Although it’s in the heart of Alsace, 490 km (304 miles) east of Paris, and draws appealingly on Alsatian gemütlichkeit (coziness), Strasbourg is a cosmopolitan French cultural center and the symbolic if unofficial capital of Europe. The Romans knew Strasbourg as Argentoratum before it came to be known as Strateburgum, or City of (Cross) Roads. After centuries as part of the Germanic Holy Roman
Empire, it was united with France in 1681, but retained independence regarding legislation, education, and religion under the honorific title Free Royal City.
Against an irresistible backdrop of old half-timber houses, waterways, and the colossal single spire of its red-sandstone cathedral (which seems to insist imperiously that you pay homage to its majestic beauty), Strasbourg embodies Franco-German reconciliation and the wider idea of a united Europe. You’ll discover an incongruously sophisticated mix of museums, charming neighborhoods like La Petite France, elite schools (including that notorious hothouse for blooming politicos, the École Nationale d'Administration, or National Administration School), international think tanks, and the European Parliament. The Strasbourgeoisie have a lot to be proud of.
If you've seen the center and have time to strike out in new directions, head across the Ill to view an architectural landmark unrelated to...