If you love history and wine, Trier, Germany is the destination for you. With two days in Trier, you can hit all the major highlights. You can spend the days immersing yourself in ancient Roman ruins, and imbibe in some incredible-tasting wines in the evenings. (Click here to read more about Trier’s wine scene and some of my recommendations: A Wine Lover’s Guide to Trier, Germany)

For history lovers especially, Trier offers some really impressive sites from the Roman era and beyond. In fact, you may find that two days in Trier aren’t enough to see it all! Here are some of my favourite historical sites in Trier. I’ve split them into a two-day itinerary so you can pack in the most sites in a condensed amount of time:

Day 1:

Begin your historical journey through Trier here:

The Basilica of Constantine (Aula Palatina)

The Basilica of Constantine, or Aula Palatina, dates to around 310 AD. It was built under the rule of Emperor Constantine as a palace basilica complex. Originally, it also included several smaller buildings attached to it, but sadly they no longer remain. It was pretty tricked out in its heyday though – it boasted in-floor and wall heating, courtesy of a hypocaust system.

Basilica of Constantine

The Bishop of Trier used the building as his residence in the Middle Ages. Later in the 17th Century, archbishop Lothar von Metternich constructed his palace adjacent to the basilica, partially incorporating it into the build. Frederick William IV of Prussia had the building restored in the 19th Century. The building became a Protestant church in 1856. It suffered damage in a World War II air raid and reconstructed. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is still in use today as an Evangelical church. It can accommodate up to 1300 people.

Basilica of Constantine, Trier

Unfortunately it was closed when we visited so we weren’t able to go inside.

Well, no. That’s not actually true. Maybe it was closed when we visited….but we couldn’t say for sure, since we couldn’t actually find an entrance in. We walked around the building twice, and all the doors we tried were locked. We only found one open door, which we entered. A cleaning lady promptly chased us back out again, and we never did find any signage to indicate where the main entrance actually was. Too bad, because the quick peek we got inside was impressive. There are interior photos on their website though!

Address:  Konstantinpl. 10

Hours of Operation:

November to March: Tuesday to Saturday – 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Sundays – 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

April to October: Monday to Saturday – 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Sundays – 1 – 6 p.m.

The Electoral Palace (Kurfurstliches Palais)

Right next to the Basilica of Constantine is the Electoral Palace. The site was once part of the Ancient Roman Imperial Palace (the Basilica of Constantine). From the 11th Century AD, the Archbishops and Electors of Trier used the basilica as a stronghold.

Electoral Palace in Trier

Archbishop Johann von Schönenberg decided to build a German Renaissance-style residence next to the basilica in the 16th Century. The plan required demolishing several homes and outbuildings adjacent to the basilica. His successors completed the lower palace in 1650.

Electoral Palace, Trier

In the 18th Century, the Rococo style became popular, so the south wing was remodeled with Rococo details.

During the French Revolutionary Wars in 1794, the French army confiscated the palace and used it as barracks. The Electoral Palace sustained heavy damage along with the Basilica of Constantine during World War II. Only a portion of the original palace was restored; the rest was demolished. The Petersburg Portal is one remaining element dating to the 1620s:

Petersburg Portal, Trier

The Electoral Palace is worth a visit if only to walk around the former palace gardens. It’s small but serene.

Electotal Palace gardens, Trier

Ferdinand Tietz sculpted the statues around the garden. I particularly liked this one, called the Sphinx. She looks quite joyous, don’t you think?

The Sphinx, Electoral Palace in Trier

The palace is currently in use as a federal government administrative building, so visits to the inner courtyard, foyer, staircase and baroque hall are only possible on certain days. Check their official website for more information.

Address: Willy-Brandt-Platz 3

Side note: Just to the east of the Electoral Palace gardens you’ll find the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier. This archaeology museum is filled with exhibits on excavated Roman-age finds, such as pottery, sculptures, and mosaics.

Address: Weimarer Allee 1

The Imperial Roman Baths (Kaiserthermen)

Directly south of the Electoral Palace grounds is one of our favourite sites – the Imperial Roman Baths.

Imperial Roman Baths

The meager entry fee of €4.00 made us think the site wouldn’t be all that impressive. We kept our expectations low. But wow, this place blew us away. It’s no wonder that UNESCO listed the baths as a World Heritage Site.

