On my visit to Strasbourg, I fell in love with Petite France, an area known by its half-timbered houses and web of canals.
Because of that, I want to show you the best things to see and do in this part of the city. Put on your walking shoes and let’s go on this adventure together!
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A Little Bit about Strasbourg
Strasbourg is the largest city and the capital of Alsace, a historical region characterized by colorful half-timbered houses, vineyards, and castles. The city is located close to the German border and, as a consequence, it has changed hands several times through history. Nowadays, Strasbourg is part of France but the German influence is felt in its cuisine, culture, and architecture.
To understand Strasbourg better, you should know the that the historical center of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located on an island in the middle of the River Ill. This area is known as the Grande Ile (Grand Island). The island is connected to other parts of the city by multiple bridges.
Strasbourg is one of the de facto capitals of the European Union and is home to the second largest university in France.
Where is Petite France?
Petite France (Little France) comprises the western part of the Grande Ile. During the middle ages, the tanners, millers, butchers and fishermen quarters were located there.
What makes the area famous? Well, at Petite France, the River Ill splits into fours canals. Those canals are lined with half-timbered houses painted in rainbow resembling colors. In addition, there are many narrow lanes, small plazas, and bridges. All those elements create a visually pleasing storybook environment.
If you are visiting Strasbourg, I recommend spending some time in Petite France. It may end up being your favorite part of the city!
Petite France Strasbourg – What to See
The only way to explore the area is by foot. In here, I am presenting you an easy to follow walking route. You can add or subtract sights as desired.
Before starting, let me clarify something. Many believe Petite France is only to the area around the canals. However, as I previously mentioned, Petite France occupies the western part of the Grand Ile and a piece of land located south of the island. My walking tour will include sights outside the canal area because they are part of Petite France.
I recommend starting your walk around the famous Ponts Couverts.
Do you remember how many channels are in the area? Four, right?
The Ponts Couverts (Covered Bridges) span the four channels and are the remnants of a defensive structure consisting of three bridges and four towers. Don’t be fooled by the name. The bridges have not been covered since the 18th century.
Nowadays, the Ponts Couverts have been declared a historical monument and are one of the symbols of Strasbourg.
Across the Ponts Couverts, you are going to notice a long, white structure. The Barran Vauban was built to serve as a bridge, weir and defensive structure. Its mission was to act as a type of dam to raise the level of the river and flood the areas south of the city. The high waters would keep enemies away.
Today, the Barran Vauban serves as an art space. Its terrace is open to the public and affords formidable views of the Ponts Couverts, canals and half-timbered houses.
Quai de la Petite France
So, it is time to explore the canals!
Before that, along de Ponts Couverts, make sure to spot the house with a walkway covered in leafy plants. Does it look familiar? I bet you have seen pictures of it on Instagram more than once.
From the Ponts Couverts, take the Quai de la Petite France. This narrow way will put you face to face with the canal houses. This is an opportunity to take as many pictures as possible. You will be delighted by the bright yellows, pinks, and blues. Make sure to catch the houses reflected on the water.
Cross the Pont du Faisan and you are going to encounter several half-timbered houses. Turn right at Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes to reach the impressive Maison des Tanneurs, a typical Alsace house known for its choucroute garnie (sauerkraut served with sausages and cured meats) and other specialties.
From here, you can enjoy one of the emblematic views of Petite France (the Maison des Tanneurs, bridge and canal).
Place Benjamin Zix
This small plaza is a great spot to have breakfast or lunch while enjoying views of the canals. In my opinion, it is more convenient to stop by early. Remember this area is very popular and gets tons of foot traffic.
We had a typical French breakfast (juice, coffee, croissant, butter, jam) at one of the cute cafes in the plaza. That was quite an experience!
Rue de Dentelles
I am pretty sure you are not tired of seeing half-timbered houses at this point. How could you?
To continue your fairytale story, take the Rue de Dentelles, a slim street full of cafes, restaurants and gift shops. I do not know what was going on but it seems like everything on this street was colored pink (bingo for me!).
Pont Saint Martin
The Rue de Dentelles will end at the Rue du Pont Saint-Martin. Not sure how good your French is but, at this point, you may have figured out “pont” means bridge. This street will take you to the Saint Martin Bridge.
Super cuteness alert! You want to cross this bridge! It will take you to another of the emblematic views of Petite France. From the bridge, you are going to see the weir, lock and tons of half-timbered houses.
On the other side of the bridge, make sure to stop by Au Pont Saint Martin, a restaurant house on a structure covered in vines and leaves. I really liked the open-air terraces right over the water.
Rue des Moulins
For more charming houses, continue through the Rue des Moulins. This street is going to take you back to the canals and to the Ponts Couverts. Therefore, my walking tour surrounds the area.
At this point, you may move on to see other attractions in the city. If you are interested in reaching the cathedral area, you can reach it by foot while seeing more of Strasbourg’s unique architecture.
From the Pont Couverts, take Rue Finkwiller. My walk around here was a pure casualty but I enjoyed seeing the lovely buildings, narrow alleys and locals enjoying a café al fresco.
Place Saint Thomas
At one point, you are going to approach the Pont Saint Thomas. The bridge will take you to the Place Saint Thomas a quiet plaza full of locals. The pink Lutheran Church of Saint Thomas dominates the square.
From the plaza, you can take the Rue de Serruriers to reach the cathedral. As an option, you can continue walking along the river. I chose the second option and had a marvelous time admiring the city’s architecture, bridges and waterways.
If you are walking along the river, take the Rue des Grandes Arcades (watch for the Strasbourg Historic Museum) to move toward the center of the Grand Ile. This street will take you to Place Gutenberg (and you can turn right anytime to reach the cathedral). The Rue de Serruriers will take you to the plaza too.
This plaza has a statue of Johannes Gutenberg, who lived in Strasbourg between 1434 and 1444.
Continuing along Rue des Grandes Arcades, you are going to end up at Place Kebler, the largest square in the city. The plaza bears the name of Jean-Baptist Kebler, a general who served in the French Revolutionary Wars.
Even though this plaza is located at the historic center, the modern side of Strasbourg is displayed here. Luxury brands, technology companies (Apple, for example) and upscale services have a presence in the plaza. So, if shopping fits your mold, this is the place for you.
As you may have noticed, the Petite France area is quite extensive. I have highlighted some of the most prominent areas but there are other spots of interest in case you are interested in seeing more.
- Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux Church
- Aubette Palace (on Place Kebler)
- Tour de Bourreau (Museum)
- Caves Historiques des Hospices (hospital with wine cellars, believe it or not, cellars are open to the public)
- Galeries Lafayette Strasbourg
The following two museums are located outside Petite France boundaries but close enough to mention.
- Alsace Museum
- Strasbourg Historical Museum
After seeing the city by foot, I recommend jumping into a boat! Yes, this is a great way to learn more about the city and cover more ground than possible by foot.
A company called Batorama offers 45-minute cruise around the Grand Ile and the New City (Neustadt). Each seat on the boat has an audio guide with commentary about the places you are seeing. Also, the boat will take you through the canals and explain how the gates and locks are used. You will see everything in action since the mechanism needs to function in order for the boat to navigate the area.
How to Reach Petite France
- From the train station (walking distance), take the Rue de Maire Kuss and once you reach the canal, turn right. The Ponts Couverts (starting point of the walking tours) are located nearby
- From other points in the city, take public transportation or a taxi to the Ponts Couverts
More of the Area
Feel free to check out my other post of the area (or places located nearby).
I hope you have enjoyed this beautiful part of Strasbourg. Let me know what you think in the comments section.
Have you visited the Petite France Strasbourg?
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