Where to go on a trip for Christmas? In the East of France of course, it is THE region to enjoy the holiday atmosphere. Did you know that it is here that the first Christmas tree was found?
To help you prepare your stay, here is a travel guide that will take you to Strasbourg, Mulhouse and Sélestat. Good addresses, tips and ideas of visits: all my advices are to be found in this article.
Travelling in Eastern France : in short
- Who is it for? During the holidays, the East is a magical and romantic region that is perfect for couples or families.
- When should you visit? The region can be visited all year round but the Christmas period has a special charm with the illuminations and the chalets.
- How to get there? The East is easily accessible by train. From Paris, it only takes 2 hours to reach Strasbourg. It is also a very well served region from Germany and Switzerland.
- How to get around ? If the car will offer you more freedom, it is however very easy to go from one city to another by train.
Travel Guide: Christmas in the East
Which cities to go to for Christmas? Here are three: Strasbourg, Mulhouse and Sélestat, which I particularly recommend!
Find all the events proposed during Christmas in the East on the Explore Grand Est website :
Strasbourg, the must-see
How can you not go to Strasbourg for the holidays? The capital of the Grand-East region is also, it must be said, the capital of Christmas. Everything here breathes festivities: a giant Christmas tree, numerous illuminations, a vast Christmas market, a nativity scene in the cathedral… In short, it is the city not to be missed at this time of the year.
What must be visited in Strasbourg?
The cathedral is THE must-see. Built between the 12th and 15th centuries, it houses an impressive astronomical clock. You can also climb its tower to enjoy a breathtaking view of the surroundings. And to complete this visit, take a tour of the Notre-Dame museum whose medieval and renaissance collections bear witness to the city’s prestigious past.
The Petite France district
A change of scenery is guaranteed in this district with its cobbled streets and half-timbered houses that run along the canals. A particularly romantic spot!
The Christmas market
Of course, during this holiday season, you have to see the giant Christmas tree and the Christmas market located on Place Kléber. At nightfall, the streets of the city center are illuminated, it’s magical!
TIPS FOR VISITING STRASBOURG : Useful guide to spend a weekend in this city
Ideas for a Christmas break in Strasbourg
Spend the holidays in Strasbourg in the Christmas Capital, in the heart of one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe!
Good addresses in Strasbourg
Pour de bon, a restaurant for cheese lovers
Here everything is local, seasonal and homemade with a particularity: the cheese is present in all the dishes and it is made and matured on the spot. A real treat!
La Corde à linge, in the Petite France district
In a warm setting, in the heart of the Petite France district, this restaurant offers hearty and tasty dishes with some local specialties such as spätzles, the traditional Alsatian pasta.
The Graffalgar hotel to put down your suitcases
I recommend the Graffalgar hotel located a few steps from the train station and 10 minutes walk from the city center. Here, street artists have been given carte blanche: each room has been decorated by a different artist, a guaranteed surprise when you open the door!
Mulhouse, the unexpected
Less popular with tourists than its big sister, the city of Mulhouse was a nice discovery for me. Here, Christmas is not done in half measures: the center is richly illuminated and the Christmas market is very successful. Moreover, the city has a fascinating history and beautiful museums to discover.
What must be visit in Mulhouse?
The Christmas market and the fabric store
What I really liked in Mulhouse is that the Christmas market has remained authentic. In the huts, you won’t find the same products that you see everywhere else. On the contrary, there are many local craftsmen here.
Each year, the city entrusts an artist with the creation of a fabric that dresses the Christmas cabins. The boutique aux étoffes is a must to find these famous fabrics declined by a lot of creators but also a selection of local and artisanal products.
The museum of the Impression on fabrics
The museum of printing on fabrics is a fascinating place which gives many keys to understand the history of Mulhouse.
In the 18th century, in order to protect the French woollens, an edict forbade the marketing of cotton in France. Despite this ban, many nobles continued to wear cotton, which was lighter and more comfortable than other fabrics. At that time, Mulhouse was an independent republic and thus escaped the French edict. Four entrepreneurs had the idea of setting up a cloth printing factory in the city to meet the demands of French nobles. The famous edict was repealed fifteen years later, a period that allowed Mulhouse to develop its know-how compared to other cities and to become an important cloth trading city.
The museum presents different printing techniques on fabrics, from the most basic ones like the pieces of wood that were inked and pressed against the fabrics, to the most sophisticated machines of the industrial era. Today, the fabric is still successful. Great houses like Hermès are sometimes inspired by the museum’s collections to create new designs.
You will also find in this museum a very nice Christmas store where, of course, the fabric is in the spotlight!
The Ecomuseum of Alsace
Here is an atypical but fascinating and unique place! In the 70s, a group of students wanted to preserve traditional Alsatian houses that were destined to be destroyed. So they created a fictitious village in which they installed real houses! The first of them was built in the 80’s and the site was opened to the public in 1984.
Since then, the Ecomuseum of Alsace has not stopped developing. Year after year, dozens of houses have joined the village which is now managed by a few employees and many volunteers. Don’t think that this village is dead: throughout the year, a multitude of activities are proposed with several workshops on the trades of yesteryear (barber, blacksmith, potter…). There is also a mini-farm with sheep, cows, pigs… It is an exciting place for children and adults alike.
