Unless you live in Germany, or studied history in university, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Trier. Which is a shame really, because this picturesque little town has a lot to offer. Is it worth visiting Trier? Definitely.
Founded in the 4th century BCE by the Celts, Treuorum, as it was then called, was an important centre before the Romans arrived in the first century BCE. The Romans built up the city as the capital of Gaul, and it functioned as the administrative centre for most of the Western Roman Empire. The city then passed to the Franks, France, and Prussia over the next century, as well as being home to one of the Prince Electors.
What is so amazing about all this history, is the evidence is still standing. Not a few stone pillars either, but giant structures. It was a complete surprise to me that there were so many Roman ruins in such good condition this far north. For my son, who has been steeped in Asterix and Obelix, it was very cool to run around inside the the Porta Nigra, one of the Roman city’s giant gates to the city. For me, the Konstatinbasilika was a highlight. It was once an Imperial throne room, and the brick room is impossibly huge – it was just mind blowing that it’s been standing for 1500 years. My husband was excited to see the Roman amphitheatre, where they staged all the usual bloody spectacles. It was beyond creepy to go below ground and see the holding chambers for animals and slaves. If you like, you can try out Roman food as well at Zum Domstein. They have a short Roman menu with dishes based on the recipes from De re coquinaria, a 4-5th century Roman cookbook. I tried it, and it was good, but you may want to share the pork dish, it was a lot of meat!
Medieval sites and more
Right in the centre of the town is the High Cathedral of Saint Peter, the oldest one in Germany. It was first built in the 4th century, and subsequently destroyed and rebuilt twice before making it to the 11th centuray. Throughout the buildings there are many different architectural styles represented, and even when it was first completed, it was already the biggest ecclesiastical complexes outside Rome. Next to the Konstantinbasilika is the Kurfürstliches Palais, a 17th century Baroque confection next to its stark Roman cousin. Unfortunately, you can’t go inside generally, as it is an administrative building, but the gardens are pleasant.
Trier is not a big city, so that makes getting to all the things you want to see quite easy. There is a hop-on hop-off tour bus, which we tried out. It’s a bit expensive for a city as small as Trier, but check online for deals ahead of time. There is also one of those little trains that is actually an articulated bus, that runs tours through the city as well. In good weather, there are plenty of places to eat out in the squares, try the restaurants down the Johann-Philipp-Straße from the Konstantinbasilika – it opens up into a square, the Kornmarkt, with several options. We tried the Italian restaurant, Donna Mia Trier, and were pleasantly surprised. The Hauptmarkt, the square between the Porta Nigra and the Cathedral, is surrounded by older buildings, a carousel in good weather, and several places to get ice cream.
If you have more time, and older children
We had to give the museums of Trier a miss, as we only had a day, but the collections of the Stadtmuseum, the Rheinisches Landesmuseum (Archeological Museum), and the Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum) are all well regarded.
Nearby Trier, Germany
There are loads of things to see within a short drive or train journey from Trier. Burg Eltz, one of the most beautiful castles in Germany, is close by, as are the endless wineries of the Mosel valley. There are river tours that leave from several towns, including Trier.