Experience the festive charms of Germany's ancient spa city!
From the Roman Empire to the conquests of Charlemagne, Aachen has certainly more than its fair share of rich and fascinating history. But that’s not the only reason to visit this lovely city by the Dutch border. Come Christmas time, the city is abuzz with festive vibes, magical lights and one of the best Christmas markets in Germany. I thought I’d take a closer look at what makes this magical time of year extra special in Aachen!
Just 15 minutes away from the point where the borders of Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany meet is Aachen. Founded during the Roman era, the city was gradually built up round the excellent thermal springs in the area (they were a hit with the ancient Romans!). And then Emperor Charlemagne, one of the most powerful emperors in Europe, even used Aachen as his imperial city and was laid to rest in the Cathedral here. Just by reading that you can get a sense for the sheer amount of history hidden away in this lovely little city.
Come Christmas time, the city is even more magical. With the warm glow of fairy lights all around and the smell of mulled wine in the air,
Granted, Aachen is a little bit out of the way. But that’s not to say it’s not easy to get there! Your best bet would be to fly to either Cologne-Bonn or Düsseldorf. From there you’ll avail of direct trains to Aachen which take roughly an hour to get there. Piece of cake! Of course if you’re doing a bit of road-tripping in Europe then you can easy get to Aachen by means of the excellent motorway system. Should you be driving over from France then you can simply follow the N3 or E42/E40 towards Aachen. From Maastricht in the Netherlands it’s simply a case of following the N278 eastbound.
To help you find some good deals on flights from the UK to Germany I’ve included some handy links below which you can use to help plan your own festive adventures in Aachen. :)
It’s no secret that German Christmas markets are some of the best! There’s just no beating the feeling of cosiness and magic in the atmosphere. Aachen is in fact one of the most popular Christmas market destinations in the country. More than 1.5 million people visit the Christmas market here while its open. Like other German markets, the one here in Aachen coincides with the Advent season, starting on the 24th of November and running until the 23rd of December. Approximately 150 merchants and sellers will be there to sell all sorts of traditional wares and handicrafts, meaning you’ll be guaranteed to bring back some lovely keepsakes and trinkets which will make for a lovely Christmas present. Be sure to look out for the local version of gingerbread, known as Aachener Printen, and enjoy plenty of Glühwein to stave off the December cold!
Since the centre of Aachen is quite compact, it definitely adds an extra touch of cosiness to the whole thing. The main market starts by the beautiful town hall, and follows its way up along the narrow streets and alleys to the famous cathedral. You can’t miss the entrance to the market – there’s a 6-foot gingerbread man waiting for you there!
Eating and drinking – local Christmas specialities in Aachen
Half of the fun at Christmas time is being able to enjoy the amazing food! A festive trip to German is no exception – the hearty cuisine is absolutely perfect for the winter time. Here are some tasty treats for you to get stuck into while you’re in Aachen!
Aachener Pinten: Probably the best way to describe Aachener Pinten is to imagine a cross between gingerbread and honey cake. As as the plain Pinten you’ll also find variations with nuts, chocolate and honey.
Rice flan: This is a delicacy found only Aachen and the surrounding border region. Certainly unique!
Aachener Weihnachtsleberwurst: The name is a bit of a mouthful – it means “Christmas liver sausage”. It’s incredibly popular with the locals at this time of year with 20 tons of it sold at butchers across the city. The sausage is seasoned with ginger, aniseed, coriander and other typical Christmas spices.
Öcher Puttes: Something for those with a big appetite! It’s a special kind of blood sausage that’s usually fried along with other ingredients such as apples, potatoes and onions. You’ll also see it served with Sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. Sure, it’s a little bit calorific, but it’ll definitely give you loads of energy!
Drinks: You can’t talk about Christmas markets without mentioning the typical warm drinks on offer. Of course you’ll find the usual names such as Glühwein and even egg nog (Eierpunsch), but you’ll find some other special drinks only served up in Aachen as well. Same examples include the Kaiser Karl herbal liqueur, as well as the Aachener Domliqueur, which goes really well with a slice of orange. No matter what drink you go for, they’re all certain to stave off the cold weather!
The top 10 attractions in Aachen
The Christmas Market isn’t the only attraction in Aachen. The city is filled with fantastic sights which lend themselves well to a lovely bit of festive sightseeing as well. Here’s a quick list of the top 10 sights in Aachen.
1. Aachen Cathedral
The city’s most famous landmark by far. The cathedral’s origins can be traced all the way back to 796AD, when Charlemagne personally ordered its construction. The oldest part of the Cathedral is the octagonal-shaped Palatine Chapel, home to the Shrine of Charlemagne where the Emperor’s remains are sealed away in an intricate golden sarcophagus adorned with jewels and sculptures. On the first floor you’ll find a throne where more than 30 princes were crowned as the King of Germany. The interior of the chapel itself is very fascinating too – the style of its arches and marble-clad pillars is more in keeping with early Romanesque architecture rather than the Gothic styles we typically associate with cathedrals. Honestly, this place is a dream for history lovers!
