In the heart of the Alsace Wine Route, charming Colmar a.k.a. Little Venice is a top tourist destination. Probably one of the most photographed towns of – at least eastern – France! The well-preserved old town of Colmar is home to hundreds of centuries old half-timbered houses and lovely canals. In this article photos, tips and practical information you may find useful for your visit to picturesque Colmar.
Despite its population of 67K and tourist steams, Colmar preserves the intimacy of a small country town yet offers a rich heritage and culture. Besides its obvious charm, Colmar’s popularity seems to be the result of a strong marketing strategy accelerated by social media. A bit like popular Greek island Santorini. Tripadvisor’s tiles ‘European Best Hidden Gems 2015’ and ’12 Fairy-tale Places That Are Actually Real (2014 and 2015) for sure helped too, to make Colmar more popular than ever.
Colmar’s history goes way back, the name appears for the first time in 823. The name Colmar has a Roman origin and it means dovecote (pigeon shelter). Voltaire, a famous French writer, historian and poet, stayed in Colmar over a year (1753-1754) and described the town as ‘half-German and half- French’. Apparently he had a clear foresight. The Germans ruled over Colmar from 1871 to 1918 and from 1940 to 1945. Colmar has been part of France since 1945, but you can still sense a bit of German style (but don’t tell that to the French, they may feel offended).
One day an important fishing port and fish market, nowadays picturesque area Quai de la Poissonnerie goes by the nickname ‘Little Venice’ or ‘La Petite Venise’ in French. Poisson means fish. In English the area is also referred to as The Fishmonger District. Everything is well maintained, flowers everywhere, neat streets, the houses are painted in different colors… and oh I love those cute shutters!
Many of the houses in Colmar date back from the Middle Ages to Renaissance and have been placed on the historical monuments list. The flourished pedestrian town center of Colmar is not rarely referred to as ‘an open air museum’. The canal that flows through the town is called La Lauch. You can take a boat ride like in Venice in Italy!
The smallest house in Colmar, nicknamed ‘Fly Box’, is located at the corner of the Place de l’École and is just 25m².
Boat ride in Colmar
A good way to see Colmar is by taking a boat ride over the canals, along the picturesque houses in the center of town. The boats are rather small but fit around 12-15 people. The ride takes about 25 min and costs EUR 6 per person (cash only). Starting point is next to Pont de Saint Pierre (bridge at Boulevard Saint-Pierre). Ideally you sign up for a certain departure time later that day.
Most rides are guided in French. Boat rides are available daily from 9 Feb till Dec 31 from 10:00h till 18:30h. Be aware: the skippers have lunch break between 12:00h and 13:30h. In Jan, Feb and Nov limited opening hours, usually only during the weekends (depending on the weather conditions). For contact details see the website of the boat company Colmar au Fill de l‘Eau.
French Statue of Liberty
Walking around Colmar you may notice images of the Statue of Liberty, on tourist signs, floor tiles, maps, etc. Colmar is the birthplace of the creator of the famous Statue of Liberty in New York City, sculptor Auguste Bartholdi. To commemorate his 100th death anniversary, a 12-meter high mini version of the Statue of Liberty was installed at the northern entrance of Colmar. I guess you know that the big Statue of Liberty in NYC was a gift from France to the US?
Where to eat & drink in Colmar
Wandering around Colmar, you probably will get hungry or at least thirsty at some point, especially with summer temperatures. Be aware where you step in… There are three restaurants with 1* or 2** Michelin stars located in the heart of Colmar’s old town, where a starter easily costs EUR 35 or more. For sure delicious but pricey. There are a some nice restaurants with canal view, such as Le Caveau Saint Pierre right next to the boat stand.
In so-called Winstubs traditional, relatively simple Alsatian cuisine is served, along with local wine (or beer, if you prefer). ‘Win’ means wine and ‘stub’ refers to the warmest room of a traditional farmhouse. For your information: the dish ‘Sueri Nierli’ is veal or pork kidneys cooked in vinegar, yikes! My tips:
If all you are looking for is an affordable yet tasty baguette with a refreshing drink, go to the modern and centrally located market hall ‘Halle du Marche Couvert’. This is where locals do their high quality groceries; meat, fish, cheese, jams, fruit, veggies, herbs, etc. The damage of two sandwiches and drinks? Less than EUR 10. The market hall has a canal view terrace on the side with parasols.
Cheers to Colmar
Colmar, located at the foot of a vineyard, part of the 170km Alsatian Wine Route, is considered the ‘capital of Alsace wines’. Alsace is the French region Colmar is part of. Every year in August, the annual Wine Fair of Alsace is held in Colmar – since six decades that is! The nowadays two weeks’ event attracts app. 300K people with wine tasting and music.
91% of the wine produced around Colmar is white, dry and aromatic, such as Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc and Riesling. Want to see the vineyards? This Alsace Full Day Wine Tour from Colmar is a great idea. Cheers to Colmar!
Staying in Colmar for multiple days, interested to see the surroundings of Colmar and not in the possession of a car and/or would like to join a group? Join this Small-Group Gems of Alsace Tour from Colmar! In 8 hours you will see a lot while a professional guide shows you around the country side of Alsace region.
When to go to Colmar
High season is considered May till October plus December, however nowadays almost year round, Colmar gets a stream of tourists on a daily basis. All year round there are events held in Colmar:
- March: Carnival
- May: Eco-bio Fair
- May-September: Folklore Evenings
- June: Music Festival Métis
- July: Multicolre Night
- September: Jazz Festival
- October: Film Festival
- November: Book Fair
- December: Christmas Markets
On the particular Tuesday in July I visited Colmar, it was not as crowded as I expected ‘Little Venice’ to be, but crowded enough to annoy the boyfriend who hates crowds LOL Temperatures around 30°C. Summer school holidays in France usually last the whole months of July and August, traditionally most French people take time off from work in August.
