trips to Colmar.
- As mentioned earlier, Colmar is close to popular wine villages like Riquewhir, Kaysersberg, and Eguisheim. The town is also close to several medieval castles you might like to visit. If you like ruins, you’ll enjoy visiting them. There is also the well-preserved Haut-Koenigsbourg in the Vosges mountains you might like to visit.
- Both Colmar and Strasbourg have great markets. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose to stay in, both places are gorgeous and worth a visit.
Colmar or Strasbourg: access & transportation
You can catch a train from Paris or Berlin to get to Strasbourg. There are intercity high-speed trains between Paris and Colmar every 20 minutes.
You can also drive from Amsterdam along the Rhine to Strasbourg. Driving in the center of Strasbourg is restricted, but there are many lanes for bikes so it’s great to explore the city center by bike.
From Strasbourg you can go to Colmar by car, they are about an hour’s drive apart, depending on the route you take and the time of day you travel. There is the motorway (A35) or you can take the scenic route (N83).
There is a regular train service between the two cities which takes around 40 minutes. Once you arrive in Colmar, you can walk to the center of town. It’s an easy 10-minute walk. Or you can take a bus to the Place Unterlinden where you’ll find the tourist office.
If you stay in Colmar you can easily travel to other places in the vicinity. For instance, you can travel by bus to Eguisheim, or by train to Turckheim and Munster.
A very nice way to explore the wine villages on the Route de Vin is by bike. There are buses but they don’t come regularly.
There are many markets in the area, including Christmas markets at the season. Public transport to the markets is available from both Colmar and Strasbourg.
If you have not visited the area before you’ll find Colmar easier to navigate than Strasbourg.
Colmar or Strasbourg: vibe & people
While Strasbourg is bigger than Colmar the two places have a similar feel and both have a pretty historic center. Many travelers comment that they don’t experience Strasbourg as very big since the historical center where tourists tend to concentrate is small.
Both Colmar and Strasbourg have many fachwerk (timber framing) buildings, but in Strasbourg you’ll also see some turn-of-the-century architecture.
Some travelers find Colmar too cutesy to their taste. Others find Strasbourg a lively historical city with its history written all over its architecture. The Grand Ile island in the middle of the city where tourists concentrate is intimate and a pleasant place to stroll around.
Colmar isn’t big enough to be called a city and yet, it’s bigger than a small town. It’s easy to explore on foot. The place really comes into its own in the evening when lights go on over the canals and cafes.
You can enjoy your evening meal on one of the many restaurant patios beside the canals. There are loads of restaurants to choose from and Colmar also has a great indoor produce market.
The buildings and canals in Colmar create a place of charm. It’s easy to walk around in and offers many photo opportunities.
Strasbourg is one of Europe’s much-loved cities and a popular destination with Europeans, whether for work or leisure. This beautiful city has a magnificent cathedral, impressive historical architecture, the charm of many canals as well as the modern buildings of the EU Headquarters just a short boat trip away.
Strasbourg is a university city so it’s lively with young people and students going about their business. The city’s center is situated on an island in the Ill River.
Strasbourg offers many good restaurants, leisurely boat rides on the canals, and is delightful to explore on foot.
Colmar or Strasbourg: sights & culture
When you just arrive in Colmar you might want to take the green tourist train that takes you through the town center and gives you an overview of the town. It will take about 45 minutes of your time.
Colmar has many tourist attractions. Foremost is the Unterlinden Museum which houses the world-famous 16th-century Issenheim altarpiece. The museum is inside a 13th-century Dominican monastery. Amongst many historical artifacts, visitors can also see a display of toys.
In the Dominican Church you’ll see Martin Schongauer’s renowned 15th-century masterpiece of Christian painting, the Madonna of the Rose Bush.
Colmar is the birthplace of Bartholdi, the designer of the Statue of Liberty. The Musée Bartholdi honors him. You might also like to see the Ancienne Douane, an old customs building.
Eglise Saint-Martin is a 13th-century church that is worth a visit, found on the main square.
Other attractions include the cathedral and Petite Venise (Little Venise) with its canals along Colmar’s Lauch River which runs through the old fishermen’s district. The whole area can be explored by boat.
Travelers enjoy walking the cobblestone streets of the Old Town and admiring the many colorful medieval and early Renaissance buildings.
Colmar is one of the towns on the Alsace Wine Route where the local vineyards produce Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines. Travelers recommend exploring the Route du Vin, starting at Bennwihr, moving on to Mittelwihr and then on to Riquewihr. They also recommend going as early as possible to avoid buses full of tourists.
The popular wine villages of Ribeauville, Turckheim, Eguisheim, Bergheim, and Kayserberg are all within easy reach from Colmar. At Eguisheim you can do the Tour the Remparts, a 30-minute walk through this lovely Alsace village. In Turckheim you can go to the stork park and watch the storks being fed.
You can go on the “Route du Romanesque” which takes you through several villages where you can admire significant examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
Driving to Voegtlinshoffen, you can enjoy the view towards the Black Forest and on clear days you will be able to see the Swiss Alps.
