Strasbourg Introduction Walking Tour, Strasbourg

Strasbourg Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Strasbourg

The capital of France's Grand Est region, formerly known as Alsace, Strasbourg is often referred to as the "crossroads of Europe". Indeed, the city's name, emerged after the 5th century AD, is the German for 'town (at the crossing) of roads'. Adding truth to it today also is the European Parliament that has been seated at Strasbourg since 1949.

The vicinity of the German border ensured a blend of German and French influences in the culture and architecture of the city. Immersed in the Franco-German relationship, sometimes violent, Strasbourg has been a cultural bridge between the two countries throughout history.

Once a free imperial city, Strasbourg was taken over by France in 1681, after the conquest of Alsace by the armies of Louis XIV. In 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War, the city was reclaimed by Germany, until 1918 (end of World War I) when it reverted to France. After the fall of France in 1940 (World War II) Strasbourg fell under German control once again; but since the end of 1944 it has been back in the French hands.

Originated as the Roman camp of Argentoratum, first mentioned in 12 BC, the city celebrated its 2,000th anniversary in 1988. That same year the historic center of Strasbourg, Grande Île (the Grand Island), was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city is chiefly known for its characteristic pink sandstone Gothic Cathedral – Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg – with its famous astronomical clock and tower dominating the skyline, described by Victor Hugo as a "gigantic and delicate marvel", and by Goethe as a "sublimely towering, wide-spreading tree of God".

In addition to the cathedral, Strasbourg houses several other medieval churches that have survived the many wars and destructions plagued the city over the centuries. Among them is Église protestante Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune (Young St. Peter's Protestant Church) with its crypt dating back to the 7th century and its cloister partly from the 11th century.

Another key local attraction is the medieval cityscape of Rhineland black and white timber-framed buildings, particularly in the Petite France district, often called the “Venice of the North” for its narrow streets and canals.

To find out more about these and other historical treasures of Strasbourg and to explore its most significant sites, take this self-guided introductory walk.
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Strasbourg Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Strasbourg Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: France » Strasbourg (See other walking tours in Strasbourg)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: irenebo
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Place Kléber (Kleber Square)
  • Église protestante Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune (Young St. Peter's Protestant Church)
  • Place Broglie (Broglie Square)
  • Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg (Strasbourg Cathedral)
  • Place Gutenberg (Gutenberg Square)
  • Petite France (Little France)
  • Pont Couverts (Covered Bridges)
  • Barrage Vauban (Vauban Dam)
Place Kléber (Kleber Square)

1) Place Kléber (Kleber Square) (must see)

It is well worth taking time to visit the Place Kleber which is the biggest square in the heart of the city’s commercial district. The square has been a central meeting place since it was laid out in the 14th century and it took its name in 1840 after the General Jean Baptiste Kleber, whose statue stands in the center of the square. The general served in Napoleon’s army during the campaign in Egypt in 1798 and 1799. The statue was erected in 1838 by Philippe Grass.

When Napoleon returned to Paris, he named the Kleber Commander of the French Forces. Kleber was assassinated in 1800 in Cairo. His body was repatriated and kept in the Chateau d’If off the Marseille coast until being interred in his native Strasbourg thirty years later. The general’s remains are in a vault under the statue.

An interesting building along the north side of the square is the Aubette building, built in 1772 by Jacque-François Blondel. Once a military post, it was given its name in the 19th century, from the dawn (aube) changing of the guard. In 1928 three avant-garde artists Jean Arp, Theo van Doesburg and Sophie Taeuber-Arp decorated the interior of the building. This work of art is often called the "Sistine Chapel of Abstract Art" for its artistic beauty. Nowadays, the Aubette building is an artistic and historical landmark with on Place Kléber and is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Admission to the building is free.
Église protestante Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune (Young St. Peter's Protestant Church)

2) Église protestante Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune (Young St. Peter's Protestant Church)

There are three churches in Strasbourg dedicated to Saint Pierre - the Old (Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux), the Catholic (Église Catholique Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune), and the Young (Église Protestante Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune). The last one, Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune Protestant Church, is a vital church building in the city and is filled with history.

The oldest parts of the church date back to the seventh century. This includes the burial crypt and the small lower church. The church was expanded over the centuries. In the 11th century, three arched galleries were added, and in the 14th, the fourth was put in.

The present-day main building of the church was built in the 14th century. It's Gothic, with chapels and a ribbed vault. Around this time is when many of the frescoes were added, as well as items like the choir screen, baptismal font, and memorial slabs.

In 1780 a grand choir organ was built by Johann Andreas Silbermann. Helmut Walcha recorded many of his performances of Bach's works on this masterpiece instrument. The organ was restored in 1948 and 1966.

