Last Updated on July 10, 2023

On a Rhine River cruise in summer of 2023, my wife and I were treated to the stunning beauty of the region from Netherlands’ windmills to Switzerland’s pastoral hillsides. Along the route we were amazed by the numerous castles and castle ruins populating both sides of the river.

The cruise was one of our favorite vacations. We stood in awe inside the stunning cathedrals of Cologne and Koblenz, marveling at their towering grandeur.  Strasbourg was a delight and had a very special charm, especially for my wife who has family roots in France.

But we both had to agree that it was lovely little Colmar that completely stole our hearts.

Alsatian Culture

Colmar sits in the scenic Alsace region along France’s border with Germany. It should come as no surprise that the region’s rich and distinct Alsatian culture blends both French and German traditions as the land has repeatedly changed hands between the two countries over the past 300 years.

In this lovely part of France, visitors can experience unique Alsatian cuisine, wines, and customs, including the famous Christmas markets that transform the town into a magical wonderland during the holiday season. I found this thought especially appealing as another river cruise down the Danube in December 2022 re-introduced us to the Old-World delights of European Christkindl markets.

Strasbourg is the largest city in the Alsace region and surprisingly blends medieval charm with the conveniences of a modern urban city.

When we came upon Colmar, we both felt like we were stepping into a fairy tale.

Colmar’s Charms

Multi-colored houses of Little Venice in Colmar, France.
Multi-colored houses of Little Venice in Colmar, France. Photo by Michael Kompanik

The impact of picturesque Colmar upon both of us was sudden and profound. To just say that Colmar is renowned for its quaint, well-preserved old tow, with cobblestone streets, colorful half-timbered houses, and flower-filled canals doesn’t tell half the story. This 600-year-old Alsatian marvel literally filled us with wonder as we wandered its winding by-ways and drank in its magical charms.

The fairy-tale connection cannot be overstated.

My mind immediately went to the enchanting tale of Beauty and the Beast and I half-expected to see a singing Belle emerge from a bookshop somewhere along the fascinating alleyways lined with quaint shops, wine merchants, and charming eateries.

One of the first things we noticed was how the town’s architecture truly reflected both German and French influences, creating a distinctive atmosphere unique to the Alsace region. The town boasts many well-preserved medieval and Renaissance buildings, including several impressive churches.

While I was familiar with the typical medieval European timbered and half-timbered houses and structures, many in the UK and Germany are typically white or cream in color. Colmar’s however were dressed in an artist’s palette of colors, dazzling the eyes with pastel and even vibrant shades of the rainbow. Homes of yellow, green, blue, bright and ochre-red, and even orange and pink seemed to abound in the historic districts. 

Every corner revealed yet another Kodak moment.

We spent a large part of a day in Colmar and found some of best things to do and the sights well worth visiting during your visit to Colmar.

What to see in Colmar, France

Shuttered and Timbered Houses of Colmar.
Shuttered and Timbered Houses of Colmar. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

Petit Train Blanc

To get the lay of the land, my wife and I took a ride on the Small White Train, an open-air tram with a narrated guide who gave us an overview of both the modern city and the historic areas of La Petite Venise and Vielle Ville.

Along the way, we noted statues commemorating the town’s most famous sculptor and favorite son, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, along with scale versions of his most famous piece of work – New York Harbor’s iconic Statue of Liberty. 

Along the route, we passed the Koifhus, the Old Customs House. This historic structure is Colmar’s oldest public building. Dating back to 1370s, the Koifhus was built in a Gothic style and later expanded and rebuilt during the Renaissance era.

We disembarked the Petit Train Blanc in the heart of Little Venice where Colmar immediately began to steal our hearts.

Little Venice (La Petite Venise)

The delightful neighborhood of Little Venice, characterized by canals, colorful half-timbered houses, and charming bridges is breathtaking. However, it is only the canals that remind you of Venice or even Amsterdam or Bruges, as Venice never sported the vibrant colors of La Petite Venise. This Colmar neighborhood is pure Alsatian.

Sidewalk cafes line the streets and canals and fill the crooked corner plätze that link rambling narrow streets. Nothing can be more charming than taking a boat ride along the canals to fully immerse visitors in the beauty of this area.

