As an American, when you hear about France you typically hear about all things Paris. Almost as if Paris is the entirety of France. When traveling to the western side of Germany I knew I had to find myself in France, but that Paris was likely out of reach due to the distance and lack of time available to travel there. I did some research and settled on Strasbourg. It was within two hours, and it just so happened that the Christmas market it is famous for was going to open the weekend I was looking into going. So just like that, a very last-minute trip was planned, and we were off!
Booking a hotel in a big city on a weekend when a big event is taking place can be a challenge. It honestly was not even something I thought about. I knew the Christmas market was taking place, but I did not understand exactly what a big deal the market was. I recently had gotten the Hilton card from American Express as a way to save on travel expenses and was awarded 110,000 points just prior to heading to Europe so I hopped on the Hilton app and started searching.
I saw the Hilton Strasbourg hotel and that was the only option for the last-minute Friday night stay. There were only a handful of rooms left so I quickly booked it. Being an event weekend, it cost me a total of 50,000 points for a king room. It seemed a bit spendy but because of the points I had built up it was technically free, and I went for it.
Driving from Bann, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany to Strasbourg, France
The views, my goodness. I was excited to go to France, but I had no idea how breathtaking the sights I would see during the drive would be. I was in awe as I looked out the car window and saw the beautifully crafted homes spread across the rolling hills amongst the fall colors. I kept pointing and smiling for what felt like the entire two-hour drive. It was a wonderful experience to share with someone.
Also, we went through more roundabouts than I ever have in my entire life in one trip. Rather than taking multiple freeway exits you just feel like you are going in circles and cross your fingers and hope you make it to your destination.
When driving in Germany and France there are so many beautiful things to see between cities and you absolutely must soak it all in.
Arriving at Hilton Strasbourg
It was just about to get dark as we arrived in Strasbourg. It was super easy to navigate to the hotel as it is easily accessible from the highway, and you do not have to drive through the middle of the city to get to it from the way we arrived. The hotel had gated parking on site and there was plenty of it. Checking in was a very easy process, the staff was very friendly and English-speaking.
The King room was a good size for two people. Just enough space to move about and not feel crowded. You should not expect any fancy views for this stay. We had a view of a construction site, but it did not matter as we planned to only be in the room to sleep anyways.
The hotel is a bit older, and no fancy keyless check-in or anything like that but again, not needed. The bathroom was very French. Also, the pillows are small and horrible but when in France, who cares. After getting settled into our room we wasted no time and headed out on the town.
Getting Around Strasbourg
The hotel is close to the city center. You can take a short walk to the tram which links to Petite France and the city center and if you are there in November and December, this will get you to the Christmas markets. You can buy tickets for the tram from our concierge desk at the hotel. The European Parliament is a short walk from the hotel and the most beautiful sight you have ever seen, the Strasbourg Cathedral, is just two kilometers away.
The walk to the tram felt safe and was easy and direct. The ride on the tram was SUPER crowded with stinky teenagers who I imagine were heading home from their school activities. The ride was somewhat short, and we used the public transit feature in google maps to navigate our way to the city center. I enjoyed the experience of the tram even though it was crammed full.
Arriving at the City Center in Strasbourg
Honestly, words cannot even begin to explain all the feelings that came on as I took in the surroundings. The historic buildings, cobblestone streets, and smells were all so overwhelming and exciting. It was hard to decide where to begin, but the bustle of the city led us to exactly where we needed to go.
If you are not familiar with the popularity of Christmas markets, you should make it your mission to get familiar because it was easily one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. The market opened the weekend we were there and everyone both from the city and nearby cities was there to experience it.
At one point I turned around and was gifted with the most beautiful sight of Notre Dame Cathedral. It was breathtaking. The details were unreal, it touched my soul in such a special way. My first sighting of it was before it was completely dark, I saw it again later (it is in the middle of the city center so hard to miss when you turn a corner) and it was totally lit up and even more breathtaking than the first sighting. Everyone stared in awe, how could they not? The craftsmanship of the cathedral is unbelievable. Something so special you must see it to believe it.
Noël à Strasbourg, we spent hours at the Strasbourg Christmas market You think you are done seeing everything but then you turn another corner and there is another market. It was still a bit light outside when we got there, and it was great to see things in the light but once it got dark it was as if the entire city center transformed. You absolutely must see it both during the night and day.
