Located in the border triangle between Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, Aachen is a lively town in the heart of Europe where three nations come together. While an excellent university attracts students from all over Europe, the picturesque medieval city centre with its famous UNESCO world heritage of the Cathedral and the Gothic Town Hall, narrow streets and countless cafés provide quality of life to citizens and visitors alike.
On 22 January 2019, Germany and France signed a treaty of friendship in the city’s historic town hall.
Things to see and do
Aachen Cathedral has been the city’s most impressive landmark for more than 1000 years. Commissioned by Charles the Great in 795 to consolidate the centre of the Carolignian Empire, the beautiful architectural masterpiece represents the heart of the city even to this day. Together with the Cathedral Treasury, among the most important of the churches’ cultural treasures, the cathedral is a UNESCO world cultural heritage site in 1978.
Framed by the Cathedral to the South and the Gothic town hall to the North lies the spacious “Katschhof”, which was once the inner courtyard of Charlemagne’s palace. This striking historic setting is best enjoyed from one of the dozens of restaurants and pubs or at one of the regular open air events, with the Wine Summer and the Christmas Market among them.
In late Winter carnival with its procession and fun costume parties brings people together. This culminates in the presentation of the “Order against a brutish Lack of Humour” to a person public interest who have carried out their duties with humour and humanity.
Charles the Great
Often referred to as the “father of Europe”, Charles the Great chose Aachen for his residence and the centre of his Empire, and in the 8th century transformed the small town into the political and cultural capital of Europe. “Charlemagne” (in French) is a well known person to all children in Aachen. Schools, streets and fountains are named after him and, most famously, so is the “Karlspreis”, an annual award for outstanding Europeans. Laureates range from Adenauer to Beatrix of the Netherlands or Pope John Paul II. British Laureates are Winston Churchill, Tony Blair, Timothy Garton Ash, Edward Heath and Roy Jenkins.
One reason why Charles the Great chose Aachen as his seat may have been the hot springs around the town. Today, the neo-classical architecture of the “Elisenbrunnen” (Elise Fountain), a fountain supplied from these hot springs, reminds visitors of the Emperor’s thermal baths.
University of Aachen
With students making up 15% of the population, Aachen really is a university city. It is one of the biggest and longest-standing universities in Europe and is known worldwide for its excellence in engineering and natural sciences. This is reflected in the young image of the city with its diverse nightlife around the “Ponte” and in the smell of barbecue during summer in the “Westpark”.
Aachen Christmas Market
“Glühwein” (mulled wine) wafts through the air as little wooden stalls in dazzling colours sell charming souvenirs against the backdrop of a splendid cathedral, and Christmas songs are heard in every cobbled alley. This is Aachen Christmas Market, a regular among the top 10 Best Christmas Markets in Europe attracting around 1.5 million visitors every year. Characteristic for the market is its familiar atmosphere and charm typical for a small city, nestled among beautiful medieval buildings. And along with delicious German mulled wine, the famous medieval pastry “Aachener Printen” are a must-try for every visitor.
How to get there
Aachen can be reached by air, with nearby airports in Maastricht (15 miles away), Liege (20 miles away), Cologne (35 miles away) or Düsseldorf (40 miles away), or by train from St Pancras via Brussels and by coach from London Victoria Station.
British-German Town Twinnings
Town twinnings between British and German cities play an important role in promoting cultural exchange. Aachen has been twinned with Halifax in West Yorkshire since 1979.