Visiting the historic city of Aachen in Germany

In Europe, Germany, Mini Breaks, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, Unesco, World Travelby Janis26 Comments

Ancient history, a UNESCO cathedral and gingerbread, what more could you want?

Aachen in western Germany is a city we’ve wanted to visit for many reasons.

We had passed it many times on the way to Cologne’s Christmas markets (just around 50 miles away). Here we had sampled Aachen’s delicious lebkuchen, and Klein's Aachener Printen is a firm favourite. We knew of the cities fine architecture and the Aachen's relationship with Charlemagne.

The back of the Rathaus at dusk from Katschhof, the square between the Dom and the town hall.

Aachen Rathaus, from the rear, at dusk

Aachen is located at a rare spot in Europe, as it’s just near the point at which three countries meet.

At the border triangle in Dreiländereck, you can stroll between Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, all in a matter of seconds.

Quick Links

Often our adventures have taken us deeper into Germany; however, with the lure of Aachen’s intriguing ancient history and Aachener Printen, it was time we discovered more.

A brass marker in the cobbles with the symbol of Charlemagne, these guide you along the cities tourist route.

Charlemagne's logo, throughout Aachen

Roman Foundations

Aachen’s origins are centuries old, ruins from Roman settlements have been unearthed. They are being preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come.

Three Roman arches freestanding in the Hof area of town.  Actually they replicas, the originals are in a museum in Bonn.

Roman arches - Actually this is a replica (Bonn has the original)

Another of Aachen’s unique charms is the Elisenbrunnen, as Aachen was once a prosperous spa town.

Take a stroll through the striking pillared colonnade, that stands at the forefront of what would have been the grand Roman thermal baths.

Today you can still appreciate the warm flowing water of the hot spring from the fountains in the Elisenbrunnen.

The Elisenbrunnen collonade which has two taps supplying the towns spa waters.  At one end is the tourist information centre, at the other an ice-cream parlour.

The Elisenbrunnen

You’ll know when you are close by the fountains, as the faint aroma of sulfur precedes your arrival.

Take a guided tour

During our visit to Aachen, we joined a 1.5-hour walking tour, organised by the Tourist Office. You’ll find out all about how France and the Prussian’s played a part in Aachen’s history.

Charlemagne

A great place to start your visit in Aachen is at the Tourist Office located at the end of Elisenbrunnen. Here you'll find lots of helpful information on how to plan your visit.

Although, the ideal museum to head to first is Centre Charlemagne in Katschhof, the former palace courtyard of Charlemagne. This fascinating museum takes you effortlessly through the history and timeline of this charming city. It tempts you into discovering more and more. Particularly the role it played in European history.

The glass front of the cafe area of the Centre Charlemagne, a fabulous museum that takes you through the cities history.  A real must-see when in town.

Centre Charlemagne

Charlemagne (Charles the Great) visited Aachen on many occasions, and it subsequently became his residence.

Within Aachen, Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor had a palace built which was located near to the Roman baths.

Charlemagne also had St Mary’s Church constructed, which became the beautiful Aachen Cathedral.

The side view of the Karlsschrein through its protective glass case.  The intricately decorated golden shrine to Charlemagne is one of the treasures of the city.

The Karlsschrein

Aachen Dom

Aachen Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not only was it the first monument in Germany to be given this status, 1978, but it was also one of the first 12 items to be listed by UNESCO.

The view of the Dom at dusk from the rear steps of the Rathaus.  The square between the two building is home of the cities main Christmas market.

Aachen cathedral at dusk

So, the cathedral was a must for us to visit.

The original octagonal chapel that Charlemagne had constructed was built between 793 and 813. Charlemagne died in 814, and buried in the chapel.

In the 12th century his bones where exhumed and in 1215 his bones transferred to the Karlsschrein.

The shrine is incredibly ornate and detailed. On the front is a depiction of Charlemagne enthroned, with Pope Leo III by his side.

