Established in 38BC by the Ancient Romans, Cologne has a bigger story to tell – not just about the region, but also of Europe as a whole. Architecturally, it is jaw dropping. The sheer scale and style of the buildings – most famously the Cathedral with its twin spires, but also the 12 Romanesque Churches – transport you back in time.
The shopping, though, is avowedly modern. Schildergasse is the busiest shopping street in Europe, with over 13,000 shoppers passing through every hour. Local clothes are best bought here, as fierce competition keeps prices reasonable.
Cologne’s cultural life is bursting at the seam, with an enormous number of museums and galleries dedicated to different streams of art and history. Museum Schnutgen is home to an impressive collection of medieval art, whilst the EL-DE Haus is a former Gestapo headquarters documenting the Nazi era, especially the persecution of minorities.
But for all Cologne’s age and focus on the past, it is a young, forward-thinking city. Its young people are active and, as a result, its nightlife is irrepressible. So yes, Cologne may seem boring and stuffy and old at first glance, but peel back a few layers and you’ll see the city for what it truly is: vibrant and explosive.
- Kolner Dom - One of Europe's most impressive cathedrals, with two spires of dizzying height.
- Kolumba Church - These ruins of the church in Cologne have an impressive number of Christian artefacts on display.
- Romisch-Germanisches Museum - Artefacts include toys that go back to Roman times.
- Praetorium - A relic of Roman days. Expect to see an underground museum.
- Gross St Martin - An unconventional church with some of the city's most offbeat architecture.
Cologne Art & Culture
- Walraf-Richartz-Museum - This museum offers a colourful, mind-blowing collection of modern art.
- Museum Ludwig - Another offbeat art museum, spotted easily because of its roof.
- Kathe-Kollwitz-Museum - A socialist art museum, featuring an unusual bubble lift.
- Museum Schnutgen - Step back into medieval times while touring this home of religious art.
- Museum Fur Angewandte Kunst - Spend more time touring period rooms and art.
- Hohe Strasse - One of the best places for department stores and high-end shops in Cologne.
- Neumarkt-Galerie - Home to cute shoe shops and easily spotted by the huge ice cream cone.
- Mittelstrasse and Pfeilstrasse – Give your credit cards some exercise; visit the high-end shops on these two streets.
- Ehrenstrasse - Hip, second-hand shops and creative designer shops.
- 4711 Perfumery & Gift Shop - Head to the shop where cologne was invented!
Gay & Lesbian Cologne
- Gayoween - If you're in Cologne in October, visit this Halloween party.
- Christopher Street Day - Held in July, this gay pride event is the place to be seen.
- Gloria - Stop by a converted theatre for theme parties and live performances.
- P9 - Do you like being out till dawn? This is only gay club open 23 hours a day.
- The Blue Lounge - The best location for mixed gatherings, perfect if travelling with male and female friends.
- Rhine Cruises - Take a day cruise on the Rhine or a dinner cruise, a fun way to experience Cologne.
- The Hauptbahnhof - This sightseeing train is another fascinating way to see the sights in Cologne.
- Rhineparc - This is one of the city's busiest parks and has a pool to boot.
- The Stadwald - More than 200 hectares of forestland, jogging trails and a pond with rowing boats.
- The Waldbad - For a break from a very busy day, complete with a pool and wild park.
- Biking - This is one of the most popular pastimes in Cologne, with English tours available.
- Reinenergie Stadion - Visit and watch the Cologne Centurions, an American football team.
- FC Koln -The local professional football club, where half the excitement is seeing fans' react to visiting clubs.
- German Sport University - Find out about the role sports plays in young athletes' lives.
- Cologne Sharks - If visiting during the winter, be sure to catch a hockey game.
If you’re looking for the middle ground between tourist kitsch and local flavour, head to Sudstadt, Cologne’s alternative nightlife neighbourhood. As well as the booze and the bars, contemporary and modern theatre finds a home at theTheater am Sachsenring. With weird and firmly contemporary adaptations and original works, the shows here are not to be forgotten, nor completely understood. For a more traditional theatre experience, Theater Der Keller features a younger ensemble tackling down-to-earth scripts about modern woes. The works are engrossing and sometimes in English.
