Strasbourg is brimming with tales and legends, hidden gems, unusual discoveries, and unexpected architectural details. To help you explore a different side to the city, here is our selection of tips (grouped by neighborhood):
The Cathedral quarter
• The Cathedral in the line of fire of an artillery shell (12 place de la Cathédrale): a shell from the bombing of the city in 1870 is embedded in the façade of the Hôtel Cathédrale.
• The green ray of the Cathedral (inside the Cathedral): twice a year, during spring and autumn equinox, the sun shines through a stained-glass window depicting Judah and casts a ray of green light onto the pulpit, just above a sculpture of Christ on the cross.
• Hidden statues in the Cathedral: while visiting the inside of the Cathedral, try to spot the statue of the Reverend Geiler’s dog (on the pulpit), the sculpture of the man carrying the weight of the Cathedral on his back (at the base of the northern column of the transept), or of a farmer turned to stone, leaning against the railing while gazing at the Astronomical clock (in the south transept, higher up, to the left of the eastern wall.
• Old shop signs: rue des Orfèvres, place de la Cathédrale, rue du Chaudron.
• A second spire for the Cathedral (6 rue Mercière): the reflection in the shop window of Nappes d’Alsace adds a second spire to the Cathedral.
• The “Devil’s Wind” (place de la Cathédrale): legend has it that the Devil once was travelling the world, riding on the back of the Wind. As he rode through Strasbourg, he saw his own image carved into the façade of the Cathedral. Flattered and curious, he entered the Cathedral to see if there were any more sculptures of him, but he was chased off and ran away so quickly that he left the Wind behind. Ever since, the Wind has run in circles around the Cathedral, impatiently waiting for the Devil to come back outside, which is why you can almost always feel a breeze blowing around the Cathedral.
• The belly-measuring column, or “Büchmesser” (10 place de la Cathédrale): this pink sandstone column from 1567, which was restored in 2016, was once used to gauge the bellies of the bourgeoisie. Try it yourself, by slipping sideways between the column and the wall (it’s 35 centimeters wide)!
• The shop window of Antiquités Richard (quai au Sable): a veritable cabinet of curiosities.
• The swing bridge: the pont du Faisan footbridge swings around every time a sightseeing boat comes through the lock to let it pass through the canal.
• Strasbourg’s old ice house (5 rue des Moulins): from 1897 to 1990, la Petite France was home to a factory that produced ice blocks for restaurant owners, brewers, and private individuals. Made redundant by the advent of home refrigerators, the factory was remodeled into a luxury hotel. The machinery of the old ice house, such as the massive cogwheels, is still visible today in the basement of the hotel Régent-Petite France. Open for visitors with a reservation only during the European Heritage Days.
• A milling and tanning district: thanks to its advantageous waterside location, la Petite France had been a district for milling grain and tanning leather, going back as far as the Middle Ages. The roofs of certain half-timbered houses – such as Maison des Tanneurs, which is now a restaurant – still have ventilated attics for making leather and drying animal hides. The different trades practiced in la Petite France have also given their names to the streets in the neighborhood.
• Statues from the Cathedral inside the Vauban dam (place du Quartier Blanc): the Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame keeps statues from the Cathedral that have been replaced inside the Vauban dam. Despite being a little damaged, they are part of the cultural heritage of the city.
• The gutter-eating lion (on the quay just downstairs from pont Saint-Martin): on the red façade of Saint-Thomas’s school, a pink sandstone sculpture of an open-mawed lion looks like it’s eating the gutter.
• A quirky little house (quai du Woerthel) or rather two half-houses, among the more traditional houses of la Petite France.
• The Egyptian House (10 rue du Général Rapp): the Egyptian House was designed by self-taught architect Franz Scheyder in the early 20th century and displays an Art Nouveau twist on an idealized Egyptian esthetic, with a massive central fresco and wrought-iron balconies decorated with stylized bats.
• The hall of the Palais Universitaire: free entry during the university’s opening hours.
• The geometric staircase of the BNU (6 place de la République): the staircase of the National University Library can be seen from the reception at the center of the building, if you look towards the skylight.
• The Botanical garden (28 rue Goethe): Strasbourg Botanical garden was founded in the early 17th century, before it was moved to the Neustadt campus in 1884. Today, it is hometo over 6 000 plant species.
• The Janus fountain (square Markos Botzaris): this fountain was designed in 1988 by cartoonist and illustrator Tomi Ungerer, for the city’s 2 000-year anniversary. The two faces represent the duality of French and Germanic culture in Alsace.
• Rue Sainte-Madeleine: a charming little street that locals have decorated with colors and plants.
• A tiny hanging garden (quai des Bateliers, between n°23 and n°24).
• The medieval battlements (place Sainte-Madeleine): some of the last vestiges of the third extension of the fortification of Strasbourg, from 1228.
• Rue du Jeu-des-Enfants: when this street was pedestrianized a few years ago, locals decorated it with plant beds and splashes of color.
• La Cour du Corbeau (6-8 rue des Couples) : this 16th-century building was renovated between 2007 and 2009.
• Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune Protestant church (place Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune): this Protestant church, with its long history, is made up of Romanesque, Gothic and Gothic Revival elements. Don’t miss the nave’s Gothic Revival murals, the Gothic archway in the rood screen, the Baroque choir, and the Romanesque cloister. Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune is open to visitors, except during church services. Free entry.
• The oldest wine in the world (1 place de l’Hôpital): the 1200 m² vaulted cellar of Strasbourg Hospice is a testament to the importance of wine in the history of Strasbourg Hospital. Its gallery of barrels holds over fifty oak casks that are still in use, as well as several historic barrels dating back to the 16th, 18th and 19th centuries. One of them still contains wine from 1472, making it the oldest barreled wine in the world.
• The frescoed façade of a renovated Renaissance house (9 rue Sainte-Hélène).
• The DNA rooster that crows at noon (17 rue de la Nuée Bleue): every day at noon, the rooster perched above the clock outside the offices of les DNA (Strasbourg’s daily newspaper) crows three times. Across the street, a hen sitting on her nest clucks back, before laying golden eggs. It’s like a touch of farmyard atmosphere in the middle of town!
• The façade of the École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (1 rue de l’Académie): this Art Nouveau façade illustrates the array of subjects taught at the school of Decorative Arts.
• Goethe’s house (36 rue du Vieux-Marché-aux-Poissons): Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lived on rue du Vieux-Marché-aux-Poissons in 1770 and 1771.
European quarter and Orangerie
• All Saints Orthodox church (16 rue du Général Conrad): a pastel-hued gem between the Parc de l’Orangerie and the Rhine.
• The Hemicycle of the European Parliament (7 place Adrien Zeller): you can actually visit the Hemicycle of the European Parliament (no need to book in advance). The tour lasts about an hour.
• Pont de la Protestation : this bridge was named after the protest made by the French parliament in Bordeaux against the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by Germany during WWII. It is recognizable by its Ionian colonnade.
See our other Off-piste sights