As I was planning the route from Amsterdam to Munich during my family’s vacation in Europe last summer, I noticed that Aachen, Germany, was right on the way—and pounced on the chance to check a major item off my bucket list. Built in the 8th century during Charlemagne’s reign and expanded in the Middle Ages, Aachen Cathedral was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire until 1531. More than 30 rulers were crowned here over the centuries, and Charlemagne was buried on the premises. It’s history-buff heaven.
Aachen Cathedral, or Aachener Dom, is a work of art inside and out. At its heart is the octagonal Palatine Chapel, a marvel of intricate golden mosaics, ancient bronze grilles and striped marble arches—all that remains of Charlemagne’s palace complex. The treasury is one of the finest in Europe, including the great emperor’s sarcophagus, a reliquary that displays two of his arm bones, a series of illuminated manuscripts and the priceless, jewel-encrusted Cross of Lothair. While the cathedral’s significance may be lost on younger kids, tweens and teens can appreciate the full impact of this storied site.
For me, the highlight was Charlemagne’s throne, a surprisingly humble relic made from four slabs of marble secured with bronze hinges and mounted atop a small flight of stone steps. Look closely and you’ll see faint lines scratched in by Roman soldiers who amused themselves with a makeshift game board (the marble is thought to have been secondhand, used previously for at least two other structures). The throne and select other areas are only accessible via guided tours; an English-speaking tour is offered once a day. Get tickets early, as it sells out.
TIP: Aachen is a 40- to 50-minute train ride from Cologne, home to the magnificent Cologne Cathedral. With planning, you can see both in a single day. Although Aachen makes a fine home base for a night, Cologne is larger and has a wider variety of accommodations as well as easier transport connections. The area pairs well with a few days in the Rhine and Mosel river valleys just to the south.
Our Family Vacation Advisors can book accommodations, arrange family-friendly tours and guides, and more. Click to send us a request >
Editor’s Note: Photo by Lisa Frederick.
Want to save all the great intel and tips you are finding on Ciao Bambino? My Trip Planner allows you to bookmark articles, family-friendly hotel reviews, and family vacation packages. Simply click the heart icon on anything you want to save. Site registration is required to get started. Happy planning!
Please fillout the form below to create your free My Trip Planner account.
This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.