Please sign in to post.

Colmar - Do I Need A Car?

We plan to spend 4 nights in Colmar in spring 2022 and would like to spend part of our time exploring some of the villages on the wine route and nearby. Access to actual wineries and wine tasting isn’t necessary since we can do plenty of that near where we live. How accessible are these villages from Colmar by bus or train? Some places I have in mind are Eguisheim, Riquewihr, Kayserberg and Ribeauville, though we are flexible. I booked an Airbnb that doesn’t provide parking. Thinking about a car I found another one that has free parking. I sent the host of the one with parking a message and I asked if a car was absolutely necessary to visit villages. He said it is. We arrive on a Wednesday and depart on a Sunday. I checked Auto Europe and Sixt seems to be the only option for renting in Colmar, and they are open Monday-Thursday. My questions are:

  1. Do we actually need a car?
  2. Can we, and if so how can we work around the dates they are closed?

Thanks for any advise and suggestions you have for me.

Posted by
4606 posts

Hi Andrea, we stayed in Colmar for two nights in 2019. We didn’t rent a car, but we did take a half-day minivan tour of the cute villages nearby. Personally, I found them more charming than Colmar. Renting a car would give you a lot more flexibility to wander at your leisure. Being there four nights, I think you would be happy to have the car.

There’s also a castle - Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg you probably want to go see.

Posted by
21313 posts

I believe those villages have at least a bit of bus service. You can check that out on Rome2Rio.com, but don't trust any of the details (fares, travel times, or frequencies). Drill down till you find the name of the company operating the bus in question and go to its website for accurate information.

The difficulty you are likely to have is that is it usually very difficult to find transportation from one small village to another--unless you're lucky and two places you want to go happen to be on the same bus line. Buses fan out from a hub--Colmar in this case, and you generally have to return to the hub to catch a bus headed for the next place you want to go. And when you're dealing with small villages, bus service is likely to be very infrequent. The buses my be intended for children to school and/or workers to jobs in the Colmar. That sort of scheduling is a challenge if you're going to places so tiny that you can walk every block of every street in 90 minutes or so. (I totally made up that walking time.)

One option would be to attempt to combine bus travel in one direction with taxi service. The taxi would probably have to come from Colmar (or maybe Selestat--I haven't checked the map), and you'd be paying for the round-trip mileage. But perhaps distances are short enough it would be affordable. Maybe you don't need to go to all four of the small towns?

For what it's worth, there's rail service between Colmar and Selestat.

Another possibility would be to pick up and/or drop off the car in Strasbourg. The airport would probably be best. Agencies there most likely have longer hours, and the airport is a bit SW of the city, sort of on the way to Colmar. There wouldn't necessarily be a significant drop charge if you picked up in Colmar and dropped off at the airport, or vice versa. There should be decent public transportation between the airport and the Strasbourg train station, but it's worth checking on its frequency on weekdays vs. Saturday vs. Sunday.

Posted by
16941 posts

We visited Colmar a few years ago without a car. One day took the bus to Kayserberg for the day. People at the TI in the train station were very helpful with the bus schedules and directing us to the bus stop outside the station. Another day went to Turckheim (yes, there is train service), Another day we went to Selestat by train and to Chateau Haut-Koenigsbourg. There is a shuttle bus from the train station to the castle, but as you are going in the spring, it only runs on weekends.

Posted by
1684 posts

For getting the best out of your stay you need a car. There are numerous little lovely villages to explore and with public transport it will take too much time to move around unless you limit yourself to a few places. The villages you mention are nice but very touristy, many others are off the beaten track and worth seeing too like Barr has a very attractive market square where you will meet just a few tourists. Bergheim is lesser touristy and lovely as well, Obernai more north is nice too, but touristy.

From Haut-Koenigsbourg you have a fantastic view over the Rhine valley, the same from the abbey of Mont Sainte-Odile. Strassbourg is best to reach by train and if oldtimers are of interest Cité de l'Automobile in Mulhouse houses the largest and likely finest Bugatti collection. The railroad museum seems interesting too, but I didn't visited it when I stayed in Alsace.a few years back.

Posted by
7704 posts

For getting the best out of your stay you need a car. There are numerous little lovely villages to explore and with public transport it will take too much time to move around

Exactly what Wil said.

Posted by
252 posts

I'm in complete agreement with Jean and Wil. We stayed in Colmar in '19 with a car and criss-crossed the country-side for several days enjoying the Alsace.
How and where are you arriving to Colmar from? And, after Colmar what is your next destination? While rental car office often keep shorter hours than the US, I'd keep looking for a 6 or 7 day operation. Or, you might try renting car at a nearby larger city or airport (Strasbourg?).
IMO the majority of Forum members organize their travels via public transit whereas a much smaller number of us rely on rental cars; I have used rental cars since '97 and generally spend 2/3s to 3/4s of my time away the large cities and focus on the small cities, towns and villages. The Alsace will be perfect for road trips.
Safe travels.