The 5th leg of the annual bicycle race Tour de France 2019 went from Saint-Dié-des-Vosges to Colmar.
Christmas in Colmar
Christmas time is said to be magic in Colmar. The six (!) Christmas markets in Colmar attract lots of people; they are actually in the European Best Christmas Markets Top 10! Staying here around Christmas will be so super romantic! The ‘Magical World’ of Christmas markets in Colmar start on November 22 and last until December 29, 2019. You can book your Colmar Christmas Market Tour already!
Where to stay in Colmar
Lots of people visit Colmar as part of their journey while staying somewhere else in the area, as a day trip. This is fine; walk around for a few hours or half a day and you will be able to see Colmar’s main highlights. Nevertheless, ‘Little Venice’ may be quite small, it is actually only the southern edge of Colmar’s center. There is more to see, should you get the chance to stay a bit longer (see map below).
The benefit of spending the night in Colmar is being able to walk around town early in the morning or late at night, when the crowds of tourists are gone. What a bliss! Also, Colmar’s old town is lit up at night by light sources after sunset on Fridays and Saturdays year-round, and every evening during major events such as the International Music Festival, Alsace Wine Fair and Christmas Markets.
Hotel Le Colombier is a really charming, small-scale hotel located in the Little Venice neighborhood. The tasteful rooms and suites are modern with traditional elements and include air conditioning, a minibar and a flat-screen TV with cable channels. The private bathrooms come with a shower, free toiletries, slippers and bathrobes. On top of that excellent breakfast, 24-hour reception, bar and garden. Room prices start around EUR 124 per night.
In case hotel Le Colombier is full, consider staying at the lovely hotel Le Marechal. If this is beyond your budget, please take a look at Ibis Styles Colmar Centre or Ibis Styles Colmar Nord with pool (near airport).
This map includes places and spots mentioned in this article (and more). This one is ‘smartphone friendly’; you can easily use it via the Google Maps app. Click the icon at the top left to open the menu and see the categories. To adapt the map to your own preferences and interests, (de)select a category. Via Google Drive you can copy the map to your own My Google Maps account.
How to get to Colmar
The easiest and most flexible way to visit Colmar would be by car, either your own or a rental car. For rental cars, I am a big fan of Sunny Cars. Most Dutch professional travel agents use them and they are SMART!
Sunny Cars is an all-inclusive, worry free rental concept with affordable, fair prices, great service and no unpleasant surprises upon pick up or drop off. Ideal, I use them all the time!
Flying into France? The airports closest to Colmar are:
- Aéroport de Colmar – Houssen (CMR) – tiny airport!
- Strasbourg airport (SXB)
- Euro airport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg (BSL)
- Epinal Mirecourt airport (EPL)
- Metz-Nancy Loirraine airport (ETZ)
Parking in Colmar
The best parking option close to Colmar’s old town (max 150m) for now is Parking Saint-Josse at Rue Saint-Josse. Parking Saint-Josse is a proper, modern, roofed garage with at least six levels, indicating the number of free parking spots (max 487). There are street signs indicating whether the parking has free spots available or not (‘Ouvert’ means Free).
I found parking in Colmar rather cheap and easy. The first hour at Parking Saint-Josse is for free. After 1 hour (up to 1 hour and 15 min) the initial parking tariff is EUR 2.10 and EUR 0.20 for each following 15 min. The parking ticket payment machine inside accepts bank cards, coins and bank notes. If you would like to use your credit card (MasterCard, Visa, American Express) insert it upon entering the garage gate (instead of pushing the button for a paper ticket).
You may notice Parking de la Montagne Verte (Green Mountain) on the map too; this used to be an outdoor parking nearby Little Venice. It re-opens as a new, modern garage with more than 700 parking spots in November 2019.
The most sustainable option of traveling to and around Colmar would be by public transport.
- Within Colmar, TRACE runs a bus network with frequent stops within town.
- The Südbaden bus goes between Colmar and Freiburg (Germany) several times a day.
- Flixbus goes to Freiburg (on the other side of the border in Germany).
- TER offers a developed train network throughout the Alsace region and beyond.
A replica of Colmar called ‘Tropical Colmar’ is located 40 km from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Is Colmar worth visiting?
Colmar is pretty and charming but fairly crowded. You need to be a bit lucky on how busy it is on that particular day. You may want to try to avoid weekends, holidays, fairs, etc. unless you really want to be there then. The answer to the question whether or not you feel Colmar is worth visiting, depends on your personal taste. How important it is for you to see Colmar, how well you cope with crowded touristy places and how far will you have to travel for it? Colmar is a big hit on social media and it will not get less busy, trust me.
Personally, to be very honest with you, I am not a big fan of France in general, but being in the nearby Black Forest Area in Germany anyway, we decided to go and check out Colmar. I do not regret it and enjoyed it, as you hopefully notice from this article. However I would advise not to travel the world for it. Boyfriend said it was a waste of his time as he felt it was too crowded and small. Oops!
To conclude: up to you! Just hope this article will help you to get an impression of Colmar and that the practical tips will make your visit as enjoyable as possible.
We combined our visit to Colmar with visiting the Black Forest and Basel. Check out these articles to read more:
- What to do in the Black Forest, Germany’s largest forest area Schwarzwald?
- Picturesque Basel: tips for a city trip or as part of a Switzerland round trip
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Last Updated on 10/05/2020 by Elisa Flitter Fever