One of the most picturesque towns in France, the quaint Colmar is famed for its attractive old town, full of colourful half-timbered houses. Untouched for hundreds of years, its center is a treat to amble around thanks to all its interesting historic sights and romantic streetscapes.
Nestled in the northeast in the Alsace region, it lies amidst the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, not far from the border with Germany. Over the centuries, the smallish city often swapped hands between the two countries. As such, it displays a fascinating mix of cultural influences and has a unique culinary scene to delve into. It is also located at the heart of the hugely popular Alsatian Wine Route.
As Colmar first thrived as a market town in the Middle Ages, it is home to lots of stunning merchants’ homes and churches, exhibiting a variety of architectural styles. Thankfully spared the ravages of the French Revolution and both World Wars, its homogeneous old town is undoubtedly one of the main attractions. There are however some excellent things to do in Colmar to check out with interesting museums to explore and countless tasty local specialties to try.
Map of Tourist Attractions in Colmar
In this post, we'll cover:
17. Eglise des Dominicains
A fine example of early Gothic architecture, the rather simple exterior of the Eglise des Dominicains hides away some remarkable religious treasures. Set right in the center, it is just a stone’s throw from many of the city’s other main sights.
Completed between 1289 and 1364, its long, large brick building is connected to an old convent that now houses the municipal library. Quite austere, its walls are studded by some sublime stained-glass windows that are impressively still the originals.
Besides its beautiful Baroque choir stalls, the church is most known for its masterpiece the Madonna of the Rose Bush. Produced by Martin Schongauer, the finest printmaker north of the Alps until Durer, the 1473 painting is one of the most exquisitely executed Alsatian artworks.
16. Maison des Tetes
Just behind it is the appropriately named Maison des Tetes or ‘House of Heads’. Adorned with over a hundred small, stone busts and faces, its facade makes for some fantastic photos.
Exhibiting some gorgeous German Renaissance architecture, the old house and all its heads date to 1608. It was originally erected for the wealthy merchant Anton Burger who became Colmar’s mayor around that time. Decorating its asymmetrical facade are 106 very expressive faces and tiny figures. A commanding statue of a cooper – the city’s symbol – also adorns its ornate gabled roof.
Renovated just over a decade ago, it now contains one of the city’s most high-end luxury hotels; the five-star Relais & Chateaux. As we didn’t stay or stop by its highly-rated restaurant, we just examined all its amazing heads, snapped some pics and then headed off.
15. Statue of Liberty
A resin replica of the world-renowned original, this much smaller Statue of Liberty can be found just ten minutes’ drive north of town. Despite its sort of strange location in the middle of a roundabout on an industrial estate, it still looks impressive.
The reason it even exists here in the first place is because Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of the one standing in New York, was born in Colmar. This replica of Lady Liberty is only a quarter of its size though, clocking in at twelve meters in height.
Unveiled in 2004 to commemorate the centennial of his passing, the famous figure with her arm and flame outstretched creates some outstanding photo opportunities. Although it is a bit out of the way, both guided tours and tourist buses sometimes pass the striking statue.
14. Musee Bartholdi
Speaking of the nineteenth-century sculptor, Musee Bartholdi has long been one of the Alsatian city’s main cultural institutes. Both his birthplace and childhood home, it now displays drawings, paintings, sketches and sculptures by the esteemed artist.
Located right next to Eglise Saint Martin and Maison Pfister, it was first opened to the public in 1922. As well as shining a light on his considerable talents, the historic house museum also features some of the family’s own furniture and personal belongings.
Of most interest however, are the preparatory models Bartholdi made of his most famous landmarks. These include an earlier version of the Lion of Belfort and an ear crafted for the Statue of Liberty. The old townhouse itself also boasts two stupendous seventh-century gates while the superb Statue des Grands Soutiens du Monde occupies the center of its courtyard
13. Marché Couvert
Lots of fun to explore, the charming Marché Couvert has a lovely lively yet laidback feel to it. Almost impossible to miss, the popular market lies in a strategic spot right along the Lauch River, in between Petite Venise and the Tanner’s District.
