On the banks of the Moselle River, just 6 miles from the Luxembourg border and 120 miles southwest of Frankfurt, lies Trier, Germany's oldest city. Founded as a Roman colony by Emperor Augustus in 16 B.C., evidence of Roman times still lingers in the city, giving it the nickname "Rome of the North."
Trier was also the birthplace of Karl Marx, and today features nine UNESCO world heritage sites; as such, it has more than earned its ranking as one of Germany's top destinations. From things to see and do to where to stay, discover ancient and not-as-ancient history with our complete guide to Trier.
History of Trier
The first traces of humans in the region around Trier date back to the early Neolithic period. It wasn't until 16 BC, though, when the Romans founded the city of Augusta Treverorum, which became the foundation of modern Trier. Called Roma Secunda, the second Rome, it was the favored residence of several Roman emperors.
A mint was established, along with a stadium and amphitheater. The massive city wall built in AD 180 sought to protect it, but like most great cities, it fell and was rebuilt many times. In the 5th century, Trier was under Frankish rule and becoming increasingly Catholic; when the Vikings conquered the city in 882 and destroyed many of the churches and abbey, this period in history came to an end.
As Trier is located close to the French border, the effects of the Thirty Years' War had harsh effects on the city in the 1600s. The French occupied the entire area several times before Napoleon arrived in 1804 and made the city a diocese. During the First World War, Trier became a French garrison city with its major, Charles de Gaulle. The Second World War resulted in more destruction and subsequent rebuilding.
And yet, so much of the city—including the magnificent Trier Cathedral (Trierer Dom) and Imperial Baths (Kaiserthermen)—survived all of this. Trier celebrated its 2035th birthday in 2019 and continues to stay youthful and vibrant as a university city that welcomes thousands of visitors every year.
Things to See
Trier is rife with attractions for architecture lovers and history buffs. Here are the top things to see and do during your trip to Germany's oldest city.
The highlight of Trier is the Porta Nigra (black gate), the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. Dating back to AD 180, this UNESCO World Heritage site looks much the same as it did when it was first built, though it did undergo reconstruction by order of Napoleon. Visitors can walk between the 7,200 massive sandstone blocks just like the Romans did and take guided tours from a centurion in the summer. The "Secrets of the Porta Nigra" tour brings the Roman story to life with live performances starring emperors, barbarians, knights, and bishops.
Cathedral of Trier
The High Cathedral of Saint Peter in Trier (Hohe Domkirche St. Peter zu Trier) was originally built by Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor. The oldest church in Germany, it houses great works of art and a relic that draws many pilgrims: the Holy Robe, the garment said to be worn by Jesus when he was crucified. Since 1986, it has been listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage attractions in Trier.
The Aula Palatina basilica was first commissioned as a throne room by Emperor Constantine I around AD 310. In the 19th century, Frederick William IV of Prussia transformed it into an impressive Protestant church featuring massive 108-foot-tall ceilings, black-and-white marble floor, and a modern floor-heating system. Today, over a thousand people gather here for church services.
Visit the ruins of the largest Roman baths outside Rome, the Imperial Baths (Kaisertherme), built 1600 years ago as a gift to the public. Extraordinarily grand for its time, the Kaisertherme featured an underground water heating system, and also functioned as a fortress, city wall, and monastery.
Main Market of Trier
The Main Market (Hauptmarkt), the city's main square, is located in the historic Old Town, designated a "Center of Antiquity." Here you'll find picturesque half-timbered houses, the city church, the cathedral, a medieval fountain and the Jewish quarter of Trier (Judenviertel). Look for the red house which dates back to 1684 and features inscriptions stating that Trier is 1,300 years older than Rome. A centerpiece is the Market Fountain from 1595, which depicts St. Peter surrounded by the four cardinal virtues of good city government—Justice, Strength, Temperance, and Wisdom—as well as monsters and, oddly, monkeys. Take note of the replica of the original stone cross that dates back to 958 and is now in the City Museum.
Karl Marx House
Visit the birthplace of Karl Marx, the father of communism, who was born in Trier in 1818. His former house is now a museum, and displays rare editions of Marx’s writings, communist teachings, and Marx's life in Trier up to his death in London.
The House of the Three Magi
Dreikönigenhaus, or The House of the Three Magi, showcases a fanciful Moorish design that stands out from its sober neighbors on Simeonstrasse. Built around 1230, it has undergone many changes throughout the ages, including removing the original ladder that was the only way to reach the upper floor. However, it still provides some unusual eye candy and a café on the ground floor.
