Things to Do in Colmar
The colorful heart of Colmar earns its nickname from the canal-like Lauch River that divides its two banks, each lined with half-timbered fishermen’s homes that seem plucked straight from a fairytale. Soak up its quintessential Alsatian charm that's an easy day trip from Rhine River cruise ports.
Although locals most refer to it as a cathedral, Colmar was never truly the seat of a bishop and therefore cannot be called as such; it really is more of a rather large collegiate church dedicated to Saint Martin than anything else. It was a cathedral for less than a decade during the French revolution, hence the name of the square on which it is located. Built in the late 13th century in this iconic pink sandstone that is endemic to Alsace, the Saint Martin’s collegiate church is one of the most important Gothic works in Alsace and was even made a historic monument in 1840. A major fire in 1572 destroyed the framework, the south tower, and the roof. The 71-meter high tower was rebuilt shortly after in a lantern shape, a characteristic feature that make the church instantly recognizable. Archeological works dug out remains from the Carolingian era in 1972, and discovered foundations of a previous church from the Romanesque times. The church boasts several noteworthy features, including a massive Baroque organ, a typically Alsatian ambulatory, and two distinctly antisemitic images that act like a testament to the lost Jews of World War II.
The attention-grabbing, exuberant house on Rue des Marchands is a must in Colmar. Built in 1537 for wealthy hatter from nearby Besançon named Ludwig Scherer, the house boasts extravagantly ornate frescoes (representing Germanic emperors and Biblical scenes) and medallions with typical medieval features; it is, however, regarded as the finest example of Colmar’s architectural renaissance. Pfister House (Maison Pfister) also boasts a beautifully carved balcony, long wooden galleries, octagonal turret, a two-story corner oriel, and ground-floor arcades. The house is named after the family that lived in it and restored it in the late 19th century. It was made a historic monument of France in 1927.
The self-proclaimed capital of the Alsace wine region, Colmar is an undeniable highlight of the famous Alsace Wine Route and renowned for its beautifully preserved medieval center. Colmar Old Town (Vieux Colmar) is postcard-worthy from all angles, with its half-timbered buildings painted in a rainbow of colors, fishing boats bobbing along the flower-lined canal ways and maze of cobblestone lanes dotted with small cafés and artisan shops.
Colmar Old Town's compact center makes it feel more like a village than a town, and the main sights can be easily explored on foot, including architectural gems like the dramatic Maison des Tetes (House of the Heads), the 16th-century wooden Maison Pfister (Pfister House) and the pink sandstone St Martin Church. Additional highlights of Colmar include Mathias Grünewald’s 16th-century Issenheim Altarpiece, on show at the Unterlinden Museum; the Bartholdi museum, dedicated to the Colmar-born architect (best known for designing the Statue of Liberty); and the aptly-named La Petite Venise (Little Venice), where visitors can enjoy a boat tour around the scenic canal ways.
The most atmospheric times to visit Colmar are during the Foire aux Vins wine festival held each summer or during the annual Christmas market when the entire town comes alive with festivities.
Occupying a 13th-century Dominican convent in the Alsace town of Colmar, the Unterlinden Museum (Musée Unterlinden) features a large collection of European art, spanning the period between the Middle Ages and the 20th century. Its best-known work is the altarpiece of Isenheim, created with a mix of sculpture and painting in the early 16th century.
Located at the intersection of Colmar’s two major roads back in the medieval days, the Old Customs House (Koïfhus)—also referred to as the "Ancienne Douane"—always had a strategic mission. The former customs house was built in 1480 and was mainly used for two things: the ground floor was a massive warehouse used for storage, and the second floor served as a tax office for import/export and a meeting area for the magistrate and the emperors of Alsace, which later on became the Colmar Chamber of Commerce. Several buildings were added onto the existing one throughout the years, creating an amalgam of architectural styles and proving that the Old Customs House was significant enough, both commercially and locally, to justify extensive renovation and expansion works. The roof, which consists of colorful varnished tiles, is particularly striking. Wondering which part is the oldest? Look for the two-headed eagle of the Empire, which surmounts the two main entrances. The Old Customs House was made a historic monument of France in 1974. It nowadays houses small shops and cultural events, like the much-acclaimed Alsatian Christmas markets.
The Toy Museum (Musée du Jouet), a small, playful space in the heart of Colmar, is aimed at visitors both young and old. Home to a collection of playthings that date from the 19th century to the present day, the museum (housed in a former movie theater) offers exhibits about everything from dolls to model trains to board games.