10 Awe-Inspiring Things To Do In Ancient Aachen For An Incredible Trip [Don’t Miss Them]

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Tucked away near the border where Germany meets the Netherlands and Belgium, Aachen is a city steeped in history and alive with modern vibrancy. This article uncovers the top activities and hidden gems in this charming and historic city, ensuring that your visit to Aachen is as memorable as it is delightful.

As I meandered through the cobblestone streets, I couldn’t help but be captivated by the blend of medieval architecture and contemporary culture that defines Aachen. From the awe-inspiring Aachen Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to the therapeutic waters of the Carolus Thermen Spa, this city offers a unique array of experiences.

Famous as being the home of Charlemagne, the king of the Franks and arguably one of the first kings of Germany, this place is a must for anyone with a love of history.

Aachen home of CharlemagnePin

Whether you’re a history buff, an art enthusiast, or someone seeking a taste of local life, Aachen’s diverse attractions cater to all, however.

Join me as we explore the heart of Charlemagne’s empire: sample the famed Printen (Aachen’s own spicy gingerbread), unwind in the warm embrace of its hot springs, and explore the famous Cathedral.

Each recommendation is designed to give you a genuine feel for this enchanting Western German city, so get ready to enjoy Aachen through the eyes of someone who’s walked its paths and been charmed by its warmth and character.

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A Brief History of Aachen

Aachen, known historically as Aix-la-Chapelle, is a city with a rich history located in western Germany near the borders with Belgium and the Netherlands. Its roots can be traced back to the Neolithic era, but it was the Roman Empire that established Aachen as a thermal spa destination because of its hot springs. The Latin name “Aquae Granni” was attributed to it, after the Celtic god of healing, Grannus.

However, Aachen’s real prominence in history is usually attributed to Charlemagne, the King of the Franks and later the first Holy Roman Emperor, who made the city his imperial residence at the end of the 8th century.

Towards 800 AD, Charlemagne constructed the Palatine Chapel (now part of Aachen Cathedral), which is the oldest cathedral in northern Europe. In 814, Aachen became Charlemagne’s final resting place, further cementing the city’s significance.

You can learn more about Charlemagne here. I recommend you read/watch this article before you go.

Beautiful AachenPin
Beautiful Aachen

For the next 600 years, up until 1531, Aachen continued to increase in importance as it was the coronation site for thirty German kings and twelve queens. The Cathedral treasury preserves numerous artifacts and religious relics from this time.

The city’s strategic location made it a focus of many conflicts over the centuries, including during the Wars of the Spanish and Austrian Succession, the Napoleonic Wars, and both World Wars. In World War II, Aachen was the first German city to be captured by Allied forces, which led to significant post-war rebuilding.

Today, Aachen is known for its historic sites including the Cathedral, the Gothic Town Hall, and its thermal baths. It is also a center of education and research, primarily because of the renowned RWTH Aachen University. Industry thrives here too, with contributions from information technology and machine manufacturing.

As such, the city is both a guardian of a rich historical legacy and a bustling modern community.

Top 10 Incredible Things To Do In Aachen

1. Visit Aachen Cathedral

Aachen CathedralPin
Aachen Cathedral

When you find yourself wandering through the charming streets of Aachen, Germany, the Aachen Cathedral, also known as the Kaiserdom, is a treasure you simply must uncover. This majestic structure, nestled in the heart of the city, not only commands attention with its intricate architecture but also carries with it centuries of history.

Stepping through the ornate doors, your gaze will soar to the heights of the cathedral’s grandiose interior. Here, you’re standing within Germany’s first UNESCO World Heritage site, a title well-earned by this monument of faith and artistry. The cathedral, also the oldest in northern Europe, was commissioned by Charlemagne in the late 8th century, and it’s within these very walls that German kings were once crowned – 30 of them, in fact.

You’ll find yourself surrounded by a symphony of art. The Aachen Cathedral houses a rich collection of medieval artifacts, including Charlemagne’s throne and a stunning golden altarpiece. The fusion of Carolingian, Ottonian, Gothic, and Baroque design tells a visual story of a city that has been at the crossroads of Europe for a millennia.

Inside Aachen CathedralPin
Inside Aachen Cathedral

Bask in the serene ambiance as you wander through the cathedral’s Palatine Chapel. Here, the octagonal center dazzles with its mosaic-adorned dome, enveloping visitors in an atmosphere that is both sacred and sublime. This spiritual hub offers a quiet retreat from the bustling city outside.

While you can visit solo, I highly recommend a guided tour as you’ll get to see more areas of this spectacular piece of history and learn more about what you are seeing too. When I visited, this was only at 2pm in English and you can only book a spot on-site.

I recommend you head straight here on arrival in Aachen and try to book a spot as it did sell out on the day I took it despite being a rainy day in May.

If you are on a tour, you get to visit the second level and Charlemagne’s throne as well as get closer to the holy relics here and Charlemagne’s tomb. For any lover of history, you won’t want to miss this.

