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Aachen in western Germany occupies a great spot to explore the tri-state region of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, which boasts a wealth of both urban and rural activities. Whether you set out to explore the architectural and historical treasures of Cologne and Bonn or seek a secluded spot in the nearby national parks, our list gives you lots of options for a day trip from Aachen.
Some say Monschau is the Rothenburg of North Rhine-Westphalia, which you might find to be quite an apt nickname when you first stumble into the fairytale-like town centre. The cobbled alleys are seamed with half-timbered houses and adorable restaurants, workshops and artisan boutiques, and on a sunny day the picturesque village is the meet-up point for hikers and motorcyclists who have spent the day exploring the Eifel region. A day in town passes quickly if you sample the different mustard flavours at the Historische Senfmühle restaurant, have a couple of Zwickel beers at the Felsenkeller brewery, shop for glass-art souvenirs downtown and soak up the enchanting atmosphere of the market square.
Germany’s fourth-largest city is about an hour away by train or car and a day in the city will give you enough time to see some of the highlights. It’s wise deciding on what you want to see beforehand and plan your time accordingly. A stop by the towering Gothic cathedral is an absolute must and the focal point of each trip. From here you can venture into the old town with its colourful historical townhouses, enjoy the Rhine River views and have a Kölsch beer at one of the traditional brewhouses. After that it’s a choice to visit one of the fantastic museums (many are only a short stroll away) or do some shopping at one of Europe’s most frequented streets.
Between 1949 and 1990, Bonn served as the interim capital of West Germany. But when it comes to tourism, the city sees nowhere near the crowds that flock to Cologne – which lies just 30 kilometres north – even though this charming place boasts quite a few attractions. It’s the home of the great German composer Ludwig van Beethoven and HARIBO gummy bears, a prestigious university, entire boroughs of Gründerzeit villas, a sprawling palace and a cherry blossom festival each spring. Bonn is very much walkable, but also has an excellent public transport system which will help you cover as much as possible within a day.
Parts of the Eifel region were declared a national park back in 2004 and poses as the perfect refuge to detox from the much-urbanised region. Outdoorsy travellers will be delighted to hear that countless hiking trails and cycling routes traverse the park’s meadows and beech forests and pass vantage points, purling streams and cute towns along the way. If you’d rather take things slowly, you can book yourself into a spa and wellness hotel for the day to kick back and relax.
The Rursee lake is one of the most popular recreational areas near Aachen. However, you’ll need a car to make it a worthwhile trip. If you’re mobile, there are plenty of reasons to go. Surrounded by the lush forests of the Eifel region, the lake is a mecca for watersports enthusiasts, whether you want to just go for a swim, join a sailboat trip or rent a canoe or kayak to venture off on your own. Those who’d rather stay dry can explore the hiking trails or retreat to one of the cafés and restaurants in either Woffelsbach and Rurberg and enjoy the scenic vistas.
If you’re driving you can get to the Dutch city of Maastricht in under 40 minutes from Aachen, but don’t worry, there are a coach and regular train services which get you there in about an hour as well. There’s a plethora of things to do and see here: walk through the 13th-century Hell’s Gate – a remnant of the ancient city fortifications that served as one of the entrance points to the city – explore the ruins of Lichtenberg Castle, roam the Vrijthof square and see the adjacent sights or rummage through the bric-a-brac at the central station flea market.
More natural wonders are waiting in Belgium’s High Fens nature reserve – also known as Hautes Fagnes or Hoge Venen. The high plateau is both parts of the Belgian Ardennes and stretches over the border into the Eifel region. A network of walking trails and raised boardwalks zig-zag through the landscape, which is largely composed of bogs, moorlands and forests. Botrange in Belgium is less than an hour south of Aachen and a good starting point for day-long hikes in the area.