Trier | 11 Sights of History in the Oldest City of Germany

by Steven
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Trier belongs, along with Worms, to one of the oldest cities in Germany. Those who make a city trip to this special city in the Eiffel will therefore encounter many attractions from the period of the Roman Empire. It is not without a reason that Trier was nicknamed “Roma Secunda“, which also means the “Second Rome”. And did you know the philosopher Karl Marx was born here?

Trier is a true paradise for lovers of culture and history. In this travel guide, you will read in short about the history and the 11 best historical attractions of this ancient capital of the Western Roman Empire. Finally, I give you information on the best hotels and restaurants in town. Let’s go to Trier…

*This article is also available in Dutch (Trier Reisgids).

In this Travel Guide to Trier

This travel guide about Trier contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a booking through one of the links on this website, Travel4history receives a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you!

Trier Christmas Market on the Main Market Square
Trier Christmas Market at the Main Market

A brief history of Trier

By now you know that Trier is one of the oldest cities in Germany and was also called the Second Rome. But it all started when the Romans conquered this area around 40 BC from the local people, the Treveri, and subjected them to Roman authority. The settlement they built around 15 BC was named Augusta Treverorum. Treverorum is a reference to the local population, the Treveri.

The particular development of Augusta Treverorum

Augusta Treverorum grew into one of the most prosperous cities north of the Alps in the 1st century AD. For instance, the city received an amphitheater, seaside resorts were built, and many traders came to the city.

An important symbol of prosperity is the Ponta Nigra from 170 AD, which you can still admire in the city. The town gate and the town wall protected Augusta Treverorum from outside invasions. It indicated once again how important the city was in the region.

In the 3rd century, the city was subjected to looting Germanic people who partially destroyed it. But Emperor Diocletian (244-311) rebuilt the city walls and made Augusta Treverorum the capital of the province of Belgica Prima. Emperor Maximus enriched the city with the Imperial Baths.

And if that wasn’t enough, today’s Trier grew to become the most important economic, spiritual and political center of the Roman Empire. It was no coincidence that it was nicknamed the Rome of the North. In the fifth century, the city fell into serious decline due to plundering by the Franks and others.

History of the city Trier in Germany
Trier in 1572
By Georg Braun – Original copperplate print, dating 1572 (private archive). Reproduced by Palauenc05 from an original copperplate print (1572), CC BY-SA 4.0, Source: Wikimedia

The Founding of the Archdiocese of Trier

Another noteworthy event in the city’s history is that Trier got an archbishop around 800. Thereby it obtained additional privileges within the then empire of Charlemagne (748-814). In 902, the archbishop was even given complete rule over the city of Trier. And in the 13th century, the Archbishop of Trier was elected to become one of the 7 to 9 electors within the Holy Roman Empire (902-1806). This gave him, among other things, a vote in choosing a new king and/or later the emperor.

As you now know, the history of Trier is centered on the ancient Roman city and the important religious function it had for centuries in the period between 900 and 1800. Another historical fact is that Trier is also the birthplace of the philosopher Karl Marx.

And now you’re all set to visit the magnificent Augusta Treverorum….

View of Trier from the Petrisberg
View of the historic city center of Trier from the Petrisberg near the Amphitheater

Sightseeing – The 11 best attractions in Trier

Trier is a versatile city with great attractions for the young and old. And again, for culture lovers, this is a true paradise. And that’s not all related to Roman times. Whenever you’re here, Trier is great to visit all year round. In one day you can already see a lot, but if you have time, choose to stay another day. Below are some great historical sights.

1. Explore the ‘Hauptmarkt’ and its medieval buildings

The heart of the city of Trier is the Great Market (Hauptmarkt). This square belongs to one of the most beautiful in Germany and here you can still find many beautiful houses from the time of the Middle Ages (around 1500). On the square, there is a column of the Market Cross that dates back to the year 958. Also, the St. Gangolf Church is an important symbol of Trier and you can’t miss it. The first church, like the Market Cross, dates back to 958, but the current building had its origins around 1500.

