8 Magical Things to Do in Colmar, France

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We visited Colmar on a whim. I saw a photo of this small town in the Alsace region of France, close to the German border, and decided we should visit without knowing much about it. It was a good decision.

Colmar is so pretty that it doesn’t feel real. Said to be one of the places that inspired Disney’s Beauty and The Beast, it certainly feels as if you’ve stepped straight into a fairytale.

Cobblestone streets run next to canals lined with half-timbered houses in shades of rose, sky blue, lemon, peppermint, and apricot, many dating back to the 14th century.

The olde worlde buildings are distinctly Germanic but feature elegant French shutters. It can be hard to remember you’re in France, but locals speak French, and the bakeries are full of croissants and pain au chocolate.

In this guide, you will find out the best things to do in Colmar, where to stay and where to eat. At the end, there is a map with everything mentioned.

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Where is Colmar, France?

Colmar Train Station, France
The convenient Gare de Colmar

Colmar is in the North-East of France along the border with Germany in the Alsace region. It is also close to Switzerland.

Given its location and convenient train station, 10 minutes walk from the town centre, visiting Colmar could not be easier.

You can book all trains on the SNCF website. 

We visited Colmar as part of a month-long train trip around Europe. If you are doing something similar then we would recommend getting an Interrail (EU) or Eurail (Non-EU) pass.

From Paris: The Paris to Colmar train journey is 2 hours and 20 minutes on the TGV. Most trains require you to change at Strasbourg, but there are a few direct trains from Paris Gare de l’Est. Single fare from €60-€115 (£50-£95).

From Strasbourg: The train from Strasbourg is a short 30-minute ride with regular trains throughout the day. Single fare from €5-€15 (£4-£13).

From Basel: 43 minutes by train. Single fare from €5-€16 (£4-£14).

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History of Colmar

Colmar, France travel guide
Germany’s influence is evident in Colmar’s half-timbered buildings

It is no surprise, given its location, that the village of Colmar has had an eventful past with France and Germany, passing between the powers over the centuries.

In 1673, France conquered Colmar, only for Germany to claim the Alsace region in 1871. Germany retained the town until after WWI, when it returned to the French.

Inevitably Colmar was re-occupied by the Germans during WW2. The last town in France to be liberated at the end of the Second World War, it has remained under French control ever since.

Colmar, France
Colmar wears its complex German-French heritage with pride

This dizzying history with its blend of influences is on full display throughout the town, through its buildings, food, drink and culture.

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The Best Things to Do in Colmar

1) Admire the Attractively Decorated Architecture

Colmar France house decoration
Chairs, a bike and a ladder adorn the outside of this Brasserie

Whilst Colmar is a compact place to explore, you could easily spend a whole day wandering and admiring the architecture alone.

Colmar half timbered house
Wandering and soaking up the architecture is one of our best Colmar tips

Not only can you see the German-French influence, but the buildings trace back to medieval and Renaissance roots.

During the Renaissance, when the town was prosperous, citizens were urged to put their wealth on display through their decorations.

Colmar shuttered windows
Colourful shutters adorn this home

Locals are still rightfully proud of their attractive homes, decorating them with pots of geraniums, colourful shutters, wrought iron lamps and signs, and often even more bizarre adornments.

Colmar wrought iron sign
Amusing wrought iron signs

As we wandered the streets, we felt like we’d stepped into the pages of a picture-perfect fairytale.

Colmar travel guide
Colourful painted facades and wooden shutters

2) Explore Little Venice Colmar by Boat

Colmar Little Venice
Picturesque canal side

The most picturesque area of Colmar is Little Venice, a short but charming canal with the river Lauch stretching between Pont Saint-Pierre and Rue des Tanneurs.

Colmar Little Venice boat ride
Little Venice is one of the best places to visit in Colmar

Merchants used to sell their wares from flat-bottomed boats along the canal. Interestingly, the different coloured buildings represented the traders who occupied them: blue for fishmongers, white for bakers, yellow were cheesemakers, green for grocers, and pink for the less ahem family-friendly type of trade!

