Ancient history, a UNESCO cathedral and gingerbread, what more could you want?
Aachen in western Germany is a fascinating city to experience as mini-break and visiting Aachen by car is so easy.
Aachen is a city we’ve wanted to visit for many reasons. One is the memory we have of visiting Cologne’s Christmas markets (just around 50 miles away), and sampling Aachen’s delicious lebkuchen. The other is the incredible relationship Aachen has with Charlemagne.
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.
Where is Aachen?
Things to do in Aachen
- Visit the Dom - Better still, take a tour.
- Visit Centre Charlemagne
- Check out the Couven Museum
- Visit the Cathedral Treasury
- Take a walking tour - it's around 1.5 hours and it's really informative.
- Visit the Rathaus
- Don't miss the Elisenbrunnen
- Try the Aachener Printen - Christmas in every bite for us.
The History of AachenThe Roman’s arrive
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.
Take a guided tour
Discover AachenCharlemagne, The story of an Emperor & King
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.
A visit to Aachen CathedralA place of wonder
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.
Aachen 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 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.
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 Aachen Cathedral, you never felt it distracted from the exquisiteness of the church.
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.
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.
Good to know
Exploring AachenLet's start with the Rathaus
Aachen on footThe 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.
Tale of two cities!
A few more places to visit in AachenDiscover this historic gem
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.
Stroll around the Aachen Old TownA city made for exploring
A bit more info
Features of AachenFountains 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.
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.
A taste of AachenAachener Printen
Where we stayed in AachenStylish accommodation with ample parking
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.
There was a wide variety of food and drinks for breakfast, and all served in a very light and airy location.
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.
What to eat & drink in AachenTraditional German cuisine with a twist
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.
A local tipple
A little something sweet
Our video of AachenThe city through our eyes
We have created a little YouTube video of Aachen. Why not take a look?
Also, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel and get the latest clips as we post them?
Discover Aachen at Christmas
Aachen left a delightful lasting memory with us, and as we love visiting Christmas markets in Germany, we returned in 2021.
We discovered how Aachen celebrated Christmas and explored its twinkling yuletide markets, weaving their way around the ancient Aachen Dom and Rathaus.
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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!
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.
Aachen looks really lovely and I have put it on my list to visit. Thanks for sharing. Wilbur #farawayfiles
Thanks Wilbur, yes it is lovely city and so many interesting places to visit there.
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
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.
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
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.
Ah Janis, Aachen looks so beautiful! I have to admit I’d not heard of it before, but you’ve sold it to me. I really want to go see it twinkling in the xmas markets now! #FarawayFiles
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.
Such beautiful photos. I had no idea! The architecture is utterly stunning. Achen is on my Santa Wishlist now too!
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.
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!!!
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?
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!
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.
I’m slowly ticking German cities off my list, now you’ve just added another one Janis.
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.
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
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.
We loved Aachen right from standing in three countries at the same time to the amazing Cathedral #FarawayFiles
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.
Thanks for introducing Aachen to me! Your photos of Aachen Cathedral… wow, they are breathtaking! I can’t believe all the detail! I’m also interested in Reisfladen. Saving this for later!
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.
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!
That’s what we loved about it so much, the incredible ancient history. Ohh and the gingerbread of course.
They were Roman Emperors, not “German kings”.
We have changed the wording slightly to ‘Roman-German Kings’ to mirror the Aachener Dom website below.