Charlemagne's throne at Aachen CathedralPin
Charlemagne’s throne

You can also pay extra to see the Cathedral Treasury where many of the treasures and artefacts of time past are kept.

Whether you’re an architecture aficionado, a history buff, or simply seeking the tranquility that this age-old sanctuary provides, your visit to Aachen would be incomplete without witnessing the awe-inspiring beauty of the Kaiserdom. It’s one of the most amazing historical places you can visit in Germany, and it simply took my breath away knowing I was standing in the centre of so much history.

2. Relax in Carolus Thermen Bad Aachen

Carolus Thermen Bad AachenPin
Carolus Thermen Bad

The Carolus Thermen Bad Aachen offers a contemporary take on the city’s ancient Roman baths tradition, providing a luxurious spa experience that draws on thermal waters renowned since antiquity for their healing qualities.

Spanning over several indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, and wellness treatments, these thermal baths are designed to provide ultimate relaxation and well-being. Visitors can indulge body and soul in the beneficial waters, a pampering that mirrors the regal treatments that might have been enjoyed by historical figures who visited Aachen for its springs.

This rejuvenating experience rightfully earns its place on any list for a reinvigorating escape.

3. Stroll through the Historic Old Town

Aachen Old TownPin
A small slice of Aachen Old Town

When you first arrive at Aachen at the central station, you may be wandering if you have visited an ancient city at all. But as you get closer to the heart of the city, around the Cathedral, this pretty Old Town is sure to be one you’ll remember.

Dominated by landmarks like the iconic Elisenbrunnen (historic thermal baths) and ancient churches, the Old Town is also a hub for enjoying Aachen’s café culture and artisan shops. Stop for some printen (coming up) and soak it all in.

4. Explore the Aachen Rathaus (Town Hall)

Aachen RathausPin
Aachen Rathaus

Step into Aachen’s history at the Rathaus, the city’s grand town hall. Once the palatine seat of Charlemagne, this Gothic masterpiece is a treasure trove of art and history. Imagine the coronations that once echoed through its halls as you explore its ornate chambers.

The facade is adorned with 50 statues of former German rulers including the 30 kings crowned in the Cathedral between 936 and 1531. It was built in the 14th century on the foundations of Charlemagne’s palace. It makes for quite a sight.

Within, you can marvel at the lavish frescoes depicting the life of Charlemagne, adding a vivid backdrop to your visit.

5. Indulge in Printen at Aachen’s Bakeries

One of the many printen shops in AachenPin
One of the many printen shops in Aachen. You won’t be able to miss them!

Printen, Aachen’s version of gingerbread, transcends mere confectionery to become an edible emblem of the city’s culinary heritage. This crunchy delicacy, with its specialized recipes safeguarded by local bakeries, infuses an unmistakable flavor of molasses and a blend of aromatic spices.

Much more than a seasonal treat, Printen signifies the sweet essence of Aachen’s gastronomic tradition. Visitors can watch these iconic treats being made and sample various interpretations, making it a delicious pilgrimage for any food lover.

6. Visit the Couven Museum

Couven Museum AchenPin
Couven Museum

Located within a Baroque mansion, the Couven Museum offers a portal into the nuanced domestic life of the 18th and 19th century bourgeoisie. With its collection of authentic furniture, porcelain, and silverware it meticulously recreates the sophisticated living spaces of a time when Aachen was a fashionable spa town.

The museum does more than display artifacts; it narrates a story of elegance, design, and everyday life in a bygone Aachen, earning its place for those seeking to uncover the layers of societal history embedded within the city’s walls.

7. Discover the Centre Charlemagne

Inside Centre Charlemagne AachenPin
Inside Centre Charlemagne

The Centre Charlemagne is not just a museum; it’s an educational journey through the city’s storied legacy, right where its roots began on the historical Katschhof. It’s the city museum of Aachen.

Its interactive exhibits are thoughtfully designed to engage visitors of all ages, bringing to life the intriguing narrative of Charlemagne and Aachen’s importance in European history.

The modern facility underscores the blend of tradition and innovation seen across Aachen, exemplifying why it’s critical to understand the city’s past to appreciate its present. It’s a must visit for anyone in Aachen wanting to learn more about the area.

The information boards in this museum are only in German and brief so make sure you have your phone and headphones. You can download an app on their free wifi that works like an audio guide in English. It would be hard to get much out of this museum without it.

8. Experience the Lindt Chocolate Factory

The Lindt Chocolate Factory in Aachen is a wonderland for chocolate aficionados. The attached shop tantalizes with a variety of premium chocolates at reduced prices, including some flavors and products only available regionally.

For many, the draw is more than the chocolate itself—it’s witnessing part of the production process and exploring the rich legacy of one of the world’s most beloved chocolatiers. This sensorial delight fully justifies its inclusion as a highlight for visitors, especially those looking to bring a taste of Aachen back home.

