The spa-city as its prominently known is one of Germany’s most charming cities. And, the list of fun things to do in Aachen is endless. Whether you long for a hot spring bath, spa, or a calming nature walk, you’re ever spoiled for choice.
Aachen has a rich heritage from medieval times. It is where most German Kings were crowned and even more famous for hosting Charlemagne’s residence, a medieval emperor who ruled between c742 and 814.
This emperor has a rich history in Aachen including, his desire to convert Germans to Christianity, and thus he remains a vital part of the city’s historical and cultural history.
There are many Aachen attractions to explore, ranging from the impressive Aachen Cathedral that Charlemagne built, and remains as his resting place, to the thermal parks, and fantastic fountains. And, although World War II had some devastating effects on the city, it has since grown in leaps and bounds to recover its glory.
Today, Aachen is a hub of technology and innovation and is home to numerous institutions, including universities, hospitals, luxury hotels, etc. There are plenty of amazing things to do in Aachen and its surroundings. But first, how do you get into this city?
Let’s find out.
How to Get to Aachen, Germany
This small city is tucked between Belgium and Holland. If you’re visiting Germany for the first time, you’ll find this hidden gem away to the south and west of larger German city centers, including Düsseldorf and Cologne.
You can get into Aachen by train when coming from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, or elsewhere in Germany. Alternatively, you may get in by plane and land at Maastricht-Aachen airport, 40kms outside the city center, in the Netherlands.
There are no trains from the Airport to Aachen, but you can catch a Gilbacher AirportXpress bus with as little as a €10 ticket. If coming from the Netherlands, you can board Bus line 350 from Maastricht or Bus Line 44 if from Harleen.
When traveling by private car, you may drive through Vaals or use the highway, take A76, which connects to the German A4, and then take exit 2 to Aachen/Laurensberg. You can also opt to use taxis, which are quite plenty and readily available on the streets and train stations.
Top Things to Do in Aachen, Germany
Let’s get into the best things to do in Aachen, Germany.
1. Visit Aachen Cathedral
Finished in 805, during Charlemagne’s reign, this incredible cathedral has been an attraction for visitors for centuries. It’s considered the oldest in Europe and was among the first to be placed on the “UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978,” for its eons of architecture and epochal events.
The Cathedral remains a popular site and it serves as a burial ground for different chief historical figures, including Charlemagne, who died in 814.
From 936 to 1531, numerous Holy Roman kings’ coronations were witnessed in Aachen Cathedral. Charlemagne’s throne (a stairway leading to an unadorned seat that dates back to 796) was used for every coronation.
In the Cathedral, you’ll also find a Karlschrein, a golden shrine crafted in 1215 and is used to hold Charlemagne’s exhumed bones.
Even better, you can view the Aachen Cathedral Treasury, which belongs to the Aachen’s Roman Catholic Diocese inside the cathedral. The treasury covers historical works, including the Ottonian, Staufian epochs, late Antique, and Carolingian.
Some of the most notable exhibits include the Cross of Lothair, Persephone sarcophagus, and the Bust of Charlemagne. And, entrance is 100% free. You’ll not be charged to enter and explore the cathedral.
2. Rathaus/ Aachens City Hall Tour
Rathaus, a Gothic city hall built on the ruins of the Carolingian Palace of Charlemagne, is another sight to behold. It was built in the 14th century by Aachen’s bourgeoisie and was among the rebuilt buildings in the 17th and 18th centuries, in Baroque styles.
While the city council still uses this hall, visitors are usually allowed to tour its magnificent rooms when not in session.
The hall has numerous decorated rooms, which are dedicated to different functions. One of the rooms is the Gothic Coronation room. This room, used for feasts after coronations, is one of the grand pilgrimage sites and top Aachen tourist attractions.
In another room, you’ll enjoy watching videos playing different things about World War II. They also have rooms with audios and telephone guides discussing other things from commentaries on ‘Resistance Fighters’ to ‘the role that Eastern European labor workers played in Aachen during the Second World War’.