Erected back in 1865, its colourful stands and stalls occupy a brilliant Neo-Baroque building that also has some wonderful wrought iron pillars propping up its roof. Here friendly vendors hawk everything from locally produced cheeses and meats to fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers.
Scattered about the vibrant market are some excellent cafes and eateries, one of which has a terrace overlooking the river. We really enjoyed the tasty tarte flambee we tried and the ambience around the historic market.
12. Explore the Alsace Wine Route
When visiting Colmar and Alsace, you just have to try some of the world-class reds, whites and roses for which the region is famed. The Alsace Wine Route has dozens of attractive estates and vineyards to visit, both in town and the surrounding countryside.
Stretching roughly 170 kilometers in length, the fertile area has long produced some of the country’s best wines. As it lies between the Vosges Mountains and Rhine River, its narrow strip of land receives the perfect amount of rainfall, sun exposure and shelter from the wind.
You can either travel around the region yourself or take tours to some of its picturesque wineries. Set in spellbinding spots, they’re the most idyllic place imaginable to sample Rieslings, Pinot Gris and the sparkling Cremant d’Alsace. Other than learning how they are made, there are atmospheric old towns like Riquewihr and Kaysersberg to stop by too.
11. Musée du Jouet
One of the most fascinating things to do in Colmar, the Musée du Jouet contains over a thousand incredible old toys from the nineteenth century up to the present day. Its extensive collection is now housed in a former cinema, not far from Musée Unterlinden and Eglise Saint Martin.
Since being founded in 1993, the Toy Museum has amassed everything from wooden rocking horses and intricately-crafted dollhouses to teddy bears, Barbies, and Playmobil sets. Quite nostalgic to see, its old toy cars, board games and Meccano models are spread across three floors. A massive model railway and all its whirring trains takes up the whole of the second floor.
While wandering around, there are some classic arcade games to play and various puzzles to figure out. You can also watch an entertaining eight-minute-long marionette show. Although almost all the explanations are only in French, just seeing all the antique toys and playing with some is enough for most people.
10. Cruise the Canal
A relaxing way to see another side of the city is to cruise about its small series of canals. As you sit back and enjoy the enchanting scenery, your friendly guide recounts Colmar’s captivating history and culture.
Lined by loads of colourful flowers and half-timbered houses, the town’s quiet canals meander their way through both the lovely Little Venice and Tanner’s District. Part of the Lauch River, its waterways pass below pretty historic bridges, providing beautiful photos and views along the way.
A couple of small local companies run tours about town in their flat-bottomed boats. Lasting roughly half an hour, these are great fun with the staff all speaking three or four languages fluently. Listening to their stories about the historic sights we passed while taking in all the romantic riverscapes was definitely one of the highlights of our time in Colmar.
9. Maison Pfister
Yet another of the Old Town’s architectural gems is the phenomenal Maison Pfister. Located right by Musee Bartholdi and Eglise Saint Martin, its unique, eye-catching architecture can hardly be missed when exploring the center.
Appearing as if out of a fairytale, its delightful wooden gallery and bay window lie above elegant old stone arcades. Coating their walls too are some magnificent murals depicting biblical scenes while a terrific octagonal turret tops the building.
One of Colmar’s standout symbols and attractions, the German Renaissance mansion was completed in 1537 for wealthy hatter Ludwig Schurer. Now home to a chic wine boutique, the spectacular building was the inspiration for the castle in Miyazaki’s film Howl’s Moving Castle. By far our favorite historic house, it also left us with some of our best photos of its whimsical facade.
8. Christmas Market
Already a photographer’s dream, Colmar looks even more magical during its yearly Christmas Market that attracts people from all over France and further afield. From late November up to early January, this sees hundreds of cute chalets pack its historic squares and streets. Here you can sample festive culinary treats and shop for handmade arts, crafts and cheery Christmas decorations.
One of the oldest markets in Europe, it actually has six different sections to amble around, each with its own attractions and specialties. While one is devoted to Alsatian food and local products, another caters to kids. After seeing Santa Claus, you can always stop by others selling ceramics, clothes and glassware made in the region.