An up-close view of the golden Karlsschrein.  You can only get his close to the treasure via an organised tour of the Cathedral.

The detail in the Karlsschrein

The Karlsschrein, in its protective glass case, in front of the stained-glass windows of the nave.

The Karlsschrein

The Cathedral was later extended in 1414 with the addition of the Gothic chancel, for the 600th anniversary of Charlemagne’s death.
 
It’s astounding as the Cathedral looks reasonably large from the outside; however, as you step through the 8th-century bronze Wolf's doors, it’s quite a surprise at how small and intimate it is. 

The altar in Aachen's Dom.  Here you get a great view of the detail in the Cathedral and the light brought in by its vast stained glass windows.

Inside Aachen cathedral

The extent of the church soon disappeared from my mind, as I was truly taken aback, at how beautiful it was.

Charlemagne’s octagonal chapel is breath-taking,

I just couldn’t stop looking up at the stunning dome above our heads.

A closer look at the Barbarossa Chandelier attached to the centre dome of Aachen's Dom.  From this view, you can see the detail of the arches and the ornate decoration of the dome itself.

The dome of Aachen cathedral

All around us were lovely striped arches that almost looked Moorish in detail.

Supporting the arches are still the original pillars, which had survived from Charlemagne’s era.

The interior was enhanced with the decoration you see today, including the blue marble cladding over the original stone work, in the 19th century.
 
Although there was a considerable amount of striking gold detail within the cathedral, you never felt it distracted from the exquisiteness of the church.

The blue and gold vaulted arches of the Dom are constructed of tiny bits of tile in a mosaic style.

The detail in the Dom

Once the initial wonder of the interior of the chapel has lessened, the eight-sided Barbarossa Chandelier caught my eye.

It just appeared to be floating above us, being entirely supported by the dome above.

The 48 candles encircling the chandelier are still lit during special services.

Inside the Dom,  looking at the congregation area lined with wooden chairs.  In the centre of the space is the Barbarossa Chandelier hanging from the centre of the dome.  Around the space are the original arches clad with blue & white marble added in the 19th century.

The Barbarossa Chandelier

Heading up to the circular gallery and facing the choir is the throne of Charlemagne.

There is now some doubt that the stone throne from Jerusalem was actually used by Charlemagne. Researchers believe that it may be from the 12th century, although subsequent Kings have used it.

The throne of Charlemagne.  The throne is a straightforward stone construction, on the level above the congregation, where all Holy Roman Emperors were crowned until the early 16th century.

The Throne of Charlemagne

Aachen Dom became a significant cathedral in Germany’s history, as it was here that between 936 and 1531, that the Palatine Chapel saw the coronation of thirty-one German kings and twelve queens.

Good to know

Certain areas of Aachen Cathedral are only accessible during a guided tour. So, if you want to view Charlemagne’s shrine and throne up close then join one of the Cathedral tours.

Rathaus

Ahh yes, no German town or city wouldn’t be complete without its Rathaus, or Town Hall to you and me.

The front of the Rathaus at dusk, with the statue of Charlemagne on the right.

The Rathaus at night

The prominent Gothic style Rathaus is located opposite the Cathedral and stands pride of place within the city. It’s quite an imposing structure and continues to play a significant role in Aachen’s history.

The back of the Rathaus on a bright day, with blue skies.  The gothic building is another place that should be on your to-do list when visiting.

The Rathaus from the rear

The Rathaus is the seat of Aachen’s Lord Mayor and also where council meetings are still convened. Annually the Charlemagne Prize for European unification is awarded here and has been received by many politicians.

Inside the Rathaus in a room used for official functions with a decorated vaulted ceiling and panelled columns.

Inside the Rathaus where the city council convenes

Grashaus

The Grashaus is one of the oldest buildings in Aachen and was built in 1260.

It was Aachen’s first town hall and later became a court and a dungeon.
 
The Grashaus is no longer used for beheadings and is now a place for education on the topic of ‘Europe’.