Imperial Roman Baths

The Imperial Roman Baths (or Kaiserthermen in German) were built in the 4th Century AD. They were one of the largest Roman bath complexes outside of Rome itself. So why were the baths so impressive? Trier was an important trading center and one of the largest cities during the height of the Roman Empire. In fact, people often referred to it as “Second Rome”.  Emperor Constantinus Chlorus started the baths project sometime after 293 AD, when the Tetrarchy was formed. The work continued under his son, Constantine the Great, but work stopped when he left Trier in 316.

Trier Roman Baths reproduction sign
An artists’ rendering of what the baths looked like in their prime

The baths sat unfinished for 50 years, until Gratian started the project back up in 367. But instead of continuing work on the baths, he had a military garrison built on the site. With changing leadership and political priorities taking precedent, the baths were never fully completed.

One of the coolest things about our visit was that we could walk through the maze of extensive underground tunnels. The state of preservation was remarkable.

tunnels under Kaiserthermen

Not all of the tunnels were open to the public, but it definitely gave us an impression of just how much work went into this project. Below is the maintenance clearance tunnel under the cold water baths or frigidarium. Romans tended to start in the frigidarium, then moved to the tepidarium (warm room), before ending in the caldarium (hot room). The ritual ended back in the warm room for a massage with oils and a good scraping with a metal instrument called a strigil. (Whoa, my university archaeology classes are coming back to me!)

Tunnels under Imperial Thermal Baths, Trier

The Romans used hypocausts to raise the floor in order to heat them from underneath:

Imperial Roman baths underground heating

This is the eastern apse of the hot water bath (caldarium). The walls are still up to 19m high! The site was undergoing restoration/preservation at the time of our visit, hence the scaffolding.

The site of the Imperial Roman baths went through numerous stages of what we would term today as “adaptive re-use”. The De Castello family used the caldarium and boiler house as a castle stronghold in the Middle Ages. The church of St. Gervaise was built in the center of the courtyard not long after. During the Frankish period, settlers built their houses inside the walls encircling the baths. And in 1295, the monastery church of St. Agnes was built the the northwest former spa complex. Both the church of St. Gervaise and the monastery church of St. Agnes were dismantled around 1802-1803 due to secularization.

All of this constant activity greatly contributed to its preservation today.

Just look at the intricate brickwork. This really is a beautiful building, even without plaster and paint, as it would have had once completed:

details of caldarium wall

The caldarium from another angle:

To give some idea of the immense size of the site, here is a photo overlooking the palaestra, where athletes once worked out.

View of palaestra at Trier

Also, there is a small museum on site. But the baths and its two stories of maintenance tunnels are the main event here. We loved exploring the winding tunnels and imagining what life must have been like at the height of the Roman Empire. We spent nearly two hours here and could have easily spent even longer!

Address: 54290 Trier

Hours of Operation:

January to February: 9:00am – 4:00pm
March: 9:00am – 5:00pm
April to September: 9:00am 6:00pm
Oktober: 9:00am – 5:00pm
November to December: 9:00am – 4:00pm

Admission:

Adults: 4.00 €
Students/Seniors: 3.00 €
Children and pupils (up to age 18) 2.50 €
Children under 6: Free

Group Tickets:

Groups of 10 or more adults per person: 3.50 €
School class (Minimum 10 pupils) per person: 2.00 €

Media guide: 2.00 €

Trier Amphitheater

A short walk east of the Roman Baths will take you to the remarkably preserved Roman amphitheater. This was where the Romans held their gladiatorial contests. It dates to the reign of Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD). Once again, just admire that stunning brickwork for a moment.

entrance to Trier amphitheater

The amphitheater was dug into the side of a hill, and measured 120 x 145 meters. It could hold up to 20,000 spectators, and held various events and games of sport. Gladiators fought wild animals, and each other, in violent and often deadly feats of strength and courage.

You can still walk through the tunnels underneath the tiered seating areas. This was how the gladiators accessed the arena.

tunnels in Trier Amphitheater

This cellar is where the animals were kept in stone cages in between matches. A moveable platform raised them to the arena for dramatic effect.

area underneath Trier amphitheater

After gladiatorial battles fell out of favour, the amphitheater became a quarry. This might also explain why the tiered seating no longer exists, other than the natural slope of the hillsides. It’s quite amazing that it remains as well preserved as it does!