Also, you’ll see interactive screens teaching about different award winners and other key people in the German city, and City Hall history along the hall’s arc staircase.
3. Visit the Couven-Museum
One of the best things to do in Aachen is to visit the Couven-Museum. Located near the Hühnerdieb, where the former Aachen weigh house was previously sat, the Couven-Museum is an excellent example of the Aachen’s architectural past.
It was built in 1662 but was renovated in 1786 in the rococo style. The museum features a collection of high-quality historical furniture, chimneypieces, as well as Italian stucco work.
Also, the museum hosts the historic Adler-Apotheke, the place where chocolate was produced for the first time in Germany in 1857. The museum also showcases Aachen’s historical past in the Route Charlemagne.
4. Eat Aachener Printen
Eating Aachener Printen should certainly be on your list of exciting things to do in Aachen. Printen is a type of Lebkuchen with lots of stories and legends explaining its origin.
The manufacturers of Printen protect and keep the recipe as a top-secret. These sweet cookies are a delicacy and very tasty. They have unique culinary roots, just like Gingerbread cakes.
And you won’t have to go far searching for it. Numerous shops throughout Aachen city gladly stock these cookies. When you check into Aachen, grab a bite of this honey-sweetened yummy treat which is a true Aachen’s emblem.
5. Enjoy Nightlife at Aachen Bars, Clubs, and Discos
Due to its high population of students from different places worldwide, Aachen has plenty of places to cater to the international community. When traveling from the Pontstrasse area near the HOF, heading towards Dom, you’ll encounter many clubs, bars, coffee shops, and movie houses.
While here, you can have fun in one of the nightclubs around. Domkeller is one of the oldest bars but still busy in the evening. At Domkeller, there are tables outside overlooking the dome and HOF square, which is a pretty cool meeting place to begin your night out.
Moving across the street, there are plenty of places with live music and even EDM for Europop lovers. You can dance the night away at Club Nightlife or Nox.
Most of these nightclubs and bars are open until 2 am and extend beyond that time on the weekends. This is a great place to be for revelers looking for things to do in Aachen at night.
6. Go Swimming in the Thermal Pool at Carolus Thermen
Aachen is historically known as the place of hot springs. The area has numerous spa spots and swimming pools where you can go to enjoy the thermal mineral water.
One of the best thermal pools in the region is the Carolus Thermen, Aachen/Carolus Spa. It is a modern spa, opened in 2001, and that features all types of modern facilities. Their theme is ‘Sanus per aquam,’ which means ‘health by water.’
In this place, you’ll enjoy tempered water, which is part of the Roman tradition in oriental baths or Baltic Sauna Landscape.
7. Visit Aachen’s Marketplatz Karlsbrunnen Fountain
In Aachen, there’s also no shortage of quaint fountains that will blow off your mind. One of the oldest fountains in Aachen, located right across the town hall building, is the Marketplatz Karlsbrunnen Fountain.
This fountain is crowned with a statue at the top, to commemorate Charlemagne. The Charlemagne sculpture is, however, a replica as the original one is located in the city hall’s coronation room.
The fountain is sparkling clear and is nestled within stunning surroundings. And, Johann Couven made the place even more ornamental by designing a limestone basin with two bronze fish on it.
While planning your itinerary of what to do in Aachen, visiting a fountain like Marketplatz or a few other gorgeous ones should be part it.
8. Stopover at the Dreiländereck, Three-Country Border, Aachen
In the Southwest of Aachen, lies a three-country point between the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. The lines converge at the Vaalseberg summit lying in a 320-meter hill. The hill is the highest point of the mainland Netherlands.
Marked by a waist-high obelisk, the border is a great place to do the clichéd thing of linking hands across three counties. You can go up with a transparent lift to get to this 50-meter high point, an amazing viewpoint to see the Tour Badouin on the Belgian side and Wilhemina Tower on the Dutch side.
Also, at the top, you can tour a small amusement park with various snack-bars and a hedge-maze that you can play. The maze takes approximately 45 minutes to solve.
