After spending time in Strasbourg, Colmar is like Strasbourg’s little sister who is more cheerful and compact. I have a weakness for canalside cities and the Alsace Region has been my new favourite fairy tale cities.
Colmar has been the inspiration for Belle’s village, a character in Disney movie Beauty and the Beast, and it’s not hard to see why. Walking through its streets is like seeing childhood fairy stories come to life. There’s a wooden turret which would be just perfect for Rapunzel to let her hair down from, tiny cottages that would make the ideal home for seven dwarfs and a candy-coloured bakery that Hansel and Gretel would love to get their teeth into.
In real life, Colmar is a small town which is located in the Alsace region of northeast France. The Alsace Region is where the border between France and Germany lies and because of that ownership of the region has been passed back and forth between the two countries over the years. Our guide told us jokingly said that they don’t call themselves French or German. They are Alsatian.
Colmar doesn’t have a long list of must-see attractions, but everywhere you go are instagrammable spot which makes you wqnt to take so many photos. Remember to bring extra battery and memory card. Everywhere you look are colourfully painted waterside houses, wooden shutters, twisting cobbled streets and window boxes draped with blooms.
How to get there
Colmar is 30 minutes away by train from Strasbourg or 2.5 hours from Paris. There is a direct train from Paris to Colmar. You can buy train ticket online from SNCF Connect.
How to get around
Old town is compact and easily walkable. Distance from train station to Colmar old town is about 1.2km. Cross the street and walk to the direction of Parc du Champ-de-Mars. Keep walking and you will reach Musee Bartholdi located in the old town. You can start walking thru the old town from here.
Colmar is the perfect place to wander around, get lost and be surprised of what you will come across around the corner.
There is a petite train to take you around Colmar old town for €7.5/30 minutes
Best Things to Do in Colmar
Petite Venise is the most picturesque area of Colmar. These typical Alsatian half-timbered houses are located along the riverbanks (hence the name, little Venice).
This area starts behind the Koïfhus, goes through the fishermen quay district and to the bridges Saint-Pierre and Turenne.
Take a Canal boat tour
Colmar old town is walkable and easy to get around. You can, however, also take a boat trip on the canals. It’s a different and fun way of exploring the town.
There are 2-3 companies running the tour. The departures are in Petite France area at the foot of the bridge along Lauch River. The tour is very popular, so make your booking first thing you come to Colmar. We went with this tour which departs at the foot of the bridge Saint-Pierre.
Tickets for 25 minutes guided tour: 7 € per person. Free for children under 4. 4 € for children up to 10
Quai de la Poissonnerie
Quai de la Poissonnerie, also known as the fishermen quay district. This is where most of the professional fishermen and boatmen of Colmar lived and sold fish in the 17th and 18th centuries.
It’s also the most iconic place in the city. A must-visit and plus there is free wifi in the area.
Marche Couvert (Covered Market Place)
Marche Couvert dated back from 1865 , and after many other uses , it is again a market today. You will find the entrance door on Rue des Vignerons and Rue des Écoles. If you come during lunch time it is a perfect place to have lunch, you can sit in the restaurant above the water. Check also the cheeses, fruit & vegetables and jars of mustard stall.
Walking through the old town
Wander through the cobblestone streets, especially around the canals. There are many beautiful alleyways with cute small shops, restaurants and winstubs (wine lounges). Walk further you come across more bridge adorned with beautiful colourful flowers.
There are of course some places of interest around town. But make sure to walk around town and admire the colours, the little alleys and beautiful buildings.
Here are some places of interest within the old town:
Tanner’s Quarter or Tanner’s district is an area with half-timbered houses and high wood framing houses dating back to the 17th and 18 century.
The tanners created leather products here, and they would dry out the skins on the upper floors. The must-sees in this area are the streets, Petite Rue des Tanneurs and the Rue des Tanneurs, and the Maison des Chevaliers de Saint-Jean (House of the St. John’s Knights).
Cross the bridge at Rue des Tanneurs and snap a picture with Marche Couvert floating restaurant as the backdrop.
The House of Heads
The house of Heads was built in 1609, the German renaissance. It’s embellished with 106 grotesque heads on the facade and along the windows and it was originally a wealthy private house. Definitely worth finding!
Custom’s House (Koifhus)
Built in 1480, the Koifhus (old customs house) has had several functions.
Originally, the ground floor was used as a warehouse and the first floor for the Alsace federation meetings, which was created in 1534. Since then it’s been a theatre, bank and several schools.
Pfister house was built in 1537 for the hatter Ludwig Scherer, and it’s the first example of architectural renaissance in Colmar. It got the name from the family who restored it in 1892. Notice the murals and wood gallery.
St Martin Church
Saint Martin’s collegiate church, built between 1235 and 1365, is an important example of Gothic architecture in Alsace. Notice the lantern bulb on the top of the dome. It’s quite unique
Where to stay
If you chose to stay in Colmar there are various hotels and airbnb apartments. The hotels are located just outside but surrounding the old town. Several airbnb apartments are in the old town and it will be interesting experience to stay there . Other alternative is to stay in Strasbourg if you also have Strasbourg in your itinerary. And you must because these two are part of Alsace Region and there is differences between the two.
The best time to come
Colmar is pretty all year round. But Alsace region is special during winter with their christmas market. One of the best experience in Europe and the Alsace christmas market starts from 25 Nov to end Dec.