12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Colmar
Amid the vine-covered foothills of the southern Vosges Mountains, the picturesque town of Colmar offers an exceptional wealth of historic attractions. This charming town was an important marketplace as well as a center of art and learning in the 13th century. The town's fascinating cultural heritage is visible in its lovely residential houses as well as in the Catholic, Protestant, and Dominican houses of worship. Colmar has remained relatively unchanged over the centuries, and wandering the ancient quarters takes visitors on a pleasant journey back in time.
This quintessential Alsatian town boasts quaint cobblestone streets, canal-side neighborhoods, and traditional houses decorated with vibrant potted geraniums. The half-timbered buildings exemplify typical Alsatian architecture, from the colorful fishermen's houses on the Quai de la Poissonnerie to the lovely old burghers' houses of the 16th and 17th centuries. Colmar is blessed with a mild semi-continental climate and the unspoiled natural surroundings of the Upper Rhine Valley that is lush with pristine forests and lakes. This enchanting town is the perfect starting point for exploring the Alsace region.
See also: Where to Stay in Colmar
1 Old Town & Place de la Cathédrale
Seemingly right out of a storybook, the charming Old Town of Colmar is a captivating maze of winding cobblestone streets lined with typical Alsatian burghers' houses. This well-preserved historic area lies between the Rue des Têtes, the Rue des Clefs, and the Rue des Marchands near the Place de la Cathédrale.
Visitors may begin a tour of Colmar at the Place de la Cathédrale, in the very heart of Colmar's old town. On this square is the Collégiale Saint-Martin (Saint-Martin Collegiate Church), originally a Gothic church that was largely rebuilt in the 18th century. Another important historic monument on the Place de la Cathédrale is the Ancien Corps de Garde (Former Guard House) which has served many purposes, from a marketplace building to a justice hall and military housing. This historic edifice is a jewel of Alsatian Renaissance architecture. The Maison Adolph also graces the square at 16 Place de la Cathédrale. Built in 1350 for the Adolph family, this lovely house is one of the oldest buildings in Colmar. Next to the Maison Adolph is a well featuring two lion heads that dates to 1592.
Continue sightseeing on the Grand Rue (a short walk away) and visit the Eglise Saint-Matthieu, a 13th-century Protestant church. A must-see attraction nearby is the Maison Pfister at the corner of the Rue Mercière and the Rue des Marchands. Blending medieval and Renaissance styles, this building is one of the finest old houses in Colmar. The home was built in 1537 for Ludwig Scherer, a hatter who made his fortune in money trading. On the Rue des Marchands is the Bartholdi Museum that displays mementos of the famous sculptor Auguste Bartholdi who was born here. Next, stroll along the Rue des Boulangers (Bakers' street) and the Rue des Serruriers (Locksmiths' Street) to admire the picturesque half-timbered houses. Be sure to stop in front of 19 Rue des Têtes, to see the Maison des Têtes (the "House of Heads"). This ornate Renaissance building features a facade decorated with small busts and the faces of different personages. The building is now occupied by a five-star hotel with a renowned gastronomic restaurant.
2 Musée Unterlinden
This exceptional museum is located in the former Dominican convent that dates back to the 13th century, with a beautifully preserved double-arcaded cloister. The Unterlinden Museum has an extensive collection of Romanesque and Gothic sculpture, medieval paintings, folk art and crafts. The first floor is devoted to Alsatian toys, furniture, and decorative objects (porcelain, faience, stained glass, and prints). One of the highlights of the museum is the Isenheim Chapel, which contains fine paintings by early German artists, including Passion scenes by Martin Schongauer and works by Isenmann and Lucas Cranach the Elder. The chief treasure of the chapel is Matthias Grünewald's Isenheim Altar, one of the most moving masterpieces of German painting. This imaginative work of glowing color was painted around 1515 for the convent of Isenheim near Guebwiller. The museum also has a lapidary collection as well as religious art, including Romanesque and Gothic sculpture and stained glass. The convent's 13th-century cellar exhibits contemporary art by Picasso, Léger, Rouault, Mathieu, Vasarely, and Braque.
