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Visit Alsace: Exploring Strasbourg and Colmar by Car

If you want to visit Alsace France, we would highly recommend traveling by car. Traveling to Europe as a family takes a lot of planning and our trip to Alsace was no different. From hotels to flights, packing to attractions, a lot goes into organizing a trip that will make everyone happy. It took a couple of weeks of searching to find the right Alsace itinerary for our family.

The Strasbourg and Colmar tourism offices had plenty of suggestions for things to do, but I really didn’t know how to navigate transportation in Alsace. I went back and forth between train versus car travel. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we concluded it was best to explore Strasbourg and Colmar by car.

Alsace France itinerary-Kids Are A Trip

Should You Rent a Car in Europe?

One of the questions we have faced many times is whether to rent a car or travel by rail. Sometimes we use both, but to explore the Alsace region of France we thought it would be helpful to have a car. Here it can be difficult to reach some places by public transportation.

The worst part of traveling by train is being dependent on the schedules and routes of the railways. Sometimes they are not the most timely nor the most direct. In relying on trains, you lose the flexibly that comes with driving.

On this leg of the trip we decided to try Auto Europe, a company that compares rental car companies to get you the best rate. I found Auto Europe’s booking process to be incredibly simple. I asked for a quote with our specific pick up and drop off locations and they returned their best rate.

TIP: It’s a good idea to also request a GPS, as it can be difficult to navigate in Europe without one.

Road trip from Heidelberg to Freiburg

We flew into Frankfurt and took a quick train to Heidelberg where we spent our first two days. Auto Europe had arranged for us to pick up our car through Hertz in Heidelberg and the process was seamless. The agent was extremely helpful and friendly, providing driving tips and a map before sending us on our way.

Our Car for Strasbourg and Colmar-Kids Are A Trip
Our spacious European road trip vehicle.

Our Ford Transit Connect was the perfect car for our family. With the ability to seat seven and a large rear cargo area, it was comparable to the space we have in our SUV at home. The Ford Transit was easy to maneuver and it had automatic transmission (most rental cars in Europe will have standard). Thankfully it is narrow enough to fit in parking garages.

The drive from Heidelberg to Strasbourg was uneventful. There was not a lot to see with the exception of farmland and border patrol going into France, which our kids thought was the most interesting part of the short journey.

What to do in Strasbourg

Strasbourg France is the seat of the European Parliament, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Council of Europe. As such, it is an extremely cosmopolitan city and the capital city of Alsace. Start here on your visit and know this is just the beginning as there are plenty of things to do in Alsace with kids.

Parking in Strasbourg

Parking in Strasbourg is fairly simple if you know where the parking lots are located around the center of town. We used Google to finding Parking Austerlitz, a parking garage on Rue de Bouefs. This is five minutes walking to the center of the city. It was easy to find and kept us from driving through the congestion of city traffic.

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There are signs all over European cities with a blue square and a white “P” signaling parking lots. If you ever get desperate for parking, try one of these.

Strasbourg Attractions

It was pouring rain when we arrived in Strasbourg so we quickly made a game plan of the sights we wanted to see. The main attraction everyone wants to visit is the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.

The construction of this magnificent masterpiece began in 1015, but the Gothic tower was not completed until 1439. You can’t miss the 142 meter spire dominates the Strasbourg skyline and everyone stops to admire its beauty from the square below.

Inside is more beautiful than one can imagine. The stained glass work is breathtaking as are the towering archways and sculptures. There’s an astronomical clock inside from 1842 with performances every day at 12:30 where the clock comes to life and automatons start to move as an angel sounds a chime and the twelve apostles move before Jesus. It is quite a sight to see.

We were hoping to climb the 332 tower steps of the cathedral to see the surrounding view, but unfortunately it was closed due to weather.

Strasbourg Attractions-Kids Are A Trip
Christmas decorations, houses in Petite France, and kugelhopf.

Sadly, the rain set the tone for most of our time in Strasbourg. We were unable to enjoy a boat tour, which is supposed to be the ideal way to enjoy the city’s waterways and covered bridges, but we did get to walk along the water.

