A few years ago I had the chance to spend a week in the Mosel River Valley, and was able to enjoy some time in Trier. It’s one of the oldest cities in Germany, and loaded with history. Since it is also pedestrian friendly, our family was able to explore much of it on foot, and the kids were excited to visit the Trier Roman Ruins, the Dom and Historical Museum …especially since there are also LOADS of Eis/Ice Cream stands along the way! Nothing motivates an 8 year old like an Eis zum mitnehmen /ice cream cone to take along. There are so many things to see in Trier Germany! It is well worth a visit.
Things to See in Trier, Germany
There really is a lot to see in Trier, Germany… but I think it might be best to start with a little background information about the city, to put it all in context.
History of Trier, Germany
If you want to explore ancient Roman ruins, stand in a gladiator arena, or visit a Roman emperor’s fortress, then you might want to start planning a vacation to Rome, right? Well, not necessarily. If you are heading to northern Europe, or Germany in particular, then there is a great destination you can visit that is sure to satisfy even the most avid historical curiosity of the ancient Roman Empire.
One of the oldest settlements in Germany is the city of Trier, whose history can be traced back to when Germany was a part of the Roman Empire’s far reaching frontier. Trier contains more Roman ruins than any other city north of the Swiss Alps and was designated as a United Nations World Heritage site in 1986.
The area that would become Trier was occupied by the Romans in 16 B.C. and was known as Augusta Treverorum which means “city of Augustus in the land of Treveri.” During the third century A.D., Trier was established as the capital of the Western Roman Empire, and from 293-395 A.D. was among the residences of the emperor. Between 306 and 337 A.D., during the reign of Constantine the Great, Trier was rebuilt, along with the construction of other Roman buildings such as the Palastaula and the Imperial Baths. In 326, sections of the imperial family’s residential palaces were transformed into a large basilica which is still partially visible in the vicinity of the cathedral. The Romans heavily influenced the wine growing in the Mosel River Valley, which is why those green stemmed German Wine glasses from the region are called Roemer Glass (Roman Glass).
The Roman army eventually withdrew from Trier during the fifth century and the city was sacked repeatedly by the Franks, as well as warriors belonging to the infamous Atilla the Hun in 451 A.D.
The city survived and even thrived again up until the fourteenth century when it became home to the prince-electors, or those princes who were loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor.
Trier was briefly under the authority of France early in the nineteenth century and then by Prussia in 1815. One of the city’s most famous citizens, Karl Marx, the father of communism, was born there in 1818.
Today, Trier boasts a population of around 100,000 people, and is home to a university. It is also one of the most popular tourist stops in Central Europe. This magnificent city is situated on the Mosel River and is surrounded by the scenic Eifel and Hunsruck Mountains. It is a mere six miles from the Luxembourg border and is centrally located for excursions into Luxembourg, the Mosel vineyards and the beautiful mountains surrounding the city.
Things to Do, Trier Germany
You should start by visiting the tourist information office located next to the Porta Nigra to secure a map of the town and purchase tickets for the city’s attractions. You can purchase a “Trier Card” which gives free and reduced admission rates to the main attractions and museums. Most of the sites are easily accessible via a short walk. If you would rather ride, you can take the City Sightseeing Trier Hop-On Hop-Off Tour. For a low price you can take the bus throughout the entire city, getting on and off as you like, for a low fare.
Trier Germany Roman Ruins
The Porta Nigra, or “Black Gate,” is a huge second century gate that was once a part of the city’s wall system. It was constructed out of red sandstone and it is called “Black Gate” because of its dark appearance resulting from years of accumulated soot and dirt. Two towers and a courtyard accompany the gate, and in the eleventh century it was made into a church, St. Simeon, where parts of the church decorations can still be seen inside.
The Stadtmuseum Simeonstift is located adjacent to the Porta Nigra and focuses on regional history with an emphasis on art and artifacts from the Middle Ages forward.
The Romische Palastaula is a huge, 220-foot long, 90-foot wide, 118-foot high fourth century basilica that was once the throne room of the Roman emperor Constantine. It is the larges surviving single-room Roman building. During the middle ages it was part of the prince-electors residence. It has been used as a Protestant church since the nineteenth century.
The Kaiserthermen, or “Emperor’s Baths,” are fourth century remains of a large system of baths and saunas constructed by the Romans. Tours are available of the underground tunnels that were part of the heating system.
Roman Amphitheater of Trier
The second century Roman Amphitheater of Trier could hold a crowd of 20,000 and was the scene of many gladiator battles and animal contests. Today it is the site of an annual festival of ancient plays and open-air concerts. The arena underground areas where gladiators, prisoners and animals were kept is accessible to tourists.
Thermen am Viehmarkt
The recently discovered Thermen am Viehmarkt, ruins of another Roman bath uncovered in the 1980’s, is also a popular stop for many visitors. My kids and I had fun imagining bath night in this space!
Roman Bridges and more!
There are several other ancient Roman sites in Trier such as a Roman Bridge / Römerbrücke that dates between 144 and 152 A.D. and is the oldest bridge in Germany. There is also a third Roman bath, the Barbara Baths/ Barbaratherman which dates back to the second century A.D.Römerbrücke
Not just Roman Ruins
More to See in Trier Germany!
There is more to see in Trier than its popular Roman history. The city contains several attractions that yield to the charm and beauty of a wonderful European cultural experience.
The Dom, the city’s Catholic cathedral stands on the site of a former emperor’s palace. The palace was destroyed after emperor Constantine’s last visit to Trier around 329 A.D. and replaced by a massive church about four times as big as the present-day cathedral.
Right next door to the Dom is the Liebfrauenkirche, one of Germany’s oldest gothic style churches. It really is a lovely church to visit… or just sit down and marvel at the craftsmanship.
Church of St. Gangolf
Have the energy for one more church? It might help to stop for another Eis or a Kaffee first…The Church of St. Gangolf, just off of the Hauptmarkt, was the site of the Protestant opposition to the Catholic cathedral. It is entered by going through a small flowery gate on the south side of the market square.
Birthplace of Karl Marx
The birthplace of Karl Marx is now a museum dedicated to the founder of communism. Marx only lived there for the first year of his life before moving with his family to a house near the Porta Nigra. The new residence where Marx lived until he went off to university can be located by a plaque marking the house. Recently, there has been some controversy because the Chinese donated a statue of Marx to the city of Trier.. (read more here–> Karl Marx Statue)
The Hauptmarkt is a wonderful place to just sit and relax with a drink or ice cream and soak in the view of the medieval and renaissance architecture, the fountain featuring women and monkeys and the market cross. The cross is actually a replica because the original is currently in the city museum.
Take a guided tour of Trier, or organize a hop-on hop-off bus in advance to save time and money.
Overnight Trier Experience Including City Tour, Wine Tasting and Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
Small-Group Trier Day Trip from Frankfurt
City Sightseeing Trier Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
Take a Tour of Europe, and See Trier
Include Trier in a longer tour…
4-Day Western Europe Tour: Reims – Trier – Frankfurt – Cologne
5-Day Self-Drive Beer Brewing Tour to Trier, Koblenz, and Heidelberg
Learn More about Trier with one of these Great Guidebooks
Prefer to go alone? Or maybe you like to study ahead of your trip? This is the perfect time to sit back and read your guide book and learn all about this fascinating, beautiful Roman-German city located in the heart of Europe.
Audio Tours of Trier
You can download an Audio Tour of Trier… it’s just like having your own personal tour guide!