Address: 1 Rue d'Unterlinden, Colmar
3 Eglise des Dominicains
An excellent example of early Gothic architecture, the Dominican Church was founded in 1283 and construction began in the 14th century. With its simple and serene architecture, the church offers an insight into the lives of the Dominican preachers. This mendicant order contributed to the interest in mystical philosophy during the 14th and 15th centuries. Splendid stained-glass windows allow light to flow into the sanctuary and offer inspiration to worshipers. The choir displays the famous "Virgin of the Rose Garden," a masterpiece painted by Martin Schongauer in 1473. Part of the church occupies the former Dominican monastery, with a 14th century cloister once used for serenade concerts. The cloister now houses the Municipal Library of antique manuscripts. From the Dominican Church, it is a short walk to the Rue des Clefs, the main shopping street of Colmar's Old Town.
Address: Place des Dominicains, Colmar
4 Koïfhus, Ancienne Douane (Old Custom House)
Near the Place du Marché-aux-Fruits (the site of the old fruit market) and at the intersection of the Grand Rue and the Rue des Marchands, the Koïfhus had a strategic location in medieval times. This 15th-century building was once the economic and political center of Colmar. The ground floor was used as a warehouse for goods and a place to collect taxes on imports and exports. The first floor was the council chamber for the Décapole, the federation of imperial cities. You can still see the coats of arms of the ten cities on the windows. The east side of the Koïfhus faces the Place de l'Ancienne Douane with a Bartholdi fountain commemorating the Imperial General Lazarus von Schwendi. The building also has two adjoining wings created in the 16th century and a distinctive tile roof, the result of a 19th-century renovation. From the Koïfhus, visitors can easily reach the Grand Rue, one of the town's main thoroughfares that is lined with shops and restaurants.
Address: Place de l'Ancienne Douane
5 Quartier de la Krutenau (Little Venice)
Just past the Rue Saint Jean, the Krutenau Quarter is a picture-perfect neighborhood with canal-side restaurants, quaint pedestrian bridges, and colorful half-timbered houses. Lush greenery and willow trees line the river, while flourishing potted flowers decorate the houses adding to the pleasant ambience. This quarter is known as "Little Venice" because the houses are built right on the edge of the Lauch canal and small boats take passengers on scenic rides. To get a feel of Little Venice, visitors may begin a walking tour at the Rue de la Poissonnerie and continue along the canal until the Rue Turenne that traverses the quarter. From the bridges on the canal, sightseers can enjoy lovely views of the quarter's charming houses and the tower of Saint Martin's church in the distance.
6 Quartier des Tanneurs
A short stroll from the Old Customs House takes you to the Quartier des Tanneurs (the Tanners' Quarter), a beautiful neighborhood of picturesque canals and wonderfully restored half-timbered houses dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The aptly named quarter was where tanners created leather products. They would use upper floors of the houses to dry out the skins. Noteworthy attractions include the Market Hall and the 18th-century Palais de Justice (Law Courts). Another must-see is the Hôtel des Chevaliers de St-Jean (House of the St. John's Knights), built in the style of a Venetian palace and one of the most unusual Renaissance mansions in Alsace.
Address: Rue des Tanneurs, Colmar
7 Quai de la Poissonnerie
This idyllic quarter of quaint half-timbered houses is between the Quartier des Tanneurs and the Quartier de la Krutenau. Like the Quartier des Tanneurs, this historic area of Colmar is another vestige of the town's ancient professions. The district around the Quai de la Poissonnerie is the old fishmonger's district where fishermen once lived centuries ago. At the time, professional fishermen were a powerful entity in Colmar and had a bustling business. They fished to the greatest extent possible and stored their catches in fish ponds until they were sold at the market.