Posted by
8874 posts

Thanks everyone. I’m in agreement that a car would be beneficial, which is why I found a place to stay that would allow for that, though I have not booked it yet. I have no problem driving in Europe and have done it many times. The biggest dilemma is the days the car rental office is open in Colmar. I think I’ll call Auto Europe today and see what they say.

We will be in the area in late March - early April. I’m less concerned about tourists at that time of year and more concerned about inclement weather conditions. We will be arriving from Germany, probably Cologne, where we are visiting family for a week. I actually have considered cutting one day from the visit with them, taking the train to Strasbourg and spending a night there. Later the next day we could pick up a car and drive to Colmar. That would in effect give us an additional day for villages because we wouldn’t be spending one of our Colmar days going to Strasbourg. I was planning a day there anyway. The problem of course is the car drop off. I considered returning the car in Strasbourg, but we go to Lyon next. Obviously the opposite direction. Do we return the car in Strasbourg on Saturday and take the train back to Colmar? Do we want to drive to Lyon? Like I said, I don’t mind the driving. I’m more worried about the weather. I know snow is a possibility that time of year. I’ve driven in the snow, but being a California girl I am by no means an expert.

Thanks for all the information, including places to visit in the area. Any more information of that sort is very appreciated.

Posted by
5578 posts

Our experience is that a car provides better opportunities, and a chance to see multiple towns in one day. We chose a smaller hotel in Ribeauville, with private parking, because many towns don't have enough parking. We also went to one or two destination restaurants for dinner, which was easier with a car. We don't always rent a car in Europe, but it was helpful in Alsace.

I should say that we rented the car after a stay in Strasbourg, and returned it in Avignon. We actually could have made even better use of the car, not having time to get to the chapel in Ronchamp or a side trip toward Germany. We rented the car on our last day in Strasbourg, because we wanted to eat at L'Auberge de L'Ill. (I L L, named after a river.)

Posted by
8874 posts

I considered a village if we have a car, but I think we will stick with Colmar. If weather is bad there are more options for things to do. Additionally, if I want a glass of wine with dinner I don’t want to have to drive afterwards.

Wil, thanks for the mention of the automotive museum in Mulhouse. My brother had mentioned it to me and I put it in the back of my mind for a rainy day activity.

Posted by
1204 posts

You may only need to rent the car for 2 days if you take a day to explore Colmar itself.

Posted by
7996 posts

We stayed in one of the wine villages and highly recommend doing that. Yes, you need a car. Eguisheim, Kaysersberg, Riquewehr and many more. They are charming, have good dining and lots of atmosphere.
We spent part of a day in Colmar and were so glad we were staying in a wine village.
We arrived in Strasbourg by train from Paris and spent a few days there first which I highly recommend. We rented the car as we left Strasbourg for the wine villages.

Posted by
8874 posts

I’ve been playing around on the Auto Europe website and I found a fairly reasonably priced car that we could pick up in Strasbourg and drive to Colmar (or wherever we end up), but unless we want to return it in Strasbourg, the opposite direction from where we are going, it seems we would have to return the car in Lyon at the airport. I’m not interested in driving it into Lyon. We are staying in the old town. How easy would the journey be to old town from the airport? Is there a train? Would a taxi be better?

The biggest obstacle for returning the car seems to be that it will be a Sunday.

Posted by
4180 posts

You might want to contact the rental agency I'm Colmar directly: they might allow returns outside of opening hours. If you do return a car with a closed agency: make sure to take plenty of photos of the car, perhaps a video even. But it is far better than driving all the way to Lyon Airport...

As for snow: really a near-zero chance in the plains of Alsace in March-April.

Posted by
28128 posts

Hi Andrea, you have had good advice above.

You'll know that if you rent a car in Germany at that time of the year you will have snow tyres on the car. That's not required in France, and you probably won't.

I agree that, especially off-season, you will be well served with a car in that part of Alsace. The villages are close, small and cute as a button. Easy parking just outside each village. I really really think you will be miles happier.

But I don't think I'd want that long drive to Lyon.

I haven't looked at the SNCF route from Colmar to Lyon, but if money were no concern and were looking for a change up in the train sweepstakes you could go through Switzerland ... Colmar - Basel - Geneva - Lyon.

There has to be a solution for the Sunday return. I'm not surprised that are closed though....

Posted by
8874 posts

Update: I spoke to someone at Auto Europe. Europcar appears to be the only choice in Colmar. Their hours are so ridiculously limited that there is no way we can rent from there. They don’t have an after hours drop off. The option is to pick up and return from Strasbourg. It’s not ideal, but it isn’t impossible either. We could arrive from Germany in Strasbourg on the Tuesday, spend the night there and leave late the next afternoon by car for Colmar. Or maybe Turckheim? The train goes between there and Colmar. We would have to return the car in Strasbourg on the Saturday, then take the train back to where we are staying. I’d like to stay in the smaller village, but the train on Sunday only runs every couple of hours and there would be a long stopover in Colmar. Decisions, decisions.