A tower attached to the Grashaus, one of the cities oldest building that survived the great fire of 1656 as it is made of stone.

The Grashaus

Tale of two cities!

Did you know that in 1656 the fortified city of Aachen suffered a ‘Great Fire’ that almost decimated the city, which started in a bakery? Then just 10 years later in 1666, the ‘Great Fire of London’ occurred, which also ignited in a Bakery in Pudding Lane.

A few more places to visit

The Cathedral Treasury houses many of Aachen’s precious possessions which have been gifted by Emperors and Kings over many years. Also, artefacts that have been collected by Charlemagne.

The Cathedral treasury can be visited by guided tour.

The ornate gothic entrance to the Cathedral's Treasury.  It contains some of Charlemagne's treasures.  It's one of the things to do when you are in town.

Cathedral Treasury

The Rococo style Couven Museum provides a little insight into how ‘the other half lived’ during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The interior décor of the museum shows the beautiful lavish styling and elegant rooms from the late Baroque period.

The Couven Museum at dusk; dedicated to the architect's life and creations.  This is one to add to your to-do list if visiting the town.

The Couven Museum

Stroll around the Old Town

One of my favourite things when visiting a historic German town or city is discovering its Altstadt - ‘Old Town’.

The cobbled lane of Rommelsgasse that runs between the Rathaus and the Hof at dusk.  A the end of the path you can see one of the towers of the town hall.

Rommelsgasse, by the Domkeller

The Dom through the Roman arch at dusk.  Here you can find Café Zum Mohren, one of the many places to find regional cuisine.

Aachen Cathedral through the Roman arch

I love strolling around the cobbled lanes and squares, peeking through gates and along passageways, just marvelling at what stories these streets could divulge.

In the courtyard of the Domhof at dusk,  look towards the tower.

Domhof

Pastel coloured buildings, and cobbled streets around Spitzgässchen.  Each building is intricately decorated.

Spitzgässchen by the Dom

The Marktplatz, in front of the Rathaus, has some incredibly interesting buildings. The Haus Löwenstein was built in the 14th Century and one of the few buildings that survived the Great Fire in 1656.

A view at dusk of the corner of Pontstraße and Markt with the Haus Löwenstein on the corner.

Haus Löwenstein

The tower at the end of the Rathaus that contains an additional building that has held many functions, including a coaching inn for the stagecoaches that passed through town.

Coaching Inn under the Rathaus

Then when dusk descends upon the lanes, and the streetlamps lighten up, the cobblestoned streets have a whole new feel.

A bit more info

If you’re tempted with visiting Aachen, the local Aachen Tourist Service provides some extremely useful information and handy pointers for around the city.

Fountains and Statues

Aachen certainly has its fair share of fountains and statues. My favourite was the ‘Circle of Money’ located on the corner of Elisengarten.
 
Each character is depicting a tale of money, whether it’s a little girl receiving pocket money or a beggar pleading with a banker. All the while, the water is whirling in never-ending circles.

A brass statue of a little girl with her feet in the Circle of Money fountain, looking up to here father who's handing out some change.

Girl receiving pocket money

A brass statue of old man, bent over, hand out, begging for loose change next to Circle of Money fountain.

Beggar at the Circle of Money Fountain

The Chicken Thief or ‘Hühnerdieb’ was another fountain that caught our eye.

Unfortunately, the original had to be melted down as a metal donation during WWII. Luckily the original plaster model was still able to be used, and another figure was cast in 1953.

The Hühnerdieb ‘Chicken Thief’ fountain in Hühnermarkt has a brass statue, of the thief, with the Cockrell behind him on a column.  Attached to the column is a ring of chicks from where the water flows.

The Hühnerdieb - ‘Chicken Thief’

A bronze fountain of puppets with adjustable joints to allow you to interact with the feature.

The Bronze Puppenbrunnen

A fun fountain was the interacting Puppenbrunnen, each of the bronze characters have moveable limbs, so you create different poses for your photos.

