Our son will be studying in Strasbourg next Spring and we are planning an April visit for a week. it will be our first time abroad and want to see as much as possible. Suitcases? Backpacks? Where to stay? What to do? We are soccer fans are there any teams to see? Budget is a serious consideration, we have started to save! From soup to nuts we need help, so glad I found this site. Awaiting some terrific relies...thanks!
Thanks! This going to be so exciting!
Strasbourg only? Arrival and departure airports? Projected means of getting around? Rough idea of money to toss at project? A few ideas would help.
For starters, a week's worth of stuff should fit in a backback or small duffle. Twenty pounds is over the top. Get cash with an ATM card; yes, it will work. Budget hotels can be had for about sixty bucks per night. A pretty good supper will run about twenty-five bucks per person. Breakfast in budget hotels is not a good deal. Bread and cheese shops are everywhere. So are coffee places. Do not eat at a cafe, the food is horrible and is microwaved, don't get coffee there either unless you drink it standing up to save money. The speciality of the area is something that looks like pizza, but isn't, and is square. I forget what it's called, but eat it since it tastes good. Ride the boat, it's almost as good as the harbor tour in Cardiff. Your son will know more than anybody here about the local area -- consult him. Do not ask him what he did before you got there or what he plans to do after you leave. Give him money.
In addition to the Alsace, Strasbourg and Colmar, you are right across the river from Germany and the Black Forest. It's just a quick train trip across the river to Offenburg.
From Offenburg, go up the river valley to the east to Hausach. Near there, in Gutach, is the Schwälderfreilichtmuseum (Black Forest Open Air Museum) with examples of houses from the Black Forest.
If you go south by train from there, you go on the Schwarzwaldbahn, a scenic rail line along the Gutach river to Triberg, of cuckoo clock fame. Go a little farther to Donaueschingen, headwaters of the Danube. From there go via Titisee to Freiburg and back along the Rhein to Offenburg.
Or, from Hausach, go north through the Kinzig river valley to Alpirsbach and tour the Klosterbräu Brewery, then on to Freudenstadt, called the capital of the northern Black Forest. From there go down the Murg river to Baden-Baden.
The pizza-like item Ed is referring to is a tarte flambe -- thinner crust and delicious.
You should really try to get to the Colmar area and some of the villages around it if you can -- Eguisheim is particularly cute; others along the wine road to the north have some WWII history, if that interests you. Lot's to see in the area without spending the whole time in Strasbourg.
Any chance you can stretch your time out and add some other sites in Europe? Since you're purchasing a flight there, it would be great if you could take the opportunity to see a little more. Either way, it will be a great experience!
Thanks for the good start. We have no idea where we will fly into, will do some research on that and the best cost wise. Would we be able to go to Paris or is that a push? We will not have a car so will be relying on train/bus, do we need to purchase tickets ahead of time? Thanks again for all the hints, I'm furiously making notes!
Most important tip? Do your research and find out what interests you. Then, perhaps we can answer more specific questions... otherwise, it will be like drinking water from a fire hose.
One overall tip I can give you. For your first trip in Europe with only a week, keep it simple. Meaning, abandon all thoughts of packing Paris, Strasbourg, Rome, Munich et al. into only a week. There's enough to keep you busy within a few hours of Strasbourg for more than seven days.
A few websites to help you estimate travel times. For driving, Via Michelin:
For rail travel within France, SNCF:
For rail travel within Germany, Deutsche Bahn:
Avoid RailEurope.com. They exist mainly to sell you overpriced tickets and passes on a limited number of trains.
"do we need to purchase tickets ahead of time?" No and yes, but mostly no. You can get discounts on certain long distance routes by buying in advanced, but you lock yourself into traveling at a specific time on a specific date. For shorter routes, there isn't much advantage. In 15 years of visiting Europe, I can count on one hand the number of times I've purchased train tickets in advanced, and those were for very specific reasons.
"We have no idea where we will fly into" The closest large airports are Stuttgart and Basel/Mulhouse.
Finally (I thought of this after I went away from the computer), if budget is a real limiting factor, your best guidebook options are probably Lonely Planet and The Rough Guide (and Let's Go for your son). Rick Steves, in my opinion, consistently makes the best moderate-priced lodging recommendations, but there are cheaper selections out there. The recommendations in Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide can be hit-or-miss, but you'll definitely save more money.
Again, I can't effectively advise you for French travel, but if you go through the Black Forest in Germany, it is all in the state of Baden-Württemberg. For travel on regional trains, you can use a Baden-Württemberg-Ticket, a hop on/off pass for regional trains in the state, all day after 9 AM workdays, from midnight weekends, for up to 5 people for €28. You would still have to pay for Strasbourg to Kehl, Germany, but from then on, all of your travel would be covered for €28.
My daughter was in Strasbourg for a school year and we visited her for a week as well. Some things to think about:
Many different airport choices - my daughter flew to Frankfurt and picked up the the Lufhansa airport bus that goes to Strasbourg. This was the cheapest way to go. When my husband & I went we did not want to do the bus so we ended up flying into Zurich and out of Stuttgart. We rented a car because we wanted to drive the Route de Vin and do other day trips both with and without our daughter, but there are other ways to get to Stras. One would be flying via Paris so you could, if you wanted to do, do a few days on your way in or out.
Our itinerary included: 5 nights in Stras, 1 in the Black Forest (Staufen) with our daughter for a little side trip, 3 nights in Zurich (we had friends there), and then spend 1 night in Stuttgart before we departed. While in Stras we drove the Route de Vin and visited the little towns 2 different days. We also went to Colmar which was my daughter's favorite small town. The good news is that the train does go to many of these smaller places - our daughter was the one actually who told us where to go, and though we did drive our car, she had seen it all by train.