Trier Amphitheater

You can also take in a gladiator demonstration if you hit things at the right time:

gladiator demonstration

Address: Olewiger Str. 25, 54295

Hours of Operation:

April – September: daily, 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
October and March: daily, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
November – February: daily, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Admission: 

Adults: 4.00 €
Adults with reduced rate *: 3.00 €
Children / adolescents (6-18 years): 2.50 €
Children under 6 years: free entry
families 1 **: 4.00 €, each additional child: € 0.50
families 2 ***: 8.00 €, each additional child: € 0.50
adults in groups **** (10 or more people ): 3.50 € children / adolescents in groups **** ( from 10 people, up to 18 years): 2.00 €

Day 2:

The Porta Nigra

Begin your second day in Trier with a visit to the Porta Nigra, or the Black Gate.

Porta Nigra in Trier

This is one of the best-preserved Roman city gates in the world. Built in 170 AD. it required over approximately 7200 blocks of stone in its construction. It was originally one of four city gates leading into Trier. Of those four gates, this is the only one still remaining.

Porta Nigra Trier

No one knows what the gate was called in Roman times, but it gained the Latin name of Porta Nigra in the Middle Ages due to its grey sandstone exterior.

During the early Middle Ages, people stopped using the Roman gates, and instead pillaged them for stone and iron to use in other building projects. The building has no mortar, only iron rods to hold the sandstone blocks in place.

Porta Nigra interior

Sometime between 1028 AD and 1035 AD, the gate became home to a monk named Simeon, who lived as a hermit. After his death the gate was modified and extended to become a church. You can still see carvings from that era on the walls:

carvings inside the Porta Nigra

Napoleon effectively dissolved the church and monastery beside it in 1803, along with many others in the city. In 1804, he ordered the gate to be restored to its original Roman form. Many of the church elements were removed during this time. But this constant use of the gate is what preserved so much of the original structure.

Porta Nigra inside

Also noteworthy – the current street layout of Trier still closely follows the ancient Roman layout! You can get a nice view of the city from the top level of Porta Nigra. (Not super-high up, but it still gives you a nice shot of the city with your next destination in the near distance!)

Trier view from Porta Nigra

Address: Porta-Nigra-Platz

Hours of Operation:

November – February: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
March: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
April – September: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
October: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Admission:

Adults: 4.00 €
Children and pupils (up to age 18): 2.50 €
Children up to age 6: Free

The Cathedral of St Peter (Hohe Domkirche St. Peter zu Trier)

Trier has several beautiful churches, but we particularly liked the designs of the Cathedral of St Peter. The cathedral is the oldest in Germany, as well as the largest religious building in Trier.

The oldest foundations date to Constantine’s reign – early 4th Century AD. After Constantine converted to Christianity, he commissioned a grand cathedral on this spot. The original building was at least four times the size of the current structure, and included at least four basilicas.

St. Peter's Cathedral, Trier

The cathedral had to be rebuilt after an invasion by the Franks left it in ruins in the 5th Century. The Vikings destroyed it again during an invasion in 882 AD. Over the following centuries, the cathedral experienced numerous waves of destruction and reconstruction. Due to these periods of building and rebuilding, the cathedral now boasts a facade showcasing multiple architectural styles, including Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. However, the cathedral’s primary architectural style is still Romanesque in nature.

Just take a moment to appreciate the brickwork:

High Cathedral of Saint Peter in Trier

The cathedral also houses several relics of interest. Emperor Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, brought several relics to Trier – these included the remains of St. Matthew, a tooth of St. Peter, the Holy Nail, and the sole of a sandal of St. Andrew. But one relic is of particular import – the Holy Robe, or the Tunic of Christ. Interestingly, this relic didn’t receive any mention in written texts until the 11th Century. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to view it. The robe is kept in a wooden shrine dating from 1891, under a temperature-controlled glass shrine. The Holy Robe Chapel is only accessible to the public during the Holy Robe Days, and even then, the Holy Robe itself is not viewable.

The cathedral does offer guided tours. However, guided tours for individuals are only in German. Group tours are also available in several languages. A visit to the cathedral’s underground will take you to the excavations of the original church remnants dating from around 310 AD.

Address: Liebfrauenstraße 12

Hours of Operation:

November 1 to March 31: daily from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
April 1 to October 31: daily 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

The Church of Our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche)

Right next door to the cathedral stands the Church of Our Lady Construction began in 1227, on the remains of an older Roman double church. Archaeologists discovered the foundations of third-century houses beneath the church in 2002. This is the entrance as it appears today:

High Cathedral of Saint Peter

When you visit, take note of the incredible gargoyles around the facade of the Church of Our Lady. Not that these are particularly unusual, I just think gargoyles are cool:

gargoyle on St. Peter's Cathedral, Trier

gargoyle on St. Peter's Cathedral, Trier

Due to their significance, UNESCO added the church and cathedral to the list of World Cultural Heritage in 1986.

