Aachen Introduction Walking Tour, Aachen

Aachen Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Aachen

The area that is now home to Aachen has been occupied since at least Neolithic times. The mineral springs have drawn people here for eons, and historians have found evidence of settlements from the Bronze and Iron Ages. In those days, the area was settled by the Celtic peoples. They probably came here to worship Grannus, god of light and healing.

The Romans built the town as a spa resort sometime in the second century. By 470, the Ripuarian Franks ruled the town. The town goes by many names in many languages. Aachen comes from the German "Aach," meaning river or stream.

Aachen's most famous resident was Charlemagne, also known as Father of Europe, who united most of Western Europe for the first time since the classical era of the Roman Empire. Charlemagne came to spend his winters here after being coronated King of the Franks in 768 and he kept coming until his death in 814. During this period, Aachen became the focus of Charlemagne's court and the political center of his empire. He had the Palatine Chapel built. It's now the central part of the Aachen Cathedral.

From 936 to 1531, most kings of Germany destined to reign over the Holy Roman Empire were crowned in Aachen. Charlemagne's palace complex was the center of modern Aachen. The cathedral, Town Hall, Centre Charlemagne, and Katshhof Square now occupy this area. In the Cathedral Treasury, you can spot some artifacts and beautiful treasures from Charlemagne's era.

From the early 16th century, Aachen started to lose its power and influence. First the coronations of emperors were moved from Aachen to Frankfurt. This was followed by the religious wars and the great fire of 1656.

Aachen had always known for its spa. Visit the Couven Museum for a look at the city in the 18th and 19th centuries. During this period, the city was a resort town centered around the spa. Check out the Elise Fountain to see how important that special sulfur water has been to the city.

Today, Aachen's walking streets, like Adalbert and Kramer Streets, are some of Europe's best shopping and strolling spots. In addition, the city is known for its numerous fountains. Be on the lookout for the Market Fountain in Market Square and the Dolls' Fountain near the cathedral.

Aachen is a beautiful city, with lots of history and plenty to see and do. Join us on a walking tour and enjoy everything Charlemagne's city offers.
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

Download The GPSmyCity App

Aachen Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Aachen Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Germany » Aachen (See other walking tours in Aachen)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 Km or 0.9 Miles
Author: Caroline
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Marktplatz (Market Square)
  • Rathaus (Town Hall)
  • Centre Charlemagne
  • Domschatzkammer (Cathedral Treasury)
  • Katschhof Square
  • Couven Museum
  • Krämerstraße (Kramer Street)
  • Puppenbrunnen (Dolls' Fountain)
  • Aachener Dom (Aachen Cathedral)
  • Elisenbrunnen (Elise Fountain)
  • Adalbertstrasse (Adalbert Street)
Marktplatz (Market Square)

1) Marktplatz (Market Square) (must see)

Marktplatz is one of the primary city squares in Aachen. It's located right in front of Town Hall and is within easy walking distance of all of the major sights in the town.

The square is lined with small shops and cafes. It's a pedestrian-only zone, full of outdoor patio dining options. With many bars and eating choices, it's the perfect meeting place in town for some wine or dinner.

At the center of the square is an iconic fountain often called Market Fountain. It is the city's oldest fountain. Atop it stands a bronze statue of Charlemagne. The statue here is a duplicate since the 16th-century original is now housed in the Centre Charlemagne.

To the north of the square lies a building known as the Karlshof. In its courtyard, you'll find another iconic Aachen fountain--the Karlshof Fountain. This fountain from 1969 depicts the Seven Free Arts from Roman antiquity, one on each of its seven sides. The seven arts were grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, the square hosts the town market. The market is popular with visitors and locals alike. You'll find local butchers, flower vendors, and food stalls. Don't miss the local cheeses and baked goods!
Rathaus (Town Hall)

2) Rathaus (Town Hall) (must see)

Aachen Town Hall is located between two of the town's primary squares--Market Square and Katschhof Square. The building is from the early 14th century, and it's still the seat of the mayor and city council. In those days, the hall was the location of the coronation feast, part of the ceremony that went along with the coronation of a new Holy Roman Emperor at the cathedral. Between 936 to 1531, 31 emperors of Holy Roman Empire were crowned in Aachen.

