Regarded as one of Germany’s most liberal cities, Cologne is situated on the Rhine River in the country’s north-west. Getting around this city is remarkably easy, thanks to an efficient public transport system of trams, buses and trains, and also bicycles for hire. If you arrive by train, the first sight to greet you as you exit Central Station will be the imposing facade of the Gothic, World Heritage-listed cathedral, Kolner Dom.
Culture greets the visitor at every turn in this city, whether in the form of historic architecture and monuments or traditional neighbourhoods, or one of the many art galleries and museums. Visit in autumn for riverbanks lined with spectacular russet reds and yellows, and if you dare, open your mind and your robe at one of the mixed sex, no-clothing-allowed thermal spas.
You won’t need to look far to find a museum or art gallery housing something that tickles your fancy: at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum there’s a selection of fine artworks from medieval times up until the 20th century, while the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum features artefacts from Amerindian and Australian-Polynesian sites.
Chocolate lovers will enjoy the Schokoladenmuseum. If you are visiting in February, Fastelovend, the winter festival, is a highlight, while Germany’s largest gay pride event, Cologne Gay Pride, takes place each July. Children and their adults will have fun on the rides at Phantasialand.
For a more restful experience, test the waters at Claudius Therme: they’re from a natural thermal spring. For beautiful, wintry Christmas atmosphere, check out one of the many Christmas markets around town each December. A tour down the Rhine River is also a nice way to get acquainted with the city.
Eat and Drink
Traditional fare features such hearty offerings as blood sausage with mashed potatoes, beef (or sometimes horse) joint marinated in vinegar and raisins and served with a potato dumpling and cabbage, and pig’s leg. For the less adventurous, or those with more modern tastes, the traditional gouda and rye bread is a go-to staple. There is also an array of more modern and international eateries in Cologne, ranging from budget chain restaurants to vegetarian and fancy-pants French restaurants.
Beer houses abound (you’re in Germany after all), and many breweries are open to visitors. The Belgian Quarter is home to some chic bars, while you’ll find more alternative establishments in areas such as Ehrenfeld and Kwartier Lateng. If bar-hopping and clubbing’s your thing, you’ll be spoilt for choice in this town.
Where to Stay
The city centre hosts a range of mid-priced accommodation, or if you want to splurge on a luxury stay, most five-star hotels are in the centre. At temperate times of year, camping by the Rhine is a nice option for families.
Skateboarding is big in Cologne, and skating stores sell everything from skateboards and accessories to skater clothing. Travellers will be seduced by the extraordinary multi-level Globetrotter store in Altstadt-Nord. Here you’ll find lots of travel gear and even an indoor “lake” in which shoppers can test out aquatic equipment.
Kolner Weinkeller, in Stolberger Strasse, is a cellar that quickens the pulses of wine lovers thanks to its atmosphere, range of products and friendly service. There are many independent music retailers across Cologne, and a multitude of bookstores.
For a more conventional shopping experience, complete with hustle and bustle, try the Schildergasse pedestrian mall, home to big department stores and recognisable brands. It is said to host 15,000 people an hour at peak times.
Cologne Like a Local
Founded in 1860, the Cologne Zoo may be old but it has kept pace with the times and is well worth a visit. The elephant park and African river landscape are highlights.