And for this end of the year, the Ecomuseum of Alsace proposes an exhibition on the evolution of Christmas trees as well as a comparison between the Christmas of yesterday and today.
The City of the train
I fell in love with the Cité du train which highlights the railway heritage. As trains are not small objects, this City is huge and spreads over 60 000 m2!
It allows you to observe the evolution of trains with some cars with a fascinating history. You can discover a 3rd class train that allowed the French to enjoy their first vacations when paid leave was introduced in 1936; the presidential car where Paul Deschanel, president in the 20s, fell while trying to open the window! Or one of the first subways in Paris.
The Cité is also interested in the most modern trains by presenting the history of the TGV and a reconstructed cabin that allows you to put yourself in the driver’s seat. Fascinating!
For car lovers: the Cité de l’Automobile
If you are more interested in cars than in trains, discover the Cité de l’Automobile in Mulhouse, which houses the most important collection of cars in the world with more than 500 vehicles! Among others, the Schlumpf collection gathered by two brothers who made their fortune in the textile industry and who devoted a large part of their fortune to the collection of cars.
Ideas for Christmas in Mulhouse
Get off the beaten track by spending Christmas in Mulhouse where a warm and festive atmosphere awaits you.
Good addresses in Mulhouse
Le Mealtin’Potes, a paradise for your taste buds
Excellent bistronomic restaurant where you can find starter-main course or main course-dessert formulas at 20 € / 22 € for the full menu. The dishes are as beautiful as they are good, a delight!
Le Gargantua, for big appetites
In a sober decoration, this restaurant proposes a very generous and greedy Alsatian cooking. We especially like the vacherin glacé, delicious but that you may have trouble finishing!
The hotel La Maison, to feel at home
Here is a hotel that lives up to its name. The hotel La Maison is a warm and welcoming place. At the moment, the decoration is playing the Christmas card: in the common areas you will have to (almost) slalom between the Christmas trees to find your way!
Everyone is very welcoming, the rooms are comfortable, the breakfast varied and excellent. In short: a very nice address.
Sélestat, the cradle of the Christmas tree
Did you know that the Christmas tree was born in Sélestat? In any case, it is here that the oldest known written mention of the Christmas tree can be found in the city’s registers. A mention that dates back to 1521 and that celebrates this year its 500th anniversary. But that’s not all: with the label “Ville d’Art et d’Histoire”, Sélestat has many other assets!
What should you visit in Sélestat?
The humanist library
I strongly encourage you to visit the Humanist Library which has a remarkable collection of Renaissance works, thanks to the 670 books that the humanist Beatus Rhenanus bequeathed to the city, a treasure listed in the UNESCO Memory of the World register! In addition, throughout the month of December, a magnificent exhibition on Christmas tales is available free of charge.
Saint-Georges and Sainte-Foy churches
In the heart of the city, these two churches are neighbors but have nothing in common. One was built by the city’s bourgeoisie, the other, more sober, by a religious community.
Today, both celebrate Christmas in their own way. In Saint-Georges you can discover the evolution of Christmas trees over time with several trees hanging in the nave of the church.
Did you know?
Originally, we did not hang baubles on the trees but small red apples. One year, when there was a shortage of apples, a master glassmaker had the idea of making small glass balls!
In the Sainte-Foy church, you can’t miss a magnificent chandelier in the shape of a fir tree made from Christmas balls. These are baubles from Meisenthal, a glass-making site that produces a new bauble every year.
Follow the steps of the lion and the giant Sletto
To allow you to discover the city by passing through the main points of interest, a signposted route indicates the itinerary to follow. Go to the tourist office to pick up the free brochure that will serve as your guide.
And also: the Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle
Take advantage of your visit to Sélestat to discover the Haut-Koenigsbourg castle located on the outskirts of the city. Perched at 757 meters above sea level in the Vosges mountains, this castle is particularly impressive!
Good addresses in Sélestat
La maison du pain : a bakery not really like the others
Located right next to the tourist office, the house of bread is a bakery of a particular kind. It is an association that has a taste for good things and work well done. You can find traditional products such as the famous bredela, the typical cookies of the region. And since there is nothing to hide, here the bakers work in front of you. You can see them at work but also chat with them in a very friendly atmosphere.
The house of bread also offers a museum on three levels that allows you to discover the history of bread.
The Wach pastry shop: for sugar addicts!
In a traditional house, the Wach pastry shop offers a large choice of pastries but also, on the first floor, a room for lunch where simple but copious dishes are proposed such as the famous tarts flambées, tartines and salads. A nice place to rest and regain strength between two visits.
To go further: 10 ideas for Christmas outings in the Grand Est
Other cities in the East are in tune with Christmas: Metz, Nancy, Troyes, Reims, Colmar… To get an overview of what each city offers for the holidays, Explore Grand Est has put together a selection of original outings:
The map of good addresses
Find on this map all the good addresses listed in this article!
Have a nice trip! 🧳 😉
A big thank you to all the people who welcomed me throughout this stay.
Article realized in partnership with the Regional Agency of Tourism Grand-Est.