The building was built upon parts of the original Palace of Aachen built during the Carolingian dynasty. You can see elements and masonry from the era of Charlemagne incorporated into the south wall.

Over the years, several fires have damaged the building. The resulting reconstruction has changed and updated the look of the building. For example, after the Great Fire of Aachen in 1656, the destroyed roof and towers were replaced with baroque elements. The 18th century saw many other gothic adornments removed as the building was further updated in the trendy baroque style.

After the Napoleonic era, the building fell into disrepair. In the 19th century, Chief Architect Friedrich Joseph Ark began rebuilding--this time in the neogothic style to return the building to its original state. Frescoes were added that depicted the legends of Charlemagne. In addition, the sides of the building were adorned with statues of 50 kings and symbols of science, art, and Christianity.

Bombing raids in World War II damaged the building. The building burned with such heat that the steel skeletons of the tower caps twisted. The complete collapse of the building was only prevented thanks to makeshift emergency beams. It wasn't until the late 1960s that a plan was formed to rebuild the towers.

Charlemagne has often been called Father of Europe. Today the Charlemagne Prize is awarded at this location. The prize is awarded to individuals who have made strides towards a more unified Europe. Previous recipients include Pope John Paul II, US President Bill Clinton, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Centre Charlemagne

3) Centre Charlemagne

The Centre Charlemagne is the new city museum. It's located adjacent to the Town Hall, right on Katschhof Square--in the middle of Charlemagne's palace district. It's easy to find since it is the only modern glass building on the square.

The Centre Charlemagne is an immersive experience where you can learn about the Carolingian period. There are activities in the history lab that make it perfect for families. For example, find out how much a suit of chain mail weighed or how ink was made for those medieval scripts.

The permanent exhibition of the museum is a history of Charlemagne's city. This includes material on the early Roman settlements from as far back as the fifth century BCE. It then divides the town's history, from Charlemagne's Palace and the City of Coronations to the baroque spa city that was Aachen in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Of course, these exhibits follow the legends and stories of the city's central figure--Charlemagne. Learn about how his story is irrevocably interlinked with the city, and see the original bronze statue from Market Fountain.

Finally, the museum has a fascinating look at Aachen today. View the city from the eyes of its residents and gain an appreciation for this diverse European city.
Domschatzkammer (Cathedral Treasury)

4) Domschatzkammer (Cathedral Treasury) (must see)

Legend has it that Charlemagne started the Cathedral Treasury in his chapel with objects from Jerusalem and Constantinople. Today the collection is part of a museum of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Aachen. The treasury and Aachen Cathedral were the first German sites to be added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Cathedral Treasury has been housed in various places over the centuries. In the 15th century, it was housed in St. Matthew's Chapel, and in 1873 it was moved to Charles' Chapel. It moved again to the Hungarian Chapel in 1881 and finally to its present location next to the Poor Souls' Chapel in 1931.

From the original Carolingian collection, only six objects remain and only three are still here in Aachen. Look for an early Byzantine silk, a diptych of Christ, and the Aachen Gospels. Numerous other objects from the time of Charlemagne have been added to the collection over the years. You'll see a late-Gothic silver-gilt bust of the man himself, the Persephone sarcophagus, and his hunting horn and hunting knife.

There is also a large section of the treasury dedicated to church artifacts. For example, the Ottonian Cross of Lothair is an ornate golden processional cross from the year 1000 AD. You'll also want to catch a glimpse of the Carolingian Gospels, a decorated illumination.

The next section of the collection contains relics related to the coronations of Holy Roman Emperors that occurred in Aachen between 936 and 1531.
Katschhof Square

5) Katschhof Square

Katschhof Square is surrounded by the major sites in the city center. It was the heart of Charlemagne's palace complex. To the south stands the Aachen Cathedral, and to the north is Town Hall. The square is a great place to take in the sights and grab some photos of these impressive buildings.

The square is also the site of many festivals and gatherings throughout the year. So don't be surprised if a carnival or art fair is set up here during your visit.

