It’s been a while since I posted a city guide, so following the previous Christmas Markets post, I thought Cologne was the ideal location to cover, as it makes a great city break or river cruise destination at any time of the year. So, here is a guide to Cologne…
COLOGNE, or as the locals call it, KOLN, is the fourth-largest city in modern Germany and the largest city of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia with a history that stretches back to Roman times. Today, it’s one of the key inland ports of Europe, as well as the historic, cultural, and economic capital of the Rhineland.
How to get there:
Cologne has a busy airport that serves not only the city but also the nearby former capital of West Germany, Bonn. As a result, it has an extensive list of connections to destinations across Europe and beyond. The airport enjoys good connections to the city centre, and one of the quickest and most reliable ways is by using the frequent S-Bahn train service that connects with Cologne Central Station. You can also travel to Cologne from across Europe and even the UK by train, as it has connections to several train services. Finally, many visitors arrive in Cologne from the River Rhine which cuts through the heart of the city and is an important port for many River Cruise companies, as well as regional River ferries. The city’s River Cruise Port is part of the main dock area that runs for a mile along the riverbank close to the Old Town and Hohenzollern Bridge.
Cologne has an assortment of hotels to suit all budgets and tastes, so you won’t be short of a place to stay. However, it also has a thriving number of Airbnb apartments available, and this is a popular choice for many visitors to the city. When we were there, we used a very good budget hotel that was within a 3-minute walk of the Central Station; it was the TRYP by Wyndham Koln City Centre. Its rooms were a good size, comfortable, with good amenities, and the staff were friendly and very helpful with advice or directions—really all we were looking for during our short 3-day visit.
This is seasonal, so only relevant if you’re visiting in December, BUT it is one of Cologne’s biggest attractions, and it is a time when the city is bustling with visitors and locals alike. It was, in fact, at this time that we visited the city, and there is one thing German cities do well—it’s Christmas and the markets. Cologne was no exception, and there are seven different markets to experience and enjoy.
(See the previous Christmas Market post for more details.)
Probably the most famous building in the city. This UNESCO site has been an international pilgrimage site for centuries. Inside, it holds the remains of The Three Kings, and thousands of visitors attend to see the gilded shrine that holds them. However, the cathedral is also filled with other important art pieces, including its stained glass windows added to the building in the 1500s. This is now Germany’s single most visited landmark. One other interesting thing you can do is climb to the top of the Cathedral to see the bells and get some great views.
Visit Cologne Old Town:
As you walk around this busy, modern, and thriving city, it’s worth remembering that over three-quarters of the city was completely obliterated during World War 2. But parts did survive, and you can see their unique architecture still, such as at Heumarkt Plazza or Altermzrkt.
Grob St Martin:
Another building that stands out in the Cologne skyline, this place of worship was, in fact, extensively damaged by bombing during the war; however, it was then fully restored, and as a result, Roman ruins were discovered in its foundations, and you can visit these today.
Visit the Chocolate Museum:
This one is a must, and it’s for little and big kids alike! This is now one of the world’s top attractions in its field, striking a balance between education and information relating to the growing, harvesting, and manufacturing uses of Coca and chocolate, and then the pleasure of seeing chocolate being made before your eyes before the fun part… eating or drinking it. There is also a tropicarium where cacao trees are grown, as well as a great cafe. Yes, chocolate is on the menu in all its forms and uses. Not to forget a 3-metre high chocolate fountain! All in all, this is a great place to visit.
Walk across the Hohenzollern Bridge to Rhine Boulevard:
The bridge dates back to the early 20th century but had to be completely rebuilt after the war when it was restricted to rail and pedestrian traffic. So, you can walk across it and get some good views of the River Rhine and the city. Once across it, you can also enjoy the open space of the Rhine Boulevard and, if you time it right, sit back and see the sunset across the city and river.
Visit the Museums:
Cologne is well-known for its world-class and different museums, so you can visit, for example, the Ludwig Museum specialising in Art from the 1900s, including the work of Picasso, or visit the Romano-Germanic museum next to the cathedral to learn about roman ruins found in the city from when Cologne was an important Roman settlement or the Walraff-Richartz Museum and its collection of Gothic art. These are just a few of the possibilities; there are others, and all offer an interesting way to pass a few hours.
Visit Cologne Zoo and Botanical Gardens:
In the north of the city, you can visit Cologne Zoo and next door to it Cologne Botanical Gardens. The zoo is home to over 10,000 animals and has the largest elephant park in Europe; it focuses on conservation projects and offers an interesting day out. You could then visit the nearby Botanical Garden with over 11 hectares of gardens and glasshouses, all built around a large glass house called Flora, which was inspired by London’s Crystal Palace.
Cologne Cathedral’s world heritage listing means that no building is allowed to interfere with it or the skyline near it. As a result, the KolnTriangle skyscraper was restricted to 100 metres in height; it is located on the right bank of the Rhine and affords panoramic views across the Old Town and cathedral from its observation deck. This is where you can get that special picture of Cologne Old Town and the Rhine or even the sunset, as the Observation Deck is open until 11 pm.
Hop-on Hop-off bus:
Like most cities, the option of a Hop-on Hop-off bus is available in Cologne. I have said before sometimes these are not value for money due to the routes/stops etc., but not here; this is one that does cover all the sights and a bit more that you will want to visit. It leaves regularly from outside the Central Station and next to the Cathedral. You can simply pay on the bus or, like us, you can pre-book online.
Cologne Cable Car:
This is another way to get that bird’s eye view of Cologne and its Cathedral; the cable car crosses the Rhine and is a popular attraction for tourists looking for something different or that special photograph.
Eating and Drinking in Cologne:
Kolsch is the beer of Cologne; walk into a bar and ask for a beer, and you’re getting Kolsch. It’s a clear, light, and crisp lager with a head; it’s not served in large steins as in other parts of Germany but in small glasses. The beer is brewed by local large breweries, and they have many Bars around the city; one of the more popular ones is Fruh. If you enter these bars, you will see blue-jacketed waiters who will serve you the beer in the small glasses; it is then regularly refilled by the waiters once you finish. If you want them to stop, you simply put a beer mat on top that indicates you’re finished. These bars also offer traditional foods like roast boar or local sausage, which is also very good and full of flavor. It’s an experience and one you should try. If you do, I would recommend Gaffel am Dom, which is close to the Cathedral and Central Station; we really enjoyed our visit there.
Visit the Belgian Quarter:
This area of the city is possibly its most vibrant and trendy; it’s full of galleries, bars, restaurants, clubs, and boutiques. They are all in streets named after the cities of Belgium such as Liege, Ghent, and Brussels. It is a great area to spend the evening and enjoy a meal; you will be spoiled for choice.
Cologne is a vibrant modern city but with a long history and some truly magnificent buildings. It’s a city well worth spending some time getting to know, whether you’re on a city break or a day excursion from a River Cruise. Due to its location and transfer links, it’s also a great base to stay if you want to tour a few cities in the Rhineland, such as Bonn, Dusseldorf, and Dortmund, as well as the surrounding countryside. So, this is a city with much to offer and one we did enjoy on what was at the time a short pre-Christmas break, but this is a city that is a great city break destination no matter what time of year you choose to go.
Hope you enjoyed the guide, please feel free to share the guide or others on the page with any groups or individuals you follow. Thanks again.