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Colmar is the most famous, and perhaps the most beautiful, village in Alsace. But it’s really hard to make up your mind in a region that has so many beautiful villages nearby. However, after my trip to Alsace, I could assure you that you are competing for the top spots.
(*) Images Matías Callone
Colmar is for many a point to base, explore the area, and of course tour every corner of this charming small town with its colorful houses and facades, its river crossing the city as channels. And of course if we travel at Christmas, its charm so particular for those dates, with the markets and all the decoration.
During my trip, I spent four nights in Colmar as it is ideal for exploring a part of Alsace that has the largest concentration of beautiful villages. By staying four nights there, I don’t mean that’s what it takes to get to know Colmar. You can actually tour the city in a day. The following days what I did was to tour the surrounding villages, using both public transport and a rental car.
You may be interested in starting with the Alsace Travel Guide.
What makes Colmar so beautiful?
To begin with, many of its streets are the authentic postcards of Alsace. It is a small city, and you can walk in all directions without making great distances. And exploring its old town can’t be less than charming. You’ll see some of the most picturesque streets, always with those characteristic houses of half-timbered facades, and the colorful city next to cobblestone streets. In addition, in the old town there is an area known as the “small Venice” for its canals, which make the walk even more beautiful and charming. Throughout the city there are restaurants where you can taste Alsatian food, souvenir shops, and there are always places where you can take photographs worthy of a painting. It must also be said that both at Christmas and in the summer, Colmar is a little victim of its success and can be more than crowded with visitors. It’s the price to pay for being so pretty.
How to get to Colmar.
Perhaps it is a good idea to start with the post about how to get to Alsace from Paris and from different parts of Europe and Spain. Colmar is located in the northeast of France and, like Alsace, is very close to the German border. It is also part of the wine route (and surrounded by vineyards).
If the gateway to Alsace is usually Strasbourg, or the airport near Mulhouse, getting to Colmar is very easy. It is connected by train to both cities. You can also rent a car (from the search engine of the blog you can find discounts of up to 15% less). For advice, my recommendation is always to make the search for rental car at airports (both the Strasbourg, as the Mulhouse, or even the airport in Baden-Baden, in the Black Forest can be an alternative to get to Alsace and rent a car from there). I will tell you that in my case what I did was arrive at Baden-Baden airport with a direct flight from Girona in Spain. Once on the ground, what I did was to transport myself from the airport to Baden-Baden station, and from there to continue by train to Strasbourg, and combine with another train to Colmar.
Some distances: Colmar is 73 kilometres from Strasbourg (about 52 minutes by car). With respect to Mulhouse, the distance is 42 kilometers and 32 minutes.
Why it is a good choice is based on Colmar.
As I said, on my trip I made my first base in Alsace in Colmar. And this is absolutely perfect, because Colmar is at the heart of the largest concentration of beautiful villages in Alsace. From Colmar you will be in a few minutes (just 20 minutes) in beautiful villages like Riquewihr, Turkheim, or Kaisersberg. Anyway I recommend you to go through the guide of Alsace (it is suggested to read in a link a few paragraphs above). In short, what I did on my trip was stay several nights in Colmar to have time to explore the surroundings of that part of Alsace. And then what I did was move further north of Colmar to explore the area around Strasbourg.
Accommodation in Colmar.
Stay in hotels in Colmar. Hotels in Colmar can result in a beautiful atmosphere, especially if we choose to stay in the old town, and in hotels in historic buildings. Thus, when leaving the hotel we will be immersed in the charm of the city and its architecture. There is a very wide range of accommodation in Colmar (see above for options and prices).
My accommodation in Colmar (Les Appartements du Koifhus). I tell you that my accommodation for me turned out to be beautiful. What I did was stay in an apartment in an old and characteristic Colmar building. And it was quite an experience to live a few days in such a cozy place. It was like feeling part of that fairytale place in one of those old wooden buildings, but with all the comfort and in more than perfect conditions. If you want a unique experience in a unique place in Colmar, follow the link at the beginning of the paragraph. And above all try to book it well in advance, because Colmar in August season, and Christmas is exploding, especially on weekends.
Stay in an Airbnb in Colmar. They can also try to stay on a site through the Airbnb website. Maybe they’ll be lucky to find a good apartment or room. If you register with AIRBNB for the first time, you can take advantage of this discount of up to 31 euros for your first booking.
What is the best time to visit Colmar?
No doubt there will be a variety of answers here. Many will prefer the summer, although I would say that the best way to avoid crowds would be to go in late spring, or early and late summer (avoiding the peak of August). In spring and summer Colmar is beautiful for its colour, its flowers and its joy in the streets until late at night. I am often asked if summer is preferable to Christmas. The truth is that these are two precious and highly recommended moments. And Christmas in Colmar and throughout Alsace is a special time in every sense. Almost every village, like Colmar, is filled with flea markets, and extra attractions, such as the decoration on the facades, or children’s games on the streets like a fair. Colmar puts extra care into the decoration and the Christmas atmosphere (you can see the post with my photos of when Christmas comes to Alsace). In any case, I would say that you should visit Colmar on both dates, because he will never disappoint. Christmas decoration begins to be installed throughout the city towards the end of December, but all the Christmas activity in its splendour begins in the first week of December and lasts until the first week of January.