Other places worth exploring are Hunawihr and Zellenberg, also part of the association “Les Beaux Villages de France” (beautiful villages of France), with lovely places to have lunch.
In Wuenheim you can go to the Cave du Vieil Armand for some wine-tasting and tour the wine museum.
Visit the beautiful medieval Haut-Koenigsbourg castle at Orschwiller or, further north, Mont Sainte Odile Abbey in the Vosges mountain. Travelers recommend the walk along the route of the Pagan wall.
You can also visit picturesque Neuf-Breisach and cross the Rhein river to Breisach am Rhein in Germany.
Some visitors think that Strasbourg is one of Europe’s most underrated cities. The city offers the best of two worlds: an old-world feeling you get throughout the city and the ultra-modern EU buildings just a short boat ride from the city.
You can stroll the main square and walk along the canals. The Petite France quarter is very charming with medieval bridges and 16th-century half-timbered houses along the canals.
Strasbourg has the phenomenal Cathédrale Notre-Dame and its stunning astronomical clock with a show every day at 12:30. The gothic cathedral itself is magnificent and well worth a visit.
There are many interesting museums in Strasbourg including the Musée des Beaux-Arts where visitors can admire works by Paul Rubens and other Old Masters. The Cathedral Museum, the Musée archéologique of Strasbourg, and the Palais de Rohan are other major sights.
You might also find of interest the Neubau, a 16th-century building with an interesting history in the Grande Île in the city center.
Colmar or Strasbourg: food & nightlife
The whole Alsace region where Colmar and Strasbourg are located is famous for the Tarte Flambée, a dish not unlike a thin pizza with strips of bacon and fresh cheese but no tomatoes, often accompanied with the local white wine.
Travelers recommend the wine-tasting at Voegtlinshoffen (Marcel Immélé wines). The Taverne Médiévale offers typical Alsacian food at a reasonable price.
Traveler recommendations also include the Hotel Restaurant Rheinblick in Breisach, where the Apple Strudel and Black Forest Gateau are highly praised.
Grimmer’s Chocolate shop and tea room on the way to Wintzenheim is a favorite stop for many travelers.
Near Riquewihr, you’ll find Restaurant St Alexis. It offers excellent food and pleasant views. There are also many recommended farmhouse Inns in the area. You can just drive around and stop at a place that attracts you (no reservation required).
Strasbourg offers more of a nightlife than Colmar – which is rather quiet in the evenings.
Strasbourg has many winstubs (wine rooms) where travelers can enjoy wines and food typical of the region.
The Burehiesel in the Orangerie Park and Maison Kammerzell near the cathedral are two often recommended restaurants. Less touristy but also highly praised Alsacian food places are La Tête de lard, Petit Ours, A l’Ancienne Douane, and Au Brasseur.
Colmar or Strasbourg: lodging
Hotel St. Martin in the historical center is in a good location and offers a nice breakfast.
Chez Leslie B&B is in a quiet area away from all the tourist activity, yet only a 2-minute walk from the train station. The rooms are nice and reasonably priced and the service is good.
Best Western Grand Hotel Bristol is close to the railway station and not even a 10-minute walk from “Little Venice”. It’s a lovely place to stay at and has garage parking as well.
Hotel Rapp has clean and comfortable rooms and good room service. It has a convenient location near many restaurants and tourist attractions. The hotel has a very good restaurant. There is also a swimming pool.
Hôtel l’Abbaye d’Alspach near Kaysersberg, about 10 minutes from Colmar, is recommended for travelers who want to visit Christmas markets in the region.
Reflets sur la Lauch Apartments in Petite Venise is highly recommended. The place consists of five modern apartments, offering one and two-bedroom accommodation. The apartments have an awesome view across the canal.
The area around the Strasbourg train station has a great variety of accommodation, from small hotels to big chains catering for different traveler budgets.
Visitors often recommend Hotel Cathedrale located right in the tourist area. La Petite France B&B is lovely and quaint but it’s only big enough for two people.
Colmar or Strasbourg: day trips
From Colmar, you can visit Neuf-Brisach, a fortified town in an octagonal design complete with a system of canals designed to protect the citadel. The citadel and town were designed by the military engineer Vauban.
Breisach am Rhein, just across the border (and river) in Germany, is famous for its St Stephansmünster cathedral. While in Germany you can also go to Freiburg or Titisee, and many travelers like to spend time in the thermal baths in Bad Krotzingen.
If you are traveling in the summer, do consider hiking in the Black Forest. The Black Forest also has many wineries worth a visit.
As mentioned earlier, you can explore the medieval Haut-Koenigsbourg castle at Orschwiller.
Colmar is also a good base location for a day trip to Basel in Switzerland.
From Strasbourg, getting to Germany is quick and easy. You can go to Gengenbach and from there go to Voghtsbauernhof and visit the open-air museum in the Black Forest.
On the French side, if you want to enjoy a charming place that is not overrun with tourists, consider going to Obernai, easy to reach by train from Strasbourg.
And of course, there is the Rhine. Why not take a cruise on the Rhine and spend a night in a hotel along the river? There are many cruises available.