Last Updated on 28/03/2023 by secretmoona
Have you ever heard of Colmar, France? This town is like one of these beautiful places that look straight out of a postcard.
I had never realised how spectacular the Grand Est region was until I set foot in Strasbourg last September. The former Alsace region is famous for its Christmas markets and wine routes. Colmar is said to be the smaller, prettier and more colourful version of Strasbourg. For me, each has its strong points. Colmar is a French small town overflowing with medieval half-timbered buildings decorated with pretty flowers (mainly geraniums) and canals.
Why you should visit Colmar
I have a weakness for medieval towns ( Dinan and Rouen) and canals (Aveiro, Amsterdam, Copenhagen). If you are into charming French villages with cobblestone streets (like me), interested in history and culture, and sampling delicious food, then Colmar will not disappoint. The town’s 1,000 years of history and heritage are fascinating. Its narrow streets, canals, half-timbered houses and gastronomy make it an ideal destination for a weekend getaway. No matter why you want to visit Alsace, you must visit Colmar.
Best things to do in Colmar, France
Colmar is filled with colourful medieval houses, cobblestones streets, pedestrian bridges, and canals., hence the nickname “the little Venice’. As the capital of Bas-Rhin,
Colmar is not what you will call a small town or village. It is not big either. Therefore, there isn’t a massive amount of attractions to see. This means that a visit to Colmar can be done in one or two days. Colmar’s well preserved, half-timbered houses make the city one of the most popular destinations for day trips and weekend getaways. Here’s a list of things to do and see in the lovely town.
Relax at the Parc des Champs de Mars
The Champs de Mars park is located between the train station and the city centre so it will probably be the first thing you will see as you walk to the
It’s a lovely place to rest on a nice day with plenty of benches. I stopped by on my way back to take a relaxing break.
A great way of discovering a city for the first time is to get yourself a local guide. Not only will you get to visit the city through their eyes, but you will also learn a lot of “anecdotes” about their city along the way. Colmar Tourist Office offers a guided tour, included in the “Colmar City Pass”. The pass costs 32€ per adult and 28€ for under 18 year-olds. If you prefer exploring the city on your own, know that the tourist map makes self-guided travel very easy. While exploring the town, you will see a little plaque on the ground. They are designed to guide and help visitors navigate between the different places of interest.
Discover Colmar’s architecture
Colmar has beautiful, well-preserved medieval and Renaissance-era buildings such as the Maison des Têtes (House of Heads), the Dominican Church, Maison Pfister or the covered Market Hall. Take your time to stroll and explore every nook and cranny. Many of these can be found in the ‘historic centre of Colmar’.
After taking a lovely stroll in La Petite Venice, head towards Tanner’s district. Remember to look up; the facades of the buildings are beautiful, with some displaying attractive shop signs.
Here are some of the fantastic architectural buildings in Colmar:
- Maison des Têtes (House of Heads): Play riddles on the Rue des Têtes: three commercial signs from illustrator Hansi are hidden there. The 3-storey House of Heads with its 106 heads sculptures on its facade is bizarre and intriguing. The 17th-century building, restored in 2012, is now a luxury hotel with a gourmet restaurant.
- Maison Pfister (Pfister House): As you continue along Rue des Marchands, you will be faced with the 16th-century Maison Pfister, one of the most beautiful buildings in Alsace. The Pfister House is a historic merchant house dating back to the 16th century. Its wooden facade with balconies and murals depicting both religious and non-religious scenes is quite interesting to see.
Wander the streets of Colmar Old Town
The main activity in Colmar is wandering through the streets of the Old Town. The town is so picturesque that you want to picture all the little alleys, houses etc. The German and French influence gives Colmar and other surrounding towns a unique charm. The Old Town is well preserved, so walking through feels like walking into a fairy tale story. The colourful houses with shutters are meticulously decorated with various objects or carvings.
Stroll in Little Venice
If you look up photos of Colmar on Google, the chances are that you will come across a picture of the colourful Little Venice. The Launch River flows through the centre of the picturesque town. The river was used to bring fruit and vegetables to the market hall.
Once home to fishmongers and market gardeners, this town is full of brightly coloured houses lining the riverbank, bridges hence the nickname “Little Venice “. Well, it’s nothing like Venice, but it’s still lovely, especially when spring comes and everything is covered with flowers.
St Peter’s Bridge is the best place to take a picture-perfect row of half-timbered houses by the canals.
Visit one of the city’s museums.
Colmar has several museums. Here are the main ones, classified according to your desires:
Located opposite the Tourist Office Centre, the Musée d’Unterlinden is the first thing to explore. It is located in a former 13th-century Dominican convent with a fantastic cloister. It is a must-do and includes many paintings and sculptures from the medieval and Renaissance period and interesting temporary exhibitions. The museum’s highlight is the Isenheim Altarpiece by IMatthias Grunewald and Nickolaus Hagenauer. The two-sided colourful painting depicts biblical scenes.
Colmar is the birthplace of sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, best known for creating the Statue of Liberty in New York. The Bartholdi Museum pays homage to the sculptor through models of his famous works such as the Lion in Belfort or Vercingétorix in Clermont-Ferrand.
