Aachen is a historically important city, spa and university centre in North Rhine-Westphalia, situated at the "three lands corner" where the borders of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet. Known as Aix-la-Chapelle in French and Aken in Dutch, the city has played a prominent role in early Medieval Europe, when it became the favoured residence of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor who created the Carolingian Empire in the late 8th and early 9th century and built the city's impressive cathedral, where he is now buried along with a succession of later German rulers, many of whom were also crowned in the city.
Apart from its medieval significance and a wealth of preserved artifacts, Aachen is also known for its springs, which have been attracting visitors since the Ancient Roman times and continue to do so today, with a number of historic baths and hotels sprinkled around the city. Contributing to the city's wealth and prominence is also the technical university, which made Aachen a hub for modern technologies and provides a sizeable student population (over 40,000 of the total 250,000 inhabitants). With all this, Aachen is now a multi-cultural, popular tourist destination.
Historically this spa-town was a prominent city, the place where the German Kings were crowned, and a famously favoured residence of Charlemagne who still lies buried in the impressive cathedral he himself had built. The city is packed with historic sights that remind of those days, including medieval buildings, city gates and beautiful fountains.
Aachen was the preferred residence of Charlemagne, "Roman" Emperor from 800 to 814 AD and king of an empire covering much of modern-day Italy, France, Germany and the Benelux. Additional information can be found at the Route Charlemagne Aachen website.
As Aachen is a legally recognised spa, it could call itself Bad Aachen, but refuses to do so, as it then would no longer be first in almost all alphabetical lists.
The city lies at the borders of Germany with Belgium and the Netherlands, forming the economic region called the Euregio Maas-Rhein. There are several Euregios in Europe, but regionally speaking just of "the Euregio" is understood to mean the one centred on Aachen.
Aachen shares its own airport with Maastricht, but Maastricht-Aachen airport (MST IATA) (located some 40 km outside the city centre, in the Netherlands) is connected to only a limited number of international destinations and served by budget carriers. An Airport Express shuttle runs regularly to and from Aachen main bus station, called Gilbacher AirportXpress and leaves from platform 4. Tickets can only be purchased from the driver and cost €10. There are no trains between Aachen and the airport.
The nearest major international airports are Düsseldorf (DUS IATA) and Cologne-Bonn (CGN IATA). Both airports can be reached by train (via the Düsseldorf and Cologne central stations respectively) or car in an hour. Another major airport within close proximity is Brussels (BRU IATA). It can be reached by train with a change either in Liège, Leuven/Louvain, or Brussels.
Smaller airports within reasonable distance are Weeze (NRN IATA) in Germany, Eindhoven airport (EIN IATA) in the Netherlands, and "Brussels" South Charleroi Airport (CRL IATA) in Belgium. All three airports are bases for low-cost airlines. They can be reached by car in roughly 1h30, or by lengthy train journeys with several changes. Also, Liège (Lüttich) airport in Belgium is 45min by car and has some charter flights. Finally, Antwerp airport, also in Belgium, requires a 90-minute car ride. Aachen is probably unique in having 9 airports in 3 countries within 150 km.
If for some reason none of the nearby airports are feasible or affordable, the airport in Frankfurt (FRA IATA), Germany's main hub, has a direct ICE connection and offers a number of trains to Aachen with one interchange or less. For some airports the rail&fly programme the German railways offer together with several airlines might be an option. For more on that see rail air alliances.
Nightjet, the Austrian Railways' sleeper train, runs twice a week from Brussels via Aachen to Vienna, Munich and Innsbruck. It calls at Cologne, Bonn, Koblenz, Frankfurt airport, Würzburg and Nuremberg where the train divides: one portion runs via Linz to Vienna, the other via Munich to Innsbruck. In 2020 it doesn't run in July and Aug, but it's expected to be year-round from 2021.
