Visit Strasbourg’s Petite France

by | Updated on 5/02/2024 | Strasbourg | 0 comments

With its old half-timbered craftsmen’s houses, covered bridges, Vauban dam and locks, this is THE picturesque district of Strasbourg that’s a must-see on any visit! Discover it on foot, strolling along its narrow cobbled streets or gliding down the Ill on board a bateau-mouche. Let me take you on a stroll through the heart of the historic district of Petite-France – The city’s narrow streets, half-timbered houses, history (tragic and often overlooked) and architecture are all waiting to be discovered.

Where is Petite France?

La Petite France is located in Strasbourg’s historic center, southwest of the Grande Ile, between the Gare district and the beginning of Neudorf. Access is via the Grand Rue, with its string of cafĂ©s, restaurants and boutiques, and then by taking one of the perpendicular streets, such as Rue du FossĂ© des Tanneurs, which leads to Place Benjamin Zix. Or take a stroll along the quays from downtown and follow the path of the ll. We’ve now arrived in the heart of Petite France, in postcard-perfect Strasbourg, surely the most visited and photographed area, along with the Cathedral.

How long does it take to visit Petite France?

Allow an afternoon to visit Petite France and take your time.

petite-france-strasbourg

History of Petite France and origin of the name

Shoemakers are often the worst shod, and it’s a safe bet that many people in Strasbourg are unaware of the origin of the name. In the 15th century, syphilis, an unknown disease nicknamed “the French disease”, made its appearance. The first patients to arrive in Strasbourg were French and Swiss mercenaries hired by King Charles VIII. Initially shunned by all, a hospital dedicated to syphilitic patients was eventually opened. It remained in use until 1687. The house was nicknamed “Zum Französel”, which by extension became the name of the neighborhood, Petite France. Today’s Quai de la Petite France is a place for strolling, and was nicknamed the “ruelle des syphilitiques” (syphilitic alley). Petite France is also the birthplace of two illustrious figures, General Baptiste KlĂ©ber and Napoleonic army illustrator Benjamin Zix.

petite-france-maison

Visit Petite France

Here’s my idea of a walking itinerary to visit picturesque Petite France.

The Tanners’ House

We start just past Place Benjamin Zix, where we’ll be returning at the end of the walk. With its half-timbered houses and canals dedicated to shipping and crafts, Petite France was once a small trading village, home to the tanner’s guild, a widespread profession at the time. The Maison des Tanneurs, dating from 1572, is one of the remnants of this period.

Its former drying sheds, attics under sloping roofs and open galleries where hides were hung have since been transformed into a restaurant. Gone is the leather of the Tanneurs district, the only skin stretched here today is that of the stomach and the leather of the belt loosened after a hearty meal! A fuel, Lökhas, was also created from the oak bark residue used for tanning, which was then compressed into a briquette resembling that of Munster cheese. Lökhas gave its name to the restaurant on rue du Bain aux Plantes.

petite-france-strasbourg

Observing the operation of locks

Strasbourg has several locks still in operation. The best-known of these is the “Anciennes Glacières” lock (Lock A), located on Quai des Moulins just after passing through the “Anciennes Glacières” footbridge. There are two ways to experience how they work: from the front row, aboard a Batorama cruise ship, or on land, when the Pheasant Bridge is raised. A second observation point is located at Lock B, Quai Turckheim.

My guide to Strasbourg

couverture-guide-strasbourg

Planifiez un séjour inoubliable à Strasbourg et ses environs sans perdre de temps grâce à ce guide ! Vous y trouverez les plus beaux lieux, les activités à ne pas louper et les meilleures adresses!

The Pheasant Bridge

From a simple Renaissance footbridge, the Pont du Faisan became a drawbridge in 1869, then a swing bridge in 1888, which sees over forty boats a day. This crossing was once a towpath where horses pulled boats. Today, it’s an ultra-Instagramable spot, the bridge on which we take photos with the Maison des Tanneurs, the Place Benjamin Zix and its large terrace in the background. And, of course, a strategic point from which to watch the cruise ships glide by.

pont-tournant-strasbourg

The old Glacières

Petite France hides another important element of Strasbourg’s industrial past. Created in 1897, this old factory used water power to produce ice cream loaves mainly for brewers and butchers, but also for other retailers and individuals. Listed as a historic monument, preserved and still visible through a glass roof (which can be seen from the footbridge), the old turbines blend perfectly into the luxurious decor of the5* HĂ´tel RĂ©gent Petite France. On the other hand, tours are only available in groups and on request during Heritage Days.