The square is home to the city's famous Christmas market during the winter season. Enjoy the twinkling lights and mulled wine as you sample Aachener Printen, a local type of gingerbread. The Aachen Christmas Market has been called one of the best in Europe.
Couven Museum

6) Couven Museum

Located just east of Katschhof Square, the Couven Museum is a restored 17th century home. It has been staged with furnishings and decor from the 18th and 19th centuries to show a glimpse of what life was like as a middle-class Aachener.

Local pharmacist Adam Coebergh built the house in 1662. He also opened the Adler Pharmacy nearby. A man named Andrease Monheim bought the building in 1783 and hired architect Jakob Couven to redesign it. The city acquired the house after World War II, and the museum opened in 1958.

The museum is not large. You can explore several rooms of the home, including the courtyard, music room, fireplace room, and kitchen. In every nook and cranny, you will discover little things that made life go around during this period in the city's history. You can also explore the Adler Pharmacy.

There are rooms dedicated to decor from different periods of European history. For example, the Directoire Room shows the late 1790s, when the board of directors ruled revolutionary France. The Empire Room has the strict style of the 19th century during Emperor Napoleon's time.

You can pick up a museum guide in the gift shop. The Couven Museum is closed on Mondays and major holidays.
Krämerstraße (Kramer Street)

7) Krämerstraße (Kramer Street)

Kramer Street runs north to south just east of Katschhof Square. Its southern boundary is the cathedral, and the northern end is Market Square. The narrow walking street is lined with beautiful shops and boutiques of every description.

Along the route are several historic buildings. Many shops have residential buildings above, and many of the buildings are listed as architectural monuments within the city. A vast majority date from the early 19th century. The Postwagen and Eulenspiegel houses are notable, built near Town Hall around 1657.

Postwagen and Ratskeller are adjacent to the Town Hall and home to highly-regarded, upscale restaurants.

Another stately building worth looking for is Number 29. It's a three-story brick structure built along a curve in the street. It dates from 1656 originally, but was extensively rebuilt in 1950. The right half of the building houses a round staircase.

Along the way, you'll pass several art installations and fountains. Don't miss the Dolls' Fountain, and, near the north end of the street, the Chicken Thief Fountain. It was unveiled at the Christmas Market in 1913 and depicts a chicken thief who is sold out by the crowing rooster he inadvertently grabbed. The fountain is a recreation made in 1950 from the original molds. Unfortunately, the original statue was destroyed in World War II.
Puppenbrunnen (Dolls' Fountain)

8) Puppenbrunnen (Dolls' Fountain) (must see)

The Dolls' Fountain is a small art fountain located on Kramer Street near the cathedral. The puppet-like statues are a favorite for kids. It was created in 1975 by local artist Bonifatius Stirnberg.

The characters on the fountain each represent something typical of Aachen. For example, the horse and rider represent the riding tournament, and the market woman represents trade. Likewise, the doll links to the 600-year-long textile industry, and the professor with the monocle stands for the science and the local university.

The rooster on top is for the city's many talented musicians, although some claim it points to the times of the French occupation. Finally, the clown and masks are evocative of carnival--and Aachen's cheerfulness in general.

All figures on the fountain are made of bronze and have moveable joints, like marionettes. It is designed to be interactive, and kids can't get enough. You'll often see youngsters entertaining themselves while their parents shop in the many nearby boutiques.
Aachener Dom (Aachen Cathedral)

9) Aachener Dom (Aachen Cathedral) (must see)

The Aachen Cathedral is one of the oldest in Europe. It was constructed on the orders of Charlemagne in 796. The finished building, then known as the Palatine Chapel, was consecrated by Pope Leo III in 805. Charlemagne was buried in the chapel in 814.

Antipope Paschal III canonized Charlemagne in 1165, and the chapel began drawing pilgrims from all over Europe. The traffic spawned a burst of construction activity over the next 700 years, with the choir hall, glass chapel, cupola, and steeple all being added.

Like the rest of the city, bombs heavily damaged the cathedral during World War II. Thankfully, however, the basic structure survived, and its art treasures had been previously removed for safe keeping. Bringing the cathedral back to its former glory was a 30-year, 40-million-Euro project.

The core building of the cathedral is the Carolingian Octagon, or Palatine Chapel. It was built based on the Byzantine buildings of the time. The domed octagonal interior was designed by architect Odo of Metz, the earliest known architect north of the Alps.

The upper gallery is divided by ancient columns. These came from St. Gereon in Cologna, spolia Charlemagne brought to Aachen from Rome during the eighth century.

The geometry of the Carolingian Octagon is equally fascinating. Researchers have traced a previously unknown unit of measurement back to the structure--322.4 mm. This has come to be known as the Carolingian foot.

The eight sides of the octagon symbolize the eighth day and the resurrection of Jesus. Ten is also a reoccurring number in the structure since it symbolized perfection in Medieval architecture. For example, the diameter of the building is 100 (10 x 10) Carolingian feet, as is the dome's height.

Notable items in the cathedral include Charlemagne's throne, the Shrine of St. Mary, the Barbarossa chandelier, and the Pala d'Oro. The church served as the coronation church for German kings for over 500 years. The precise final resting place of Charlemagne is unknown, but it is believed to be in the Persephone sarcophagus under the west tower. The actual sarcophagus is now part of the Cathedral Treasury's collection.
Elisenbrunnen (Elise Fountain)

10) Elisenbrunnen (Elise Fountain) (must see)

The Elise Fountain isn't a fountain in the traditional sense. Instead, this early 19th-century pavilion houses a drinking fountain that takes water from the Aachen thermal springs. The sulfur-smelling water reminds visitors of the importance of the mineral springs in Aachen's history.

The city council conceived the idea of building a grand fountain hall in 1819. The rear section of the pavilion was built on the remains of the medieval Barbarossa Wall.

Of course, the thermal springs had attracted visitors to Aachen long before the city dreamed up the Elise Fountain. During Roman times, spas were built here as far back as 70 AD. The Büchel Thermal Baths (Bücheltherme), with over 2,500 square meters of floor area, operated until at least the last years of the fourth century.

The structure is named for Prussian Crown Princess Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria, who was the daughter of Bavarian King Maximilian I. She later became the wife of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. There is a marble bust of Elise in the rotunda. It was carved by sculptor Christian Friedrich Tieck and made from Carrara marble.

The building was heavily damaged in World War II and reconstructed in the decades after. There was fierce debate at the time as to whether or not the facility should be modernized. In the end, reconstruction work was completed that left the structure unchanged from the original.

Behind Elise Fountain is a garden and a small park. A smaller fountain was set up in the late 19th century so guests could partake without leaving the park. While the original intent was to provide water for drinking, the chemical composition of the water is now such that it can only be consumed as a medicinal product with a prescription. As a result, "do not drink the water" is posted throughout the facility.
Adalbertstrasse (Adalbert Street)

11) Adalbertstrasse (Adalbert Street)

Adalbert Street is a beautiful pedestrian-only street lined with shops and boutiques. You'll find high-end retailers and plenty of dining options.

The street is named for the Sankt Adalbert church, which lies on the eastern end. The collegiate church was consecrated in 1005, making it the second oldest church in the city.

From the church, this narrow walking street extends west to Peter Street (Peterstraße). Shopping establishments line the street. In fact, Adalbert Street has a reputation as the premier shopping district in town. On the south side of the street, you'll also find Aquis Plaza, a four-level enclosed shopping mall with a food court.

The street is roughly divided in half where it intersects Promenade Street (Promenadenstraße), another shopping street that heads north. At the intersection, look for the magnificent Kugel Fountain. The centerpiece of the fountain is a large blooming flower that slowly opens and closes. The sculpture was created in 1977 by local artist Albert Sous.

Walking Tours in Aachen, Germany

Create Your Own Walk in Aachen

Create Your Own Walk in Aachen

Creating your own self-guided walk in Aachen is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Aachen's Historical Buildings Tour

Aachen's Historical Buildings Tour

Evolved from an ancient Roman settlement, Aachen is one of the oldest and most historic cities in Germany. At one time it served as the capital of Holy Roman Empire. Today's Aachen is just a small city yet with a very rich history and stunning architecture. Despite being heavily damaged during World War II, some of its historical buildings have survived to our days courtesy of the strenuous...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.7 Km or 1.1 Miles