Strasbourg, Colmar and Basel

So my wife and I are travelling to France in a few weeks. We will be arriving in Strasbourg on Oct. 31 around noon and will be staying in Colmar(wondering if I should have booked in Strasbourg instead, but too late). I am thinking of spending my days like this and was wondering what you would say to do. Other than Unterlinden in Colmar, we aren't going to do museums most likely because we will have already been to a billion by this point. Wed Oct. 31 - Arrive in Strasbourg around noon Head to UNESCO area and just walk around/shop. Any favorite areas/things to see/do? At some point we will do the cathedral and Little Venice(maybe they are near where I am talking about?) Thurs Nov. 1 - Day relaxing in Colmar. Is there enough to do out here? This day could also be spent in another town(suggestions?) or Strasbourg again. Fri. Nov 2 - morning go to Unterlinden(closed on Nov. 1) Afternoon we can go anywhere. Or we can swap with Thursday and do Unterlinden/walk around Colmar all in one day and go somewhere Thursday. Sat. Nov 3 - Head to Basel and spend the day there. Not a single plan for Basel, so any ideas are appreciated.
So, my trip is pretty open at the end because we kind of just want to relax, but we enjoy taking pictures, eating, and buying little keepsakes - especially since this is the end of our vacation. There's a pretty good chance we will use your suggestions though since we have no clue what we want to do.

Posted by Adam
Yukon, OK, United States
2 posts

A billion is the case(Paris+Amsterdam). I do actually want to see the Unterlinden for the altarpiece and I love that it will be almost a week removed from our billion museum visits. And, with Strasbourg I only thought it was the town center and I am not familiar with what to expect size-wise. My hope and guess is that it is similar to Nuremburg. We visited there last year and I liked that everything was pretty manageable on foot. As far as guidebooks and planning, I have the Rick Steves book but I have been trying to read lots of stuff on Trip Advisor as well. I haven't done much planning for this last region of our trip though. Part of that is we have a lot going on the first week so we want to scale it down and be pretty open at the end, but I am trying to find particularly interesting things in the area. You know "oh, you must see this ...." or "gotta eat here..." type of stuff. And specifically, is 1200-1800 a long enough time in Strasbourg? Is 2 days in Colmar too many(we went to Rothenburg last year and loved it, but 2 days would have definitely been too many)? And if 2 days isn't too many, what else in the region would merit the use of our free day? Hopefully that isn't too much of a rambling mess. We are both pretty open to anything just trying to piece together a few ideas.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
13885 posts

Which Guidebooks do you have with you for those areas? Have you planned or researched at all? It does sound like you will have had enough museums. A billion is quite a lot. Are you sure you want one more, the Unterlinten? Is it to see the altarpiece? When you say UNESCO, are you aware that the whole of Strasbourg's town centre was named, not a part?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24159 posts

Adam, I stayed in Colmar and visited Strasbourg on my last visit, and I felt that was absolutely the best arrangement. While Strasbourg is a beautiful city, I found it too crowded and congested, and much preferred the ambience and slower pace of Colmar. I'm not sure if they'll be operating at this time of year, but you could consider taking one of the canal cruises in Strasbourg. They provide an interesting glimpse of the city. Of course, the magnificent Cathedral is a "must see" IMHO. I can't recall what type of attractions there are in Colmar besides the Unterlinden, but the Guidebook will have that information. It's a great home base for visiting some of the other small towns in that area. I've been through Basel a number of times but don't have any suggestions for sightseeing in that area. Happy travels!

Posted by Rob
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
380 posts

I was in Colmar in 2010 and had the absolute best lunch of the trip at Schwendi Bier und Winstub. I ordered the duck gizzard salad and it was fantastic! The tarte flambee was average, but the salad was something I would go back for.

