When we decided to visit Maastricht, the Netherlands, I wanted to visit Aachen. I’m a huge history geek…and Aachen, Germany is a mecca for history lovers. Aachen was the capital of Charlemagne’s empire–and it’s certainly worth a visit for history lovers! In this post, I’ll be discussing the best things to do in Aachen, great seasonal events in Aachen, and where to stay in Aachen.
Where to stay in Aachen
When I went to Aachen, we stayed at a cozy bed and breakfast in Aachen. My parents also visited, however they stayed at Art Hotel Superior Aachen. This boutique 4* hotel includes free parking. My dad raved non-stop about the incredibly thoughtful personal service for the reasonable price (59 euros).
Why visit Aachen
Aachen is a city with rich history that any history geek will go crazy over. The city originated as a Roman spa (Aquisgranum) and the city still proudly has thermal spas that visitors can visit to understand why the Romans were so fond of this region…
During the rule of Charlemagne in the 8th century, Aachen became the capital of his empire, simply as it was his favorite. Following this period, numerous German emperors and kings were crowned at the Aachen Cathedral. However, the city declined after Frankfurt am Main took the place of Aachen as the crowning city.
Much of the city has been rebuilt beautifully following fires, wars, and other damage that has occured over time. Despite this, Aachen is a stunning city with few tourists that just transports you instantly back in time. Anyone who loves history will love walking around the stunning and small historic center.
How to visit Aachen from Maastricht
If you’re visiting Aachen from Maastricht, it couldn’t be simpler. When you’re at Maastricht Centraal, you’ll look for bus 350. This Dutch bus takes about one hour going through the prettiest part of Limburg countryside until you reach Aachen Centraal.
If you have an OVchipkaart from the Netherlands, you can use it on the bus to tap in. Alternatively, you can pay with cash, I believe. The bus fare was approximately 7 euros. Flixbus also goes this route if you reserve in advance.
The best things to do in Aachen
Aachen printen are famous cookies that come from Aachen. They were popularized by pharmacists who believed some of the ingredients would have health benefits… I’m not so sure about that part nowadays, but it’s worth stopping off to try these delicious cookies.
These cookies are made with sugar beets now as they used to be made with honey prior to Napoleon putting an embargo on honey imports from the United States. Those who don’t enjoy anise may not enjoy these cookies, which can be easily found at bakeries all around the city.
In the middle of one of the city squares, you’ll find finds from archeological excavations in Aachen. The objects vary in history, however some date back to the Neolithic period. They’re housed in a free showcase building that you can descend into during the day. I enjoyed this peek into history as it’s en route from the train station to the Aachen Cathedral.
Admire Aachen Cathedral
The Aachen Cathedral is one of the highlights of Aachen and cannot be missed. This stunning cathedral built in 813 represents the rule of Emperor Charlemagne, one of Europe’s most effective rulers who united Western and Central Europe. He was buried here in 814 and you can still view his grave.
The cathedral as well as the Treasury are both UNESCO world heritage sites. The ticket for the cathedral and the treasury are purchased separately, but for eight euros, it’s certainly worth visiting both.
The main building to see is the Palatine Chapel, which has an octagonal shape. The dome has stunning stained glass rising over the top. Although the mosaics are newer, the combination of the shape and the interesting tiling (dating back to the 1800s) made it a delight to view. To be fair, there were a number of fellow tourists here, but nothing compared to other cities and major attractions on the scale of this church.
View the riches of the Treasury
If you do not do anything else in Aachen, be sure to find the entrance to the Cathedral Treasury (Aachener Domschattz). The collection of relics and ecclesiastical treasures is one of the most impressive in Central Europe—and even if you’re not a history geek, you’re likely to find something fascinating to admire.
One of the most impressive pieces was the bust of Charlemagne (pictured above) that was created entirely by silver and gold. You’ll also find various relics housed in gold as well as liturgic objects. I especially enjoyed the coronation pieces.
Tour the City Hall Aachen (Rathaus)
We toured the Aachen city hall, which has parts of Charlemagne’s palace that were incorporated into it. The Rathaus dates back in some parts to 800 although most of it is built in the Gothic style.
The city hall was finished in the medieval period (1349), however much of the building was destroyed in a large fire that destroyed much of the city in the 1600s. Once again, it was rebuilt and added onto, and then there was a major fire in the late 1880s. Much of the modern day building dates back to the 1900s as a result of this unfortunate fire although the Aachen city hall also suffered significant damage in World War II.
If you’re looking to view a historic interior, you might be a bit disappointed as the Rathaus as gone through so many changes over the years. I heard that the nearby Grashaus (Aachen’s first city hall dating back to 1260) is better preserved, however it’s not open to the public.
Stop for a beer in a historic location
Next to the Rathaus, you’ll find a cozy cafe, the Postwagen, which is full of atmosphere. Like many German cities, Aachen has their own beer and if you’re a beer drinker, trying the local beer is a must on your things to do in Aachen!. I loved the stunning glass windows at this cozy cafe, which was definitely worth the stop. (We had to pay cash FYI.)
Go for a thermal soak at the Aachen Spa
The Romans first came to Aachen for its lovely thermal springs and today, you can also take a tip into these lovely waters. The the most famous spa in Aachen is Carolus Thermen. We didn’t get here as we had a full day without going to the spa, but a spa visit would be perfect over a longer weekend in Aachen.
Seasonal events in Aachen worth visiting for
Carnival in Aachen is a big deal! Carnival is fairly recent here, however in the middle of November (11/11), you can dress up and celebrate Carnival with the rest of Aachen! Expect lots of beer, singing, music, costumes, and fun.
Like with the Carnival celebrations in Limburg, there is a carnival prince who ensures that everyone celebrates properly. You’ll also see parades as well as jesters all around the city center.
Enjoy shopping at the Christmas Markets
As Aachen is so close to the Netherlands, you get a lot of Dutch tourists who come for the yearly Christmas Market in Aachen. The Christmas market runs between the end of November and Christmas (24 Nov – 23 Dec), however the dates can shift, so check for each year.
One of the highlights of any German Christmas market are the pastries, the warm gluhwein, and the festive stalls, perfect for buying gifts. In Aachen, the gingerbread, marzipan bread, and Aachen printen are what you’ll commonly find…