9. Enjoy Sightseeing at Ponttor
Ponttor is a word derived from the Latin word ‘Pons,’ meaning bridge. It is one of the remaining two gates of Aachen city walls. It was built in the 14th century and was usually manned by soldiers and even militias during the era of the ‘Free Imperial City of Aachen.’
Threats of destroying these structures had been made in the late 1800s, but the defenses were rescued. Unfortunately, they were destroyed during the 19th century Napoleon’s city occupation.
The structures were made of a gatehouse with portcullis, an outer barbican (reinforced towers), and a bridge passage over the moat defended by crenellations. This is a sight that you’ll love and that should not miss on your list of things to see in Aachen.
10. Tour the Aachen Ludwig Forum for International Art
The Aachen Ludwig Forum is another incredible historical landmark in Aachen and German as a whole. It exhibits European art and its development from the early 1960s to a contemporary art museum. It lies in the former umbrella factory in the eastern outskirts.
Built with the 1928 Bauhaus design, the museum has a massive collection of artifacts running from the 1960s to date. Most of these artifacts were by the collector couple, Peter and Irene Ludwig.
The museum has several pieces crafted by people like Nam June Paik, Roy Lichtenstein, Joseph Beuys, Wolf Vostell, Jörg Immendorff, and Duane Hanson. In fact, there exists over 3,000 pieces in this museum, including the Chinese and Soviet art by Ai Weiwei and Ilya Kabakov.
The place is home to contemporary exhibitions from recent architects Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and Nancy Graves, an American artist. Also, it has a show for Cuban art running until 2018.
Most modern works collections include live art, videos, and performances, among other multimedia productions. Ludwig forum museum is a multidisciplinary place that tries to establish a relationship with different visitors’ types through theater, dance, film, and other fashion performances.
See related: Must-See Castles in Germany
11. Watch the Wild at Aachener Tierpark Euregiozoo
This is a beautiful 8.9-hectare zoo located in the Southeast of the city center. The zoo holds around 250 animal species totaling about 1,700 animals. This means there’s enough to see for both kids and adults.
While it’s not the largest in Germany, it offers lots of room for many inhabitants. The place is mainly for native German animals, but still, you can get exotic species. These include animals like lynxes, ankole-Watussi cattle, servals, cheetahs, monkey species, antelopes, zebras, Asian camels, and African ostrich.
Access to the zoo is affordable, at just €6 for adults and €3 for kids. At the gate, there is a sign showing the different feeding times during the day, and if you book in advance, you’ll be offered special guided tours. So, if you were not sure of what to see in Aachen, the zoo offers a perfect option.
12. Tour the Grashaus
Consider touring Grashaus, another small wonder that shouldn’t miss in your things to do in Aachen. It is one of the oldest secular buildings in Aachen city.
Grashaus was built in 1267 as Aachen’s first City Hall. It resulted from wealthy citizens demanding more opinion and voice in the administration of the city.
It’s part of the Carolingian as its lower walls were built between the 8th and 9th centuries. After getting replaced by the Rathaus city hall in the 14th century, Grashaus became a dungeon with a court of four grievous offenses.
Presently, Grashaus is a young people’s extra-curricular learning center and a unique place to visit. When visiting the place, you can opt for guided tours.
13. Go for a Swim at Elisabethhalle
Elisabethhalle is a hidden tourist attraction that guarantees some of the best moments, while on a tour to this German city. Featuring on the list of top things to do in Aachen, a bath here sounds like a great idea. The place has a cutting-edge swimming pool and is one of the remaining Art Nouveau baths in Germany.
And, while it opened its doors way back in 1911, it’s still functional and as charming as ever. So, why not end your tour with an enthralling bit of swimming exercise while watching the sparkling marble panels, soaring ceiling, and cast-iron railings?
There are two pools, the larger one being for men and the smaller for ladies. The larger has a vast fountain of Neptune at one end, and the smaller one has a Roman bathers image. Both of these magnificent sculptures were crafted by a local sculptor Carl Burger.