Monschau, sometimes called the "Pearl of the Eifel", is a small, historic town in the German Eifel. Largely unchanged for over 300 years, the narrow, cobblestoned streets and traditional half-timbered houses have made this charming place one of the main tourist attractions of the region. Set in the beautiful landscapes of the Eifel region, at a stones-throw from the Eifel National Park, it makes an excellent base for hikers and cyclists. While popular in summer, it only becomes truly overrun for its famous Christmas market in winter.
The historic heritage that makes Monschau the main tourist destination in the Eifel today, is largely due to its former fame as a centre for textile production. As early as the 12th century it was one of the primary towns of the region. City rights were obtained in 1352, but the town really flourished in the 18th century, when some 6000 textile workers alone were employed in Monschau. As the textile industry diminished in the 19-hundreds, tourism grew and became the main source of income.
Nowadays, Monschau has about 14.000 permanent residents. However, with over 170.000 hotel night bookings and no less than 2.000.000 day trip visitors per year, it remains the urban centre of the Eifel region.
- 1 Monschau Touristik GmbH, Stadtstraße 16, ☏ . Daily 10.00-17.00. The towns tourist information office is easy to find and has a selection of good hiking and cycling maps (from €5), simple leaflets with the so-called Roten Faden city walk along the main sights (€0.50) and a simple free town map. The friendly staff speaks English and is also happy to help with bookings or hotels or the wide range or guided tours, and can assist with general information or other questions you might have.
Keep in mind that many of the hotels, shops and restaurants here are small family businesses which may not accept foreign credit cards. Fortunately, there are two ATM's available in the town centre. You'll find them at the bank offices of: Sparkasse, Laufenstraße 42. and Raiffeisenbank, Stadtstraße 1.
The city centre itself is a low-traffic area, but Monschau is easily reachable from nearby cities like Aachen and Cologne, as well as from Belgium. There is no train station in Monschau. Your best rail option is to get to Aachen. There are some direct buses available from the main bus terminal Aachen Haubtbahnhof as well as from Aachen Rote Erde. Alternatively, from the Belgian side, you can get as far as Eupen by rail on weekends, from where you'll need to catch the TEC bus that runs every two hours.
Driving is a common way to get in. Note however that in peak season, but especially during the Christmas market, parking spots can get very scarce and taking a bus might be a better idea. The Bundesstraße 258 connects the town north with nearby Roetgen and on to Aachen (45 min), as well as with Schleiden in the south-east. From Cologne its about a 90 minute drive via the L246 or via Aachen. From the Belgian city of Liège, it's less than an hour by car via the E40 and (taking exit 38 for Eupen) on via the N67, which leads to Monschau through the High Fens Natural Park. From the directions of Luxembourg or Trier, the E42 will get you as far as Prüm, where you exit onto the B265 to Schleiden and again on to the 258 from there.
From Aachen Bushof and Aachen Rote Erde station, AVV line 66 runs every hour on weekdays and every two hours in weekends. The bus heads in direction Monschau Parkhaus and takes about 70 minutes to get there. From the main train station of Aachen, Aachen Haubtbahnhof, first take AVV line SB63 towards Simmerath/Vogelsang/Gemünd and change to line 66 at Haltestelle Roetgen Post. This connection also runs every hour on weekdays and only every two hours in weekends, with a total travelling time of around 55 minutes.
The former railway line Vennbahn was converted into a bike trail in 2013 and connects Monschau with Aachen and the country of Luxembourg. While it is rather flat (no more than 3% incline) where it follows the former railway, there are some rather steep inclines where deviations from the railway had to be made. The route from Aachen is approximately 46 km long, but you have to know where to get off the bike trail as it only passes by one of the outer districts of Monschau.
The town is small and its lovely narrow streets are best explored on foot. Most of the main sights, shops and restaurant are situated around the river side, but for some areas you should count on fairly strong elevation. Also keep in mind that for those depending on walking aids, the cobblestoned streets may be less than ideal, especially when wet or frozen. Cycling is another option, but again, if you don't mind the rattling over the cobblestones.
Alternatively, there's a bright yellow and green Stadtbahn or city-train (which is only made to look like a train and does not in fact run on rails) for tourists which slowly makes its way along the main sights in the old town. The tour takes about half an hour, and the train departs every 45 minutes starting from 9.45h in high season or 11.15h in low season. You can get on at the Burgau parking lot or at the central market square. While slightly overpriced at €6.50/€2 for adults/children, it may prove a fun way to get around.
