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.
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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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. If you need airport transfers, we recommend Welcome Pickups.
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 plan to take the train, we recommend using Rail Europe.
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. Other companies to look at include Tours by Locals and Withlocals.
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. For unique, curated activities, check out Headout.
One of our favorite things to do annually is taking 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, threats, 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 or World Nomads to find the best policy for your group.