A little history of Colmar
Colmar has, according to the records, more than a thousand years of history. Most of the notable buildings in its old town today are part of the period of splendour of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Situated in a border area, both Colmar and the cities of Alsace and the Black Forest have features in common. Historically, borders have been moved by conflict, so today we can affirm that there is an undeniable Franco-German seal in the entire region. Alsace was annexed to France at the end of the Thirty Years’ War. But in 1871 it was again in the hands of the German Empire, to be returned after the armistice of the First World War (although it passed back into German hands in the Second World War, and then back under the jurisdiction of France). The ups and downs of history have left their mark on the cultural, architectural, gastronomic and even idiomatic signs in this unique region. It was ultimately a region of shifting borders.
What to see in Colmar
In Colmar you have to start walking its old town. It’s what I did on my first full day. Walk, walk and walk taking my pictures. The truth is that you don’t need so much a map, but simply let yourself be carried away by the most animated areas. As we walk, I recommend looking not only in all directions, but also upwards, to discover German Gothic buildings, ancient churches with their towers protruding over the roofs. The largest of all the churches is the Collegiate Church of San Martín and dates back to the 13th century. Surely we won’t be long in noticing its magnitude starring in one of the open spaces like a square in the city. Walking we will also visualize the amount of constructions, many of them medieval. And there are also some notable government buildings, such as the municipal theater. And surely walking we will find one of the most beautiful neighborhoods of Colmar.
Petite Venise. It’s not misspelled with the “s.” Petit Venise is the neighborhood of Colmar crossed by the river as canals. It is located a little south of the historic quarter. But you don’t have to worry that it’s not far away, but walking we’ll be there in a few minutes, and it’s completely integrated into Colmar’s most touristy area. The truth is that equating it with Venice is a bit exaggerated because it’s a small neighbourhood and the canals are not that big, but it’s a beautiful neighbourhood anyway. This area was a marshy and rural area that was channeled for irrigation, and over the years was remaining within the city. In this post you can see more pictures and details of Petit Venise.
Unterlinden Museum. The Unterlinden Museum is especially famous for exhibiting the Issenheim Altarpiece, its most precious treasure. This museum operates inside the former convent of the Dominican order of Unterlinden (hence its name).
Christmas markets. I insist that visiting Colmar in December is an almost ideal date. The thermometer may not rise above ten degrees, or even fall below zero, but all the cold is compensated by the magic of Christmas. In my visit in early December they were in full preparation and decoration to fine-tune the Christmas markets. There are five markets in total dispersed in different points of the historic center. Christmas in Colmar is famous all over the country, perhaps the most beautiful place to visit Christmas markets throughout France.
Excursions from Colmar.
As I said, from Colmar we will be in a perfect situation to explore the environment. And above all, what is in the environment are beautiful villages with the same style of Colmar, but smaller, and sometimes better preserved as villages (Colmar is beautiful, but it is still a small town more than a village). I mention Eguisheim, or Turkheim, Riquewihr, and Kaiserberg, perhaps among the four that I liked most in the nearby area of Colmar (because also further north and closer to Strasbourg is for example Obernai, which is also beautiful.
Organized excursions to do without car. Yes, fortunately there are options for excursions without a car. These are some tours in Spanish that you can do from Colmar:
Tour of the villages of Alsace
Wine Route through Alsace
Tour of Alsace plus castle Haut-Koenigsbourg
Explore villages for free. If you want to explore Alsace and the Colmar environment for free my best recommendation is to read the post with the route based on my travel experience. This route connects the most beautiful villages of Alsace, and you will find the map and details. (See the route through the villages of Alsace).
There are also some alternatives to visit villages with public transport buses, or even some of them by train, to go and return in the day, or even in a morning.
Village options that can be visited by regular bus:
Colmar > Riquewihr > Hunawirh > Ribeauvillé (line 106)
Colmar > Kaysersberg (line 145)
Colmar > Eguisheim (Line 208)
Colmar > Bergheim > Ribeauvillé (Bus Line 109)
Note: all these buses depart from the platforms next to the Colmar train station.
Options of villages that can be visited by train:
From Colmar you can go to Turckheim, Sélestat, Ribeauvillé, Rouffach, Munster (by train from Colmar station)
How many days are recommended to be in Colmar? As I said, visiting Colmar can be done in one day. It’s not that big, and everything can be done by walking. But Alsace (Colmar’s surroundings) requires more days, I would say a minimum of four days, up to an ideal of a week (or more if we also want to complete the trip by visiting the neighboring Black Forest region which also has a blog post of my trip and route.
To finish, I leave again the link to the guide to visit Alsace:
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