You can follow the museum tour with a visit to the Hansi Museum, which opened a few years ago. The Alsatian watercolourist, illustrator and caricaturist illustrate his vision of the ideal Alsace.
If you are visiting with children, then the Musée du Jouet de Colmar (Colmar’s Toy Museum) is another museum worth visiting. The museum has an expansive collection of toys dating from the early 19th century to today.
Take a boat tour in Colmar
Going on a boat tour is a touristic activity but well worth it. One cannot visit a canal town and not take a canal boat tour! The short trip (30 minutes) is pleasant, exciting and allows you to discover Colmar differently. I was surprised by how shallow the water was. The tour passes through the residential area, the covered market and the old town. Book your tour with Colmar Au Fil de l’Eau for 7 € per person.
The secrets of Colmar’s colourful houses unveiled
Ever wondered why Colmar’s houses were so colourful?
So let’s go back to the Middle Ages to understand the origin of Alsatian houses’ colours fully. As very few people knew how to read at the time, a colour code had been implemented to find oneself more quickly in the streets of cities. Thus, each colour corresponded to a trade.
- Emerald green for those in the sewing, fabric and leather trades
- Magenta red for those working with iron
- Ocher yellow highlighted the trades of bakers and pastry chefs
- Navy blue made it possible to recogniee the trades related to wood
- White/cream colours for people in the construction
As well as indicating the profession, the colour used to represent the faith of families: blue for Catholic and red for Protestant.
Hit the shops
The large Market Hall is worth visiting to sample some local food or Alsatian wine. Here, you will find all the local products like cheese, fruits and vegetables, bakery, fish, meat, and small restaurants and bars. Built in 1865 in orangey-red bricks and renovated in 2010, the building stands out near the colourful timbered houses of Little Venice. Note that the market is closed on Mondays. You can also visit craft markets like Koifhus (Old Custom House) to buy local produce. The Gothic-style building houses a shop selling local goods and a restaurant.
Just like the houses, the shop front in Colmar is nicely decorated.
Colmar is not a very lively city during nightfall. Even though there are some excellent places, a busy nightlife is not Colmar’s strong point. However, Colmar is perfect for a romantic break. The town has a lovely atmosphere, with emblematic buildings lighting up their facades. The Tourist Office offers a guided tour on Saturday evenings.
Upon leaving the Unterlinden museum, head towards the Couvent des Dominicains de Colmar. Those interested in architecture will love this building which houses Martin Schongauer’s masterpiece, the “Virgin in the Rose Garden”. The original structure dates back to 1289.
Other things to do in Colmar
Another great activity you could do is rent a bicycle and ride part of the Alsatian wine route. It is a great way to explore Colmar’s countryside or another beautiful village nearby called Eguisheim.
Visiting Colmar during the festive period is a must. Alsatian Christmas markets are regarded as the best. If you are staying in December, combine it with a visit to Strasbourg’s Christmas market.
Where is Colmar in France?
Colmar is located in Grand Est (Greater East), in North Eastern France. The region is close to both Germany and Switzerland. Therefore, it has a unique culture with a mix of French and German influences. Both countries fought for centuries for this charming region.
Colmar is about 70 kilometres south of Strasbourg, the Alsatian capital. The picturesque town is situated between the Rhine and the Vosges, surrounded by the most beautiful vineyards of Alsace. Although small, Colmar is not a “village”. As the capital of Alsace wines, Colmar is ideally placed at the foot of vineyards and idyllic villages.
When is the best time to visit Colmar?
The best time to visit Colmar is from April/ June, September/October and then December to see the Christmas markets. It is best to avoid July and August: they are the hottest time of the year and the busiest. No one wants to walk around a crowd of people all sweaty! Spring is beautiful with all the flowers on display. Visiting during the festive period can be very expensive so best to book in advance to avoid high accommodation costs.
How to get to Colmar?
Reaching Colmar is pretty simple. Depending on your starting point, you can take a train, coach bus, car or plane. France has an excellent train network, and you can reach the Alsatian city quickly and easily by train. Both TER and TGV from SNCF will get you to the town in no time.
From Paris Gare de l’Est station, the journey will take less than 3 hours. If you plan to tour the region, you can access the city via Strasbourg in just 35 minutes by train.
The easiest will be to fly to Mulhouse-Basel-Freiburg or Zurich airports if you are flying. From there you can either rent a car and drive to Colmar or take the train to Colmar. A train from Basel will get you to Colmar in 45 minutes or 2 hours from Zurich.
Getting around Colmar
I found getting around Colmar very easy. I reached Colmar by train via Strasbourg. The city centre was only 10 minutes away from the train station. The town is pretty small with most of the main attractions clustered in the same area therefore walking is the best way to explore it. Like most medieval towns, there are plenty of small alleys to wander to and many preserved medieval buildings to admire.
Colmar station is located only 10 minutes away from the city centre and Tourist Office Centre to get the “Colmar City Pass”. The pass is €32 for adults and €28 for children. It gives tourists access to a guided tour and several museums, including Hansi, Bartholdi and Unterlinden, a boat or tourist train ride and a wine tasting.
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