8 Eglise Saint Martin
On the Place de la Cathédrale in the center of Colmar's Old Town, the Saint Martin Collegiate Church is a wonderful example of Gothic architecture. Constructed between the 13th and 14th centuries, the church has a High Gothic choir and other ornate decorative details. The Saint Nicholas Doorway features an intricate design, and the choir contains splendid 15th-century stained glass and fine carved woodwork. The residents of Colmar often refer to this church as a cathedral, however technically it was only a cathedral for ten years from 1790 to 1801. Nonetheless, the architectural style reflects the grandeur of a medieval cathedral.
Address: Place de la Cathédrale, Colmar
9 Eglise Saint Matthieu
This church was once Colmar's Protestant house of worship. Similar to the Dominican Church, the building has an austere style that is typical of the mendicant orders of Alsace. It was constructed by the Franciscans beginning in 1292 and completed over a century later. When the Franciscan monastery closed in 1543, the building was converted into a hospital. More recently, the church has been used for Protestant worship. In addition, the church is a venue for concerts because it has excellent acoustics. The Colmar International Festival of Music is held here every summer.
Address: 9 Grand Rue, Colmar
10 Musée Animé du Jouet et des Petits Trains
The Museum of Toys and Model trains displays an extensive collection of dolls, toy cars, toy boats, and model trains on three floors. Children will appreciate the museum's recreation of childhood favorites from France: Perrault's Tales and La Fontaine's Fables. The "animated" museum also features a computer-controlled puppet show, "The Fox and the Stork," in an adorable Alsatian setting. The museum's kilometer-long train network is sure to enchant little train enthusiasts.
Address: 40 Rue Vauban, Colmar
11 Chapelle Saint Pierre
Near the Quartier de la Krutenau past the Grand Rue is the lovely Baroque church of Saint Pierre. The church was built by the Jesuits in the mid 18th century on the site of the 10th-century Saint Pierre priory. Its peaceful garden features a monument created by the local sculptor Bartholdi dedicated to the Colmar physicist G. A. Hirn (1815-1890).
Address: Boulevard du Général Leclerc, Colmar
12 Ancien Corps de Garde (Former Guard House)
Built on the site of the Chapel of Saint-Jacques that dates back to 1286, the former Guard House was established in 1575. The building has an oriel window, where the decisions of the town council used to be announced. Another interesting feature of the building is the ornately decorated loggia, which is considered a gem of Renaissance architecture in the Upper Rhine area. Nearby is the 14th-century Maison Adolph, the town's oldest surviving private house.
Address: Place de la Cathédrale, Colmar
Where to Stay in Colmar for Sightseeing
The best area to stay in Colmar is near the Old Town, with its quaint cobbled streets and old burghers' houses. From here, it's an easy walk to most of the top attractions, including the Musée Unterlinden, Eglise des Dominicains, Koïfhus, and Little Venice. Here are some highly-rated hotels in this convenient and central location:
- Luxury Hotels: In Little Venice, the pet-friendly and hip Hotel le Colombier resides in an elegant old building with striking, contemporary decor. Also in Little Venice, the boutique Hostellerie le Marechal occupies a charming 17th-century Alsatian house, and the traditional styling continues in the rooms, some of which overlook the canals. A five-minute walk from Musée Unterlinden, La Maison des Tetes also features old-world decor with wood-paneled rooms and beamed ceilings that match the elegant 17th-century building. Parking is free and pets are welcome.
- Mid-Range Hotels: In the center of Colmar, the quaint Hotel Saint Martin sits in a 14th-century townhouse with traditional Alsatian-style decor in most of the rooms, while the pet-friendly Hotel Turenne is only four-minutes on foot from Little Venice and features crisply-dressed modern rooms in a delightful historic building. For travelers who are touring the region in a car, the great-value, pet-friendly Comfort Hotel Expo Colmar offers free secure parking and is only a five-minute drive to the Old Town. The decor is colorful and contemporary.
- Budget Hotels: About an eight-minute walk to the Old Town, the sleek and modern Ibis Colmar Centre offers clean, compact rooms and pets are allowed. The Kyriad Colmar - Centre Gare, with friendly staff, is also an easy walk to the Old Town as well as the train station, and the Colmar Hotel, with sparkling clean rooms and a crisp, contemporary style, is about 16 minutes on foot from the old town.