This post is about things to do in Colmar but I do not want you to stroll the village with a checklist on hand. Colmar is a real-life fairytale! Keep reading to find why!
In Europe, you do not have to break a sweat trying to find an enchanting place.
The continent is full of massive cathedrals, imposing castles, breathtaking river views, captivating islands and unique structures such as the Eiffel Tower or the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
You are guaranteed to bump into places oozing with charm and grace. Plus, that guarantee includes a memory card full of exhilarating photos.
But, here is the thing. Once in a while, you are going to find yourself in a place that surpasses most places you have seen in terms of gorgeousness.
Once you set foot on a place like that, you head is going to start to spin in all directions. You are not sure where to focus because, in all honesty, every single feature surrounding you is blasting with color and life. Add to that a touch of quirkiness and you have the perfect recipe for astonishment.
That is exactly how I felt when I visited Colmar.
Oh! I felt a rush of energy when I started to walk the streets of the historic core. I wanted to examine the façade of every building. I wanted to enter every specialty store. I wanted to study how residents converted simple objects into exuberant decorations.
In some way, I couldn’t believe I was there. It was all so surreal.
Since I really loved this place, I gave a lot of thought on how to present it in this blog.
I can write at length about things to see, do and eat in the town. However, I do not want to reduce to a checklist a place so precious to me.
In order to be able to present Colmar fairly, I have to use the help of narrative. Plus, I need to show you photos. Tons of photos!
When I was researching the logistics for Colmar, I got discouraged since people on travel forums were advising to skip Colmar. They argued the town lacked real attractions or interesting activities. One guy said an hour was enough to see “everything.” Others suggested visiting “real” places such as Basel or Freiburg.
I have to admit I was a prisoner of those thoughts for about three days. I started to see how it was possible to combine Colmar with another town in the area. It wasn’t easy since bigger cities require a two hours train trip from Strasbourg. Small villages located nearby are not connected by train (and I didn’t have a car).
I “gave up” and decided to spend two hours or so in Colmar and then go back to Strasbourg. I was a bit sour about the final plan.
Wow, I was so wrong!
I should have known better (and I could have used my time in a wiser way). When people start despising or rushing places, something may not be right.
I understand the clock is ticking and we want to see as much as possible. I have been there a lot of times. However, I feel like in some way we want to bring our daily urgency, crankiness, and desperation to the travel experienced. By doing that, we kill the spark that makes travel rich and special.
In Colmar, we ate croissants, tasted dried fruits on a specialty store, engaged in conversation with a French girl who wanted to practice her Spanish, had lunch on the Petite Venice, tried regional salamis, had a café in one of the main plazas, engage in conversation once again with a lady who sat next to us on that café, had coconut and passion fruit ice cream and got eating recommendations from a waiter.
In addition, we saw many castles while riding the train, walked a lot of the streets, marveled at the stunning Medieval architecture, sat on a park for a while and had a bit of time to take a look at the gare (train station).
We absolutely loved our day in the town. I could not have asked for a better place to spend a sunny day. After all, Colmar has been called “the most beautiful town in France.” I played the lead on an original (written by me) fairy tale.
My advice? If you have the opportunity to visit Colmar, go ahead and make your visit special. I am not saying you have to spend the entire day there (like I did) but make an effort to spend some time there on your own terms. Imagine if you can say “I did this or that in Colmar” every time you see a photo of the place? The same applies to virtually every place you visit. I leave the challenge in your hands!
Things to do in Colmar
Rue des Marchands
The Merchant’s Street is short and narrow. This thoroughfare is full of adorable timber houses selling everything from croissants to candied fruit (in all the colors of the rainbow).
The Maison Pfiser can be found at the end of the street (where it intersects Rue Merciere). This eye-catching building dates from 1537. The paintings decorating the façade represent German Emperors, Evangelists, allegorical figures and bible stories.
This is the main artery of the village and, as a consequence, you are going to keep coming back to it (since it connects the main sights in town). In addition, this is where you are going to find some of the best dining and shopping in the area.
This is another stunner so, have your camera on hand.
The Koifhus or Ancienne Douane
The former customs house had a strategic place at the confluence of the Grand Rue and the Rue des Marchands, two of the major roads in the medieval city.