2. Katschhof square
The square known as Katschhof was once the inner courtyard of a larger palace complex which belonged to Charlemagne. It’s long been a focal point for city life, with all sorts of markets and trade taking place here during the Medieval times. It was also where the pillory was located, which actually where the square gets its name for – the local name for a pillory is Kax or Katz.
3. Aachen town hall
Another prominent landmark, the Aachen town hall is a must on your sightseeing itinerary. Its intricate façade is beautiful at night when it’s all lit up!
4. The city walls and gates
Back in the day, the city of Aachen used to boast some very impressive fortifications. Some of these are still around today. The Pont Gate and Marschier Gate are two surviving examples of Aachen’s eleven city gates. There are still several old guard towers watching over the city, and there even used to be a moat as well – at its largest point it was up to 28 metres wide and 12 meters deep. Good luck trying to get past that!
5. The Elisenbrunnen Bath House
Aachen owes its origin to the natural thermal springs in the area, and the Ancient Romas were eager to build fancy bathhouses where they could relax from a long day of conquering and socialise with the upper echelons of society. One of the most famous bathhouses in Aachen is the Elisenbrunnen, a beautiful bathhouse originally completed in 1827 in an elegant Neoclassical style. One of the thermal springs here has a high sulphur content which does result in a bit of a funky smell, but with its unique mineral composition and temperatures of up to 50 degrees, it’s meant to help with many ailments.
6. The hot springs of Burtscheid
The neighbourhood of Burtscheid also features its own thermal springs, which means that the area has earned a reputation of being a fantastic place to be if you’re looking for a proper bit of pampering thanks to several spas in the area. The natural springs can reach temperatures of up to 70 degrees, and you’ll find loads of pretty fountains in what is a very pretty corner of the city.
7. The Carolus Thermal Spa
Craving a proper pamper sesh? Then the Carolus Thermal Spa is the place to be. Read up on the local spa history in the foyer as you’re waiting to get in – once you’ve made it inside, you have eight indoor and outdoor pools to relax in!
8. The Pont Quarter
Situated between Pont Gate and the market, the Port Quarter is easily one of the nicest areas of the city. This area is also known as the Latin Quarter, home to many cafés and restaurants. You’ll also find plenty of nightclubs on a street named Pontstraße. The city of Aachen is home to more than 60,000 students, so you can imagine there’s quite the buzz going on in this part of town!
9. Hof Square
One of the liveliest places in the city, this cute square is home to plenty of lovely cafés, bars and terraces where you can reward yourselves with a nice local beer or coffee after a long day of sightseeing! The square is home to Aachen’s oldest café, the Alt Aachener Café Stuben van den Daele (phew!). If you love particularly cosy places to enjoy a coffee or cake, then this is the place to be!
10. Lousberg Hill
To round up this list of the top 10 attractions in Aachen, I thought I’d share with you a fantastic viewpoint where you can get an amazing view of the city! The Lousberg Hill reaches heights of up to 264 metres above sea level and it’s located just to the north of the city. If you come here during the summertime you’ll find hammocks to chill out in as well!
Shopping in Aachen
Once you’ve bought all of your presents at the Christmas market, it’s time to check out toe other fantastic shopping opportunities open to you in the city. As well as the little shopping streets around the cathedral and city hall, you’ll also find larger shopping centres and busy shopping streets with all the big-name brands present.
Just be careful though – apart from the Christmas market, shops are always closed on a Sunday in Germany! I’ve been caught out by this myself plenty of times. There is however a so-called “Shopping Sunday” on the 9th of December, where shops will be open from 1pm – 6pm. However on other days of the weeks shops will normally stay open until around 8pm.
The most famous shopping streets in Aachen is the Adalbertstraße. You’ll find plenty of large chains as well as the Aquis Plaza shopping centre, home to 130 shops and restaurants. Grosskölnstraße is also another popular place to get shopping done. Over in Annastraße, one of the oldest cities in the city, you can find loads of lovely little boutiques and craft shops should you be on the look out for something a bit more special.
If you’re a self-confessed chocoholic, then you will love Aachen! You should head to the Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate outlet store, where you can pretty much find every single variety and type of Lindt chocolate that exists right now. Pretty much heaven on earth if you ask me.
Visit the Aachen Christmas market
I’m almost certain that you’ll come back from your trip to Aachen with your suitcases filled with chocolate, treats and Christmas presents! Or you’ll be back feeling like you’re on cloud 9 after the pamper sesh of a lifetime at one of Aachen’s many spas. As you can see, this city is a real hidden gem tucked away by the border and I definitely recommend everyone to experience the festive atmosphere here!
This is of course one of the many hidden gems that I’ll be sharing with you during my spotlight on North Rhine-Westphalia this week, so be sure to keep checking back for even more inspiration!