Colmar Little Venice

We enjoyed the view from the bridge at Quai de la Poissonnerie and got another perspective from the water on a 25-minute boat ride.

Colmar Little Venice boat ride
Enjoy Little Venice from the water

We took a boat trip with Sweet Narcisse, which cost €7 for 25 minutes (€4 for children 4-10, free for children under 4). Tours run every 15 minutes from 9.45am – 11.45am/ 1.45pm – 6.45pm in the summer. Times vary in winter. Booking online is advised.

3) Take a Self-Guided Tour of the Historic Centre

Colmar, France

Colmar’s historic centre is pedestrianised and compact—we never ended up more than 15 minutes from our apartment. The streets are lined with cobblestones, so it’s easy to feel like you’ve stepped through time.

We followed the self-guided walking tour on a map from the tourist office multiple times during our two-day stay. The Discovery Trail is handily signposted with gold triangles and an etching of the Statue of Liberty.

The famous statue’s sculptor Auguste Bartholdi was born in Colmar. A miniature replica of Lady Liberty welcomes people into the north of Colmar.

Colmar, France
The Koïfhus is one of the best things to see in Colmar’s historic centre

The best Colmar attractions in the historic centre include the Koïfhus (The Old Customs House, the oldest public building in Colmar dating back to 1480), the Tanners District, the Pfister House, the House of Heads and the Covered Market.

Pfister House, Colmar, France
Striking wooden balcony adorning the medieval Pfister House

Be sure to visit the Schwendi Fountain, designed by Auguste Bartholdi in 1898. Although not officially the fountain that inspired the one featured in Beauty and the Beast, it’s so uncannily similar that it’s one of the best Colmar tourist attractions for Disney fans!

Schwendi Fountain, Colmar, France
Pose like Belle: take a perch, open a book, and imagine your own sheep!

The afternoons can get busy, mainly with older holidaymakers from France and Germany following the Alsace wine route, but the crowds never felt overwhelming.

At 7 am on my morning run, I had the streets to myself; even at 10 am, they were quiet.

To learn more about the history of Colmar, why not try this private guided tour, or try this fun self-guided scavenger hunt for those who want to channel the Davinci Code!

4) Visit Saint Martin and Saint Matthieu

Colmar France church
Gothic Saint Martin is a Colmar must see

Despite its small size, the town features two substantial 13th-century churches, Gothic Saint Martin (often mistakenly called the cathedral) and Protestant Saint Matthieu.

Roman catholic Saint Martin was built between 1235 and 1365 and has been restored several times over the centuries. It’s a striking church built in the gothic style with red and gold stones. Look out for the Alsation colourful roof tiles.

Saint Matthieu protestant church was constructed in 1292. It has had several renovations through the ages, including a ceiling lowered and re-raised and converted into a hospital in the 16th century. 

It’s an impressive building to visit with a famous Silbermann organ from 1732. With its superb acoustics, the church is one of the main venues in Colmar’s annual International Music Festival.

Both are free to enter and explore and worth adding to your Colmar itinerary.

5) Make a Gourmet Picnic

Colmar covered market, France
Make up your perfect picnic at the covered market

The centre is full of classy boutiques and shops selling local gourmet products—white wine, cheese, sausages, chocolates, salted caramels, jars of sauerkraut, and bretzels (salty or sweet pretzels).

The covered market is an excellent place to pick up picnic supplies, perfect for a bike ride (see below).

7) Visit Eguisheim Village by Bike

Eguisheim, France
Pretty in Pink Eguisheim

One of our favourite things to do in Colmar was hiring bikes to cycle to one of the nearest villages on the Alsace wine route, Eguisheim.

We didn’t think it was possible, but the quiet village of Eguisheim is even cuter and prettier than Colmar.