The ancient atmosphere of the town, with its countless traditional houses and cobblestoned streets, and its setting in the lush green surroundings, is Monschau's main attraction. Over 300 buildings are listed as monuments.
- 1 Red House (Rotes Haus), Laufenstr. 10, ☏ . In the heart of town, named after the pronounced colour of its façade, this is one of the most noticeable buildings. This 1756 mansion was owned by Johan Heinrich Scheibler, one of the most prominent cloth producers and traders in town. His famous 18th century fabrics found their way to the courts of the French king and the Turkish sultan. The mansion is now a museum, boasting a full historic interior with all the grand features of the Rococo / Louis XV style that marked the wealth of its former proprietor. Of particular interest is the three story open-newel spiral staircase, decorated with wood carvings depicting all the main steps in the cloth production. Two surviving original cloth sample books showcase the huge collection of cloths designed and produced here. Guided tours start every hour. €2.50.
- 2 Burg Monschau (Monschau castle). The old castle overlooking town originates in the 13th century but was attacked and seized by Emperor Charles V in the 16th century. The castle fell into ruins after private owners had the roofs removed in 1836/37, in order to avoid property taxes. At the turn of the 20th century, the province initiated an effort the save the historic building from complete destruction. Since the 1970s, it houses the local youth hostel and serves as the stage for concerts in summer. Unfortunately, as it is in use by the hostel, it's not open for the general public.
- 3 Mustard mill, Laufenstr. 116-124. Mustard remains a typical produce of Monschau, and in the old mustard mill the traditional recipe is still being made. When it was installed in 1882, the mill relied on a waterwheel. Today, it's driven with electricity. The small shop sells a range of different varieties. Guided tours in German are given on Wednesdays and Fridays at 11.00 and 14.00h, with no reservation needed. Groups can make reservations for guided tours. €2.50.
Situated inside the Eifel National Park, the town makes a great base to explore the rugged Eifel landscapes. Hiking and biking is highly popular, with countless paths available and plenty of marked and unmarked routes to follow. While you should always wear proper hiking shoes and should expect elevation where-ever your go, there are fairly short and easy routes for less experienced outdoor fans. More experienced hikers of cyclist are well able to figure out the itineraries of their choice with one of the excellent maps available from the internet or the tourist office in Monschau. Alternatively, there are medium and long set routes and several marked paths. If you have any interest in the region's nature, diving into the Eifel forests and enjoying some of the pretty views around Monschau village is an absolute must.
- Christmas market (Weinachtsmarkt). 4 weekends before Christmas, Fr-Su 11.00 - 21.00. The last four weekends before Christmas, Monschau is all about fairy-like lights, the smell of mulled wine and -of course- an abundance of Christmas decorations. The little town takes its Christmas market quite seriously indeed, with live music, plenty of food and dozens of market stands selling sweets, gifts and decorations. Make sure to not plan your departure too early, as the highlight of the event is the atmosphere and countless little lights after sundown. The market roughly covers the area from Richters Eck, via the Market Square on to the Patere Höfje, behind the Aukirche church. Keep in mind that Monschau is a particularly popular destination in this time, so book your accommodation well ahead if you want to stay for the night. Free admission.
- Monschau Klassik. This annual classical music concert brings an every changing programme of national and international musicians in the wonderful courtyard of the old fortress. Make sure to purchase tickets well in advance.
The old town has a wide selection of tourist oriented shops, selling a range of souvenirs, books and clothing. Local food specialities include Printen, a spiced cooky, Dütchen, a biscuit like roll often filled with cream and fruits and mustards. A square type of chocolates called Monschauer Venn-Brocken is shaped to resemble the peat blocks that were locally produced in large quantities to fuel the textile industry. All of these can be purchased from many tourist shops, cafés and the several bakeries you'll encounter in the old centre. There's one small supermarket in the lower part of the Laufenstraße, but for other shopping opportunities (including supermarkets Aldi, Lidl and Netto and a small department store) head to the Imgenbroich area. Many of the tourist shops in the old centre are open on Sundays, but that's not the case for all regular stores.
Monschau is packed with restaurants, and while the best places will get busy, you'll not easily go hungry here. Almost all are cheap to mid-range places, with the large majority serving traditional German dishes and simple steaks and chips. Most of the places are located in the old town, in the streets surrounding the market square. Some additional options can be found in the adjoining villages which are part of Monschau municipality.
There's no night life to speak of, but many of the eateries double as cafés and coffee shops, serving also those just looking for a drink. When weather allows, several of the outdoor terraces stay open for evening drinks, but for a pub feel try Zum Haller.
