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.
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.
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.
Charlemagne's logo, throughout Aachen
Aachen’s origins are centuries old, ruins from Roman settlements have been unearthed. They are being preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come.
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.
You’ll know when you are close by the fountains, as the faint aroma of sulfur precedes your arrival.
Take a guided tour
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.
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.
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.
The detail in 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.
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.
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 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.
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
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
Ahh yes, no German town or city wouldn’t be complete without its Rathaus, or Town Hall to you and me.
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 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 where the city council convenes
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’.
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 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
Stroll around the Old Town
One of my favourite things when visiting a historic German town or city is discovering its Altstadt - ‘Old Town’.
Rommelsgasse, by the Domkeller
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.
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.
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
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.
Girl receiving pocket money
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’
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.
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?
Klein Aachener Printen
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 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.
There was a wide variety of food and drinks for breakfast, and all served in a very light and airy location.
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 dinning & bar area
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.
Aachen Sauerbraten in a Printen sauce
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.
Am Knipp Inn dating from 1698
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.
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.
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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