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France is the most visited country on the planet, and for good reason. There are world-class cities, a famous gastronomy scene, a variety of stunning landscapes, and some of the most famous Western artworks of all time. And pastries. Ohmyloooord the pastries.

I’ve been a self-proclaimed Francophile ever since I was a kid. I wanted to bake everything French (my mom can attest to how many failed macaron disasters smoked up our kitchen on any given weekend), learn the French language (my best friend and I picked up our first French-language book in 5th grade), and fell in love with the classic ensemble of cheese, bread, and wine.

Paris was an obsession, and I ended up studying in the great City of Lights for the fall semester of my junior year. I loved it so much that I returned the following summer.

I knew that Joel and I would be visiting France on our RTW trip (I had to show him around my favorite city!), but this time, I wanted to explore more of the country. France is famous for so many destinations outside of Paris, and the fairytale towns of the Alsace region seemed like the perfect opportunity to see another side of it.

My biggest concern when planning our trip was the lack of a car. Joel and I lost both our licenses back in South Korea (cry), and there wasn’t a way for us to explore the region without relying on public transportation. Even if we had had the opportunity to rent, I’m not so sure our budgets would have allowed it.

Unfortunately, many online itineraries are built around the assumption that you have access to a vehicle. I wanted to share my own research with you guys on how we managed to see so much of the region without a car!

Arriving in Colmar

This itinerary starts in Colmar, which provides a great base for exploring the outer villages of the region. If you’re arriving in the north or flying into Strasbourg, this also works in reverse, so you can end in Colmar instead.

There are regular buses arriving in town every day. For maximum comfort, availability, and value, I suggest using Flixbus. You can view schedules and book online here.

We arrived in Colmar after a 4-hour bus journey from Zurich. Most buses will stop and leave from Gare de Colmar (the central train station). From here, it was only a 10-minute walk to our accommodation. If you have heavy luggage, you can find a list of bookable taxi companies here.

Exploring Colmar

Colmar is tiny and best explored on foot.

After checking into your accommodation and settling in, I suggest walking into the town center (if you’re not already there).

Here you’ll find cobblestone streets winding through colorful, medieval architecture, like a town of gingerbread houses come to life. Pastries, kouglof, and salted pretzels hang temptingly in the windows. Spend the rest of the day taking in the wonderful atmosphere of one of Alsace’s most charming towns.

Pro Tip: If you’re on a tight budget and looking for inexpensive accommodation, Airbnb is your best bet. Use my coupon to get $40 off your first booking!

Colmar to Riquewihr

There are a handful of small villages located just outside of Colmar. Most are only 10-30 minutes away.

It can be tempting to set an itinerary that hits all of these villages at once. This can certainly work with a car rental or a tour group, and while it’s also possible via public bus routes, I suggest sticking to one or two locations (while I personally think that the Alsace villages are endlessly charming, they do start to all blend in after a while).

I suggest visiting Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé.

If it seems like these two villages are so cute that they could’ve been plucked straight out of a Disney movie, that’s because they were the two locations that Disney animators visited for inspiration during the production of Beauty and the Beast. (/fun fact of the day)

Getting to Riquewihr is relatively straightforward. The bus schedule runs fairly irregularly, so make sure to check the schedule here. If you have trouble reading the schedule, I’ve included more information and translations at the end of this post. There are three bus stops in Colmar. Pick whichever is closest to you, or head straight to the Gare de Colmar if you want first choice of a seat.

The bus ticket costs €6.60 roundtrip (it will be more expensive to buy two separate one-way tickets, so make sure to ask for both ways when you speak with the bus driver). You can pay directly to the bus driver when boarding, although they can’t take anything larger than a €20, so make sure you have small change on you. And don’t worry—most of the drivers speak English.

The ticket is the receipt that they give you, so hold on to that for your trip back home. It’s valid for any stop along the route (you can get off at multiple), so if you want to hop off for a bit in any of the towns you pass and then continue on a later bus, you can.

You’ll arrive in Riquewihr about 30 minutes later. If you told the driver that you want to get off here (which you should have when boarding), he will likely drop you off at the stop just outside the post office if no one else is waiting for the bus at another stop.

You’ll find a parking lot, toilets, and a small tourist information map nearby. From here you can walk to the main action in a few minutes.

Heads up: We were exploring the area in the beginning of February and found that most shops and restaurants were closed with signs on the door declaring a long holiday break until the second week of the month. Most were undergoing renovations. I couldn’t find anything online as to why they all shut down around this time of year, but it’s worth noting if you plan on visiting when we did.

The biking trails surrounding Colmar are clearly marked with signs.

Vineyard Hiking: Riquewihr to Ribeauvillé

Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé are only about 5km apart. You can either take the bus again (on the same ticket) or opt for a nice walk through the vineyards. The path between the two towns is well paved and mostly flat, with a few steeper sections. It’s designed for bikers, so renting a bike can also be a nice way to explore the area.

We had originally planned to take the bus, but since it stops running for a few hours after lunch (which is when we were done in Riquewihr), we decided to walk. It took a little less than an hour and was quite pleasant, even in winter when the harvest was long over.

After you’ve had your fill of Ribeauvillé, you can take the bus back from the roundabout at the end of town, at the intersection of highways D106 and D416 (near the tourist information center.) This stop is “Gare Routiere” on the bus schedule, but you might not get accurate results if you search the name in Google Maps. It’s located right across the parking lot from a restaurant called Auberge au Zahnacker. There are toilets here as well. The bus will drop you off at Gare de Colmar if you tell the driver you are headed to Colmar, or at another stop if you request it specifically.

Colmar to Strasbourg

Regular buses and trains run between the two towns. You can book online ahead of time through GoEuro. Both leave from the main train station. Note: there’s a bakery and small snack shop here if you want to grab breakfast or lunch before leaving!

Strasbourg is only about an hour away from Colmar, so you could even do a day trip to one or the other if it suits your schedule better. Although both towns have a distinct Alsace regional flavor, they’re also fairly different in other regards. Strasbourg is a student town and much larger by both population and size (it has an Apple store for what it’s worth), although it’s not a cosmopolitan city by any means. It’s still small enough to walk from one end to the other in about 30 minutes.

You’ll find more “things to do” here, like the central Cathedral, and plenty of museums. Colmar is mostly filled with small businesses and serves as a better base for exploring the smaller villages in the area. If you have to choose between the two due to time constraints, you’ll want to consider what your priorities are (wandering around quaint French villages or more sightseeing and activities?).

Et voilà! Your ultimate guide to getting around Strasbourg and Colmar without a car. If you’re looking to save money (or you *cough* lost a few important driving documents) while visiting Alsace, exploring this area by public transportation is actually a lot easier and more convenient than it seems.

Resources

Bus schedules for Colmar and its surrounding villages(The above schedules are listed in French. The letters at the top of each column stand for the days of the week. Année means the bus route runs year-round, and scol. refers to bus routes that only run during the school year.)

Flixbus route planner and online booking

GoEuro itinerary search for all trains and buses

Let me know if this was helpful by leaving a comment below (or if I missed anything!), and don’t forget to subscribe for updates!

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