Mulhouse in Alsace in the northeast of France is a master of reinvention. It was once a flourishing textile and manufacturing town but globalisation of industry has brought change – and for Mulhouse that means change too. The city is undergoing a metamorphosis – but with a nod to its powerful past. It boasts the world’s biggest car museum, an incredible train museum, electricity museum and more. Former factories are being converted into restaurants and artists residences. It’s street art heaven. And, pop up shops with original clothes and accessories you won’t find anywhere else are making their mark.
This city has a buzz about it. It’s thriving once more thanks to major support for its artistic community – with the largest artists’ residence in France – and its love for culture and heritage. Here’s what to see and do in Mulhouse, Alsace.
Cité de l’Automobile
There are over 400 cars at the immense car museum in Mulhouse. Car enthusiasts come from around the world to see some of the rare cars on display. There are incredibly well preserved masterpieces from cars of the 1870s to the 1970s mostly, though there are also some awesome racing cars that are more modern. Priceless Bugatti’s take centre stage, gleaming and sleek, they’re as rare as hens teeth.
Hire a classic car (I chose a Ferrari!) to drive round the private track at the museum, take the kids to enjoy a go kart track, games and workshops. There’s so much here, you can spend an entire day at this one – and probably a lot more! Read our review of Cité de l’Automobile, Mulhouse. www.citedelautomobile.com/
Cité du Train
The train museum of Mulhouse has the biggest collection of trains in the world. There are locomotives from the 1840’s through to the newer steam and diesel and electric trains that are in use to this day. The exhibits are interactive and impressive. Take the petit train round the museum which is monumental, ride on a diesel train on the museum’s private track and take a train ride in the open air on a miniature railway. Whatever your age, this museum is huge fun. Read our review of Mulhouse Train Museum. www.citedutrain.com
EDF Electropolis Museum
A museum dedicated to electricity? Yes! Electroplois is the biggest of its kind in Europe and it’s fascinating. There’s a working steam generator from 1901, and an exhibition which covers early experiments conducted from the 17th century up to modern day. There’s lots of vintage machinery to admire too, Voss’s electrostatic machine, Edison’s Dictaphone, and early versions of TV’s and fridges. There are also lectures and workshops – invited to stand in a cage and have my hair stand on end, who could possibly resist! www.musee-electropolis.fr
Parc Zoologique et Botanique
Founded in 1868 and covering over 20 hectares of the Tannenwald Forest, Mulhouse zoo contains over 1000 animals of more than 170 different species. The artic area is home to the polar bears and artic foxes, the large enclosures are home to the Siberian tigers, snow leopards and meerkats. The botanical gardens are heavenly and calm, in the summer months over 400 types of Iris flowers bloom beautifully alongside exotic trees from Japan and America. www.zoo-mulhouse.com
Tour du Belvedere
Not far from Mulhouse zoo is a sort of mini Eiffel Tower known as the Belvedere Tower. It’s not for those who have a fear of heights but the view from the top, at 350m above sea level is outstanding. You can see as far as Colmar and the Black Forest. There’s also a great park which is perfect for a wander and a picnic.
Hotel de Ville
The former Town Hall in a medieval building is covered in stunning trompe l’oeil paintings, with images of justice, courage, temperance, faith and charity. The eagle eyed will spot a stone head hanging from a chain, known as the klapperstein, which weighed 12 kilos and would be hung from the necks of gossipers and scandalmongers, who would be made to wear it riding around the city backwards on a donkey!
In the town of Ungersheim, just North of Mulhouse, you’ll find one of Europe’s largest outdoor heritage museums. Over 100 hectares of countryside and village, with 70 historic houses from around the region that were saved from demolition and rebuilt at this attraction, brick by brick. Visit potters, blacksmiths and wheelwrights workshops and watch demonstrations depicting medieval life in Alsace. Don’t forget to look up to admire the storks nests on the roofs.
Musée de l’Impression sur Étoffe
This museum is dedicated to the decorative arts, fashion, local history and industry of the textile business. There are some original machines from the early years of industrialised printing, including a Lefèvre copper roller from 1809, and a whole range of sewing machines.
There’s also a display of wonderful printed fabrics including some which were produced to decorate the Hotel de Ville – a Christmas speciality of Mulhouse.
Motoco is typical of the regeneration that’s turning this city into a major creative hub. It’s the biggest artists residence in the whole of France with 140 artists, artisans and creative companies sharing 80 rented studios in a monumental former factory of textile giant DMC. A range of arts are practiced here from multimedia to dance, performance, sculpting, painting and more. Artists come from all over Europe to work and collaborate. Though not open to the public all the time, check with the tourist office to discover Motoco’s open days or book a workshop with an artist.
Le Sechoir is in a former tile factory which is now a vibrant exhibition space and studios. It hosts more than a dozen artists and holds regular exhibitions in a huge open plan space. It’s open on weekends and free to enter and if you’re looking for something gorgeous and unique as a memento of Mulhouse to take home, you’re sure to find it here. Check at the tourist office for “open door days” when the artists will be on site to present and chat about their work.
Shops in Mulhouse
Art is everywhere in Mulhouse and there are several shops which proactively support and promote the work of resident artists. La Vitrine Volante shop pops up in different parts of the city at different times (check at the tourist office for details). Le Bocal is another outlet for artists which focuses on homeware and showcases work by artists from Motoco. You can also buy works of art by Motoco’s artists at the tourist office.
Where to eat out in Mulhouse
Café NoMad is in a former foundry and ever since it opened in 2018, it’s been super popular with the locals. The integrity of the industrial origins of the building have been kept. But, its brick walls and industrial pipes combined with funky and vintage artefacts contrasts fabulously with stylish lighting. You’ll find a menu with great street food style dishes – burgers, ribs and chicken teriyaki etc. The popular cocktail list keeps the bar stools permanently filled. Don’t miss the creamy, coconutty, zingy pineapple based Colada’nanas. Full of locals, great for families, friends and couples. Book in advance online if you want to be sure of a table.
Tilvist Coff’Tea Shop serves food like maman makes at home. It’s a funky shop and neighbourhood café and social workplace. Try the Bretzels Mulhouse style. It has the flakiest pastry filled with ham and local cheese, perfect with a tasty salad and freshly made smoothie. Afterwards browse the shop shelves filled with local speciality products. There are some brilliant artisan made goods from pottery and glassware to greetings cards, ornaments, textile art and gorgeous bags.
Café Mozart is a must when you’re in town. The locals love it as much for its location and spectacular views over the city’s main square, Place de la Réunion, as its sensational cakes and delicious seasonal menu. Inside the café, Patisserie Jacques has been making the locals happy for more than eight decades. The family run business is now run by third generation pastry chef Michel Bannwarth. Open for breakfast and lunch with a varied menu including delicious quiches and pies. But of course the cakes take centre stage with scrumptious and irresistible classics.
How to get to Mulhouse
By train from Paris takes around 2 hours 41 minutes. It’s also easy to travel around the region by train. Strasbourg to Mulhouse takes just 43 minutes and Mulhouse to Dijon in neighbouring Burgundy is from just over an hour.