Construction on the current building was finished in 1480. The original structure was expanded in the 16th century. Time took its toll on the house restorations took place at the end of the 19th century (other work was done in 2002).
During medieval times, the Koifhus was used as a warehouse and taxation place.
Place de la Ancienne Douane
This beautiful plaza is located between the Koifhus and the Grand Rue.
Rue de Tanneurs
This neighborhood, full of half-timbered houses, used to be the tanners quarter. Residents used the upper floors of the houses to dry out skins.
La Petite Venice and Poissonnerie Quarter
We have arrived at the most famous area of Colmar (and one of the most photographed in Europe). The Petite Venice (or Little Venice) used to be the fishmonger’s district. Fishermen living in the quarter used to have a profitable business and stored fish in ponds before taking them to the market.
The stream running through the Petite Venice is called the Lauch. This body of water resembling a canal is what gave the area its current name (it is only one stream, not may like in Venice).
I recommend taking some time to appreciate the many beautiful features in this area. If you have lunch at a restaurant called La Fleur de Sel, you will be able to seat on the wooden platform over the stream. The food is delicious, the prices reasonable and you will be able to say you ate lunch at the fabled Petit Venice.
Rue de la Poissonnerie
If you continue walking beyond the Petite Venice, you are going to find yourself in a narrow alley full of charming houses and restaurants.
This street located behind the Petite Venice area has, even more, half-timbered houses and cute gift shops (the Alsatian storks are everywhere).
This gem of a museum is located in a former Dominican convent that dates back to the 13th century. The Unterlinden is a must for those who love sculpture, Medieval paintings, folk art, and crafts.
The highlight of the institution is the Isenheim Chapel and Altar. These contain superb works by German artists. In terms of contemporary art, the museum counts with paintings attributed to Picasso, Leger, and others.
The plaza surrounding the museum is worth a stroll too.
Eglise and Place des Dominicains
The Dominican Church is the main religious site of the village. Its chocolate and burnt orange walls can be seen from many parts of town. The church’s interior is notable because of how light flows inside through the many stained glass windows.
The plaza surrounding this church is a lively meeting point. Visitors can sit down to people watch or enjoy a refreshing treat (there are tons of ice cream shops, there are even stores selling fruit sherbets).
Eglise Saint Martin
On the Place de la Cathédrale in the center of Colmar’s Old Town, the Saint Martin Collegiate Church is a wonderful example of Gothic architecture. Constructed between the 13th and 14th centuries, the church has a High Gothic choir and other ornate decorative details.
Eglise Saint Matthieu
This church was once Colmar’s Protestant house of worship. Similar to the Dominican Church, the building has an austere style that is typical of the mendicant orders of Alsace. It was constructed by the Franciscans beginning in 1292 and completed over a century later.
Maison des Tetes
This has to be my favorite building in Colmar. The house of heads is called like that because you guessed it, it is full faces. Believe it or not, the façade is adorned with 106 masks or faces. Therefore, the name fits the t!
Seems like Colmar is full of oddities. I mean, it has a Petite Venice, a House of Heads and a Statue of Liberty. Wait? A Statue of Liberty? Yes, there is a replica outside the town because Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the designer of the Statue of Liberty, was born in Colmar.
The museum dedicated to the town’s most famous son (at the Rue de Marchands) exhibits preparatory models of his most famous works and a collection of objects.
Strasbourg to Colmar
- Colmar can be visited from Strasbourg as a day trip. The train ride takes 40 minutes (no need for reservations). Just show up at Strasbourg’s Gare and buy a ticket. There are more than 25 trains connecting the cities daily.
- The train station in Colmar is located about a mile from the center of town. You can walk or take a taxi
- If arriving by car, there are multiple parking lots outside the historical core. Most streets in town have been designated for pedestrians
- Some merchant will let you sample their products. Try to buy at the moment if you are interested in acquiring the good. A lot of times I have not been able to go back to a store for something I want and I end up regretting not buying when I had the opportunity.
- The city is on the Alsace Wine Route. It is possible to visit local vineyards and other charming towns
- This page has ideas on what local products you should buy while on town
I hope this list of things to do in Colmar help you plan your trip. But remember, it is all about absorbing the magical qualities of Colmar. Hope you have a blast in this gorgeous village!!
Any other ideas on what to do in Colmar? What other fairy tale towns have you visited in Europe?
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