The Essential Guide to Alsace and Lorraine

Located in the northwest corner of France, the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine are at once proudly French and slightly German. Here, you’ll find traditionally French attractions like soaring cathedrals, manicured parks, and art nouveau mansions, but you’ll also encounter half-timbered houses, historic breweries, and lots and lots of sauerkraut. Visit cities like Metz, Nancy, Strasbourg, and Colmar and you may find yourself wondering what country you’re in, or ride a bike over the Pont de l’Europe and see both France and Germany in one day.

Place de la Cathédrale, 67000 Strasbourg, France
It took 424 years to build this Gothic showpiece, but considering the hundreds of sculptures jutting out from the facade, the timing is almost understandable. At 466 feet tall, the Strasbourg Cathedral was, from its completion in 1439 until the mid-19th century, the highest Christian structure in the world. Today, it’s fallen to sixth place, but its frontispiece is still considered one of the greatest medieval picture books of all time. Inside, a gander at the 12th- to 14th-century stained glass and organ (with parts dating back to 1385) is optional, but climbing the spire’s 322 steps to enjoy panoramic views over the city as far as Vosges and the Black Forest is pretty much obligatory. Make sure your visit coincides with the 12:30 p.m. hour, when the cathedral’s astronomical clock comes alive with apostles parading before Christ.
Strasbourg, France
Nothing in life is perfect, but Strasbourg’s historic district, La Petite France, comes pretty close. Located at the west end of the Grand Île (the first entire city center to be named a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its French and German architecture), this picturesque neighborhood is the stuff storybooks are made of, complete with canal bridges and half-timbered homes. Gaze at the sloping rooftops of the 16th-century buildings and imagine the tanners who used to dry their skins in those attics, or picture the fishermen and millers who used to live and work here when it was the poorest area of the city. Buy some salted caramel or raspberry–milk shake macarons at Elisabeth Biscarratat on Rue de la Vignette, then savor them along the ponts couverts that cross the four river channels (these “covered bridges” were built in 1250 to defend the city, but their protective wooden roofs were torn down in 1784).

All roads here lead to Place Kleber, a giant square that can be a tad commercial save for the book market on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, and the world-renowned Christmas market, during which a 100-foot tree from the Vosges Mountains takes over the square from the end of November through December.
2 Place du Château, 67000 Strasbourg, France
A brief walk from the Strasbourg Cathedral lies the glorious Palais Rohan, a former Episcopal residence built between 1732 and 1742. Designed by the king’s architect for the Prince-Bishop of Strasbourg, the architectural masterpiece has welcomed everyone from Louis XV and Napoléon to Marie Antoinette, whose fate was later sealed by palace resident Cardinal Rohan.

Today, visitors can tour the Decorative Arts Museum on the ground floor for a peak at the gorgeous cardinal apartments and the jaw-dropping, solid-mahogany library, as well as various furniture, jewelry, and sculptures. Afterward, head up to the first floor, where the Museum of Fine Arts features masterworks by Botticelli, Raphael, Rubens, and Delacroix, or down to the basement to see the Archaeological Museum, one of the largest museums of its kind in France.
10 Rue du Sanglier, 67000 Strasbourg, France
Restaurant Chez Yvonne is one of Strasbourg’s oldest and most famous winstubs (wine lounges)—and a less-expensive alternative to the city’s Michelin-starred Au Crocodile. The cozy eatery was a favorite of former French president Jacques Chirac, who often came here to discuss politics over wine and sauerkraut. Offering traditional Alsatian dishes, this is not a place for fussy eaters. Look forward to everything from liver dumplings, veal tongue, and braised pork knuckles to more standard fare like roasted chicken and fillet of beef, all doused in sauce and served with something sautéed.
67000 Strasbourg, France
With 350 miles of bikes paths, Strasbourg is one of the most cyclable cities in France. To experience it for yourself, head to the Jardin des Deux Rives (Two Shores Garden), a 370-acre, transboundary green space that opened in 2004 as a symbol of peace between France and Germany. Here, the Pont de l’Europe (Europe Bridge) crosses the Rhine to connect Strasbourg and Kehl, meaning you can bike through two countries in one day.