Wherever you go, you’ll see adorable wooden cabins all lit up in twinkling lights and everyone having a good time. With the city’s centuries-old buildings creating such a stunning backdrop, it really is one of the most memorable times of year to visit Colmar.
7. Visit Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg
If you have the time, it is well worth visiting the charming Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg. One of the best-preserved castles in Alsace, it is perched atop a rocky spur, half an hour’s drive north of town.
Overlooking the Upper Rhine Plain, the majestic medieval castle has stood in the same spot for more than 850 years. Rebuilt around the turn of the twentieth century by Kaiser Wilhelm II, all its ruddy red gates, walls and courtyards are very interesting to stroll around. There are also art and artifact-filled royal rooms and a gorgeous garden to explore.
Just as arresting as its architecture and location are its fabulous views over the Vosges Mountains. From its prominent 757-meter-high position, you can gaze out over all the tiny villages and vineyards far, far below.
6. Try Alsatian food
Aside from all its wonderful wines, Alsace is also known for its incredible cuisine which incorporates both French and German culinary traditions. When in Colmar, you, therefore, have to try at least some of its sumptuous regional specialties.
Traditional dishes you can find in almost any restaurant include Tarte flambee (or Flammekueche in German) and Choucroute à l’Alsacienne. While the former is a sort of thin-crust pizza coated in white cheese and lardons, the latter is sauerkraut paired with cuts of pork and sausages. Often substantial in size, these should keep you going for hours!
The region is also renowned for its pastries with both Gugelhupf cheesecakes and Bretzels (pretzels in English) being particularly popular. We super loved everything we tried and were quite surprised at the diversity of dishes and desserts considering Alsace is actually the smallest region in France.
Another of the city’s most noteworthy buildings is its important Koifhus or Old Custom House. Lying right in the historic heart of town, its fetching facade and the distinctive diamond pattern of its large roof now make for some fantastic photos.
Completed back in 1480, the Ancienne Douane (as it is called in French) served as the economic and political center of Colmar for centuries. It exhibits an intriguing mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles with covered arcades, wooden balconies and small towers all featuring.
The elegant building and its adjoining wings lie on one of the town’s prettiest squares alongside the Tanner’s District. Other than snapping some pictures here, you can attend some of the innumerable art exhibits and concerts the Koifhus hosts.
4. Eglise Saint Martin
Definitely outdoing the douane though is the enormous Eglise Saint Martin which is impressively one of the largest in the whole Haut-Rhin. Set just around the corner, its hulking great belltower and nave dominate the center of the Old Town.
Often referred to as a cathedral by local residents, the collegiate church was built between 1234 and 1365 in a Gothic style. Towering over seventy metres in height, its steeple is unusually supported by sturdy stone pillars that look quite cumbersome. This is in contrast to all the richly-decorated portals and sparkling stained-glass windows that line its walls.
Inside are some splendid religious statues to see like the life-sized Last Supper while its organ, choir and altar are yet other highlights. The colossal church also sports some colourful roofs, very similar in style to that of the Koifhus.
3. Musée Unterlinden
Just a short walk away is the outstanding Musée Unterlinden. One of Colmar’s must-see sites, it has an extensive collection of artworks, artifacts and archaeological findings to peruse. Most known for the Isenheim Altarpiece, its works span over seven centuries in total.
Housed in a thirteenth-century Dominican convent, the museum was remarkably established back in 1849. On display is everything from Upper Rhenish Romanesque and Gothic sculptures to medieval religious paintings, folk art and contemporary pieces too. Yet other sections contain furniture, musical instruments and weapons from both around the region and abroad.
The museum’s standout sight though is undoubtedly its famous altarpiece which was sculpted and painted by Matthias Grunewald in 1516. After examining its delightful details, there are masterpieces by Monet and Picasso among others to see too. To top it all off, the architecture of the convent and its cloisters is often just as eye-catching as the artworks themselves.