Local trains (Regionalexpress) from Cologne and Düsseldorf run every half hour and take around 55 minutes from Cologne, 85 to 110 minutes from Düsseldorf. Ten times per day, high speed trains go from Cologne to Brussels via Aachen (around 35 minutes), either Inter City Express (coming from Frankfurt) or Thalys (continuing to Paris).
eurolines travel to and from Aachen. There are direct journeys to London (approximately 10 hours), Brussels (3 hours), Paris (6.5 hours) and Prague (11.5 hours), among others. Coaches depart from Wilmersdorfer Straße, on the outskirts of the city. The selection of domestic routes is surprisingly less extensive, although Aachen is not far from Cologne, which is served by many more routes.
Being on major routes from the Netherlands and Belgium to Germany, easily reachable via the A4 and A44.
If you don't have your own vehicle, car-sharing is a possibility. Car-sharing is very common in Germany, but you should of course be cautious when booking a trip nonetheless. blablacar.de and mitfahrgelegenheit.de are good resources for finding rides to Aachen, although you're less likely to be successful if you're looking to book far in advance. Payment is expected.
From the Netherlands
- Bus line 50 from Maastricht serves Aachen every 15 minutes and passes through Margraten and Vaals. Bus line 44 runs between Heerlen and Aachen (45 min, €3.95) For €8 you can buy a ticket, which allows all-day travel on South Limburg bus routes, including those to local cities such as Heerlen, and selected train routes. It is 1 hr 15 min from Maastricht. See Veolia Transport for timetables (Regio: Limburg).
- From Heerlen there's also a direct train connection.
- By car, you can just drive in via Vaals or take the highway. The A76 connects to the German A4. Take exit 2 to Aachen/Laurensberg.
- ASEAG Customer-Centre, Schumacherstraße 14, 52062. M-F 07:30-18:00; Sa 08:30-14:00. On arrival in Aachen, it may be worth visiting the ASEAG Customer-Centre (ASEAG operate the city's bus system) opposite the bus station. Here, you can pick up timetables for all bus routes run by the company and you can of course speak to an adviser as well. There are no timetables available for services run by Veolia, such as the number 50 to Maastricht, or for bus services run by Deutsche Bahn, such as the number 66 to Monschau.
- By train: Whilst Aachen does not have an U-Bahn or S-Bahn network like many other large German cities, it is still possible to travel through the city by train. The euregio-Bahn is a local line that stops at the stations Aachen West (not far from RWTH Aachen University), Aachen-Schanz, Aachen Hauptbahnhof (the most convenient for the city centre) and Aachen-Rothe Erde. A single ticket for a journey within the city is €2.55; ticket machines are available at all stations.
The old town is best explored on foot and orientation signs can be found all around. Aachen at a whole is a fairly large city. A car can come in handy but parking can get expensive, especially in the center of town. Fortunately, Aachen has an excellent city bus system, operated by ASEAG, including a few night bus lines. You can get tickets from the bus driver. You can rent a bike at the "fahrrad station", in the central train station. Although it is not the most biker-friendly town in Germany, there are a number of bike routes and getting around on bike is increasingly popular. Taxis are readily available on the train stations but also on streets.
- 1 Aachen Cathedral (Der Aachener Dom / Hohe Domkirche), Domhof 1, ☏ . Jan-Mar: daily 07:00-18:00; Apr-Dec: daily 07:00-19:00. During mass access is restricted to attending in the services. Touristic visits are recommended for M-F after 11:00; Sa-Su after 12:30. Aachen Cathedral is one of the most famous examples of occidental architecture. Around 800, the core building of the Palace Chapel was built. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Gothic choir (the "Aachen glasshouse"), the north and south chapel were added. Through the centuries, many other constructions and decorations were completed. Today, it is a unique and beautiful two-storey cathedral of classical pillars, bronze railings, golden masterpieces, glassworks, etc. The cathedral is the memorial and funeral place of Charlemagne (814). Heiligtumsfahrt The Aachen pilgrimage has taken place every year since 1349. In 1978 it was the first German building to be inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. €1 for a wristband that allows taking photos (though they usually will not collect it if you're on a tour).
