If Strasbourg is the capital of Christmas, then Colmar is … the Vatican? I’m not sure about the best analogy, but Colmar is intensely Christmasy in December, even more so than Strasbourg.

Strasbourg (population 287,000) is about four times bigger than Colmar (population 70,000). The two cities are just half an hour apart by train (10€-16€ each way). We left Strasbourg early, which was a mistake. The main thing to do in Colmar is to walk around and drink in the Christmas spirit and admire the gingerbread architecture. That is accomplished at a leisurely pace in a couple of hours, and December in Colmar was very cold. Colmar is best appreciated when the lights come on, so mid-afternoon is plenty early to see it in the light and to stay for nightfall (sunset is around 4:30).

Colmar is quainter and more old-fashioned than Strasbourg, which feels kind of fancy. I like quaint and I like fancy–no judgment here. Just pointing out the different vibes. Strasbourg has other things going on–universities, European Parliament–and its Christmas zone is concentrated in the oldest part of the city, which is about the same size as Colmar’s Christmas zone. Colmar feels more like you’ve woken up in a TV Christmas special. It goes without saying that both town centers are pedestrian only. Colmar claims to have one of the biggest pedestrian zones in Europe. It was indeed nice to stroll without having to look for traffic, not only from cars but also bikes and scooters.

The ski tree is clever, non?

Let’s go!

A river, la Lauch, runs through town, narrowing in places so that it looks less like a river and more like a canal–and in fact this part of Colmar is called “Petite Venise.” It’s extremely pretty, with willows bending over the water, which mirrors the multicolored façades lining the river.

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Les Halles, or the covered market, is on the left, and the Quai des Poissonniers (Fishmongers’ Quai) is on the right.
Quai des Poissonniers. The red are those damned “love locks.”
Venice meets Germany?

Various squares host Christmas markets with the usual fare of mulled wine, sausages, cheese and artisanal gifts. The Koïfus, or former customs house, built in 1480 (with a gorgeous roof), has stands indoors with more handcrafted items and art.

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Next to la Collégiale Saint-Martin, a big church built between 1235 to 1365.
Another view of Saint-Martin. Lots of decorated roofs like this one.
Lots of people … and more as night approached.
Quaint!

Colmar is incredibly well-preserved. A big fire in 1706 destroyed a bunch of houses along the Quai des Poissonniers, and most of the architecture is Renaissance.

This building, now home to a store that sells everything at 2€, is called Poêle des Laboureurs in French, or the Laborers’ Stove, but it means meeting hall. The name in German, Zunftstube der Ackerleute, translates to the Plowmen’s Guild Room. You can’t make out the carved inscription but it says “criticism is easy; art is hard.” So true.
A house in the Quartier des Tanneurs. The half-timbered houses were open on top, for drying out the leather.
Maison Pfister, built in 1537. A mix of stone and wood, with paintings of German emperors of the 16th century, Catholic eminences, Bible scenes and allegorical figures.
Maison Pfister at night.
Art Nouveau! The Golden Croissant….

We had lunch at Le Palmyre (The Palmira), an excellent Syrian restaurant with good vegetarian choices.

I love a combo plate–no pressure to choose just one thing. Hummus, baba ghanouj, falefel, tabouli, fatayers, samboussek, rhakat, all for 15€.

Finally, darkness fell and the lights came on. It really was magical.

The building lit in purple is Maison Kern, built in 1597.
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I have to admit that we didn’t go into the many museums–a mistake. It would have warmed us up, and we love a museum. There’s one for Auguste Bartholdi, who was born in Colmar and who created the Statue of Liberty. The Unterlinden museum has paintings and sculptures from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, housed in a former Dominican convent from the 1280s. There are also museums focused on animated toys and minature trains; natural history; municipal factories and a watercolor painter known as Hansi. In the case of Hansi, the building looks even more interesting than any watercolors. We were so keen to explore the streets, and then, having explored them thoroughly, we just kind of wandered while waiting for dusk.

That said, Colmar was well worth a trip, and certainly not to be missed if you’re in the region. In looking up the names of some of the buildings, I saw photos from summer, and it looks picture-perfect then, too. Those Colmariens go as crazy for flowers as they do for Christmas decorations. Which is not a criticism at all.

Are you ready for Christmas? My shopping is done (all locally bought, handmade or second hand), and I’m going to put up the tree tonight!

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19 thoughts on “Christmas in Colmar

  1. Spent last weekend in Strasbourg…a treat to watch the Christmas vendors’ houses constructed and placed around the city. They are both “Magic” … would be hard to pick a favorite…a very special place to be during the Christmas season!

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  2. Loved the Christmas markets in Strasbourg but have not yet managed to get to Colmar! This year’s Christmas trip will go via Switzerland, but perhaps we’ll manage to stop at Colmar next year?
    Enjoy your pre-Christmas!

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  3. My favorite “Christmas” city is Rothenberg. It’s small, walled city is full of lovely shops, friendly people (family, too), and lots of lovely old building. Glad you enjoyed your time in Colmar and hope you will enjoy your “early” Christmas.

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  4. Oh, it’s so pretty! I hadn’t heard of Colmar so thank you for the tour! The museums sound so interesting and I will admit that a miniature train museum would be a strong drawcard for this household 🙂 Oh, and, our local patisserie is called Croissant d’or but if only it were a pink Art Nouveau confection, too!

    We thought we were going Early Tree by planning to put ours up on the first of December but we’re way behind in the game, it seems. I guess it’s not having delectable Xmas markets firing on all guns by this time to focus our attention. I hope you’ll give us a peak of your tree!

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    1. My tree is nothing special. A little artificial one that we got for the kid’s room–and it was SUCH a big deal that the kid had a personal tree–while the living room had a 10-foot real tree that Carnivore somehow would wrangle into his Peugeot 407. Our real tree era is over. And you have to use a fake one at least 10 years to make up for the environmental sin of its plastic. We’re well beyond that now, and the tree is still fine, so…
      The thing about fake trees is that you don’t have to wait for the tree sellers to appear!

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      1. Yay, the placky tree! Ours must be getting on for nearly twenty years so I’m relieved to know we mustn’t need to do penance 🙂 It’s also only about 3′ tall but we love it so. Pure kitsch when all the decorations go on.

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  5. Thanks for your beautiful pictures! Brought back memories. I got to visit Colmar many, many years ago and it was one of my favorite places in Europe. If you go again (or your readers go), try and make time for the Unterlinden Museum to see the Isenheim altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, a truly unique piece of art. All of the surrounding towns are very scenic with half timbered houses and are famous for their wine. Ribeauville, Riquewihr, Hunawihr, Kayserberg, Eguisheim, Bergheim. Probably best visited with a car. I am writing this looking over at our World War 1 poster by Hansi which shows three soldiers looking across a plain at a vision of the famous one spired cathedral in Strasbourg. An inset features a quote from Victor Hugo “….Ce ciel est notre azur Ce champs est notre terre! Cette Lorraine et et Alsace, c’est a nous!…” Now to look for a recipe for Alsatian Onion Pie! Again, thanks for the memories. And thanks for all your posts, I truly enjoy your insights.

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    1. Thank you for the recommendations. I have heard of this altarpiece and am slapping my forehead to learn that I was there and didn’t take the opportunity to see it. Noted for future reference!

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