Posted by
1240 posts

I don't like changing accommodations frequently, so I'd head straight to Colmar and visit Strasbourg one day from there. I always rent a car, and take the odd bit of public transportation, but with your limited time I'd give some thought to what Sam recommends. Chateau Haut-Koenigsbourg is a fabulous visit, other places can be visited by train and bus. Also, check out the timetables here and see if they work for you (I don't know how accurate the timetables are for the periods you are considering): https://www.l-k.fr/fiches-horaires-et-tarifs/

Kaysersberg is on Line 145

Eguisheim is on line 440. You can even walk there, if you want.

Riquewihr, Ribeauvillé and Bergheim are all on the same line, 109, and are all worth a visit. There's a full day or more between them. If you are up for any hiking, there are nice walks through the vineyards between some of the villages.

Posted by
8874 posts

Gunderson, our plan has been to do a day trip to Strasbourg to Colmar. That will continue to be our plan unless we do get a car.

Thanks to all for their advice. A car rental will be determined later. We have to decide if the hassle of picking up and returning the car in Strasbourg is worth the freedom to have the car while in Colmar. If we do get the car we will arrive in Strasbourg the day before and see Strasbourg before the car rental period begins. I don’t want to have to worry about the logistics of arriving by train from Germany at the exact right time to pick up a car, not to mention the car would be just sitting there for a day while we would see Strasbourg. To cover all bases I am canceling our Airbnb without parking in Colmar and changing to a place that has free parking and two bikes to use. If we don’t get a car we will do our best with public transportation. I was looking at a small group tour from Colmar to see some villages one day, but it’s more expensive for 2 than the car rental would be for 3 days.

Posted by
8874 posts

Kerouac2, parking is most definitely an issue in Colmar. Having to pick up and drop off the car in Strasbourg we need to be able to travel to Lyon the day after we drop off the car. That is a Sunday and trains/buses are limited in villages on Sundays. We will stay in Colmar.

Posted by
4180 posts

How about renting a car for just one day, then? Like, on Thursday or on Friday? You have several options including Hertz, Avis and Europcar, and returning the car the following morning (before your pickup time) will still count as just one day of rental.
This will let you tour a few villages at your own pace. You then have a car-free day for Colmar itself, and another day for Strasbourg.

Note on Autoeurope: they're great for car rentals in the big towns and cities, but my -admittedly limited-experience is that they can't offer rentals in every office and every small town and that they don't have access to the custom drop-off/pick-up arrangements that can be made locally.

Posted by
8874 posts

Balso, thank you so much! I googled car rentals in Colmar and there are multiple options. I’ve always used Auto Europe, but I’ve never rented for such a limited time or from such a small town. Great information!

Posted by
1002 posts

There is more than one place to rent cars in Colmar, including Hertz and Enterprise. I am actually holding a reservation for both of these in December, one of which I will cancel a month before. Anyway, they may not be open at the times you are looking, but there are more options than what Auto Europe offers.

Posted by
164 posts

there are so many little villages that a car really helps. several villages were full of tourists (summer 2017) but a few others were almost empty.

the castle is way up the side of a mountain and definitely needs a car - although we got up there and found they close pretty early.

don't miss the US Sherman tank parked along the road.

you may wish to read about WWII history for the region. After the battle of the bulge, there was a mini-breakout in the Alsace region. At one point, two German tanks destroyed 2 dozen US tanks. There was also a concentration camp in the area.

Posted by
676 posts

I also visited the ruins of a castle somewhere along that Route des vins D'Alsace. I don't remember exactly where it was, but it was somewhere between Colmar and Ribeauvillé. It wasn't the big tourist attraction castle and was way, way off the beaten path. Really just crumbling walls in the woods with magnificent chestnut trees on the trail up to it. You couldn't do that without a car, but it was one of the most memorable stops when I visited there in 1996.

Posted by
8874 posts

I changed our Airbnb apartment to one that has a garage. We may decide to spend a night in Strasbourg on our way from Germany. That would then give us 3 full days in Colmar and surrounding areas and not take one of the days to go to Strasbourg. I may decide to rent the car for all 3 days to offer us the most flexibility. Thanks to those who let me know there were multiple rental companies.

Posted by
3 posts

This answer is a bit off topic, but have you considered the possibility a few days of hiking between the many villages rather than driving around in a rental car?

My wife and I are considering this possibility for a visit next May, as described in my recent forum post, https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/france/hiking-the-alsace-wine-route

We plan to spend a day in Colmar, take a taxi or public transportation to the trail in Kientzheim, then continuing for 4 days of relatively easy walking (5-13 miles per day) to Molsheim (via Ribeauvillé, Damach-la-Ville, Obernai, and many other villages along the way). Of course, this could be cut down to fewer days to fit your schedule.

Posted by
8874 posts

Jeff-4, hiking between villages sounds like fun…at the right time of year. We will be there late March-early April and I suspect the weather will not always be ideal. My days of a backpack style suitcase are in the rear view mirror due to back issues, so that would also be a problem. I hope you enjoy your trip.