With the streets named after Dutch and Belgian cities, this is a multicultural suburb with the associated trappings: a richer clientele seeking a grittier experience. The neighbourhood is often represented by the Church of St Michael. Its looming shadow provides shade during the day and a compass point when the night gets a bit murkier. Brussels Street is one of the quaintest in all of Cologne. The tall terraced buildings and abundance of bicycles seem to transport the traveller to Paris – at least for a minute.
With the Helios Lighthousedominating its skyline, Ehrenfeld is one of Cologne’s up-and-coming neighbourhoods with an abundance of restaurants featuring everything from Mexican to Persian. Here, too, is the shopping centre – the streets are lined with the Cologne’s most fashionable (read: expensive) boutiques and bespoke businesses.
TheColoneum is the centre for local media, as well as film production. Considered cheaper than other German cities, Cologne attracts Hollywood movie teams year round, so duck in for a chance to spot your favourite (or least favourite) star.
Originally a smaller town, Nippes was incorporated into Cologne as the city expanded. Here, the streets are swarming with young and creative types looking to make their mark on the new suburb. Feezis a case in point. Eat off the eclectic menu and, if you can understand them, enjoy – or involve yourself in – the frequent open-mike nights that allow the locals to express themselves.
For a change of pace, the Planetarium can explain the mysteries of the universe – only in German, so it makes more sense to visit a planetarium in your own country. But, your own country won’t have the Rheinseilbahn Cable Cars, which provide a panoramic view of the city as you cross the Rhine River. Even for the cynical, it’s still a fine way to end a day.
Cologne Eat & Drink
Keule The place to be seen for Cologne’s media elite. The food is done exceptionally well, with local produce determining the daily menu. The grilled lamb is best enjoyed with a stein of locally brewed Kolsh lager.
Shepheard Named after the famous Cairo hotel, this cocktail bar offers the most extensive list of cocktails in Cologne – over 200 unique concoctions. The lights and music are akin to a jazz club, and the kitsch-less setting makes it perfect for a glamorous and romantic night for two.
La Patata For a taste of Spain in a traditional long house, La Patata provides well-executed Spanish fare (the chorizos are absurdly tasty) with local and Spanish wines. Although a little cramped, eight long tables ensure you get to know your fellow diners – perfect for travellers wanting an insight into local life.
Fruh Am Dom Coming to Cologne and not coming to a beer hall is tantamount to tourist crime. Set aside a majestic fountain, this is a favourite with travellers and locals alike. If you’re up early, stop by for its famous breakfast – and no-one will frown at you if you have a sneaky stein while there.
El Gaucho By far the most expensive and exclusive restaurant in Cologne. The steakhouse atmosphere is more reminiscent of old New York, with the dim lights ensuring local tycoons can go about their meals undisturbed. Although there are cheaper options, the steak is why you’re here so you should try it. Stick to the bloody end of the spectrum to avoid offending the already uptight waiters.
Underground: For fans of live music, this bar offers the ultimate experience. Featuring two concert halls, every musical taste is catered for. The experience is more like an old English pub than a rave, which explains why the crowd is so varied in terms of age and nationality.
Basilikum Coming here is a bit like going for dinner at your grandma’s: the owner wants you to leave full, content and a little bit spoiled. The meals are amazingly presented and the use of an in-house herb garden ensures no two meals are ever alike. Popular even on weeknights, so book.
Alter Wartesaal Situated in a former train station, this bar/nightclub has different theme nights – some more risqué than others!
Each February, the streets are filled with floats and parades. The sky is filled with confetti and the lanes with costumed denizens. The Cologne Carnival is an event as unusual as Cologne itself and has to be seen to be believed.
For a country that is most famous for its beer-brewing skills, wine is often forgotten. May’s Weinwoche is a weeklong festival that is wine equivalent of Oktoberfest. Local producers shop their wares in the streets. Fine German food accompanies the wine. Life is good.
In July, Cologne puts its title as German’s gay and lesbian hub to the test. The city musters incredibly large gay and gay-friendly crowds for the yearly Cologne Pride Festival. The streets are packed, the nightclubs are pumping. So if you’re not in the mood to party, steer clear of the city during this weekend.
The Kolner Bucherherbst is the yearly celebration of literature in Cologne. Over the course of two weeks in September, there are readings from new and established authors and literary discussions.
In October, The Cologne International Comedy Festival and Comedy Film Festival offers the funniest local and international comedy acts. The Festival has grown in stature over the year and actively encourages the development of a local comedy scene, which is now one of the most thriving in Europe.