Aachener Printen

Ahhh, gingerbread; our favourite Aachener Printen is from ‘Klein’. Each shop has its own twist of the recipe, and you can choose from various types. Ones covered in icing, nuts, chocolate or plain and you even have the option of soft or hard. Who knew there were so many choices?

The Klein Aachener Printen gingerbread shop.  There are many gingerbread shops in town, each selling there own Aachener Printen but Klein is the one we've always brought back from Cologne

Klein Aachener Printen

Our Accommodation

During our stay in Aachen, we were hosted by Mercure Hotel Aachen Europaplatz.

Set in a peaceful location, the staff were accommodating and friendly. The hotel is slightly out of the city centre, which was ideal for us, as there were ample parking and only a 10 minutes bus journey into town.

The lounge of the Mercure Hotel Aachen Europaplatz.  A peaceful hotel, a 10-minute bus journey from the centre of town with ample parking.

The lounge area

The room was very comfortable, clean & peaceful.

The desk area was a reasonable size, allowing us to set-up our charging station, and work on the laptop without being too cramped.

In Summary


 There was a wide variety of food and drinks for breakfast, and all served in a very light and airy location.

The breakfast counter of the Mercure Hotel Aachen Europaplatz.  A wide away of choice on the continental buffet at this comfortable, modern, hotel.

Some of the breakfast selection

Given that it was October, we didn’t use the swimming pool; however, I could imagine that this would be a wonderful addition in the summer months.

The dining/restaurant/bar area of the Mercure Hotel Aachen Europaplatz.  There's plenty of seating which meant it was never too busy.

The dinning & bar area

German Cuisine

When Gary and I travel anywhere, we always make an effort to try the local food and drink. After a little research, we found some specialities from the Aachen region. Also, some traditional inn’s and restaurants to sample them in.

A plate of typical German food at the Zum Goldenen Einhorn just opposite the Rathaus.  This Aachen Sauerbraten has a local twist with the sauce including the gingerbread the city is known for.

Aachen Sauerbraten in a Printen sauce

In the Zum Goldenen Einhorn directly opposite the Rathaus, we tried the Aachen Sauerbraten, marinated pot roast. This version was served in a Prtinten sauce; we were maxing out on the gingerbread.

On one evening we headed to the oldest inn in Aachen “Am Knipp” , which dates from 1698.

Dining at the Am Knipp was a lovely experience, rich in tradition, everyone was so friendly, and we shared a table with a local family.

The food was delicious too, highly recommend dining here.

The outside of Am Knippat night.  Dating from 1698, it is Aachen's oldest inn and serves traditional local food.  A family-run business that's a great place to eat.

Am Knipp Inn dating from 1698

Local Tipple

If you fancy trying one or maybe two of the region’s beers, head to Aachen Brauhaus, just opposite Aachen Theatre. It has a great selection of beers and also a pleasant atmosphere.

A little something sweet

Ahh there’s always room for a hot chocolate and a piece of cake. We discovered that there was a local rice cake named ‘Reisfladen’. If you enjoy rice pudding, which a lot of British people do, you’ll love this. 

A section of Reisfladen, a local rice cake, similar to a custard tart but the filling is a thick rice pudding.  One to try if you are in town, we had ours at the Van Den Daele café, again worth checking out even if the Reisfladen doesn't appeal.

Reisfladen – traditional rice cake from Van Den Daele café

We loved our cake and hot chocolate at the Van Den Daele café, which was founded in 1890. It’s a lovely traditional café, located in historic buildings dating back to 1655.

One for the Christmas List

Aachen has left a delightful lasting memory with us, we have never visited their Christmas markets; however, it is undoubtedly now on our Santa wish list.
 
I can just imagine the twinkling lights around the Rathaus, and the Aachen Dom would look magical.

Disclaimer

This article was produced in partnership with Aachen Tourist Service, in exchange for an honest review and an account of our personal experiences.

