Summary: World-class tourist destination packaged into a village
The ancient city of Trier is one of the top tourist destinations in Germany. Full of Roman ruins, rich museum collections, resplendent churches, and an atmospheric cityscape. It would be easy to list the top destinations alphabetically, as you might find in a standard guide. Instead, let’s dig into the city’s past and see if we can uncover a narrative that provides some context for what we are looking at in Trier.
The story of Trier is one of contrasts: of decline and splendor of stagnation and innovation. This city has highly concentrated “cultural corners,” or areas of remarkable beauty, and it helps to know where they are. The city suffered from both Allied bombing raids and ground combat in WWII. Though the city was not devastated to the extent that Cologne or Dresden faced, the losses are substantial and reduce the number of interesting locations in the city. It also resulted in disjointed parts of old-town, separated by nothing or modern office blocks.
If you want to read more about the history and architecture of Trier, then see this article here:
Should you visit Trier?
I try to give ratings relative to the best that Europe has to offer. For Germany, with its war-torn cities, 7.5 is very high. Typically you would expect a score 5-6.
From a tourism perspective, I think Trier deserves an 8 / 10. As one of Germany’s premier tourist destinations, it has the tourist infrastructure to match. Its main weaknesses come from its size and location. Trier is tiny and cannot absorb large tourist volumes. There are, for example, simply not enough restaurants, and even in the off-season, you need to make reservations at least one day in advance to have any chance at the best restaurants. The saving grace in this regard is Trier’s location: the middle of nowhere. Trier is virtually impossible to get to by train, there is no high-speed connection, and it is 3-4 hours from Cologne or Frankfurt. This limits overall numbers and keeps Trier from becoming a “historical theme park” like Heidelberg.
In terms of historical preservation, Trier scores pretty average. At a 6, it is comparable to most above-average destinations in Germany. It has more old-town than Koblenz or Mainz but less than Erfurt and much less than Bamberg or Heidelberg. Though it was not firebombed like Dresden, the war decimated Trier’s old town. The reconstruction did not favor styles that matched the existing cityscape, and the wartime losses are very noticeable.
In terms of cultural immersion, Trier also loses out due to the wartime losses, again scoring a 6. It’s hard to feel immersed in an “old town” when modern glass and steel buildings are on every corner. High tourist volume also doesn’t help much. That said, the city is still owned by its residents, and there is a lively student atmosphere full of locally-owned bars and restaurants. You can still get a sense that Trier is a living city.
It’s a major city, so everything is easily accessible, and Trier scores top marks for interactivity. It earns an eight instead of a ten since the public transport options are limited and the city itself is located far from anywhere else. Additionally, compared to other German cities, there is much to see and enough for everyone to enjoy exploring.
Should You Visit?
Yes, Trier is worth visiting. I would rate it as one of Germany’s best places to visit.
How to See Trier
Trier is a tiny town; by European standards, you might even consider it a village. The flavor of life in Trier is colored by its status as a suburb of Luxembourg City. Many of its residents spend most of their daily lives in Luxembourg and return to Trier for its lower cost of living. The area immediately around Trier is highly industrial, with logistics yards and component assembly plants primarily serving the flow of goods in and out of Germany.
The tourist part of Trier is even smaller, focused on a right rectangle near the central train station. In addition, there are three other disjoint areas of old-town. The “Zurlaubener Ufer” is the only river-side part of Trier worth mentioning. The nice part is the small bit on the north side of the bridge, remnants of a planned 18th-century dockyard village outside the walls. You will find some of the best restaurants here. To the North-East is the district around St. Paulinus. Notable for its well-preserved historicist avenues. To the south is Saarstraße Street, ending at the monumental Monastery complex of St. Matthias.
It is worth mentioning that several major tourist attractions are located in otherwise uninteresting neighborhoods. The Roman Bridge and the Amphitheater, particularly, are located in areas that were hit badly in WWII or by post-war urban planning. I recommend driving to these locations, as there is nothing interesting around them. The same is true of the Barbara Baths, Forum Baths, and the viewpoints over the city. Additionally, while Saarstraße has some lovely 19th-century buildings, walking the entire distance is not worth it. To reach St. Matthias, I would recommend traveling by bus or to the Trier-South station.
For more detailed travel information and opening hours, check out this post here:
If you want to explore the region around Trier, check out these articles:
Explore the region around Trier
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Trier is one of the best destinations in Germany. Full of mysterious ruins, resplendent churches, and rich museum collections. It has the atmosphere to match destinations of much greater size.