Aachen Travel Guide – on the Trails of Charlemagne (and beyond)
Join us for a one day walking tour in the old imperial city of Aachen (on a budget) and discover beautiful historic buildings, fountains, statues. Our travel guide is packed with background info about the famous Aachen Cathedral as well as the lesser knows city attractions.
Do you know the feeling when you live somewhere but know foreign cities better than your hometown? Come with me when I finally explore a city I’ve lived in for years…
The German city of Aachen, located close to the Dutch and Belgian border, is a beautiful city with a rich and long history, with lots to explore, yet often underrated. Aachen is also a well-known University city, with about 50K students and just 250K inhabitants.
And as it happens, I also spent my university years there.
But as said above, I hardly saw the beauty and the history attached to it. During the next 15 years that followed my study, I often returned to Aachen for business. I then started to see the city with different eyes, the eyes of a tourist who wants to explore and experience what this beautiful city has to offer.
Recently, when we launched our travel platform mundolore mini travel guides, I thought that time has come to really experience the city and bring it to the attention of people, as Aachen has so much to offer and deserves a shout out.
If you don’t have the time to read this post right now or want a way more structured approach than a blog (or want to plan a trip to Aachen), you can also find back all the info in individual mini travel guides on mundolore.com and additionally use our trip planner website.
If you love history, ancient places and old buildings, Aachen is perfect for you!
I put together a one-day walking tour, that could also be extended to a 1 1/2 day tour if you want to take it more relaxed.
The city center of Aachen is relatively condensed. All the places in our travel guide are within walking distance.
Another great aspect of Aachen is, that almost everything can be visited for free.
A bit about Aachen to start with
Aachen is a spa resort (Bad Aachen) and a University city with about 250.000 citizens. Historically, it gained importance as it was the main residence of Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse) at around 800-814.
People from all over the world come to visit the famous thermal bath ‘The Carolus-Therme’.
The Technical University of Aachen (RWTH Aachen) is one of the largest and most prestigious technical universities in Europe. Other small colleges and the University of applied science (FH) are also situated in Aachen.
Aachen is also home of the Charlemagne Prize (Karlspreis) to honour outstanding achievements for the European unification. Awardees were e.g. Bill Clinton, the current French President Emmanuel Macron (in 2018), Henry Kissinger, Pope John Paul II.
Although the town’s history goes far beyond Charlemagne, Aachen and Charlemagne are inseparable. The great conquerer’s steps are still evident all over town and we are going to explore some of the most interesting sights soon.
And there is something else very special about the city – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen another city with so many statues and fountains. In our travel
During WorldWar II, Aachen was heavily battered and almost all statues and fountain statues in Aachen were remelted to be used for arms production.
A monument to remember the horrible time in history is the Kristallnachtdenkmal, click here to read the mini travel guide on
Charlemagne – Who was this guy?
Karl der Grosse, King Charlemagne has been crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800. His coronation laid the foundation of the western medieval empire. His imperial residence was Aachen, where he also died in 814.
During his ruling, he united most of western and central Europe. He fought many wars, of which the most significant were the Saxon Wars from 772 that lasted 30 years. His goal was to Christianise the Saxon.
He was one of the most important sovereigns in history. The significant impact he has on the history of Aachen is undeniable. Charlemagne is often referred to as ‘Father of Europe’.
Charlemagne died 814 in Aachen and was buried in the Aachen Cathedral. Up to the 16th century, Aachen remained the coronation place of every Holy Roman Emperor.
Throughout a 1.5km walking tour through Aachen, you can see the monogram of Charlemagne (see image above) on pavements and walls.
Let’s start our city tour
Of course, I will take you to the ‚highlights‘ but you will also see things you would normally just pass by without spending a minute – at least that is what I did for years.
The map below shows the spots we are going to see throughout this blog post. They are all conveniently located within walking distance. Our
Throughout the post, we link the individual sights to the respective mini travel guides on
Archäologische Vitrine (Archaeological Showcase)
Let’s start right in the center of Aachen and go back to the very beginning of the city to learn about the history of Aachen’s settlement.
Opened in 2013, the Archäologische Vitrine is located in the Elisengarten (Elisen Garden).
In the years before, thousands of archaeological finds were excavated from under the Elisengarten. As citizens took much interest in it, the city had the idea to preserve a little part of the excavation site.
The idea was
Displays in the vitrine tell the history of Aachen’s settlement, the excavation, and its finds.
The oldest finds are flint tools from about 4700 BC. The excavation also revealed that the area was continuously inhabited from then to today.
More info in our mini travel guide: Archäologische Vitrine
As mentioned, the showcase is situated in the Elisen Garten and so is the Elisenbrunnen (Elisen Fountain).
The Elisenbrunnen is a thermal water fountain and was built between 1822 and 1827.