Someone above mentioned Tarte Flambe - one thing that was fun was we asked our daughter to invite her friends out for dinner and we all went to "Flams" (I think that is how you spell it) - basically a place for all you can eat Tarte Flambe. It was a great place to take a group and VERY cheap considering we had a group of 10. But it was great to see our daughter in the mix of all the international kids - there was only one other native English speaker in the bunch!
Final tip is for your son - my daughter tried to stay away from other English speakers, even if they were not American. This way, both she and the other kids she met had only French as their common language - she was fluent in no time and her best friends were from France & Poland!
Karen, What wonderful advice, thanks so much. Wonder just how bad the bus would be when we flew in? i"ll look into that, if the flights were cheaper it just might be worth it! Where did you stay while in Strasbourg?
Karen, my son also will fly to Germany and bus to strasbourg, arranged by the school.......
Dee, we're going in a few weeks and flying into Frankfurt (these are mileage tickets, but often Frankfurt is cheaper than some of the other cities anyway).
We're taking the train from Frankfurt to Strasbourg and purchased the tickets 6-8 weeks out, so were able to get discounted fares. The bus may still be cheaper, but the train can be more comfortable, as you can move around, etc.
You should also see the cost for an open jaw ticket, flying into Frankfurt and out of Paris.
Dee - my daughter didn't think the bus was too bad - she did it a few times, and it was cheaper than flying into Stras via Paris which was the other most logical option from Atlanta. But again, Strasbourg is situated right next to Germany (my daughter would bike to Germany for groceries - they had bigger shops that were open on Sundays - it was a 15 minute bike trip!), so definitely look into flying into a German city and then bus, train, etc. And Zurich was also very close - would make for a nice trip out - go to Colman via train for the night, then train to Zurich to fly out.
Our accomodations were not cheap - 115 Euros per night but it was a REALLY nice place. It was the Regent Contades and my daughter wanted us to stay there because it was closer to where she lived (on Louis Pasteur campus). It was a 15 minute walk to the university and a 15 minute walk to the cathedral. I think you could get cheaper and more "central" quite easily - but you might want to wait till your son goes and can check some things out for you - if he is that type of person.
We did the boat tour and walk around Stras for a whole day with our daughter - really enjoyed the city - though it was definitely not a Paris-type city. Many shops closed for part of the day and we had trouble one day getting lunch in one of the smaller towns because we were looking too late (after 2:00 pm). But that was sort of fun for us - we felt very much like we were really getting to know a place and my daughter, of course, LOVED it and was just saying to me this past weekend how much she missed it and wanted to go back. She actually did go back just 6 months after returning but that was now over a year ago.
It really was fun to let my daughter do the planning, telling us where to go, where to eat. I didn't do ANY sightseeing planning for Stras before arriving - just took the Stras part out of the Rick Steves France book and went!
And mind what Lauren says above - we always try to fly open jaw - into one city and out from another. Search this site or others for info on how to do that if you have any difficulty with a airline website. You do not get two 1-way tickets - that is VERY expensive. You do a round trip but it is on the "multi city" option. The cost is the total of 1/2 the price of each round trip - i.e. if round trip to Paris is 1,000 and RT to Frankfurt is 800 then your ticket should be about 900.
When I had lived in France as a language assistant in 2007-2008, I was lucky enough to go see Strasbourg during the Christmas Markets... it's just a magical place. I felt right at home there (probably because I speak French and am of German ancestry). My favorite thing to do there (besides the markets) was to just walk around town and soak in the local flavor, since it was so different from the places I lived in in France (Provence & Burgundy).
Two of the other things to not miss (in my opinion) are the Petite France neighborhood and Strasbourg Cathedral, which has stunning windows and an astronomical clock in it.
The tourism office is also by the cathedral and I found them to be quite helpful with directions or asking what to do. There are also several markets in the city and I wholeheartedly recommend them for a very European experience. Going to the markets in Stras will make you feel like a local. The Musée Alsacien is pretty good if you are into French/German history like I am. There's a good tour of town which I believe is free; ask about it at the Tourist Office. I took the tour in French but I know they also offered it in English and German. The tour is really good because it was 1) free (or pretty cheap) and 2) was actually done by a local, so you can get a "local view" on things which I think is the best way to experience a town.
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Gastronomy typical of Alsace include Tarte Flambée (as mentioned) and Baeckeoffe which is a sort of stew with beef or pork carrots, and potatoes, and Fleischnackas, mixed beef meat presented like spirals and served with salad. It's all so good!
As you can tell, I could go on and on about Strasbourg. I was only there for about 3 days but really fell in love. If I could pick anywhere to live in Europe, it'd be Strasbourg. The locals are super nice and many people speak English since it's one of the EU capitals. Incidentally, I've never been anywhere else in Alsace, but I really hope to go explore the region more someday... ironically, I was offered another job teaching English in Mulhouse (another town in Alsace), but I had to turn it down since I got accepted to graduate school. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had taken that job...
Anyway bon voyage and gute Reise!
One warning on Strasbourg that other people haven't come up with - the European Parliament sits in Strasbourg one week every month. During this week good accommodation in the city is VERY in demand and I would strongly recommend that you avoid it. The schedule for next year has not been published yet, but it will be at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/activities/introduction/staticDisplay.do?language=EN&id=102.
Many many thanks to all that took the time to answer my questions and give advice/hints! We leave tomorrow, will fly to Frankfort from New York then take he Lufthansa bus. Our son has some neat ideas for our visit, took the advise of posters and let him take the lead. We have a day trip to Colmar and will see a soccer game in Freiburg, (he plays on his college team). Other than those specifics we are ready to explore! Thanks again folks!