Old Town (Vieille Ville)

Old Town Colmar.
Old Town Colmar. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

Continuing to wander through the narrow streets of Colmar’s Old Town, we moved on to the adjacent Old Town, admiring the well-preserved medieval and Renaissance architecture that surrounded us. It was easy to get lost in the meandering streets that never seemed to maintain any particular direction.

We stumbled across the smallest house in Colmar, a second-floor gem of only 269-square-feet perched atop a street corner and aptly named ‘The Flybox.’ Another stunning piece of architecture we discovered was a multi-faceted corner structure known as the Pfister House, a bourgeois home dating back to 1537.

Other not-to miss landmarks include the 1609 Maison des Têtes, adorned with 111 grotesque faces and masks along its fascinating façade.

Alsatian Museum (Musée Alsacien)

If you want to learn more about the Alsace region, but are unable to venture beyond Colmar itself, you can immerse yourself in the local Alsatian culture and history at Colmar’s Alsatian Museum. The museum displays a wide range of artifacts, traditional costumes, furniture, and crafts, providing insights into the region’s rich cultural heritage.

Saint-Martin Collegiate Church

Colmar is home to many beautiful churches and cathedrals. Sitting in the center of Old Town is the magnificent and imposing Saint-Martin Collegiate Church, a stunning Gothic church dating back to the 13th century.

While not as ornate as the magnificent cathedrals of Cologne and Strasbourg, Saint-Martin Collegiate Church with its impressive architecture, soaring walls, and intricate stained-glass windows leaves quite a lasting impression.

Colmar Covered Market (Marché Couvert)

Many European communities feature an urban market and Colmar’s did not disappoint. The city’s massive Covered Market offered a dizzying array of local produce including cheeses, meats, pastries, and wines to satisfy the needs of Colmar’s astute urban shoppers.

Unterlinden Museum

Colmar is home to several museums including the Unterlinden which houses famous artworks such as the Isenheim Altarpiece, a masterpiece of Renaissance art. The museum housed in a former convent showcases an impressive collection of artworks ranging from the medieval era to modern day works.

Bartholdi Museum

Colmar would be remiss without honoring its favorite son. At the Bartholdi Museum, the life and work of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi is detailed, showcasing his sculptures, drawings, and models.

The range of his works on display clearly illustrate the famed sculptor produced far more than just his most spectacular achievement, the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to the people of the United States.

Festivals and Regional Activities

As the cultural capital of Alsace, Colmar hosts several festivals and events throughout the year that add to its vibrant atmosphere. The most famous is the Alsatian Wine Fair each August celebrating the region’s wine production.

In July, the Colmar International Festival is another notable event featuring classical music performances.

Its ideal location makes Colmar a favorite host for winetasting tours. Colmar is situated along the renowned Alsace Wine Route stretching through picturesque vineyards, charming villages, and wine-producing towns. Visitors can explore the vineyards, sample exquisite wines, and learn about the winemaking region’s traditions. As one of the premiere wine regions of France, Alsace is known for its Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris varietals.

Colmar also serves as an excellent base for exploring the charming villages of Alsace. Nearby Riquewihr, Eguisheim, and Kaysersberg, are all known for their well-preserved architecture, vineyards, and charming atmosphere. Nearby, the Vosges Mountains offer opportunities for hiking and outdoor activities.

Overall, Colmar’s combination of stunning beauty, cultural richness, historical significance, and proximity to other attractions make it a delightful destination for travelers seeking a memorable experience within the picturesque French Alsace region.

These are just some of the highlights of our visit to Colmar that left a warm and lasting impression that will beckon us to return for years to come. Whether you’re interested in art, history, wine, or simply strolling through the colorful scenic streets of a fairy-tale town, Colmar guarantees delightfully unforgettable memories for all who visit.

Author

  • Michael Kompanik

    Michael Kompanik is a retired Navy CAPT and San Diego freelance journalist. His love of Europe began with his NATO assignment to Naples, Italy in the 90s where he traveled extensively to 17 European countries. Since then, trips to Europe are always on his radar.

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