By that time, Aachen was already widely known for its hot springs and its supposable healing effect from drinking it. A visit to Aachen became more and more popular. So the government decided to build a fountain where the spa guests could enjoy this treatment. The 52degC hot water is sulfurous and was served to the guests in the hall of the Elisenbrunnen.
The first stone laying took place in 1822 on the occasion of the 25th coronation anniversary of King Friedrich Wilhelm III, but the real construction didn’t start before 1824.
The high profile of the thermal springs already dates back to the Roman empire.
However, when Charlemagne made Aachen his seat of power, they even became super popular beyond the local borders and attracted wealthy people from everywhere.
,Unfortunately, the original Elisenbrunnen was completely destroyed during World War II, so what you see it today is a reconstruction from 1953. In the original version, the water counter was located in the basement and spa guests reached the basement via a pompous staircase. The fountain was elevated to ground level in 1938.
The fountain was named after the princess royal Elisabeth (Elise) Ludovika von Bayern.
A list of famous people who visited the Elisenbrunnen is mounted on the wall of the hall, so watch out for this.
As a funny side remark; the water of the Elisenbrunnen is classified as medicine, that’s why you are not allowed to drink it without prescription.
Here you can find back all this info as a convenient mini travel guide.
Let’s continue our walk to the famous Aachen Cathedral. But we will stop a couple of times to look at things you would normally just pass by without noticing.
We just need to walk some hundred meters in the direction of the old town.
Circle of Money Fountain – Kreislauf des Geldes Brunnen
Six figures are placed around this fountain in a circle; a father showing his child the handling of money, a beggar, and three figures representing greed, patronage, and stinginess.
The Kreislauf des Geldes Brunnen was created by the German sculpturer Karl-Henning Seemann in 1976.
Overall it’s an interesting and well-executed piece of art.
I give more information about the fountain in the respective mini travel guide.
While this was a contemporary piece of art, let’s continue our journey for another 200m and dive deep into history again.
Grashaus – The first town hall of Aachen
Constructed mid of the 13th century, the Grashaus was the first town hall of Aachen.
Some years earlier Aachen got its first municipal councilor, so it seemed just reasonable to elevate the town’s status by adding a dedicated building to reflect the free imperial city status.
However, it soon became clear that the building wasn’t large and pompous enough. When today’s town hall was built in the 14th century, the Grashaus was used as a justice and also as a prison and dungeon. Public executions (beheadings) were performed here as well.
After the big city fire in 1656, which also hit the Grashaus very hard, it was restored and still used as a prison until 1802.
The name most likely comes from the time when grass surrounded the house (Grashaus = Grass House) on which the executions took place (but also fairs).
More info/pictures about the Grashaus? Click here.
How about a short break, and having a real German Curry Wurst (famous German sausage) or a delicious cake? There are enough options around here.
Or sit down on a bench at the Fischpüddelchen, before we are going to visit the amazing cathedral.
Fischpüddelchen Statue Fountain
A nice little statue fountain that offended many citizens. Click here to read more about the interesting story behind this little guy in our mini travel guide.
Now let’s continue to one of the city’s landmarks, the Cathedral.
Dom – Aachen Cathedral – Germany’s first World Heritage Site
Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse, 742 – 814) ordered the construction of the Aachen Cathedral to express his power. Originally, it was his Palace Chapel, called the Palatine Chapel.
Charlemagne was also buried in the chapel in 814.
The high dome with an octagonal core shape has an inner diameter of about 14.5 meters.
It was also the first domed building north of the Alps, since the days of antique, and remained the largest chapel north of the Alps for 200 years.
After the canonization of Charlemagne in 1165, the chapel became highly attractive to pilgrims. The Aachen Cathedral was then enlarged with a gothic choir hall.
From 936 to 1531 the coronation of the kings of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation took place in the cathedral.
The cathedral was severely damaged during WWII, but thankfully the core structure remained. Although many of the interior objects have been hidden during the war, a lot of the decorations, as well as the altar, the cloister and choir hall, had to be restored.
In 1978 it was one of the first 12 sites to be declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the first German site.
For more interesting information head over to our mini travel guide about the Cathedral.
The guide also tells the story how the devil lost his thumb. The lion heads of the huge bronze entry doors play a certain role….so don’t miss it.
Dome Schatzkammer – Cathedral Treasury
The Treasury is a museum next to the Cathedral, housing the most important collections of medieval church artworks in Europe. Like the cathedral, the treasury is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Dom Schatzkammer is the only stop of our tour charging an entry fee. The fee is 5 Euro per adult, and it better fits a 1.5-day trip.
Still being overwhelmed by the gorgeous cathedral, we continue our tour to the vivid market square.
The square is the highest point in elevation of this walking tour and a great place during the summer time with a lot of bars, cafes
Karlsbrunnen – Charlemagne Fountain
Located on the Market square in the heart of the old town is the oldest fountain in the city and a town’s landmark, the Karlsbrunnen.