Guide sheets and brochures are available to help you see and understand the details of the church. Additionally, volunteers are usually present to help out and answer questions.
Place Broglie (Broglie Square)

3) Place Broglie (Broglie Square)

Many of the biggest sights in Strasbourg are centered around Broglie Square. This square is large and rectangular, and it lies in the center of the Grand Île city center. You'll find the opera house, the city hall, the Governor's Palace, Prefect's Palace along its edges. There's also the Strasbourg branch of the Bank of France and the Mess building.

With its central location and many points to see, it's no wonder that Place Broglie is a meeting place and point of convergence in the city. The city's tram lines stop here. It is also here that the city's annual Christmas market is held.

You'll see a wide variety of architectural styles around the square, each of which tells a little bit of Strasbourg's story. Among the styles you can count Renaissance, Rococo, Nouveau, Historicism, and Alsatian.

There are also several monuments you will notice around the square. Near the base of the Bridge Theatre, you will find the Janus fountain. Built in 1988, it was dedicated to the 2000th anniversary of the first recorded mentions of Argentoratum which was Strasbourg's name in Roman times. Argentoratum was first recorded as a military outpost in 12 BC.

Next to the Opera House, there is a sandstone obelisk with bronze statues dedicated to Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque and the Liberation of Strasbourg during World War II. This monument was dedicated in 1951.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg (Strasbourg Cathedral)

4) Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg (Strasbourg Cathedral) (must see)

Until 1874 the Strasbourg Cathedral was the world's tallest building; today it is the 6th tallest church and its tower dominates the Strasbourg skyline.

Described by Victor Hugo as a "gigantic and delicate marvel", and by Goethe as a "sublimely towering, wide-spreading tree of God", the cathedral is visible far across the plains of Alsace and can be seen from as far off as the Vosges Mountains or the Black Forest on the other side of the Rhine. Sandstone from Vosges, used in construction, gives the cathedral its characteristic pink hue.

The building took many centuries to finish and has three distinctive styles. Its crypt, dating back to 1015, has been expanded over the centuries. The North Tower, built in 1439, stands 142 meters high and on a clear day you can see for over 30 kilometers from its observation deck. The Lawrence Portal in the North Transept was finished in 1505 in a markedly post-Gothic, early-Renaissance style.

Most of the statues in the cathedral are copies of the originals kept at the Oeuvre Notre-Dame Museum. The stunning Astronomical Clock, built in 1843 to replace an earlier clock, is 18 meters high and is one of the largest in the world.

The clock show, including a 30-minute movie presentation with English subtitles, is at 12:30 pm in the summer, but you must be there at around 11:30 am to book your entry at the back door of the Cathedral, since the places are limited. Climbing up the tower is not difficult, as long as you can manage 330 steps - and it's worth the effort!
Place Gutenberg (Gutenberg Square)

5) Place Gutenberg (Gutenberg Square) (must see)

One destination that should be on your “must-see” list is the Place Gutenberg which lies in the center of medieval Strasbourg, not far from the Cathedral.

This large square is a favorite for locals and tourists alike as it has a lot of excellent cafes and restaurants. The Chamber of Commerce building occupies one side of the square and is easily recognizable with its Renaissance style, but with the sloping roof that is typical of Alsace, where winter snow is a way of life.

There is a 16th-century hotel on the square where Arthur Young was staying when revolutionists destroyed the city’s magistrates records and where today art exhibitions are held on the ground floor. Another attraction is the flea markets that often set up around the statue in the center of the square.

The statue is, quite obviously, dedicated to Johannes Gutenberg; it was sculpted by David d’Angers in 1840 and features the famous printer holding a piece of parchment on which is inscribed the words “Et la lumière fut” (And behold, there was light) from the Book of Genesis. Around the base of the statue, bas reliefs depict notable scenes from Gutenberg’s life.

Not many people know that apart from being the inventor of the first mechanical, movable printing press in Europe in 1439 and the publisher of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455, Gutenberg lived in Strasbourg between 1434-44, where he was an apprentice goldsmith, set to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Petite France (Little France)

6) Petite France (Little France) (must see)

Petite France is an area in Strasbourg that is often called the Venice of the North because of its narrow streets and canals. It is a delightful area to visit as it takes you back to Medieval Strasbourg.

In the Middle Ages the beautiful half-timbered houses were the homes of fishermen, millers and tanners, and indeed many of the streets bear the names of the crafts carried out: Millers Street, Tanners Ditch and Lace Street, for example. The houses have the traditional tiered sloping roofs and hides were once hung up to dry on the topmost rafters.