Inspired to visit Aachen?

Hopefully, this post has provided you with some inspiration to visit this charming and historic city.

We loved our time here, and we would love to visit again sometime in future, bet it's fabulous at Christmas.

People were friendly and welcoming, and we know we just scratched the surface in our 36 hours in the town.

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Janis

Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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Comments

  1. Wow, you took some lovely photos!! Love it. Aachen (Or Aken, as we say in Dutch) is one of the few German cities I haven’t visited. It is not too far of a drive for me, so I’d really love to go there soon… maybe next spring. Thank you for the great travel guide, as ever!
    #FarawayFiles

    1. Author

      Thanks for your lovely comments Esther. There is so much history in Aachen, I didn’t realise how much until we visited the Centre Charlemagne, the Cathedral is incredible.
      I think this a city we’ll return to for Christmas one year.

  2. Aachen looks really lovely and I have put it on my list to visit. Thanks for sharing. Wilbur #farawayfiles

  3. I recently found out that Germany has so many amazing cities. Aachen is only 1.5 hour away from where I live so I have to go for sure. #Farawayfiles

    1. Author

      Yes, Germany has some incredible cities and Aachen has so much charm, it is really worth visiting. As you live so close it is a must.

  4. Aachen is lovely. We went there a few years back for the Christmas market trip. I would love to go back there and explore more. Beautiful post and photos. #farawayfiles

    1. Author

      Thank you. Yes, there are quite a few places to visit in Aachen, I bet it was really pretty at Christmas time. We are tempted to head back to Aachen next year for the Christmas markets.

    1. Author

      Yes, it was such a lovely city and pleasure strolling around finding all the little squares and fountains.

      Apologies if you’ve already received a response to this comment, we’ve had a little glitch with the website.

    1. Author

      Thanks Kathryn, it’s wonderful when you arrive at a town or city and it goes way beyond your expectations and Aachen certainly did that.

  5. Aachen looks lovely and you beautifully brought it out in the photos. My sister lives in Germany, i must visit Aachen when i visit my sister. A must visit place. Cheers!!!

    1. Author

      Thanks very much, it is really a lovely place to visit and so educational. Where does your sister live in Germany, is it far from Aachen?

  6. How intriguing Aachen seems, especially with those quirky statues. The Cathedral looks exquisite and, having visited quite a few over the years, it’s not that often that one catches my attention so much. And what a view at dusk through the Roman arch – that scene is straight out of a fairytale film set, it seems!

    1. Author

      Yes it was a lovely place to visit and I must admit, like you, we’ve visited quite a few cathedrals and Aachen’s is quite stunning, it’s surprising how small it is when you step inside.

    1. Author

      I know it’s terrible, we keep doing the same. We also visited Munster on this trip and that is a beautiful little city as well.

  7. We just scratched the surface of Aachen on our grand European road trip from Copenhagen to south of France this summer. Stayed the night and wandered the old town and waved hello to Charlemagne. I was taken with the incredible mosaics in the Dom there. So beautiful. Would also love to do the Christmas market there – sure it’s adorable. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

    1. Author

      Wow, that must have been a wonderful road trip. I was really taken aback at how beautiful the cathedral was as you said the mosaics were incredible.
      Yes it’s definitely on our Christmas market list.

    1. Author

      Yes we headed to the three countries point too, you just have to do it. We really enjoyed our time in the city, lovely relaxed vibe.

    1. Author

      Thanks very much for your comments, it was a bit of a wow moment for us when we stepped inside. We just didn’t expect it to be so beautiful.
      We love finding the different cuisines in each place we visit, so it was a treat finding the Reisfladen, if not a little filling.

  8. I have some very happy memories of Aachen. It’s connection with Charles the Great and the treasures of the cathedral make it a tremendous place for history lovers!

    1. Author

      That’s what we loved about it so much, the incredible ancient history. Ohh and the gingerbread of course.

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