The Covered Bridges and the Vauban Dam

Designed by Vauban, Louis XIV’s architect, this eponymous edifice, which spans the Ill River, together with the Ponts Couverts, forms the city’s ancient defense system. Today, it’s a pleasant, panoramic walk with views of the MusĂ©e d’Art Moderne on one side, and Petite France, the Ponts Couverts and its four fortified towers on the other. One of the prettiest views in town!

terrasse-vue-ponts-couverts

It’s also a covered gallery housing casts of the Cathedral’s statues. On the way, we take the opportunity to take another souvenir photo in front of the Maison des Ponts Couverts and its flourishing wisteria (but be warned, you won’t be the only ones – it’s certainly the most popular photo spot for visitors!)

La Petite France on the water

Gone, too, are the fishing boats, replaced by bateaux-mouches and small electric boats. Thanks to the Marin d’Eau Douce nautical base (Quai du Woerthel), you can discover Strasbourg on the water in complete autonomy. Several itineraries from 1h to a full day (6h) are available to discover the must-sees, while enjoying a bite to eat on board. You can also set sail to the south of the city, where the stroll is more rural and relaxing.

boats-marin-eau-douce

Another alternative, albeit more classic and touristy, to discover the city, its history, its neighborhoods and its emblematic monuments, is to embark on a fly boat. Grande Ă®le, Petite France, Neustadt, Quartier EuropĂ©en and institutions, Batorama offers several themed tours – lasting from 45 min to 1h15 – around different themes (landing stage Place de la Grande Boucherie).

batorama-petite-france

Taking a green break

Time to take a breather! Wedged between the canals are the Louis Weiss and Square des Moulins squares. With its play areas for children, they offer parents a moment’s respite. Well laid out with wooden tables and benches, you can enjoy breakfast in the sun, picnics in the shade or even improvised pĂ©tanque and barbecues in the early evening.

petite-france-by-night

Aperitif on the banks of the Ill

To round off a busy afternoon at Petite France, meet up at Quai de la Bruche for a glass of wine and a Flammkuech under the plane tree at Petit Bois Vert. The place is even more pleasant with its evening breeze, its loupiotes and its guinguette atmosphere. Or return to Place Benjamin Zix, a veritable anthill, to tackle a plate of spaetzle at the Corde à Linge or a good Bibeleskäs in the shade of the chestnut tree.

petit-bois-vert-strasbourg

Christmas at Petite France

In winter and throughout December, the wooden tables and chairs of the Place Benjamin Zix are replaced by the small chalets of the Strasbourg Christmas Market. If you’re hoping to walk away with a sublime Christmas bauble from the Meisentahl glassworks, this is the place to be. The Square Louise Weiss is also home to the IrrĂ©ductibles Petits Producteurs Alsaciens market, the perfect place to pick up tasty local produce.

cookies-noel-alsace-bredele

A little further on is the part of the market that we Strasbourgeois prefer, the Marché Off. Alternative, responsible and committed, and much less touristy, this is the market for local designers. Illustrations, decorative objects, organic and local food products, this is the place to find ethical and original gifts.

walk-off-strasbourg-stand

Hotels in Petite France: where to stay?

Here are our recommended hotels in the heart of the Petite France district:

hotel-chut

A good address in Petite France

It’s an ambitious program for discovering Little France, so don’t forget to take a few hydration and food breaks to recharge your batteries:

  • CafĂ© Bretelles: for a quality coffee break! This cute little coffee-shop is famous for its homemade Twix and cheesecake (tried and tested).
  • Corde Ă  linge: enjoy a generous plate of spaetzle, the emblematic Alsatian pasta, on one of the city’s prettiest terraces.
  • Art CafĂ©: after your visit, take a lie-down on the panoramic terrace of the MusĂ©e d’Art Moderne et Contemporain and enjoy the view!
  • Abattoir CafĂ©: right next to Lock B, the atmosphere is young and relaxed, and the tarts flambĂ©es are very good and can be enjoyed on the terrace at the back.
  • For traditional Alsatian cuisine, book a table at the Maison des Tanneurs or the Petit Bois Vert for a tarte flambĂ©e on the terrace.a little further on, the Fink Stuebel is a great address.
  • For mouth-watering souvenirs, a visit to the Mireille Oster gingerbread boutique is a must. Bites, cobblestones, shareable bars, she’s bursting with gourmet goodies.
  • Last but not least, you’ll find not only kouglof molds and Baeckeoffe terrines at La Petite France ( Plaisirs d’Alsace), but also a number of shops that distill the magic of Christmas throughout the year, such as Un NoĂ«l en Alsace.

Map of our best addresses in La Petite France

CĂ©line

CĂ©line

Céline, Alsacienne pure souche, bec sucré, gourmande et passionnée de pâtisserie. Après avoir épluché et ficelé des dossiers, elle a préféré manier le beurre et clarifier les œufs. Mais aussi ciseler des textes. Elle tient le blog L’Heure du Cream sur lequel elle distille ses recettes et ses idées de sorties outre-Rhin sur Knack&Rucksack, son site de tourisme de proximité pour vadrouiller tout près d'ici et un peu plus loin.

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