- Zum Haller, Eschbachstr. 4. Popular place along the river. The menu includes a range of pizzas and a good selection of traditional German dishes, which are excellent value. The place has a strong pub-feel, with fun and friendly staff. The 3-course set menu's are cheap, at around 15 euro. No outdoor terrace. Mains from €10.
- Rur-Café, Stehlings 16, ☏ . Right on the market place, this restaurant offers traditional meat and fish dishes. The couple who runs it is most proud of their mustard sauce dishes, but most of the food gets good reviews. Mains from €15.
- Café Kaulard, Markt 8, ☏ . One of the best places to sample some of the excellent local sweet pastries and pies, this coffee house also serves savoury breakfast and lunch dishes. It's a cosy establishment with a nice view over the market and a pleasant outdoor terrace. From €3.
- Schokoladen Café, Stadtstraße 35, ☏ . The name says it all; if you're craving chocolate in any way, or something similarly sweet, this is one of the best options around. Nonetheless, they also serve coffee and nice savoury lunches. With patience games on every table, it's a fun place to linger.
- Alte Herlichkeit, Stadtstraße 7, ☏ . Tu-Su 12.00 - 15.00h and after 17.30.. Old-fashioned German style, and traditional German food. This place has some lovely views over the river. Slightly more upmarket than the other restaurants in town, prices are somewhat higher and dishes a bit more sophisticated, but still well within midrange. Open for lunch and dinner. €25.
Small as it is, Monschau village is packed with places to stay. Dozens of hotels cater to all budgets and levels of luxury, but the large majority is maintained in a traditional style. Booking ahead is advisable in high season.
- Haller Hotel, Herbert-Isaac-Straße 20. A 10 minute walk from the main centre, this small hotel / B&B is one of the more modern places to stay. It serves a good breakfast and has good, clean rooms with nice bathrooms. Especially in low season, the reception is not open at all hours, but the owner can be reached by phone at all times. From €75 for a single.
- Horchem Hotel-Restaurant-Café-Bar, Rurstraße 14. Right in the old town, and housed in a historic building. Friendly service and pleasant rooms, just keep in mind that there is no elevator. From €75 / 110 for a single/double.
- Monschau Castle Youth Hostel, Auf dem Schloß 4, ☏ . Housed in the town's castle, the setting of this place alone makes it a fun choice. There are 103 bed divided over 20 rooms, ranging from doubles to 12 bed dorms. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Family apartments are available in a separate wing of the castle, and many of the leisure activities are kid-friendly. From €15,40 for a dorm bed.
- Campingplatz Perlenau, Herr Günther Rasch, ☏ . A nice 20 minute walk through the forest from the old town (with some elevation), this camping ground is tucked away beautifully into its natural surroundings. The small and shallow stream that runs right through the camping ground, dividing the main camper area from the dedicated tent meadow, gives a peaceful feel and serves at the main playing object for kids. Toilets and showers are clean and free of charge and there's a small restaurant on the premises. Keep in mind that the rocky soil here requires some sturdy gear to fix your tent. Electricity is available at a 3 euro surcharge, but bring an extension cable. €5/10 for a small/large spot, +€5/3 per adult/child per night.
- Bürgerhaus Monschau, Stehlings 8. Quaint, well-maintained but small hotel in an old mansion. The place feels like a bed & breakfast, with no restaurant for lunch and diner. Some of the rooms have excellent views over town, so ask when you're booking. The breakfast is extensive and the staff friendly, rooms are small and somewhat simple (no tv) but adequate. Free WiFi, although reception is limited on the top floors. €75 for a double.
Most hotels offer Wifi in the main areas, although quality is not always great. There's good mobile phone coverage and reasonable coverage for mobile internet on most providers.
- Postal service point, Stadtstraße 1 (inside the Nah und Frisch Lebensmittelmarkt). 10.00-13.00h. Note that the postal service inside the small supermarket is open for limited hours, much more limited than the shop itself. It can handle packages too.
Close to the Dutch and Belgian borders, interesting day trips and next stops can be found within and outside of Germany.
The Hellenthal Wildlife Park, an easy 15 minute drive away, makes for an excellent day trip. Overlooking the Oleftalsperre, this park's excellent collection of birds of prey is considered one of the best in Europe. Flight shows are carried out several times a day. Furthermore, there are large compounds with mostly indigenous types of wildlife and some of their international counterparts, including several kinds of deer, wild boars, lynx etc.
Among the other towns of interest in the Eifel are Blankenheim, with the Eifel Museum as well as a Roman villa and Mechernich, where visitors can get an insight in the areas ancient mining industry. Both are a 45 min. drive.