From Monday to Friday you can find stalls on the Great Market where you can buy the most delicious products. And another historical fact: Already in 958 the first market was held here and that has continued until today.

The Main Market and the St. Georges Church
The Main Market with its beautiful houses and the St. Gangolf Church

2. Visit the Ponta Nigra

The Ponta Nigra is by far the most famous structure in the city. It may look a bit unkempt and black, but the age of this gate is impressive. According to historians, the gate was built in 170 AD, making the Ponta Nigra the oldest and largest monument of its kind in Germany.

It served as the northern gate for a city wall that was more than 6 kilometers long at the time of the Roman Empire. Because the Ponta Nigra was made of sandstone, this led to the black layer of soot that now covers it. The structure is 30 meters high and it is a must to climb the gate.

Would you like to visit Ponta Nigra?
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Entrance fee: € 4 p.p.

The Roman Gate Ponta Nigra
The ancient Roman gate, the Ponta Nigra

3. Explore Trier Cathedral, St. Peter’s

The Cathedral of Trier is built on a foundation that dates back to the 4th century AD. In 326, the Roman emperor Constantine had a basilica built here. Due to attacks from outsiders, the basilica was destroyed, for example by the Normans in 882. The present structure dates from the 11th and 12th centuries.

In the Cathedral of Trier, you will find a number of special tombs of some of the archbishops of the city. In addition, you can pay a visit to the Museum am Dom and the treasury with special historical treasures, such as the Egbert shrine from the tenth century. If you have little time to visit the museum and treasury, do take a look at this famous cathedral in Trier.

Would you like to visit St. Peter’s?
Opening hours: April-October 10 a.m.-6 p.m., November-March 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Entrance: Free

The Cathedral of Trier in Germany
The Cathedral of Trier

4. Visit the Church of Our Lady

The Church of Our Lady is located next to the Cathedral of St. Peter. This sanctuary belongs to one of the oldest Gothic churches in Germany and dates back to the 13th century. Before that, a dilapidated little church stood here, dating from the time of Emperor Constantine the Great (273-337). The building is shaped like a rose and has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1986. And while you’re taking a look at the Cathedral of Trier, be sure to visit the beautiful Church of Our Lady as well.

Would you like to visit the Church of Our Lady?
Opening Hours: Every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Entrance: Free

The Imperial Baths in Trier, Germany
The Imperial Baths

5. See the remains of the Imperial Baths and the Barbara Baths

In addition to the Ponta Nigra, you will find other sights that have origins in Roman times. Examples are the Imperial Baths, the Barbara Baths and the Baths am Viehmarkt. The Barbara Baths are the oldest and date back to the mid-2nd century. According to historians, this place was used as a bathhouse for several centuries and belonged to one of the largest in the Roman Empire. When the city of Trier was besieged by the Franks in the 5th century, the Barbara Baths lost its function as a bathing place.

The Imperial Baths date from the period 300 to 350 AD. Unlike the Barbara Baths, the Imperial Baths were never used as a bathhouse. When Emperor Constantine II (316-340) left Trier he donated it to the population. They never finished building it. Nevertheless, you can still find remnants of the Imperial Baths at this site.

Finally, do not forget to visit the Römerbrucke over the Moselle. This bridge is built on pillars that date back to the 2nd century. If you follow the Südallee, the place where the Barbara Baths are located, towards the west, you will come across the bridge.

Would you like to visit Imperial Baths, Barbara Baths and the Baths am Viehmarkt?
Opening hours Keizerthermen & Barbara Baths: Every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Opening hours Thermen am Viehmarkt: 10 a.m. to p.m., closed on Mondays.
Entrance Barbara Baths: Free
Entrance Imperial Baths & Baths am Viehmarkt: € 4 p.p. per attraction

The Imperial Baths in Trier
The remains of the ancient Imperial Baths

6. Visit the old Amphitheater

The Amphitheater of Trier is located east of the Imperial Baths. Historians suspect that it was built between 160 and 200 AD. It was mainly used for holding gladiator fights and executions. According to archaeologists, these fights certainly took place until the 7th century, long after the Roman Empire (453) fell. In total, about 18,000 spectators could be seated in the theater and if you visit you can still clearly see the outline of the former Amphitheater.

