Strasbourg, of course, goes far beyond the Center, spiritually as well as geographically. This "outer" Strasbourg is a city of quiet streets and a somewhat lethargic bus system that befits them -- plodding along and closing down early in the night. It is a city of sleepy neighborhood brasseries where a coffee and beer cost well under a dollar. And it can be a city of surprises. An unremarkable street such as Rue Paul Muller-Simonis becomes at sunset the framework for a golden-domed St. Arbogast church at its foot.

Strasbourg is a big university town; 30,000 students from France and around the world -- with a good smattering of Americans on their semesters abroad -- ply the large (by European standards) and attractive campus of the University of Strasbourg, northeast of the Center.

SIDE TRIPS: A trip to the Vosges Mountains (less than an hour's drive) is a delightful excursion from Strasbourg. The French National Railway (SNCF) runs bus tours to the Vosges (and Germany's Black Forest) from the central railway station; and several car rental agencies are located near the station.

The Fo ret de Barr (Barr Forest) near the town of Barr is an excellent point of embarkation for a hike to the 3,000-foot level in the Vosges. You can park by the Auberge du Welshburg, a small inn, and hike one of the easy, marked trails that takes you through mountains reminiscent of the Shenandoahs.

The Kirnick River, a popular fishing stream, flows out of the sides of one of these slopes; you can hike down to the source and watch the river begin.

GETTING THERE: Strasbourg's airport is served by Air Inter, France's internal airline, which flies nonstop from Paris, Marseilles, Nice and Lyons. From Paris, there are nine flights a day from either Orly or Charles De Gaulle airport. The lowest round-trip fare is about $45; regular economy round-trip fare is $124.

Air France flies from other cities in Europe to Strasbourg; it is less than two hours by air from most Western European centers.

The French National Railroad has frequent service from Paris (about five hours, four hours on a Trans-Europ Express -- TEE), Brussels (seven hours), Germany (2 1/2 hours from Stuttgart) and Basle, Switzerland (an hour and a half). (For more information on train service to Strasbourg, see Page E3.)

GETTING AROUND: The Center is compact, so you don't need a car. In fact, you can walk most places, and taxis are not expensive. The buses run on an honor system -- you punch your ticket in the machine at the back of each bus. Tickets cost 5.50 francs (about 50 cents), unless you purchase a book of five for 19 francs at designated windows (such as in the railway station). One ticket gives one hour's worth of travel on all lines.

WHERE TO STAY: Restaurants and hotels are neither hard to find nor costly in the city, though Strasbourg is a better place to eat than sleep. Hotels tend to be small and not overly fancy.

The Hotel des Rohan is a comfortable 36-room hotel located in a pedestrians zone near the cathedral. All rooms have baths or showers and range in price from $20 to $35 double. The Astoria Hotel, just outside the Center near La Petite France, is a bit less carefully maintained, but adequate, and is about half the rate. Sofitel, Arcade and Holiday Inn are bigger chain hotels located outside the Center.