Everyone who comes to Strasbourg hears the boast: “And we have Germany right next door!” And while it’s true that from Strasbourg city centre, Germany is easily accessible by tram, the particulars of Kehl, a charming little German town so close by, often go unmentioned. So, why should you go to Kehl, anyway? Here’s your ultimate Strasbourg to Kehl day trip itinerary, as well as travel tips and things to know before you go!
First, a little history of Kehl…
Much like its more-famous neighbour, Kehl has a tumultuous history thanks to its situation as a border town and has at times been part of Germany, and at other times been a part of France. Located right beside the Rhine River, the earliest records date the town’s beginnings to sometime early in the 11th century.
Initially a fishing town, Kehl gained strategic importance in the minds of more powerful neighbours throughout the centuries, such as when Louis XIV conquered the town during the Thirty Years’ War and redefined it as a fortress to protect Strasbourg.
Kehl’s geopolitical location would continue to shape its trajectory throughout history. Though the Germanic settlement enjoyed a brief, prosperous economic period in the 18th century thanks to its importance to the commercial economy, the near-constant crackle of political tensions tended to culminate in a violent strike to the city that prevented Kehl from attaining any true clout.
By the late 19th century, Kehl gained a more permanent foothold with the creation of an inland port. Today, if you want to enjoy the walk across the pedestrian bridge, take the “D” tram from Strasbourg (direction Kehl) and hop off at the stop “Port du Rhin.” From there, stroll along the Rhine and marvel at how the city must have looked like all those years ago…
If you get off the tram early (which I highly recommend!)…
There are two bridges that you can choose from which you can then use to walk across the border and straight into Germany. Both France and Germany are in the Scehngen zone, meaning travel between the two countries is seamless (though be sure to carry your passport on you at all times).
The first of the two bridges between the two countries is Pont de l’Europe, which runs directly parallel to the tram track and is primarily for automobiles. The second, the Passerelle des Deux Rives, is a pedestrian/cyclist-only bridge just a short walk past the former and easily identifiable by its spider web of white cables.
Kehl is a town perfect for an afternoon “pause” as the French say
This means that though, while in Kehl, there’s not a whole lot of hustle and bustle, the German town is the perfect place to meander and snap some photos. If you arrive by foot, you pass through gardens featuring sculptures, small play areas for children, and plenty of benches to sit and savour surroundings.
These gardens have two names and can be found on each side of the Rhine. As such, they each have the same name, simply in French and German: Jardin des Deux Rives, or Garten der zwei Ufer. (That’s Garden of Two Shores in English.)
Throughout your time in Strasbourg and throughout Alsace in general, you may notice the emphasis placed on the names of places and things. This is because of the region’s staunch commitment to remember and honor its interconnected history as a Franco-German border town.
If you’re able to speak with someone from Alsace or from Kehl, they likely feel much more connected to their regional identity than to their national one. Once you’ve crossed the bridges and you’re in Germany, you’ll likely notice the lovely, well-maintained pedestrian pathway that follows the Rhine River.
Follow this footpath south and you’re in for a pleasant, panoramic surprise.
In Strasbourg, the best views of the city have to be paid for with a small fee at the Strasbourg Cathedral entrance. However, in Kehl, the best views of the city can be had for free at the top of a funky tower called the Weißtannenturm.
A quick view from the observation deck will give you time to orient and snap a memorable picture from the German side of the Franco-German border. And, on a clear day you can see as far out as to the Vosges Mountains and even the Black Forest!
In Kehl’s city center, a simple main square (Marktplatz in German) bustles on Tuesdays and Fridays with a busy market atmosphere. A cute late 18th-century church known as the Church of Peace sits on the edge of the main square, contributing to the welcoming atmosphere.
Meanwhile, if you’re seeking a respite from perusing the market, head to Stubenhocker Bistrot, situated just on the corner of a small park with a pedestrianised canal walkway. On clear days, you’ll find most patrons sitting in one of the multi-colored metal chairs on the terrace, but if you have a chance to poke your head inside, do!
Kehl might be a small city just half an hour away from Strasbourg, but it certainly holds a number of small charms that make it distinct and memorable. From its rugged history as a border village squabbled over by kings to its present-day situation as a cute riverside town, Kehl represents a taste of Germany and a happily convenient bonus trip for anyone looking for a pleasant afternoon just a quick tram ride from Strasbourg.