The colourful, half-timbered houses are similar to Colmar’s, but the narrow cobblestone streets run in concentric circles around the central square.

The flower displays are even more extravagant, and some of the 16th-century buildings tilt precariously.

Eguisheim is 7km from Colmar along a flat route. It took us 25 minutes to cycle along the main road (the Alsace wine route).

It was a bit busy but had lovely views of the hills and vineyards. On the way back, it took us 30 minutes on a much quieter route along the river and through corn fields and vegetable farms.

We rented bikes from Colmar Velo next to the train station. A city bike costs €8 adult/ €6.50 child for a half day and €11 adult/ €9 child for a full day.

Hybrid bikes are available at €13 adult/ €9 child per day, and electric bikes are €33 adult/€9 child per day. You need ID and a €150 deposit per bike (by card is fine).

Advanced booking is recommended, and rentals include a map, helmets and a puncture repair kit. Child seats are also available upon request for €4 per day.

Why not pair a bike ride with a wine tasting tour with this Alsace Vineyards and Wine Villages Private Bike Tour that starts just outside Colmar and includes bike hire.

8) Go Wine Tasting Along the Alsace Wine Route

Vineyards and fields on the Alsace wine route
Vineyards, fields and an old village on the Alsace wine route

Stretching 170km from North to South of the region (Strasbourg to Colmar), the Alsace Wine Trail is the oldest wine route in France.

The famous route takes in Colmar and other picturesque wine-growing towns and villages (a whopping 70+!) and winds through lush green hills and vineyards.

The region produces delicious dry whites, sweet sparkling varieties, and rosés. Unsurprisingly you will also find outstanding Rieslings, Gewurztraminers, and Pinot Gris.

Exploring the wine trail further is more than enough enticement for us to return to the Alsace region!

Why not try this 4 Wonders of Alsace tour that offers pickup/ drop offs from your accommodation in Colmar.

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Where to Eat in Colmar

Restaurants are quite expensive, and as the local cuisine isn’t ideal for vegetarians, we stuck to homemade meals of baguettes, cheese, and salad (the Monoprix is also good for supplies).

Organic restaurant L’Arpege has a vegetarian lunch menu, but it was fully booked when we visited. 

We did enjoy an aperitif of local white wine, cheese, and tasty vegetable dips at L’Un des Sens wine bar.

Other popular food and drink places in Colmar include:

  • La Stub – A popular cheap-eat that specialises in savoury and sweet Flammekueche/ Tarte flambée AKA German pizza.
  • Bistrot Gourmand – A cute bistro for breakfast and brunch options from crepes to sandwiches and salads and more.
  • Le Cercle Des Aromes – A wine bar with over 200 Alsace wines available by the glass to sample! They also have platters of cured meats and cheese to compliment your wine tasting.
  • Muang Thai – An authentic Thai restaurant for those who want a break from French or German cuisine. They have refreshing Thai iced tea for summer visits to Colmar.
  • Restaurant L’incontournable – A small bistro near Little Venice that has recommended set menus.
  • Edelw’ice – A good ice cream spot with a range of flavours and also vegan and lactose-free options.

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Where to Stay in Colmar

Residence des Tetes apartment, Colmar
Our apartment in Colmar

Basing yourself in the historic centre or Little Venice makes sense, given all the main attractions. However, like in any touristy neighbourhood, the accommodation will be more expensive. 

Staying in Saint-Léon, North Colmar, or near the train station will give you less pricey options.

You will most likely be in a charming historic building wherever you decide.

We stayed in an apartment in an atmospheric old building on Rue Des Têtes. Unfortunately, the exact place is no longer available, but the highly rated Appartements des 2 Têtes are in the same building and have modern amenities. The location is ideal.

