Aachen is actually very loved among locals – some of whom drive quite a ways to get there. We have friends in Brussels who make quarterly trips to Aachen just to go shopping.
The usual first trip for people is to its historic center with the Rathaus and Dom – which is also where most of the city festivals and markets including the beautiful Christmas market can be found.
Parking: There are many parking garages in the area. We usually park in the Dom parking lot – a small one with a slide (nice for kids). It does fill quickly, but with many parking lots to choose from, you won’t have a problem. Just follow the signs. (See more notes on Dom parking at the end of this entry.)
The Rathaus: Sitting on one entire side of the market square is the Rathaus – the old government building of Aachen. Now you can take tours of it, or enjoy dinner in its cellar at the Ratskeller (you can’t miss the large red horse standing just outside of it). This is fine dining, so you probably don’t want to take the kids and you’ll need to be prepared. $$$$
Really, going into the Rathaus isn’t a “must do.” It’s big and beautiful and walking around it is enough. Entrance is cheap though – 2 Euros for adults and 1 Euro for Students, so if want the view, it will take you just 5 – 10 minutes to see everything. Directly opposite the Rathaus on the other side of the fountain is a great Starbucks (lots of seating, consistent coffee, warmth or air conditioning as needed, and a clean bathroom).
In that square, you’ll also find a Body Shop and a McDonald’s. And, if you want some fabulous Italian food to eat in or take out, you can go to the little place just one block up from the Rathaus (with Starbucks on your right and the Rathaus on your left, walk to the end of the markt square and look for a small sign). The Italian restaurant is small, but they make delicious home-made pastas, so you essentially choose your pasta and your sauce. The food comes quickly.
Walk down the street to the left of the Rathaus to get to the Dom. On that street, you’ll find a lot of small shops including a nice cigar shop, Oil and Vinegar (delicious gourmet food), a jewelry shop, several upscale clothing stores, and Benetton.
When you reach the end, there will be Nobis Printen shop in your left – this is a nice place to taste the local Printen cookies or try another baked treat. They also make sandwiches and had adequate seating for you to stop and enjoy a hot beverage and a snack.
The Dom: To the right is a small square where they have a small market on some days and the front side of the Aachener Dom – a beautiful piece of architectural history and the place from where Charlemagne ruled. Walk around the Dom to the left to find the entrance. Photos are allowed if you pay 2 Euros. Entrance is free. Look up. The mosaics in the Dom are incredible. The entire ceiling is a very detailed mosaic and the designs creep down the walls too. A lot of the tiny tiles sparkle in the lighting. The windows are beautiful and in the front are several large gold carved things. It’s pretty impressive. Charlemagne actually ruled from this cathedral. His throne is there. He’s still buried there. The Dom is in use. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a baptism or other ceremony in one of the smaller rooms.
The Treasury: When you leave the Dom, walk straight up that street to the gates. To the right is the gift shop. If you turn right just outside the gate and walk about 2 blocks up the street, you’ll find the Treasury of the Cathedral. For a small admittance fee (4E adults), you can see a beautiful collection. It won’t take you long (about 45 minutes), so the kids won’t be miserable.
The Treasury of the Cathedral, the most important north of the Alps, has a intricately carved marble sarcophagus dating from 2nd century A.D. from Rome that once contained Charlemagne. It had a golden bust of Charlemagne, his hunting knife and many other things relating to him. The cross of Lothair is amazing – beautiful gold decorated with stones and pearls and filigree with intricate engravings in gold.
The three reliquaries hold some of Aachen’s old relics. One contains Mary’s belt. And the other two have Christ’s belt and his flogging belt. Every seven years in Aachen (the last one in 2007), there is a great pilgrimage that started in 1349. During the event, the Virgin’s Shrine is opened and 4 more holy relics including Mary’s dress and Christ’s swaddling clothes are displayed for a time. It’s quite an elaborate event.
The Shopping Street: If you have more time, you can go back around to intersection where the Dom and the Nobis Printen shop meet. Now, go left around the printen shop and you’ll run into a seemingly never-ending street of shopping. C&A, H&M, the Galeria (great chocolate selection), Mayersche Books (has a very nice English literature section with new releases), a Foot Locker, and a wonderful “teddy bear” toy store are just a few of the stores you’ll run into. You’ll also run into a lot of cafes and chocolate shops.
Cute alleyway: To the other direction – on the other side of the Rathaus square – you’ll find other small streets with quaint shops and bakeries. One such bakery is the Middelberg Konditerei which has some of the best cake around!
Photos: 1) a bagel/bratwurst vendor who literally “wears” his stand. There is one very thin pole that gives him some support, but the counter space that houses all the food is assembled in a sort of ring that he wears around his waist. 2) The fantastically fast slide at the Dom parking lot where we normally park. When parking and leaving the lot, go down the ally where you’ll see Nanu Nana on the right and a LUSH just across and to the left. Turn right and walk about 2 blocks up the street to the market square. You’ll pass by Sausalito’s too – a Mexican restaurant that has a good reputation with Americans here.
Tel. 0241.401 94 37