Posted by Robert
891 posts

Strasbourg and Colmar are both great. While Colmar is much smaller, the center of Strasbourg is quite compact. The cathedral and Petite Venise are a stone's throw from each other and are both right in the center.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
5941 posts

We were just in Colmar 3 weeks ago. You did not say if you had a car or traveling by train. I'll assume train. We went to Haut Koenigsbourg castle out side of Selestat. The day we got there, they stopped running the daily buses, so we had to take a cab, but they still run on Saturday and Sunday. If you like castles, this is a good one since it was completely restored by Kaiser Wilhelm before WW-I, plus, the views are spectacular if its a nice day. Kaysersberg is worth a few hours of strolling and knickknack shopping, beautiful old town. Stop in to the church for an especially good carved alterpiece. Check out the bronze placque outside commemorating the town's war dead; 7 in concentration camps, 18 civilians during the battle taking the town from the Germans, and about 100 military dead. Only one of these is identified as having been in the French Army killed in 1940. All the rest were draftees in the German Army who died on the Russian front. Get to Kaysersberg by bus from Colmar train station, the tourist desk inside can help you with schedules. We also visited Turckheim, which is only a 15 minute train ride away. This is another adorable halftimbered town which used to be walled and the three gate towers are still standing. We went to the "Colmar Pocket" museum commemorating the WW-II battle where US 3rd Infantry covered itself with glory and got Audy Murphy his CMH. And Winstub Schwendi is still a great lunch stop.

Posted by Kim
1605 posts

Adam yes, everything that everyone's talking about in Strasbourg is the same UNESCO heritage area that you mentioned. I think of them as being a little further away from each other, but by that I mean only a 10-minute walk between the Cathedral area and Petite Venise. I personally would have booked to stay in Strasbourg with a day trip to Colmar, but it's fine the way you've done it too. However, I don't think you can count on doing too much on November 1 (I.e. going up into one of the wine villages), because as it's a holiday, the public transportation options will be quite restricted. I.e., you would still be able to take the train back up to Strasbourg if you felt like you hadn't seen everything the day before, but the bus service up into the villages will probably be very rare. I ran onto this problem last year on a different holiday and found that even to rent a car, I had to do it out at the Strasbourg airport, that the in-town agencies were closed. This struck me as a missed opportunity for tourist towns (and I live here in France, so usually I'm pretty savvy), but this caught even me by surprise. So my recommendations would be: 1. consider renting a car in Strasbourg on 10/31 so you'd have it for use on the 1st, when you could drive yourself into the villages. 2. If not that, keep in mind that you can always go back to Strasbourg by train on 11/1 for the day if you felt too rushed the day before; just be aware that not everything will be open (including the famous clock at the Cathedral, which is also closed on holidays).
3. Do your research on where you can have lunch and dine on 11/1, because many places will be closed, and you don't want to get caught out.

Posted by Kim
1605 posts

I don't mean to make it sound so terrible, like there will be nothing to do. Just to think ahead a bit and prepare for the holiday closures. If you get lucky with mild weather, none of that matters anyway, as the charm is in walking the streets and soaking in the architecture, tucking into a winstub and warming up with a warming plate of jarret du porc, etc etc. it's a lovely place, and you'll have a great time! Signed, Your fellow Okie

Posted by Tom
Stafford, Virginia, USA
143 posts

We spent four days in the Colmar area almost exactly one year ago. I agree with your decision to use Colmar as a base - the train ride to Strasbourg takes about 45 minutes. Personally, I would give the larger part of a day to Strasbourg, especially if you want to see the operation of the Astrological Clock in the Cathedral at 12:30 (but you need to get there earlier to buy tickets, and doors open at 11:45). I'd also recommend renting a car or using public transportation (not as convenient) to see at least a little of the Wine Route. As a previous poster said, both Truckheim and Kaysersburg are lovely. Enjoy Alsace!

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2030 posts

If it's open, the museum that accompanies the Cathedral in Strasbourg (name escapes me right now, sorry) was well worth it to me to put the artistic achievements of the cathedral in perspective. But I'm kind of a weird nerd bout that cathedral.