Tip: In addition to the Amphitheater, pay a visit to Mount Petris. From here you have a wonderful view of the city of Trier and the surrounding area.

Would you like to visit the Amphitheater?
Opening hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: € 4 p.p.

The Old Amphitheatre of Trier
Remains of the old Amphitheater

7. Go to the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier

Can’t get enough of the countless Roman remains that can be found in the city of Trier? Then pay a visit to the Rheinisches Landesmuseum. This special museum tells the history of the city of Trier, but the largest part is mainly about the Roman period. So you will find statues, coins, amulets, and other objects found in Trier and the surrounding area.

Admission to the museum costs 8 euros per person and the price includes an audio guide in Dutch, English, and French. And are you a student at the university? Then bring your university pass and maybe you can visit the museum for free….

Would you like to visit the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier?
Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Mondays.
Entrance fee: € 8 p.p.

The Electoral Palace and the Basilica of Constantine
The Electoral Palace with the Basilica of Constantine in the background

8. The Electoral Palace

If you walk from the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier through the palace gardens you will arrive at the Electoral Palace. This beautiful building dates back to the 16th century and is connected to the Basilica of Constantine (more on that later). At the time, this was a fortress and the Elector Johan VII of Schönenberg had a residential wing built onto it.

Later electors further expanded it into a magnificent palace in Renaissance style and later in rococo style. The bishops/electors lived here until 1794. Then French revolutionaries took the city and the palace. You can visit the palace on a guided tour, but don’t forget to walk around the magnificent palace garden.

Would you like to visit the Electoral Palace?
Since the palace is not a public building it can only be visited with a guided tour. Check the Trier website for more information.

The Basilica of Constantine in Trier
The Basilica of Constantine

9. Visit the Basilica of Constantine

Next to the Electoral Palace, you will find the Basilica of Constantine. This building dates back to 310 and has been a church since the 19th century, making it the oldest church building in Germany. It is also the largest covered structure from Roman times, even larger than the Pantheon in Rome.

The Basilica is named after Emperor Constantine the Great, who ordered its construction. At the time, it was a reception hall for the imperial palace, as Trier was briefly the capital of the Western Roman Empire at the time. During World War II, the building was badly damaged by bombing by the Allies. But fortunately, this beautiful and historic Basilica has been restored to its former glory.

Would you like to visit the Basilica of Constantine?
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 10-12 a.m. & 2-6 p.m. Sunday from 1-6 p.m. Opening hours may vary.
Entrance: Free

The Museum Karl-Marx-House in Trier
The birthplace of the philosopher Karl Marx

10. Learn all about Karl Marx in his Birthplace

The Museum Karl-Marx-Huis is the place where the philosopher and founder of communism, Karl Marx (1818-1883) was born. His house today is a museum where you can learn all about his life. He spent his entire childhood here until he went to study in Berlin.

Although I have no communist ideas myself, it is certainly an interesting museum to visit. Governments like China and Venezuela base their ideas on Marx’s. When I was in Beijing in June 2018, the Chinese had an entire exhibit at the National Museum of Beijing dedicated to 200 years of Karl Marx. Extraordinary, but it shows that his philosophy is still alive and well in a number of countries. Read more about visiting the Museum Karl-Marx-House here.

Would you like to visit the Museum Karl-Marx-House?
Opening hours: Every day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission: € 5 p.p.

The Römer Bridge in the center of Trier
The Römer Bridge, built on the foundations of an old Roman bridge

11. Take a historical walk along the Moselle

The Moselle is one of the most famous rivers we know in Germany. Surely, then, you should also take a walk along this famous river! Between the historic Römerbrücke and the Kaiser Wilhelm Brücke, you will find a few historic cranes (Alter Krahnen). These conical towers date back to the 18th century and were used to load and unload ships. Unfortunately, you can’t see them from the inside, but it is a beautiful piece of history of the city of Trier.

The alter Krahnen on the Mosel River
The Alter Krahnen near the Moselle

Accommodation – Where to stay?

In one day you can already see an awful lot of the old city of Trier. But if you plan to explore the historic city thoroughly, book a hotel for one or two nights. And at Christmas, of course, you have the cozy Christmas market here, which makes it special to stay even longer. In any case, book a hotel in the center of the city.

Romantik Hotel Zur Glocke
This hotel is located in the city center at 1-minute walking distance from Grand Place. It is located in a building from 1567 and the interior makes you feel as if you are living 200 years back in time. However, the rooms are spacious and modern. Finally, you can dine in the historic wine cellar that partly consists of the foundations of the 10th-century cathedral. Prices for a double room start from 150 euros per night.

Hotel Römischer Kaiser
Okay, the name refers back to the past of the city of Trier, the hotel in itself has no great historical past. It is a cheaper alternative to Romantik Hotel zur Glocke and it has a nice location less than 100 meters from the Ponta Nigra. The price for a double room starts from 100 euros per night. Free parking is included with the hotel.

Hotel Villa Hügel
This hotel can be seen as the gem of the city. It is located south of the Kaiserthermen and is housed in an Art Nouveau villa from 1914. This four-star hotel has a swimming pool, sauna, and modern rooms. It is also beautifully situated with views (including from the pool) of the city of Trier and the surrounding area. The price for a double room starts from 130 euros per night.

The Moselle and the Mariensäule
The river Mosel with the Mariensäule on the mountain. From here you also have a beautiful view of the city of Trier

Eating & Drinking in Trier?

Looking for a nice restaurant in Trier? By now you know that you can dine historically at Romantik Hotel zur Glocke. Below you’ll find a few more interesting options.

Weinstube zum Domstein: This hotel on the Grand Place also has a wine cellar with a great historical past. When they excavated the restaurant’s wine cellar in the 1970s, they came across all kinds of historical finds. These objects can be seen here in the cellar. And what about the food (because that’s what you come for, of course)? The dishes are based on recipes from an old Roman cookbook. Enjoy your meal!

Weinstube Kesselstatt: Opposite the Church of Our Lady is this special restaurant with another historic wine cellar. The wine was produced here until 1980, but at the time of the Roman era, there was glassworks here. Weinstube Kesselstatt is part of the adjacent Kesselstatt Palace and belongs to one of the most famous restaurants in the city.

Bitburger Wirthaus: This restaurant is also located in the old town on the Kornmarkt. Although Bitburger Wirthaus has been around since 2005, it is housed in a building with over 200 years of history. It was used as a casino for a long time and was severely damaged during World War II.

The main station of Trier
The train between Koblenz and Trier

Transportation – How to get to Trier?

The nearest airport is Aeroporto Luxembourg. From here, flights depart to many destinations in Europe. From the airport, you take the bus in the direction of Trier. This takes a little over an hour in total.

Looking for Flight Tickets? Check here for more information.

Another possibility to get to Trier is via the International Airport in Frankfurt Am Main. Planes from all over the world arrive here. From the airport, you take the train to Trier, with a transfer in Koblenz. This takes a total of just over 3 hours. Check here for available train tickets.

Prefer to rent a car? You can do so from the airports in Luxembourg and Frankfurt. Check here for the options.

Free Parking in Trier? You can park at Messepark Trier south of the old town and it counts as a P+R (Park+Ride). Here you can catch the bus to the old town. Would you rather walk? From the Messepark it is about a 2-kilometer walk to the city center (25 minutes).

Do you have any tips, ideas, or comments about this historical Trier travel guide? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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