Capital of Alsace , home of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, and less than 2.5 hours from Paris by TGV , Strasbourg beckons with a blend of history and modernity.
The Grande Île, Strasbourg 's historic city center, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was the first time such an honor was placed on an entire city center. There are incredible sights to see in just this one area: The Palais Rohan, 500-hundred year old churches including the Cathédral de Nôtre Dame (the tallest medieval building in Europe ) and its famous astronomical clock. If you're lucky to be here around the holidays, the Strasbourg Christmas market surrounding the church has been an annual event since 1570.
The neighborhood known as Petit France sits along the banks of The Grand Île. Famous for its medieval, black and white timber-framed buildings, the renowned Maison Kammerzell is the city's best example on Place de la Cathédrale in an area formerly belonging to the Holy Roman Empire.
You may see lots of young people walking around, textbooks under their arms. Young men scratching their creative facial hair while discussing the works of Goethe. Not surprising, as the German thinker also went to school at the University of Strasbourg, along with Napolean and Louis Pasteur. This is no, well, homogenous landscape. Over 40,000 students from around the world come to study at this prestigious institution.
The rail station in Strasbourg, the 2 nd largest rail station in France outside of Paris, has all of the modern features expected from such a world-class city. There's a tourism office where you can pick up a city map and be on your way. The modern tram and city buses can be found directly outside the rail station. Use them to get to your hotel. After that, walking through Strasbourg can be a wonderful way to uncover what only the locals know about.
Due to Strasbourg 's location near both Germany and Switzerland, you can easily stop over for the day on your way from Paris to Munich, Stuttgart or Basel. In 2012, with the opening of the TGV Rhin-Rhône railway line, Lyon will be just over three hours away.
Nearby, you'll find charming small towns. Nancy , just 90 minutes away, is known for the Place Stanislas, a World Heritage Building (although it's much more a magnificent square.) In decidedly not-French-sounding Mulhouse, less than an hour away by train, you'll conveniently find the French National Railway Museum as well as – don't be shocked - a museum devoted to electricity. All of these towns are reachable using your France Rail Pass.
Travel is about discovering places that maybe weren't on your "it" list. Sometimes, you throw a pin at a map, miss Paris by an inch and end up somewhere special. Like Strasbourg.
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Contributed by: Miles, Travel Consultant, has traveled extensively throughout France and loves the TGV!