- Aachen Cathedral Tour, Dominformation Visitor Center, Johannes-Paul-II.-Str. 14:00. There's a 45 min English guided tour every day. Tickets are sold inside Dominformation (not the cathedral). €4/adult €3/concession.
- 2 Cathedral Treasury (Domschatzkammer), Johannes-Paul-II.-Straße. Treasure grove (Schatzkammer) hours: Jan-Mar: M 10:00-13:00; Tu-Su 10:00-17:00. Apr-Dec: M 1000-13:00; Tu-Su 10:00-18:00; closed on 24 and 25 Dec, 31 Dec, 1 Jan, and some days around carnival. Ecclesiastical treasures from Antique, Carolingian, Ottonian and Staufian epochs,including Cross of Lothair and the Bust of Charlemagne. Public and private tours are available with reservations for additional cost. €5/adult, €4/concession, €10/family.
- 4 Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst (Ludwig Forum for International Art), Jülicher Straße 97-109, 52070 (Slightly outside the city centre, in between Stadtgarten and Europaplatz), ☏ , email@example.com. Tu W F 12:00-18:00; Th 12:00-22:00: Sa Su 11:00-18:00. While the building looks less than impressive from the outside, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst houses a grand collection of contemporary art, including works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring. Text accompanying the works is given in German and English. Adult €10; Child €6.
- 5 International Newspaper Museum (Internationales Zeitungsmuseum), Pontstraße 13, ☏ .
- 6 Elisa Fountain (Elisenbrunnen), Friedrich-Wilhelm-Platz. Built 1827, thermal waters of the spa town.
- 7 Couven-Museum, Hühnermarkt 17, ☏ . 18th-century house and furniture.
- 8 Belvedere rotating water tower (Drehturm), Belvedereallee 5, ☏ . Park above the town.
- 9 Grashaus, Fischmarkt. Original town hall, completed in 1267, is one of the oldest buildings in Aachen.
- 10 Haus Löwenstein. 14th-century building.
- 11 Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Wilhelmstraße 18, ☏ . German and Dutch sculpture and painting collection.
- 12 Ponttor. 14th-century city gates.
- 13 Marschiertor. 13th-century city gate.
- 14 Zollmuseum Friedrichs, Horbacher Straße 497, 52072 Aachen-Horbach (Bus 44), ☏ . 1st and 3rd Sunday 11:00 and 14:30. Museum about border crossings and the border. Phone to reserve.
- RWTH Aachen University (Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen) If you are interested in architecture, you can find all building styles from 1900 till today concentrated at the city-campus around Templergraben.
- Main building
- Kármán Auditorium
- Super-C The reception building of the RWTH-Aachen. Build to resemble the letter C. Nicely illuminated at night.
- Reiff Museum
- Rogowski building
- Department of mining
- Semi 90
- Heizkraftwerk (now lecture halls)
- Uniklinik. The university's hospital. One striking example of post-modern architecture like the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
- Lousberg. A recreational area situated just north of the city centre that offers stunning views of the city below.
- Sit on the Market place (central city) on a summer evening, watch students strolling by, listen to guitar players and have a beer, bought at a small Turkish or Chinese diner around.
- Walk through the Frankenberger Viertel (Frankenberg Quarter), an alternative area in the south of Aachen; have lunch or dinner in a Turkish or Arab diner.
- Carolus Thermen, Passstr. 79. Large and very well known spa, sauna and wellness place.
Aachen is home to the highly regarded RWTH Aachen University, which is particularly strong in the field of mechanical engineering. While language courses during semester time are only available to students of the university, travellers may be interesting in applying for the Internationaler Sommerkurs (international summer course) which takes place annually in September and is open to students from some partner universities. Alongside an intensive language course, participants can take advantage of the programme of cultural events offered. To apply, one must be at least 18 years old and have prior knowledge of German at level A1 (the lowest level, roughly equivalent of being able to write a post card) on the Common European Framework for Languages or above.