In the late 15th century a hospice was built on the island for small-pox victims and later for French soldiers suffering from syphilis – which the Germans called it “French Disease” to stop the local girls from sleeping with the soldiers! The area became known as “Little France”, more out of derision than patriotism. The name stuck and today it is one of the most expensive quarters in the city.

Just to the west of Petite France, you can visit the Barrage Vauban – a weir that crosses the River Ill. It was built in 1686 from the plan by Marquis Vauban. The weir has two stories with wonderful sculptures on the main level, as well as a roof terrace where you can take superb photos of Petite France.

Why You Should Visit:
The most romantic neighborhood in Strasburg by far, especially at nightfall. There are also plenty of shops and places to try authentic French dishes. Places are open late and buildings are lit up after dark.

Walk around here early in the morning if you wish to get photos without thousands of tourists in your shots. If you have issues walking on cobblestones, you can also take the boat or a little touristic train that goes around the Petit France.
Pont Couverts (Covered Bridges)

7) Pont Couverts (Covered Bridges) (must see)

To protect the ancient city of Strasbourg, the Covered Bridges were constructed in the 1200s. There are three bridges crossing the River Ill. Additionally, there are four defensive towers set up between them.

In the late 1600s, the bridges were covered with wooden roofs. These were intended to cover soldiers and defenders who were stationed on the bridges during times of war. The covers were removed in 1784, but the name "Covered Bridges" has stuck.

While the bridges and towers remain, their task of defending the city was taken by the nearby the Vauban Dam. The Vauban Dam is the combination bridge and weir just west of the Covered Bridges.

If you want some postcard-perfect photos, stop by the Covered Bridges just after dark. The bridges and city are lit spectacularly. The best place to view and photograph the Covered Bridges is from near or on the Vauban Damn.
Barrage Vauban (Vauban Dam)

8) Barrage Vauban (Vauban Dam) (must see)

The Vauban Dam is a bridge, weir and defensive system erected in the 17th century on the River Ill in Strasbourg. It was a 17th century engineering marvel built according to the plans laid out by Marquis Vauban, the leading French military engineer of the time. At that time, it was known as the Great Lock, although it does not function as a navigation lock in the modern sense. Today it serves to display sculptures and has a viewing terrace on its roof, with views of the earlier Covered Bridge and Petite France quarter. It has been classified as a Historical Monument since 1971.

The dam was constructed from 1686 to 1690 in pink Vosges sandstone and its principal defensive function of the dam was to, in the event of an attack, raise the water level of the River Ill and thus flood the land south of the city, making it impassable to the enemy. This defensive measure was deployed in 1870, when Strasbourg was besieged by Prussian forces during the Franco-Prussian War, and resulted in the complete flooding of the northern part of the suburb of Neudorf.

The dam has 13 arches and is 120 meters (390 feet) in length. Within the structure an enclosed corridor links the two banks and a lapidarium serves to display ancient plaster casts and copies of statues and gargoyles from Strasbourg Cathedral and Rohan Palace. Three of the arches are raised to permit navigation, and the corridor is carried across these by drawbridges. The roof was rebuilt in 1965-66 in order to construct the panoramic terrace. Admission to the dam and terrace is free, and they are open daily from 9 am to 7:30 pm.

Walking Tours in Strasbourg, France

Create Your Own Walk in Strasbourg

Create Your Own Walk in Strasbourg

Creating your own self-guided walk in Strasbourg is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Historical Churches Walking Tour

Historical Churches Walking Tour

Strasbourg, which celebrated its bimillennial anniversary in 1988, is a city with a very rich heritage. Among other historical monuments found here is a wealth of ancient churches and cathedrals, representing a variety of architectural styles. Exploring Strasbourg on foot, one is inevitably drawn to visit some of these locations. Here are some of the best known places of worship in the city.

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Famous Squares Walking Tour

Famous Squares Walking Tour

Justly reputed as one of the most beautiful cities in all of France, Strasbourg greets visitors with an array of picturesque squares. Among the most famous of them are:

Place Kléber – the biggest square in the heart of the city’s commercial district; a central meeting place since the 14th century.

Place Gutenberg – a definite “must-see” in the heart of medieval Strasbourg, not...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Strasbourg Downtown Walking Tour

Strasbourg Downtown Walking Tour

Strasbourg – the daughter of the Rhine River – is rich in history, architecture and gastronomy. This is particularly true of the downtown part of the city, the Grande Île or Große Insel in German, which means "Large Island" – a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988.

At the centre of the island lies Place Kléber, the city's central square and main meeting...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles