Day trip: Trier
Just 50 minutes by train from Luxembourg City, Trier was founded in 16 BC by Roman Emperor Augustus. It is home to Roman remains, several UNESCO World Heritage sites, churches and museums, plus some beautiful parks, forests and riverside paths to go for a stroll or bike ride.
Probably the city’s most famous landmark is the Porta Nigra, the only remaining one of four city gates built around 170 AD for the then Roman city August Treverorum. It’s the best preserved Roman city gate in northern Europe, made from 7,000 sandstone rocks. It was once used as a church, but converted back to its Roman appearance by Napoleon. You can climb the monument (from the inside) for good views of the city or join a tour given by a Roman centurion to defend the gate from attacking enemies (tour takes 1 hour).
The Basilica of Constantine or Aula Palatina was commissioned by Emperor Constantine I at the beginning of the 4th century to be used as an imperial throne room. A single structure not supported by columns, it has a 67m long and 27m wide ceiling that stands 33m high. It became a Protestant church in the mid-19th century. The black and white marble floor is surrounded by statues and mosaics, and was constructed with underfloor heating.
The Cathedral of St Peter or Trierer Dom is the oldest cathedral in Germany, and has served as a seat for bishops uninterrupted since it was built. The original walls and nave show its Roman roots, and you can spot a granite column next to the entrance. Another UNESCO heritage site, it was also commissioned by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. Over the centuries, Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque decorations have been added, and much of what you see today was constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries and restored in 1974.
Inside, you can see a robe reputedly worn by Jesus, the skull of Constantine’s mother Saint Helena, and at the south side, the Treasury. This holds a portable St Andrew’s altar, a superb example of Ottonian art, and a nail thought to have been used during Christ’s crucifixion. The cathedral museum houses a large collection of religious artifacts and art.
Germany’s oldest Gothic church, Our Lady, is across the road and was built in the 13th century. The floor plan is in the shape of a twelve-petalled rose with twelve supporting sandstone columns, representing the apostles. Unusually, the altar is at the centre, and the colourful stained-glass windows light up the interior. Just inside the main entrance, you should stand on the star-shaped marking on the floor, from where you can see all the columns and the eight chapels.
Connected to the basilica is the Kufürstliches Palace or electoral palace, where the archbishop resided. Added to the complex in the 18th century, it’s in rococo style. Today it’s a government administration building, but you can still enter during business hours to view the courtyard, staircase and Baroque room. Around it are some pretty palace gardens with ponds, fountains and flower beds.
A short walk away you’ll find the Imperial baths or Kaiserthermen, which were built in the 3rd century as a gift from the emperor to the people of the city. Sadly they were never finished, but the baths have served as a barracks, home to local nobles, a church and even a convent. The remaining walls are 19m high, and you can explore the underground rooms and passages, and the hot-water bath, once heated by six boilers and able to hold 600 people at one time. The Forum baths, date from 100 AD, and have two hot water and one cold water baths, all well-preserved, whilst just outside of town is an amphitheatre, built around the same time and able to hold 25,000 people. It was the scene of gory gladiatorial fights, and you can explore the rooms where the gladiators waited and the areas where caged animals were kept.
The 23m high Igel column is in fact a tomb for the Secundine family. It has coloured reliefs on all four sides, which include Jupiter atop an eagle. It’s 10km from Trier, but just beside the Moselradweg cycle track.
If you need a break from sightseeing head to Nells Park in the north of the city. An English-style park layout, it’s the largest public green space in Trier, and contains a rhombus pavilion, an obelisk, and an old mill. There’s a rose garden and a playground, plus you can take a boat trip from here.
The final Roman landmark worth a visit is the Roman bridge, the oldest standing bridge in Germany. The upper portions of the bridge have been rebuilt a few times, most significantly in the 12th and 18th centuries, but the nine pillars that still support the structure were built in Roman times.
A 1.5km walking/cycling track connects the bridge to the old fishing village of Zurlauben, passing by 18th century hoisting cranes. The fishermen’s houses are now mostly restaurants and galleries.
The market and surrounds
The centrepiece of Trier is the large market square or Hauptmarkt, which is filled with café and restaurant terraces, spilling out from half-timbered buildings. You can admire the 15th century Steipe which was once a banqueting house decked in symbolic statues, but was largely rebuilt after the second world war. On the first floor you’ll spot two knights – one looking peacefully over the market square, the other with his visor down and hand on sword, looking in the direction of the cathedral. The original statues are in the city museum.
The market fountain, erected in 1595, depicts St Peter surrounded by the four virtues of justice, strength, temperance and wisdom, and of course a few monsters mocking them.
Built in 1230, the Three King’s House, has a lavish façade of white plasterwork with large windows and patterned archway friezes. Thirty years before it was built, the 4th crusade had conquered Constantinople, which made Byzantine treasures the must-have for wealthy families at the time. Further along Simeonstrasse, you’ll find a Prussian façade that is home to an ice-cream parlour, and on Sternstrasse/Domfreihof is the Laeis offices, with a modern and intricate depiction of a Corpus Christi procession.
Nearby the Frankenturm is an 11th century fortress, named after its 14th century inhabitant, Franco von Senheim. It was made from stones originally quarried by the Romans, including a tombstone hewn into a semi-circular lintel. The small windows were for safety as were the thick walls. The front door is on the first floor and only accessible by a fold up wooden stairway, make it fairly impenetrable. The door on the ground floor you see today was put in during the 19th century.
The Little Jewish Gate once led to the city’s Jewish quarter. Built around 1219, the house at 2 Judengasse was constructed in 1240, making it the oldest preserved Jewish home in Germany. The quarter once held a men’s and a women’s synagogue and an inn, but the area was first evacuated in 1349 due to a pogrom linked to the plague. Zuckerbergstrasse has a memorial dedicated to the synagogue, which was erected in the 19th century but ravaged by the second world war. Today's synagogue on Kaiserstrasse was built in the 1950s.
St Matthias’ Abbey was the home of this saint, and is still a place of pilgrimage today. The Cross Chapel has a number of Christian relics, and the nave and aisles are adorned with Baroque decorations.
The Toy Museum is home to 5,000 antique toys including dolls houses, model trains and a 130-year-old dancing bear toy from France. To make it more interactive, children are invited on a treasure hunt to find out how many monkeys are in the clown orchestra, what festival is celebrated in the big doll’s house, and where the name teddy bear comes from.
Any self-respecting socialist must of course visit the birthplace of Karl Marx, who was born in Trier in 1818. The Baroque house, now a museum, covers the political philosopher’s life and writings but also has an exhibit on the rise of communism and its impact in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Asia. You can see original letters, a pocket watch, and an old arm chair belonging to Marx that he is said to have died in.
The Rhineland Museum documents 200,000 years of the region’s history from prehistoric times to the early 19th century. It contains thousands of archaeological finds, including Roman mosaics, ancient stone burials, and a huge number of gold coins. A multi-media show describes the history of certain exhibits and artefacts, and you can gaze on a scale model of Roman Trier. English-language audio guides are available.
Culture vultures should head to City Museum, housed in a former monastery near to Porta Nigra. Inside, the museum has two cloisters that date back to the 11th century, but also plenty more Roman artefacts. The more modern collections include artworks, sculptures, local crafts and textiles, plus a fairly large collection of antique furniture. Again, audio guides are available in English, and if you are worried the kids will be bored, there’s a version for children. The treasury of Trier City has a research library which contains rare manuscripts including a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, several medieval texts, and volumes penned by Goethe and Marx, plus some unusual globes. You’ll find the library at 60 Simeonstrasse.
Nature, walking and cycling
Mattheiser forest nature reserve is a good place to spot yellow-bellied toads, crested newts and kingfishers, as well as bats, beetles and wildcats. For decades it was off limits as a military training area, and tanks left hollows in the road which later became small ponds, in a wetland area now grazed by sheep and goats.
The reserve has walking and running trails, in addition to mountain bike routes. The two walking routes are 8km and 9km, and you can find more details about them here.
The Wildfreigehege Weisshauswald has a playground and a deer park, which is also home to wild boar, sheep, pheasants, the rustic woolly pig, miniature donkeys and forest goats. It’s free to visit but you must feed the animals with special fodder you can buy on site. There are also three walking routes between 4km and 9km that all start at the parking lot and pass through the game reserve.
To see 21 different species of trees, head to Meulenwald and the Tree World Path. You can see specifies from every continent on a 3.8km circular route, of which 2km is wheelchair accessible.
A one-hour wine culture tour runs for 1.6km, starting at the amphitheatre, with information about grape varieties and how grapes are harvested, plus information on the slate found in the region. You can stop off at an Olewig wine tavern for a tasting too.
You can take one- or two-hour boat rides to see the sights in and around Trier, or take a half- or full-day cruise to the pretty timber-housed town of Bernkastel Kues.