German opening hours have a lessened effect in Aachen, as just across the border in the Netherlands, all shops are open in the small town of Vaals, which can be reached by bus lines 25, 33, 35 and 50.
- Aachen Christmas Market (Aachener Weihnachtsmarkt) (Located in the city centre. Parking nearby can be an issue some days, so it may be wise to make use of the Park & Ride system organised especially for the market. See the website for more information.), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 11:00 – 21:00 daily. From late November until 23 December, Aachen's Christmas market takes over Katschhof, Münsterplatz and the market square. Traders offer a wide variety of gift ideas, such as cosmetics, jewellery and ceramics, and there are plenty of opportunities to eat and drink your fill - a trip here wouldn't be complete without a glass of Glühwein! If you need a break, take in a performance at the rear of the town hall (see the website for a detailed programme). The market looks particularly spectacular when lit up at night, set against the magnificent cathedral and town hall. Free entry.
- Adalbertstraße. Shops and cafes in one of Aachen's pedestrian zone shopping areas.
- Krämerstraße and Market. Small shops in a very touristic area.
- Großkölnstraße. The second big pedestrian zone shopping area in Aachen, where you´ll find clothing and more.
- Jakobstraße. Smaller shops and boutiques.
- 1 Lindt Factory Outlet (Lindt Werksverkauf), Süsterfeldstraße 130, 52072. M-F 09:00-18:00; Sa 09:00-16:00. Stocks a wide range of Lindt chocolate products, at low prices, which have been produced in the neighbouring factory.
- 2 Lambertz Factory shop, Ritterstraße 9. Gingerbread and biscuits.
Aachener Printen are a type of Lebkuchen (gingerbread) originating from the city.
Aachen offers many different cuisines, from traditional German food to exotic cuisines. The centre offers restaurants of all categories, prices being relatively cheap in comparison with other German cities. Students prefer the snack bars and light meals offered at Pontstraße.
- 1 Pont Grill, Pontstraße 119. Very cheap and good chicken, pizza and Turkish food.
- 2 Polonia, Marienbongard 24. Polish bistro. Has lunch offers. Four to six Polish beers.
- Frietnesse, Pontstraße. Fries with over 50 different sauces. Also hamburgers and Dutch specialities.
- 3 Saray, Pontstraße 118. Turkish food besides döner kebab.
- Jakobsimbiss, Jakobstraße 75. Chinese and Thai fast food.
- 4 Del Negro, Jakobstraße 73. Best ice cream in town.
- Sultans of Kebab, Peterstraße 23. Döner Kebab, Turkish desserts.
- Babylon, Königstraße / Karlsgraben. "The Kebab Cube" if you have only €2.20 left.
- 5 White House, Pontstr. 141- 149. Cheap but still nice-looking restaurant with special lunch offers: Buffet for €5.90 or Schnitzel for €4.90.
- 6 Goldener Schwan, Markt 37 (Opposite Rathaus), ☏ . 15th-century building where you can get local and German meals. For example Aachener Puttes a type of Blutwurst similar to English black pudding.
- 7 Maredo, Reihstraße 10, ☏ . Delicious Argentinian food chain based in Germany. Good food, not expensive. Open late and offer late-night specials and lunch specials.
- 8 Estado Steakhaus, Seilgraben 39, ☏ . Great steakhouse with a salad bar and wide variety of dishes.
- 9 Carlos I, Rennbahn 1 (next to the Cathedral), ☏ . This Spanish restaurant offers authentic Spanish cuisine like Tapas, the perfect food for sharing, Paella, etc., at medium prices
- San Sheng, Pontdriesch 13. Open only during weekday lunch hours. Authentic Chinese food.
- 10 Oishii, Pontstraße 83, ☏ . Great Japanese restaurant. Reserve your table in advance.