We saw some of the town’s famous houses, like the Kammerzell House, the Tanner’s House, and the Petite France quarter.

Some of our favorite moments were having lunch at Il Girasole with its delicious pizza (I know it’s France, but we were craving Italian food) and sampling a few pastries throughout town, including the local specialty, kugelhopf.

What to do in Colmar

Parking in Colmar

The next day we set out to explore Colmar from our home base of Freiburg, about 45 minutes by car (versus 2 hours by train). The countryside was beautiful and there were numerous charming Alsatian towns along the way. Again we found a parking garage right on the edge of town (Rue Rapp), avoiding driving on the town’s narrow streets.

Colmar attractions

As soon as we exited the parking garage, we stumbled upon a Christmas market which was a delightful surprise. Our kids insisted on sampling the local fare (crepes of course) and we were happy to oblige.

Alsace with kids-Kids Are A Trip

We spent the rest of the day ambling through Colmar exploring the five different Christmas markets, buying souvenirs, and sampling food and drink along the way in this picturesque town.

Tips for driving in Europe

The drive from Colmar to Freiburg was rather uneventful except for our stop for fuel. Locating a gas station is fairly easy as there are many along the highway. The difficult part is knowing the correct fuel to put in the car.

My husband couldn’t remember if the Hertz agent has told him to use diesel or regular. We couldn’t find anywhere on the car what we needed to use. The manual was in German so it was useless to us.

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Thankfully the attendant could smell what we needed. I kid you not. He didn’t speak English, but by smelling near the hood of the car he knew we needed regular gas and not diesel. There’s a lesson here: always know the type of gas before you leave the rental car lot.

Driving through Strasbourg and Colmar and the surrounding Alsace region was easy and enjoyable. Having our own car gave us a place for our luggage while exploring Strasbourg and flexibility of schedule.

The larger vehicle surely prevented our children from fighting and the automatic transmission took a lot of stress out of driving for my husband. Navigating in a foreign land is hard enough without having to remember how a standard transmission operates.

Auto Europe made the rental process simple from beginning to end. Their knowledgeable, helpful staff made me feel we made the right decision in choosing a car for this leg of our journey. This was our first time using Auto Europe, but after a successful experience, it certainly won’t be our last.

Don’t miss our other posts: best road trips in Europe for families and best places to visit in Europe with kids.


Europe Travel Tips
Book Your Flights
You can find discounted fares using sites like Momondo or Skyscanner. If you want to keep an eye on discount fares, we suggest signing up for Scott’s Cheap Flights, a daily newsletter with flight sales around the world.

If you travel frequently, consider investing in a Priority Pass for airport lounge access. It’s nice to have a space where you can relax before your flight.

Book Your Accommodation

We regularly use Expedia.com and Hotels.com to find lodging when we travel. It’s a great way to compare vacation rentals, hotels, and resorts.

If your family knows they want to stay in a vacation rental, we recommend looking at VRBO and Plum Guide.

Book Your Transportation

For rental car agencies, try Rentalcars.com. We tend to use Hertz simply for the quality of service.

When traveling in Europe, we use AutoEurope to make our bookings. They find the best rates and allow you to compare different car rental agencies. Europcar is another option.

If you would prefer to travel by train in Europe we recommend Eurail who offers discounted packages for rail travel.

Book Your Tours and Travel Photos

We regularly used companies like Viator and GetYourGuide to book tours when we travel. Both have great communication and a large variety of activities that work for all ages.

If you’re visiting a city with multiple attractions, be sure to check out a discount pass, such as CityPASS or Go City. Both are worthwhile investments.

Context Travel is another option and they offer more educational based activities. The former teacher in me loves their tours.

One of our favorite things to do annually is take photos with Flytographer. They have photographers around the world and we’ve used them on four separate occasions. This is our favorite travel souvenir.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

With the state of travel these days, it’s important to have some type of travel insurance to cover any unforeseen accidents, illnesses, threat or cancellations. We always travel with insurance and would recommend SquareMouth, Travelex, or Medjet as good options. And if you want to compare different insurance options, use Travel Insurance Master to find the best policy for your group.