Address: Liebfrauenstr. 2

Hours of Operation:

April to October:
Monday – Friday: 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Sunday + holidays: 12:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

November to March:
Monday – Friday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Sunday + holidays: 12:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Thermen Am Viehmarkt Trier (Forum Baths)

Head south-west from the church and cathedral to reach a modern glass box of a building. Inside you’ll find the remains of another ancient Roman bath – the Forum Baths.

Thermen Am Viehmarkt Trier

These baths are a more recent discovery. The remains turned up during excavations of an old cattle market (Viehmarkt) in 1987. They date to the founding of Trier, along with the remains of houses, sewers, and more, dating back to the 2nd Century.

Forum Baths in Trier

Interestingly, it seems that these ruins weren’t a bath originally – they were converted to baths in the 4th Century. But unfortunately it’s not clear what these buildings originally were.

A hypocaust conveniently delivered in-floor heating to keep your ancient toes toasty:

hypocaust in Forum Baths, Trier

Undoubtedly, these Roman bath ruins are not as impressive or intact as the Kaiserthermen. But it’s still worth visiting, if only to compare the two in terms of size and level of preservation.

Forum Baths in Trier

Address: Viehmarktpl.

Hours of Operation:

9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (closed on Mondays, except holidays)

Admission:

Adults: 4.00 €
Children and pupils (up to age 18): 2.50 €
Children up to age 6: Free

The Karl Marx House

Did you know Karl Marx was born in Trier and spent his early years here? We didn’t either! Marx was born in this very house in May 1818 (the house itself was built around 1727). He was the father of modern socialism and communism. He lived in this house until he went off to attend university at the age of 17.

The Socialist Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) bought the house in 1928 with the purpose of restoring it. But in 1933 the Nazi party raided the house, destroying numerous artifacts, books and paperwork.

Karl Marx House courtyard

After the Nazi party was defeated, the Socialist Democratic Party once again took ownership of the house. They opened it as a museum in 1947. The Friedrich Ebert Foundation now oversees the house and its operation.

statue of Karl Marx in the courtyard
Statue of Karl Marx in the courtyard

Unfortunately, it’s pretty empty in terms of personal or household items, other than a few pieces on display. The majority of the house is dedicated to the life of Marx and his teachings. In addition, it addresses the impact of communism around the world, with emphasis on the Soviet Union, China, Central and Eastern Europe.

Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx House

Communism map on floor, Karl Marx House

However, one of the more interesting items on display, is this Atari computer. According to the inscription on the exhibit, this computer may have been the one used during the start-up phase of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1989:

Karl Marx House Atari computer

Address: 10 Brückenstraße

Hours of Operation:

January-March: Monday 14-17, Tuesday to Sunday from 11 to 17 pm
from April to October: daily 10 to 18 pm
from November to December: Monday 14-17, Tuesday to Sunday from 11 to 17 pm
closing days: Rose Monday 24-26th u. December 31, January 1

Admission:

Adults: 5 €
Reduced: 3.50 €
Family ticket: 9 € (2 adults with 1-4 children)
Students in a class: 1 €
One-hour tour (in German): 65 €
One-hour tour (foreign language): 75 €

Travel tip: You may want to consider the Antikencard for Trier. It covers admission to some of the ancient Roman sites in Trier, depending on which card you purchase. You can get more information on the card and what it covers here.

Pin it for later:

 

Sharing is caring!

3 Replies to “Two Days in Trier, Germany for History Lovers”

  1. I passed by Trier on my way, hitchhiking from Paris to Berlin. But I didn’t take the time to stop and explore. I’m happy to know now that there is a reason to go back. Maybe when I have my own car at last.

    -Anthony | https://GreenMochila.com

  2. Trier has so much to see for a town that isn’t very big. The baths were my favourite though. The Romans were pretty innovative with in-ground heating and plumbing, I can only imagine how luxurious it would have been to visit the public baths back in those days!

  3. John Quinn says:

    Thoroughly interesting. The city has so much history. The baths reminded me of those in Bath UK. Your experience in the church gave me a laugh, I’ve been chased out by cleaners before too. This blog will be a great term of reference for when I do get to Trier

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *