- I was in Aachen: in April 2015.
- Number of days: barely two hours.
- My score: 3/5.
A relatively unknown to general public, but historically interesting destination for many, because it was once the capital of a vast empire, Charlemagne’s. Today it is a 250,000 inhabitants city, bordering Belgium and the Netherlands, famous for two things: the hot springs and the first cathedral to be included in the list of UNESCO heritage, which is also the oldest in northern Europe.
Open from 7:00 to 18:00 January to March / 19:00 rest of the year, except Mondays when it closes at 13:00. Free entrance. It is not allowed to enter during religious services. It is easily reached in 15 minutes walking north from the train station.
Built between 796 and 805 by order of Emperor Charlemagne in which was the first capital of his empire, the city where he spent most winters being very fond of hot springs.
The first thing that stands out is the large number of styles, forming an attractive and original set; it is not like other European cathedrals, precisely because it is so old and have undergone many renovations and addition of buildings.
Inside it is not exactly the largest cathedral in Europe. The first thing you see is the octagonal room or Carolingian octagon, which for 200 years was the tallest building north of the Alps. Its main influence is the Byzantine style; hence religious figures in golden background, the largest Arab type arches and the capitals of the columns in Greek style.
The east building is the other large one, along with the tower and the octagon. Clearly Gothic styled, was added in the late fourteenth century. In the furthest zone is the reliquary with the remains of Charlemagne (initially buried in the octagon), and first, another with alleged religious relics of great importance (including the clothes worn by Jesus Christ and John the Baptist the days of their deaths), which promote an important pilgrimage.
The Treasury of the Cathedral, an innumerable collection of art objects, and especially a lot of gold, can be visited for 5 €. Highlights include a bust of the emperor and the marble sarcophagus where his remains laid before being canonized.
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST:
- City Hall. Immediately north of the cathedral, fourteenth century Gothic style.
- The hot springs. The name of the city comes from the Roman word “aqua” meaning water. Even before the Romans, primitive peoples in 5000 B.C. had settled in this area, all coveting the thermal water. They can be drunk for free at the Elisenbrunnen (Elisa’ spring), immediately east of the cathedral. Unfortunately, bathing is not like 7000 years ago and those who want to make use of the waters will have no other than to pay for a spa.
HOW TO GET THERE
- By Air: The city is only 35 km from Maastricht, so close that they shared airport, the Maastrich-Aaachen Airport. There is a shuttle (10 €) leaving 30 minutes after the landing of any flight that will take you to the center of Aachen.
- By land:
- I arrived by train from Maastricht towards Cologne (is a mandatory stop). Dutch and German railways allow you to buy the ticket and take the train at any time you want. There is one approximately every 30 minutes, so you can get off the train, visit the city, and to get back on another train later (60 minutes, 10 €).Or, next to Maastricht Central Station, get the bus number 50 (60 minutes, 6 €).
- In Belgium, the nearest town is Liege; the train is recommended (90 minutes, 10 €) rather than the bus (one hour, 30 €, Eurolines).
- From Germany, visitors will likely come from Cologne or Dusseldorf. In both cases, there are two types of trains, regular DB (1hour, 19 €) or more rare intercity express (35 minutes, 22 €). Similarly, there are regular buses (90 minutes, from 6 €) and Express (70 minutes, 30 €).
- Consider sharing a car (Blablacar, Uber…) for any of the itineraries, as it is cheaper and faster than any public transport.