The buildings in the city center are decorated with massive ornaments, even teddy bears, and a life-sized advent calendar. The entrance of each building was lined with a fancy garland of some sort. The décor is truly special and unlike anything I have ever seen in the US. The walkways between the buildings are strung with lights and there is a massive and beautiful Christmas tree that is decked out with large ornaments and lights that flash with the music.
I had some of the most delicious bites of food ever at the market. You will likely have to wait in line for a very long time but trying the actual plates of food is a must. Many of the stands have things like currywurst, mushrooms in a cream sauce (champignons à la crème), and pork and mushrooms in a cream sauce (porc et champignons à la crème) which you can get served over potatoes or spaetzle. We tried them all! The portions are large and only cost 8 euros. We got the dishes and shared them so that we could try everything.
Back at the Hotel
Once back at the hotel, we recalled the hotel bar area and ventured down to see if they were still serving as we weren’t ready to wrap up our night in France. We headed down to the bar and I got my favorite, a mojito. It was delicious, so much so that I had to have another.
It did not take long for us to realize that although we had eaten a lot of delicious food, it had been hours since we had eaten, and now almost midnight we were starving! Walking tons of steps around the city center was tiring and amped up our appetites! I requested a side of bread, hoping for a freshly baked baguette but instead getting some not-so-wonderful or easy-to-bite into bread. And then, we saw a table next to us have a charcuterie board delivered to their table and knew we must have it.
Turns out when you ask for a cheese board because they didn’t understand the charcuterie board the way you said it, you end up with a cheeseburger. Whoopsie. We then tried again and still ended up with something that was not what we wanted. A dessert board of stinky cheese and some dried fruit.
I suppose that is something you are supposed to have in France, but it did not suit our fancy. We were able to laugh it off and enjoy each other’s misery as we tried cheese, which we both knew we would not like. Language barriers are one of the most challenging yet entertaining parts of traveling abroad.
Le Petite France
I’ve been to Little Italy in the US and it was lovely. I had no idea that Strasbourg, France had a “Little France”, or Le Petite France and it was a wonderful discovery. We noticed the area during the market at night and knew we had to come back and take it in on Saturday morning.
Sightseeing in Little France
I joked about wanting to ride around on a bike with a baguette in a bag in true French style and then pretty much saw someone doing just that. It made my day. We walked around the river and admired the unique buildings and cobblestone streets in search of a small café where we could sit and enjoy coffee and a croissant. Fun fact, coffee in Germany just does not hit the spot, I was seriously craving a good cup of quality brew. The river area is the perfect place for a photo op!
While wandering around searching for a café we enjoyed looking into shop windows and chatting about what it must be like to live in the old apartments in the city center. I later discovered via Instagram that many of them are super affordable Airbnb rentals, and I absolutely must return and stay in one.
I loved the feeling of the tiny French community! It turns out that shops (even cafes) do not open very early on weekends in France. People seem to like to take their time getting going on the weekends in France and I am here for it. We finally found a little place to eat called Caupona Taverne, and it was a delight. It seemed to be a bar during the night, but a café come morning. The woodwork and vibe were unique and enjoyable.
I chose to be basic in France and get a chocolate croissant and caramel macchiato, zero regrets. The other person I was with asked the waitress what she recommended. Eggs with bacon it was, or rather scrambled eggs with peasant bacon “oeufs brouillés avec lards paysan”. That sounds boring right!? Eggs Neither of us even likes eggs very much which I said when they ordered. Let me tell you, eggs and bacon in France are everything but boring.
This was not eggs, this was a bowl of garlicky, creamy, fresh herb-topped goodness served with a side of bacon and crusty bread. I have never tasted a bite of eggs so delightful in my life and I don’t think I ever will anywhere but France. Just writing about it makes me want to go back for more. I wish I had a picture to share.
I did swing back by the market to grab a few more souvenirs and I, of course, had to try a Tarte flambee. It is a food famous in the region so it is a must. I got one with mushrooms and bacon! Yum! A delicious piece of bread topped with cream, cheese, and other toppings like caramelized onions, bacon, mushrooms, and really whatever your heart desires. I also could not leave without grabbing a box of freshly made macarons.
Goodbye Strasbourg, France
Leaving was sad. We were there less than 24 hours and there were so many more things I wanted to see and foods I wanted to eat but time was up. When I go back it absolutely needs to be when the market is running, yet I also want to go back during the spring when it is beautiful but not nearly as chilly. Many more trips to come! I am sure there are many other wonderful cities to explore in France, but I am glad my first experience was in Strasbourg.
While leaving was sad, I was excited to enjoy the views during the drive back. And excited to explore Trier, Germany the next day.