Originally placed in 1334, the fountain got remodelled in 1620 and the statue of Charlemagne, as well as the bronze bowl, were added.
In 1735 the fountain was extended to the version we see today.
Different than most other statues, the fountain was not remelted but dismounted and hidden during World War II. The figure was stored in the Town Hall and the bronze bowl was buried on a nearby field. The fountain was reconstructed in 1948.
The statue of Charlemagne, as we can see today, isn’t the original anymore. In 1969, it was decided to replace it with a replica to preserve this precious piece of history. The original statue is on display in the Town Hall and can be visited.
You can read the mini travel guide about the Karlsbrunnen here.
On the market square, the beautiful Town Hall is for sure the main eye-catcher.
When Charlemagne started with the construction in 789, it wasn’t planned to be a Town Hall, but his imperial palace. After his coronation in 800, it became his permanent residence.
The Town Hall was built in the 14th century upon the foundations of the imperial palace. However, one part of the original palace still remains – the Granus Tower (but it was raised by 14 meters). We’ve already seen the Grashaus on our tour, which was the first Town Hall of Aachen.
Up to 1531, the coronation banquets took place in the so-called Krönungssaal of the Town Hall.
Like the rest of Aachen, the Town Hall suffered from bomb attacks during World War II and was severely battered. It was reconstructed over the course of the following decades.
Since 1950, the prestigious Charlemagne Prize (Karlspreis, for outstanding achievements for the European unification) ceremony takes place in the Town Hall.
The building can be visited (6 Euro), which also includes the Krönungssaal and the original Charlemagne Fountain statue.
For the corresponding mini travel guide with more beautiful images, click here.
Let’s stay on the main square and take a look back over our shoulders.
The Haus Löwenstein (House Lionstone) is located just opposite of the Town Hall.
It was completed in 1344/1345 and most likely first used as a pub or tavern, but it is not entirely clear.
A century later, it became a residential building for the upper class. It might be that the name originates from this time when a family named Löwenstein inhabited the house.
The house is one of the few buildings that actually survived the big fire of 1656 as it was made from rubblestone while most houses at that time were made from wood and clay. The fire destroyed 7/8 of the city within just 24 hours.
Today, the house is a city property. More info about Haus Löwenstein here in our mini travel guide.
Our next stop will be the Katschhof, but if you are willing to take a 100m detour, you can see another interesting fountain.
Der Hühnerdieb – Chicken Thief Fountain
The Chicken Thief is another cute fountain statue and was a surprise to the citizens. Find out more about the story behind it in our mini travel guide.
The Katschhof is a square located between the Town Hall and the Aachen Cathedral.
It is not an open square but surrounded by houses and ancient buildings which gives it a particular flair that is different from an open square.
At the time, when Charlemagne’s imperial palace was located at the place of the current Town Hall, the Katschhof was its inner courtyard. It also led to the private spa of Charlemagne.
During the medieval centuries, up to the 18th century, a cloth hall was situated at the Katschhof to support the profitable industry of textile production.
The name derives (most likely) from the pillory that was located on the Katschhof and was referred to as ‘Kaks’.
Today, the square gives a magnificent view of the Town Hall and Aachen Cathedral and is used for various purposes. Besides others, Open Air concerts take place on a regular basis, and the annual Christmas Market gets a special ambience by its classy surrounding.
Here is the link to the mini travel guide about the Katschhof.
We leave the old town and come to the last stop of our walking tour, the Ponttor. We go back in history to the times of the construction of the city wall.
The city of Aachen had two city walls, the inner and the outer wall. The Ponttor is one of only two remaining Aachen city gates of the outer city wall.
The inner one was built starting in 1171 and was about 2500 meters long.
But soon the city started to grow beyond this wall and a second wall was needed to protect the new settlements and churches.
It is not entirely clear when the outer city wall was built but it is estimated that it was sometime during the 13th century (maybe towards the end of it). The outer wall was 5300 meters long and about 8-10 meters high.
The Ponttor was one of originally 11 city gates of the outer wall and is the only one that is still completely preserved (Foregate, main gate, three-story tower castle and bridge passage). The other remaining city gate, the Maschiertor, does not have the Foregate.
You can find more information and lovely pics of the Ponttor in the corresponding mini travel guide.
On your way from the Katschhof to the Ponttor, you walked through the Pontstrasse, a street full of restaurants and bars, so perfect to close the day with a lovely dinner or a drink.
Inspired to visit Aachen?
Did you like our short walking tour through the city and are you inspired to visit Aachen yourself?
Which place seems to be the most interesting for you? We are happy hearing about your thoughts.
Or have you been there and want to add some places information? Just head over to mundolore and write your own mini guides.