- 11 Maranello, Pontstraße 23, ☏ . Daily 21:00-23:00. Italian pizza from a real stone oven.
- 12 Karibik, Sandkaulstraße 5, ☏ . Colombian restaurant.
- 13 Bacchus (Restaurant Bacchus), Roermonder Str. 28 (With Buslines 24, 27, 33, 44 und 47 from Aachen BusCentral station towards Pontstreet and Bendplatz. Get off at Ponttor and follow the road straight through the Ponttor and then through the underpass direction Bendplatz. On the other side of the underpass, go straight ahead. After about 50 m you will find us on the right handside. For car drivers, parking lots are available in the Rütscher Straße, in Turmstraße, on Roermonder Straße, as also around the Bendplatz which is just 350 m away.), ☏ , email@example.com. M-F 16:00–23:00, Sa Su 12:00–23:00. Great Greek restaurant with a wide variety of dishes. Absolutely recommendable gyros and grill dishes
There's no need to order your drinks at the bar when in Aachen - simply take a seat and a member of staff will come over to take your order. They'll write down what you've ordered on your coaster. When you've finished your drink, someone will soon come along and ask if you'd like to order another. When you're ready to pay, hand over your coaster to a member of staff. It's expected that you leave a small tip when paying; 5-10% is expected, typically by rounding up to the nearest Euro. You should make it clear you want to leave a tip before handing the money over by saying, for example, "I'll pay €8".
The Pontstraße begins at Markt facing the historic city hall and ends at the Ponttor, part of the medieval city walls. Pontstraße is the main student hangout and offers a large variety of restaurants and bars, from pizzerias to late night hangout spots and a cinema (Apollo). A special treat are public fiestas happening at Karneval and important football matches. Don't miss it if you have the chance! Reached by a number of bus lines from Bushof; park near University.
- Molkerei. Pub suitable for younger crowd, near Ponttor.
- 1 Cafe Madrid. Pub/bar better for an older crowd, posher, near Ponttor.
- Pontgarten. Cheap cocktails and nice food.
- Sowiso/Oceans. Typical student-inn.
- Egmont, Pontstraße 1–3 (Right at one end of Pontstraße, close to the Rathaus), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa from 08:00; Su from 09:00. A delightful bar/café that occasionally hosts live music. Food can be ordered from the Lebanese restaurant next door and brought to your table without you having to get up!
Nice pubs elsewhere:
- Guinness House, Neupforte 6, 52062 (Despite the address to the left, the entrance is actually located just around the corner on Mostardstraße. It's situated between the city centre and the Pontstraße.), ☏ . A stereotypical Irish pub, just like you'd find in any other big city. However, it's one of the few places in Aachen that sells cider, so it's definitely worth checking out if beer isn't your thing! There's also live music (more often that not traditional Irish music) here on a regular basis.
- 2 Kiste, Büchel 36. 8PM-late. Small pub with wooden interior that plays mostly rock and metal music. Has a discount on different drinks each day, e.g. Weizen (wheat beer) on Mondays for €2.10
- Buddha Bar, Büchel 14 (Close to the old town square), ☏ . Nice food, has a non-smoking area upstairs with restaurant and bar plus a cool smoking area downstairs with an impressive Buddha statue.
- 1 Hostel Aachen, Mauerstraße 116, ☏ . Close to the city centre.
- 2 Youth hostel Aachen (Jugendherberge Aachen - Euregionales Jugendgästehaus), Maria Theresia Allee 260, ☏ .
- 3 Leonardo Hotel Aachen, Krefelder Straße 221 (North of the centre between the stadium and junction 3 of the A4), ☏ .
- 4 Hotel Granus, Passstraße 2a, ☏ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 11:00. This friendly family-run place has 12 rooms and a bit of a cosy B&B atmosphere. It's clean and conveniently located in the city centre, with fairly modern rooms and a somewhat quaint breakfast area. It gets good reviews, also suited for family stays. On weekends, the reception has limited opening hours. Doubles from €90.