Other Colmar Accommodation

Some other tempting hotel and self-catering options include:

  • Suites Residences Spa: Close to the House of Heads these attractive apartments offer guests a chance to relax in a hot tub.
  • COLMARAPPART Grand’Rue: Well equipped suites close to restaurants for those who don’t want to cook and above a supermarket for those who do.
  • La Maison de Vacances de Colmar et son jardin: Only 10 minutes walk away from the historic centre, this house is a great option for families as it comes with free bikes to use and a spacious garden for little ones to run around.
  • Colmar Hotel: Comfy hotel with all the amenities, close to the train station but also has a secure car park if you are visiting Colmar as part of a road trip along the Wine Trail.

Search for more apartments and hotels in Colmar here.

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Colmar Alsace France Map

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Is Colmar Worth Visiting?

Yes, absolutely! We only had two nights in Colmar, but if we had more time, we would have explored more of the pretty Alsace wine villages such as Ribeauvillé, Riquewihr, and Kaysersberg.

Colmar is one of the most picturesque towns we’ve visited. A fairytale land that doesn’t feel quite real.

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27 Comments

  1. Definitely a town, not a village, but the little Venice area is charming. Well worth a visit in December as well for the amazing Christmas markets. They have five different Christmas markets themed for children, crafts, food et and the lights, together with the amazing houses make for a wonderful experience. The little villages mentioned, all close to Colmar, each with their own Christmas markets make for a wonderful winter break.

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  2. Your visit sounds as fun as ours was. We were there in the summer of 1989 on a Eurail trip while stationed in Spain. My faint memories allow me to remember a wine bar in a tunnel through the old city wall. The kind lady running the bar spoke French, German, and some English. As we talked and did hand gestures, we indicated as bad relatives in Cleveland Ohio. She got a huge grin and said “then you must know my brother !!!”. Much laughter followed, along with more wine.

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  3. Colmar is indeed very picturesque and lovely. I have been there on two occasions. My Great Grandparents and Great-Great Grandparents were from Mittelwihr and came to USA.

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  4. HI Erin, My daughter and I are visiting Colmar in May and your descriptions and pictures are amazing. Thank you for showing me what we have to look forward to. Cannot wait to be there.
    Tracey I

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  5. Love the post, thank you for sharing! Definitely have Colmar on the short list of places to visit. We’ll be in France and Switzerland around Christmas time and look forward to the visit!

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    • Colmar is supposed to be lovely at Christmas. I’m sure it will be so festive with all the lights and Christmas market!

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  6. Hi there,
    Lovely photos, I am French, been to Colmar a few times but never realised it was a beautiful place until I saw your pictures. Funny how we often forget or overlook what’s just near us.
    Always a pleasure to read your adventure…

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  7. We just came across your blog and have been to many of the same places as yourself. We have been travelling long term, since 2011 and have visited 33 countries. We are currently staying for 1 month in Colmar and also really like it. Many of your pictures are from very close to our apartment. We will be going next month to Procida, Italy which I saw you have been to also. We write a blog also (on Travelblog.org under nancic123). Just search nancic123 on Google. We will follow along on your travels. Sorry we missed you in Colmar! Nanci and David.

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  8. Thank you so much for sharing. My third g grandparents came here from Alsace-Lorraine in the 1800’s and it is so lovely to see photos of it. I wonder if it was as picturesque back then as it is now.

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  9. Hello
    Thanks a lot for this super post about the destination I work !
    Just one remark about the fact that 2 days is enough…well, you forget to mention the 5 Colmar museums and the numerous activities (not only the lovely villages) that are available within a 20km radius.
    That said, I re-thank you for you trip report !
    Kind regards
    Emmanuel
    Colmar Tourist Office

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    • That’s a good point. If you are a museum fan then you’d need more time. We also would have loved to explore more of the surrounding area.

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  10. Wow! What an absolutely charming and unique spot! I would go crazy there with the photography, just like you did. Love all the windowboxed of flowers, especially. Thank you so much for sharing it with us!

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    • Colmar is ridiculously picturesque. I loved the pride the town takes in itself with flowers everywhere – in window boxes of private homes and along public fences too.

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