30 Comments

  1. We haven’t traveled to Europe with our family because I am terrified of having to plan such a vacation. It’s definitely not easy but you really seem to have a great understanding of vacationing with children!

  2. What a beautiful, scenic little town! I’m sure having your own car made it easy to get out and explore wherever you wanted to.

  3. So gorgeous! I can’t wait until my husband feels OK taking our twins for European travel! A huge dream of mine!

  4. Wow, it looks like you had an amazing trip (despite the rain)! I’ve been overseas just a couple times and I liked traveling by train but I found it to be somewhat confusing at times. I’ve never actually driven but if I’m ever able to visit again I think that’s the way to go, especially to get to some of those great locations that are a little off the beaten path.

  5. We have not traveled abroad with our son, but I’d love to take him to Israel in the next couple of years. The biggest roadtrip we’ve done is from our house (SF Bay Area) to San Diego. We stopped in LA overnight, and extended that stay a second night so could visit Knott’s Berry Farm (we have already been to Disneyland). It was fun and I’m glad we took our time.

    Your trip looks awesome 🙂
    Happy Holidays!
    Paula

  6. I love your photos. I dream of visiting Europe one day. I think going around by car is more practical.

  7. Wow look at all those photos! So awesome. I would love to travel, especially to Europe but we don’t really go anywhere. This looks like a great road trip!

  8. In high school, I went on a People to People trip and Strasbourg was one of the cities. I loved it. So much culture and old world charm.

  9. I love the freedom of having my own transportation, often opting to drive over fly whenever possible. Our favorite trek is probably from Florida to Kentucky as the scenery is gorgeous and there were plenty of wineries up in the hills to pop into on the way to our destination. I’ve never had the pleasure of taking a road trip in Europe, but I can already tell that my husband would be doing the driving!

  10. I enjoyed looking at your photos. We traveled in Europe many times before the kids and with kids. But never by car since I don’t like sitting.

  11. I just got back from a trip to London and Paris and it only made me want to explore Europe more. Strasbourg looks beautiful!

  12. These pictures are so pretty! I actually prefer to travel by car rather than plane – I haven’t ever traveled any distance by train. I remember going to Canada one year with my husband for a friend’s wedding. It was about a 16 hour trip, but so much fun! We liked to randomly stop and explore. I would love to go to Europe one day!

  13. Wherever we travel, we need access to a car – it just increases the number of things you can do (when you want to do them). I’ll have to remember that a GPS is a must for European travel.

  14. Ida, it is definitely a big undertaking. I think once you take the first step and plan one, every trip after that is easier. This was our sixth trip, so I feel like I’m an old pro by this point! LOL

  15. That’s true Brittany, the trains can be confusing, especially with the language barriers. We have made the mistake of getting on the wrong train and put off in the middle of Hungary. A mistake I would rather not experience again.

  16. Paula, that’s probably one of my favorite road trips ever, the California coast. We drove when I was 16 from Phoenix to LA (seeing Disney & Knott’s of course), up the coast to Solvang, Santa Barbara, Hearst Castle, San Francisco, and then to Lake Tahoe. One of the best trips our family ever had!

  17. Thanks so much. I hope you get to visit Europe some day soon. It’s such a great place to explore.

  18. Deb, that is so cool. Where else did you go?

  19. Who knew there were wineries along the way? That would make me take that road trip!

  20. Eva, do you fly everywhere then or take a train?

  21. Kristin, I bet you had a fabulous trip. I love London, Paris for me is ok, but I love the rest of France!

  22. OMG, a 16 hour road trip? I can’t even imagine. I bet it would be fun and lots of stories for sure!

  23. So true, a car expands the possibilities. And definitely a GPS. Every, single, time.

  24. What absolutely gorgeous places to visit! I would LOVE to get a car and drive around exploring Europe!

  25. Strasbourg Cathedral has been on my bucket list for decades. I must get there! I loved your pictures!

  26. My husband and our kids (3, 3 years old and under!) our doing a weekend road trip soon through Strasbourg and Colmar, France. Love your post about this area! Also, so fun to read your blog after realizing my sister (from Suitcase Designs- now Alpine Lane Creative Studio) designed it 🙂

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