Christmas in Strasbourg is something to behold. Hundreds of shops, restaurants and houses are draped in millions of lights, Christmas wreaths and, rather oddly, a vast collection of teddy bears. Walking its streets, the city takes on the form of its beloved title: The Capital of Christmas. Everything from the smallest of restaurants to the monumental cathedral are decorated and illuminated for the season. The city is drenched in artificial light, and cheap arrangements of glittery decor that crosses from moments of prettiness such as the stunning Carré D’or (below) to outright tackiness – such as the restaurants with a thousand teddy bears attached with neither love nor care, to every exposed beam.
If christmas is indeed the bejewelled highlight of colourful, plasticised consumerism, then yes Strasbourg is its capital.
One of the more tastefully adorned buildings is the Aubette in Place Kleber – home to the Apple Store and Starbuck’s, and arguably the most international of the city’s squares. As you can see in the image above – the building is draped with beautiful and simple lights and lit in a seasonal red. It’s quite intriguing as the vast, 100ft tall Strasbourg christmas tree is also in this square. I might add that the city spent more than 2 weeks erecting the tree – chopping and reshaping it in time for the annual tourist migration.
There’s a huge collection of Christmas markets – even now when Christmas has had to be downsized due to the various gits in the world, but my favourite, for visual appeal at least, is the small local produce market in front of the Palais Rohan on the River Ill. If you pass by here be sure to sample a vin blanc chaud d’Alsace, which is made with various local whites. Drop the cup off at the next market around the corner at the cathedral – or give it to a local beggar, if you’re feeling generous.
Most of the other markets are focused on selling traditional Christmas trinkets and ornaments while the best selection of Christmas Market food is over at Place Broglie – with plenty of local influence added to everything from hot dogs (the Strasbourg sausage) to pretzels. Incidentally, Place Broglie also has the largest collection of fairy lights for sale that I’ve ever seen (see below).
The highlight at the cathedral is the beautiful (and huge 45ft diameter) rose window that’s backlit for the season, along with the choir of angels that lead overhead as one walks down rue Mercière towards the cathedral’s west façade. The Place du Château has an entire shop erected selling all kinds of wooden wares and Christmasy what-nots, as well as a rotating Christmas Tree in the window (see the top image).
However, as you approach the west façade beneath the vast spire, you’ll undoubtedly notice the huge congregations of tour groups even more than the decor. But then the cathedral is of course staggering in its beauty – so who can blame them?
Back across the other side of the Grande Île at Place Kleber is Galleries Lafayette, which though tamer (in regards to shopping) than its Parisienne counterpart, is stunningly dressed for Christmas. The pretty (sadly sponsored by Disney) Christmas Tree forms the central attraction along with curtains of off-white lights and a projection of a bear (what is all of this Christmas bear nonsense?!).
Of course Petite France is the highlight of Strasbourg’s collection of starkly lit attractions – but for me – it was a little tame and far too busy. I prefer Petite France in the autumn just before the tourists arrive en masse and the trees have began to drop their ochre-coloured leaves to the cobbles below.
When the shutters are pulled and the wine stops flowing, the market places are left open and easily accessible. Most, if not all of the lighting is left on, rendering the markets and streets of Strasbourg with incredible, calm and festive ambience – without the crowds. The image above shows the tree-lined walkway behind Palais Rohan which leads to the beautifully-lit cathedral, the River Ill and towards Petite France. The entire route is covered in Christmas lights, trees, a couple of late night bars and of course.. the bears of Christmas.