When To Go
Cologne is one of the warmer cities in Germany – although since the average annual temperature is 10°C (50°F), that’s a relative concept.
The best months to visit are June, July, August, as the temperature is pleasant and the weather lends itself to outdoor activities and general wandering.
Regularly affected by the Rhine flooding, Cologne is the most flood-prone city in Europe. If it’s raining, or looks like it’s going to rain, stay away. Despite being used to it, Cologne remains notoriously ill equipped to deal with wet weather and flooding, with the city coming to a standstill.
What To Miss
Scalpers in the city are notoriously pushy and pricey, so if you are looking for tickets to a football game, only get your tickets from the stadium. If you miss out, go to a beer hall and watch the action on screen – it’s often more fun that way.
Restaurants in the Old City have been known to increase prices upon seeing tourists. Leave the backpacks at home and the maps folded, try to fit in and you won’t pay through the nose.
The subway system is comfortable and very cheap. The best way to travel from the outer to the inner parts of the city.
Join the Call a Bike system when you arrive. It allows you to borrow bikes and ride anywhere in the city. You can return it at any time, so you only pay for when you’re using it.
Walking. The city is ancient and should be explored on foot to get the full layout and feel for the place. You might get tired, but those tired legs will add to the memory of an amazing place.
Cologne, or Köln, is solid proof that there is life in vast Germany outside the seductive confines of Berlin and Munich. The city of 1 million is a lively place, with far more to see and experience beyond the famous Cologne Cathedral.
With a foundation that dates back to 38 BC and the Roman Empire, Cologne is a vital lynchpin in Europe. A fortuitous location on the river Rhine made the city a nexus of commerce and trade in the Middle Ages. While history is everywhere in the city, a progressive populace ensures that Cologne has one foot firmly planted in modernity.
Cologne is the fourth biggest city in Germany, and has become one of the country's main tourist destinations, as well as a centre of media and business. The city boasts a wealth of breweries - more than any other European city, as well as spectacular buildings including Romanesque churches and a magnificent cathedral known as the 'Dom'. There are also some good museums to be found here, as well as the remains of its historic centre which are located by the Rhine riverside.
The most visited attraction in Cologne, and probably one of the most visited in the whole of Germany, is the Kolner Dom, Cologne's awe-inspiring cathedral. There are 509 steps up to the top of the south tower, which take around an hour to climb - so come prepared and wear comfortable shoes because the exertion is well worth it for the spectacular views you get from the top. While there is no fee for entering the cathedral itself, there is a small charge for climbing the tower. The 'Dom' is located close to Cologne's central railway station. The Dom is also home to the largest working bell - the 24 tonne 'Peter Bell-' in the world.
The Museum Ludwig is just around the corner from the 'Dom' and has a good collection of contemporary art. Visitors can view American pop art, with Roy Lichtenstein's 'Maybe', and Andy Warhol's 'Brillo Boxes', as well as numerous works by Picasso.
The Wallraf-Richarz Museum is a wonderful collection of 13th to the 19th century works of art, including those from artists at the Cologne School. Also featured are works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Canaletto and Murillo.
Gross St Martin is a medieval church which was just about destroyed in the Second World War, but has been rebuilt with some stunning artistic features including turrets and a central spire. In this area there are another 12 churches which have been reconstructed.
The Deutsches Sport & Olympia Museum is a 19th Century customs building containing memorabilia from the world of sport dating back to antiquity. There are also items on show connected to the 1936 and 1972 Munich Olympic Games, as well as modern day exhibits from the likes of Steffi Graf and Michael Schumacher.
El-De Haus is a former Gestapo prison and a sombre reminder of Cologne's Nazi past. Visitors can visit the cellar of the house which features more than 1800 chilling inscriptions from inmates who were tortured and murdered here. The Centre has received many international awards, but don't take the children to this moving memorial.
The Schokoladen Museum is a must see for anyone who loves chocolate. The attraction features exhibits on the origin of chocolate, and visitors can take a tour of the production factory, stopping at chocolate fountains on the way. There is also a shop selling chocolate and porcelain.
The Museum fur Angewandte Kunst features a number of rooms demonstrating design from the Middle Ages to today. Visitors can view a 15th Century Venetian wedding goblet, full sized Meissen porcelain animals and a silver service by Henry van de Velde.