2. Old Town
Absolutely enchanting to explore, Colmar’s atmospheric Old Town is the reason most people visit the small city. Very well-preserved, it contains almost all its main sites like the Musée Unterlinden, Eglise Saint Martin and Old Custom House.
Very homogeneous in style, its cobblestone streets are lined by hundreds of handsome half-timbered houses, many decorated with colourful flowers. Unlike many other cities, it thankfully avoided all the destruction and damage dealt during the French Revolution and two World Wars.
Asides from ambling around taking photos, there are plenty of little local shops, gourmet restaurants and wine bars to visit. Particularly pleasant parts to wander about are the Tanner’s District and Petite Venise; by far our favorite neighborhood in the whole of the city.
1. Petite Venise
Lying along the Lauch River is the picture-perfect Petite Venise – one of the most photographed areas in Colmar. Boasting lots of beautiful historic bridges and buildings, all decked in blooming flowers, it is the highlight of almost everyone’s time in town.
Once home to tanners, fishmongers and winemakers, the cute quarter is known as Little Venice due to all the colourful half-timbered houses that cluster along the banks of its canals. For the best views of its scenic facades, bridges and waterways, head to the Quai de la Poissonnerie. Another option is to take a relaxing cruise around the canals in one of its flat-bottomed boats.
You can also check out its covered market or sit in a riverside restaurant and try some tasty regional specialties while taking in the scenery. The quaint area’s unrivaled ambience and aesthetic make it an absolute must when in Colmar.
Where to Stay in Colmar
As Colmar is so compact, you are almost inevitably going to stay in or around its Old Town. This then makes everything very quick and easy to get to, with only a couple of sites being a bit too far to walk to. For the Alsace Wine Route, you’ll likely need to rent a car or take a tour wherever you stay.
One of the best options is the recently renovated Le Colombier in the Little Venice Area. Asides from its central location near many the best attractions in Colmar, the four-star design hotel has sleek, modern rooms and public spaces for guests to enjoy. It also has a coffee shop and sauna to make use of and puts on delicious breakfast buffets.
Just a bit further down the same road heading out of the center is the clean and comfortable Hôtel Turenne. Great value for money, the three-star hotel has spacious rooms, all stylishly decorated. As well as kind and welcoming staff, the quiet property contains a bar and provides breakfast buffets.
How to get There
Tucked away in the northeast of France, Colmar lies about an hour’s drive from Strasbourg and Basel in Switzerland to the north and south. Both have large-ish airports with those of Nancy, Stuttgart and Zurich also being reachable within two hours from town.
You can of course drive from these cities in France, Germany and Switzerland or take the train to its station. Some buses also connect it to some of the aforementioned destinations above.
Once you arrive, you can walk pretty much everywhere on foot. If you want to see more small, scenic towns in Alsace or visit some wineries though, you’re probably better off renting a car for the day.
Approximate travel times:
- Strasbourg – 30 minutes by car, 30 minutes by train
- Freiburg (Germany) – 1 hour by car, 1 hour 30 minutes by train
- Basel (Switzerland) – 1 hour by car, 1 hour by train
- Paris – 4 hours by car, 2 hours by train
Best Time to Visit Colmar
While summer is the sunniest and warmest time to visit Colmar, it is when the town is at its fullest and the hotels are most expensive. June to August sees temperatures of 22 to 25°C (71 to 77°F), perfect for relaxing at one of its famous wineries. This is also when the hugely popular Alsace Wine Fair, its tastings, concerts and exhibitions is held.
Spring and autumn are calmer, quieter and cheaper with temperatures of 15 to 21°C (59 to 70°F). During these periods, the surrounding vineyards and forests are lush green or coated in glittering gold hues. You may not be able to enjoy the best of the wine route as the season is either just getting started or the grapes have been harvested, the earlier or later you visit.
December is the other most popular month to visit Colmar as its Christmas markets, lights and decorations create such a charming ambience. Prices are higher as a result.
January to March is the quietest period with not all that much going on in town. You can pick up some good deals but it won’t have the same feel about it.