The Rheinisches Landesmuseum (RLM) offers some of Trier’s most impressive Roman artifacts and artworks from the region. The museum's collections of sculptures, mosaics, and frescos are among the best in Germany, and it also features a multimedia presentation, "In the Realm of Shadows."
Located just outside of the center of town, the Trier amphitheatre was once the center of Roman entertainment. Over 18,000 spectators would cheer on bloody battles between gladiators and animals, as well as the usual gathering or religious celebrations. Today, visitors can explore the arena, including its stands and cages. A short walk away there is an excellent panoramic viewpoint at Petrisberg.
Where to Stay
As a destination city, Trier has a range of accommodations, from modern boutique hotels to traditional pensions (B&Bs). A bonus is that many of the hotels also feature excellent dining facilities.
- Hotel Villa Hügel: An elegant four-star Art Nouveau hotel with a sauna, pool, and on-site restaurant serving upscale regional cuisine. Ask for a room with a terrace or balcony.
- Romantik Hotel Zur Glocke: Housed in a former residence constructed in 1567, this central hotel is warm and inviting with friendly staff. Many rooms offer views of the Cathedral of Trier.
- Ibis Styles Trier: A 10-minute walk from Trier's main sites in Kornmarkt Square, this design hotel is located within a former post office. It offers modern amenities, including a small fitness room and free WiFi.
- Hotel Eurener Hof: This historic hotel is located near the city center and boasts rooms with French doors leading to private terraces. The on-site restaurant pairs local specialties with great wine.
- Berghotel Kockelsberg: This regal hotel is outside the city on a hill overlooking the Moselle. Along with peaceful rooms, it has an excellent restaurant and outside terrace with panoramic views.
What to Eat and Drink
Trier's location within the lush Moselle valley and its close proximity to Luxembourg and France mean the dining options are positively luxurious. Here you'll find regional takes on German classics, like klöße (potato dumplings) often served stuffed, teerdisch (mix of potatoes, sauerkraut, and bacon), and flieten (chicken wings).
As the Moselle valley is known for its award-winning rieslings, Trier is the perfect place to start your wine tour. Take a boozy stroll of the Trier Wine Culture Trail, or enjoy the numerous varieties of wine served in Trier's many Weinstube.
Here are the best places to sample the city's culinary scene:
- Weinstube Kesselstatt: An authentic Trier dining establishment with hearty meals paired with dazzling Moselle Valley Rieslings. Visitors can bask on the terrace under romantic vines when the sun is shining, while poor weather is a great excuse to get cozy in the vaulted cellar.
- Becker’s: This is Trier's only Michelin 2-starred hotel restaurant. Contemporary and cool, it has a traditional weinhaus and gourmet restaurant.
- Weinstube Zum Domstein: Centrally located in the Hauptmarkt, charming Domstein claims to be the oldest club dedicated to classics like spießbraten.
- Schlemmereule: With an elegant ambience and cuisine from France, Luxembourg, and greater Europe, Schlemmereule's fine dining experience begins as soon as you enter the door.
- Brasserie Trier: A French-style brasserie around the corner from the main square, this restaurant has an effortless approach to timeless classics.
- Das Weinhaus: The focus here is on the region's legendary wine. Knowledgeable staff can guide diners through the many award-winning rieslings, Muller-Thurgau, and pinot grigios paired with German delicacies like käsespätzle and teerdisch.
- Der Daddy Burger: If you've had your fill of German food, Der Daddy has the best burgers in Trier, utilizing local products like freshly baked buns.
Trier Travel Tips
- City Tours (in English): There are several different options for city tours, whether you are looking for a hop-on-hop-off bus or walking tour. Some focus on specific attractions, whereas others provide an overview of the city. The Tourist Information Offices will help you decide on the right tour for you.
- In the Region: Plan a side trip to one of Germany's best castles, Eltz Castle, just 45 miles northwest of Trier. Visitors can also cross the border to Luxembourg, which is only 9 miles away.
- Festivals: Trier's Altstadtfest is a highlight of the year; this folk festival happens every June, and features more than 100 stalls of food and local products in addition to live music. In July, there is the Trier Handwerkermarkt, where you'll find a hundred stalls of handmade crafts such as soap, jewelry, and fabric. The holiday season is another high travel time for the entire country, and Trier puts on one of the best Christmas markets in Germany.