- 5 Pullman Aachen Quellenhof, Monheimsallee 52, ☏ . Spacious, comfortable rooms (although some could do with a little redecoration), a swimming pool, fitness area and excellent breakfast buffet. from €130.
- Post Office, Kapuzinergraben 19, 52062 (When on Kapuzinergraben, go through the entrance to Kapuziner Karree. You'll see the Post Office on your right.). M-F 09:00-18:00; Sa 09:00-14:00. This is probably the most convenient Post Office for tourists as it's located in the city centre. The service is operated by Deutsche Post.
Aachen is one of Germany's safest cities. As Germany is very safe to begin with, the casual tourist does not have to worry whilst in Aachen. As a border town, there is a certain amount of drug trafficking, but that is counter-balanced by a strong police presence.
Several neighbourhoods immediately north and east of the main train station can come off as seedy, but if you do not look lost, you will avoid trouble.
Here's an overview of Christian churches in central Aachen:
- 15 Aachen Cathedral (Der Aachener Dom / Hohe Domkirche), Klosterplatz 2 (Domhof - 15 min from central station), ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Su 07:00, 08:00, 10:00, 11:30; M-Sa 07:00, 10:00; Sa 08:00.
- St. Foillan, Ursulinerstr. 1 (just behind Aachener Dom), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Su 10:00, 19:30; M-F 08:30, 18:30; Sa 18:30.
- St. Marien, Aureliusstraße 23 (3 min from central station), ☏ . Sa 18:30; Su 09:45, 11:15 (Polish), 16:00 (Pol.); Tu Th 18:30; Fr 18:15 (Pol.).
- St. Peter, Peterskirchhof 1 (20 min from HBf; near bus depot), ☏ . Sa 15:00 (Vietnamese); Su 11:15; M-F 12:15.
- St. Michael, Michaelsbergstr. 6 (Burtscheid). Sa 18:15; Su 19:00; W F 18:00.
For Protestant churches in Aachen see also this website.
- Annakirche, Annastraße 35 (15min from central station). Su 11:00.
- Auferstehungskirche, Am Kupferofen 19-21 (south from station Aachen-Rothe Erde). Su 09:30.
- Greek Orthodox Church St. Michael & St. Dimitrios, Jesuitenstr. 6 (close to the cathedral), ☏ , email@example.com. Su 09:00.
- Jewish community Aachen, Synagogenplatz 23, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. M-F 08:00-14:00.
- Bilal Mosque, Prof.-Pirlet-Str. 20 (near railway station Aachen-West), ☏ , email@example.com. Friday prayer: 13:15.
- Neupré - World War II Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial, commemorates the American soldiers who died in Northern Europe during WWII
- Henri-Chapelle - World War II Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial. The final resting place for 7,992 American military dead lost during the drive into Germany
- Dreiländereck- The three-country border of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Just a 10 min drive out of Aachen in the general direction of Vaals (Netherlands). Walk on the soil of three different European countries in just about under a second. Free. This is also the highest point of the Netherlands. There is a watchtower you can climb. You can get there best if you take the bus to Vaals and take Veolia Transport line 149 or walk.
- Cologne - Germany's fourth largest city, with its striking cathedral, is less than an hour away by train.
- Zülpich is a small town dating from Roman times on the road to Bonn. It has a newly opened museum focusing on Roman baths and bathing culture. It is also a gateway to the Eifel region.
- Maastricht in the Netherlands with its beautiful city centre is where the Maastricht Treaty of the European Union was signed in 1992
- Monschau Nicely preserved medieval town.
- Nationalpark Eifel The youngest nature preservation area in Germany
- Ordensburg Vogelsang Huge Nazi-built training centre near Gemünd. Served as Belgian barracks after the war, so they're quite well preserved.
- Hohes Venn Marshlands between Monschau and Eupen