Rent a bike from Vélhop, Strasbourg’s bike-sharing initiative, which offers short- or long-term use of regular, electric, and even tandem bikes. Once you’re signed up for the service, you can grab a bike at one of the automatic stations around the city, or stop by a Vélhop shop, where you can also get a helmet—and advice from real people.
38 Rue Sergent Blandan, 54000 Nancy, France
In Nancy, visitors can download an art nouveau itinerary for free from the tourist office website, then tour 250 buildings and storefronts featuring wrought iron, stained glass, and ceramics. They can also visit the Musée de l’École de Nancy, one of France’s few museums dedicated to the art nouveau movement in Lorraine. About a 45-minute walk from Place Stanislas, the museum highlights the region’s contributions to architecture, decorative arts, and furnishings, with pieces by key artists like Louis Marjorelle, Jacques Gruber, and Émile Gallé. Surrounding the museum (which is closed Mondays and Tuesdays), there are several more outstanding examples of École de Nancy architecture, including the Villa Majorelle and several buildings along Rue de la Commanderie and Avenue Foch.
1 Place Stanislas, 54000 Nancy, France
Founded in 1850 and housed in the oldest building on Place Stanislas, Grand Café Foy takes its name from General Maximilien Sébastien Foy, who served under Napoléon. Dining at the restaurant, which is open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., is a bit like stepping back in time, when massive mirrors and red-velvet accents were de rigueur. The wine-by-the-glass selection is extensive, as is the bistro-style menu, which features everything from chicken Caesar salad and steak frites to escargots and the traditional intestine sausage andouillette. For a composed meal, opt for one of the reasonably priced three-course menus, which include dishes like foie gras, fillet of beef, and a selection of French cheeses for dessert.
Place d'Armes, 57000 Metz, France
It may have taken 300 years—plus the unification of two churches—to build St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Metz, but the Gothic masterpiece is one of Europe’s tallest churches (at 140 feet) and boasts more stained glass than any other cathedral in the world (70,000 square feet, to be exact). In fact, St. Stephen’s has so much stained glass that it was nicknamed La Lanterne du Bon Dieu, or God’s Lantern. When visiting (entry is free), look for the windows by famed artists Jacques Villon and Marc Chagall. Afterward, walk a few steps to Place d’Armes in the Old Town, where outdoor cafés and restaurants abound and, during Christmas, a market takes over the arcade.
1 Parvis des Droits de l'Homme, 57020 Metz, France
The hip sister of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, this modern and contemporary art museum has become one of France’s most visited cultural venues since opening in 2010. Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, the 54,000-square-foot building features three rectangular galleries, which regularly host exhibitions of 20th- and 21st-century art from France’s illustrious Musée National d’Art Moderne. The piece de résistance can be seen outside, however—the building’s curvy, mesh roof, composed of glue-laminated timber, was inspired by a Chinese hat that Shigeru Ban found in Paris. Take it all in while dining at the museum’s Voile Blanche restaurant or outdoor brasserie, both of which are headed by Michelin-starred chef Eric Maire.
D123, 55110 Romagne-Sous-Montfaucon, France
The largest number of American soldiers who died in Europe, mostly in World War I, rest here at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, 80 miles northwest of Metz. Across more than 130 acres, visitors will find row upon humbling row of headstones—14,246 in all—that lead to a chapel where the American flag hangs alongside those of its allies. Renovated in 2016, the visitor center offers an in-depth look at the Meuse-Argonne Offensive through personal stories, photos, and films. When you’re done touring the cemetery, walk to the nearby Romagne ’14–’18 museum for even more stories of heroism and heartbreak.
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