9. Country Hop (Literally) At The Three-Country Point

Aachen Three-Country PointPin
Three-Country Point

Just a stone’s throw from Aachen, at the unique tri-border area where Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands converge, lies the Three-Country Point: a geographical marvel that’s a must-visit. Positioned about 45 minutes from Aachen’s city center, it’s an attraction that provides more than just a photo opportunity.

At this singular location, you can literally hop between countries within seconds, making for a unique and memorable experience. Enjoy the panoramic views from the Boudewijn Tower, or sit down in a café to sample a mix of local cuisines.

The Three-Country Point isn’t just about standing at the intersection of nations, it’s a symbol of European unity and accessibility. For travelers seeking a tangible piece of geographical uniqueness and a story to tell, this is your spot. Come to witness a seamless blend of cultures and landscapes, all converging at one point.

If you love country hopping, don’t miss the world’s weirdest border between Germany and Belgium which is also close by. Read about it here.

10. Take a Day Trip to the Eifel National Park

Eifel National ParkPin
Eifel National Park

Eifel National Park serves as a green lung for Aachen, offering an easily accessible escape to Mother Nature’s realm. Visitors can immerse themselves in the biodiversity of this protected area, exploring its dense woodlands, meandering rivers, and wide-sweeping valleys.

The park’s commitment to conservation and the opportunity it presents for hiking, wildlife observation, and simply unwinding amidst serene vistas makes it a top environmental attraction.

It is a 45 minute drive away so this attractions is best for people with their own car.

11. Visit Crazy Gorgeous Monschau

Beautiful MonschauPin
Stunning Monschau

Just a 50 minute drive from Aachen, nestled in the Eifel hills, lies the picturesque town of Monschau. Step back in time as you wander through cobblestone streets, framed by half-timbered houses and the serene Rur River. Monschau is an enclave of history, where every turn offers a snapshot of the past. This is one of the prettiest towns I have visited anywhere.

Explore the Monschau Castle for breathtaking views, or indulge in the local mustard, a culinary souvenir unique to this charming spot. With its artisan shops and cozy cafes, Monschau is a perfect day or half-day trip providing a serene escape from the buzz of city life. For travelers looking to soak up culture and tranquility, this gem is a must-visit.

You can bus or drive here from Aachen easily.

Click here to read our full guide to Monschau.

How To Get To Aachen

Aachen StationPin
Aachen Station

Getting to Aachen from other parts of Germany is a straightforward journey, thanks to the country’s efficient transport network. The city sits snugly in the western part of Germany, sharing its borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, making it an intriguing crossroads of culture and history.

If you’re traveling by train, Deutsche Bahn (the German railway company) offers convenient connections that will whisk you to Aachen Hauptbahnhof, the city’s main station. From major cities like Berlin, Munich, or Frankfurt, you will find direct ICE (InterCity Express) trains or options with one or two changes, often in Cologne.

Click here to check out Deutsche Bahn schedules and prices.

For those preferring to hit the road, the autobahn network provides a seamless drive. Take the A4 motorway and, as you near Aachen, you will find clear signage directing you towards the city. Rental cars are readily available across Germany, and the drive itself offers a chance to view the beautiful German countryside unfold.

Click here to check out car hire options and prices.

Alternatively, long-distance buses connect Aachen to many German cities. These are generally more economical than train travel, though the journey may take a bit longer. Companies such as FlixBus operate modern fleets with free Wi-Fi, ensuring both comfort and connectivity as you travel.

Should you decide to fly, the nearest major airport is Düsseldorf International Airport. Upon landing, a short train ride of about 1.5 hours will land you in the heart of Aachen. Regional express and S-Bahn trains run regularly between the airport and Aachen, making your airport transfer hassle-free.

Aachen's Old Town with the Cathedral in the backgroundPin
Aachen’s Old Town with the Cathedral in the background

Final Words

Aachen stands as an inviting tapestry of historical grandeur and contemporary charm that caters to a variety of interests. Whether it’s the city’s rich tradition of spa culture that calls for relaxation, its regal landmarks beckoning history enthusiasts, or quaint patisseries tempting the palates of food connoisseurs, Aachen offers a myriad of memorable experiences.

Each visit to this storied city has the potential to uncover new secrets and create lasting memories, framed by the warmth of its local hospitality.

And few places in the world beat Aachen Cathedral as a place to experience history.

Find guides to nearby Cologne here and gorgeous Monschau here. You can also find more guides to Western Germany here or check out our one week itinerary for Cologne/West Germany here that includes Aachen.

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Sharon Gourlay in the Rhina Valley

By Sharon Gourlay

Sharon first fell in love with Germany back in 2000 on her first visit. She loves the long history, the picturesque Old Towns, the castles, the food, everything really! Since then, she has visited many times and loves writing about Germany here so you can enjoy it too. In fact, Sharon loves German culture so much that she sent her kids to a German primary school in Australia. She especially loves Berlin and towns with charming Old Towns like Celle and Quedlinburg. Sharon also has a Certificate III in International Travel Sales and understands the nitty gritty of travel planning. Through this site, she'll help you have the perfect trip to Germany whether it's your first or tenth time!

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