More Info On Events
The Karneval is Cologne's biggest annual carnival, and is also known as the Winter Carnival or Fastelovend. The highlight is the Street festival which takes place on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, which traditionally is the day when women take charge of the city. On Shrove Monday and Shrove Tuesday the Streets of Cologne are packed with more than 1.5 million people, who come to watch the parade which features the 'mad triad', the prince, the farmer and the virgin. Carnival dates are end of January to February.
Cologne is known to be an extremely gay friendly city, and the annual Cologne Gay Pride is a popular event held at Heumakt Square every year. Candles are lit in remembrance of those who have died of AIDS/HIV, and there are musical performances, as well as a parade on the last day.
Leisure and Recreation
Neumarkt is the most prestigious shopping centre which is located at the Neumarkt Galerie mall. The Schildergasse is one of Germany's busiest pedestrianised shopping streets, with international high street names and Peek & Cloppenburg, Renzo Piano's flagship store is situated here. Kaufhof Galerie features many bargain outlets for those on a budget. The majority of Cologne's other shops are found between the Rudolfplatz and the Dom.
Visitors are highly recommended to buy a sample of the product which the city is famed for - Eau de Cologne, from the 4711-Haus at Glockengasse, or from the Farina-Haus, opposite the Town Hall, which is where Eau de Cologne originated.
Cologne's Philarmonic Concert Hall features extraordinary architecture as well as free rehearsal concerts at lunchtime, and opera fans should head for the Opera der Stadt Koln, the Cologne Opera company with a reputation for top quality contemporary and classical works. For theatre Cologne has the Theatre am Sachsenring, and the Studiobuhne Koln.
A highly pleasant way of spending an afternoon in Cologne is to take a cruise along the Rhine, or an evening cruise which can include an evening meal. To get to know the city quickly it's also possible to take a sightseeing tour by a bus which stops at all the main attractions.
Cologne is located to the northwest of Germany and has a climate not unlike that of the UK or Northern France, which means seasonal weather which can be quite unpredictable. The hottest months are July and August when temperatures can reach 30 o C and above, and the coolest time of year is winter, with temperatures in January frequently dropping below zero. On average, June is the wettest time to go - but visitors should come prepared with an umbrella since rain can arrive at any time of the year.
Getting There and Around
Cologne Bonn Airport is Cologne's nearest airport, which is located around nine miles southeast of Cologne. Trains run from the airport into Cologne Hauptbahnhof - Central Station - with a journey time of around 15 minutes. Airport shuttles are also available into Cologne city centre, which takes around 20 minutes or visitors can take a taxi from the concourse.
Cologne's main attractions are quite close together so the city is easy to navigate on foot. The public transport system is excellent however with an integrated rapid transit system of subway (U Bahn) and buses. Tickets must be bought in advance otherwise you run the risk of being fined heavily if you are caught by an inspector. The Koln Welcome Card gives unlimited travel on all Cologne's public transport systems, as well as reduced admissions to certain attractions.
Cologne also has a 'Call a Bike' system where you can pick up and drop off bikes across the city, by first entering credit card details.
Top 6 Free Things to Do
St Ursula is a church which is located at the top of a Roman cemetery where the remains of virgins are alleged to have been found. An opulent Golden Chamber was erected to house the relics.
The Domschatzkammer is an attraction which Cologne is rightly proud of. Visitors to this Cathedral Treasury have the opportunity to view robes, sculptures, reliquaries and other religious objects housed within vaulted rooms dating back to the 13th century - located on the right hand side of the Dom.
The Kolnisches Stadtmuseum stands where the former medieval armoury was situated, and offers visitors a look at all things to do with the city. Visitors can find out about the local beer (Kolsch) , eau de Cologne, as well as displays featuring the annual Karnaval, as well as many other facets of life in the city.
For a relaxing afternoon the Grungurtel Park, which encircles the city is a good option. When the weather permits visitors can bring a picnic, or barbecue here, or enjoy a drink in the beer garden. The Eifelplatz for Volksgarten is the closest metro stop.
Die Kolner Synagogue is worth a visit since this impressive structure features a unique architecture which could have come straight out of Gotham City. The synagogue is home to The Torah, which a Catholic priest saved from another synagogue which was about to be burnt by the Nazis. The religious edifice was visited by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 - only the second visit ever made by a pope to a synagogue.
A highly recommended way to while away an afternoon is to take a stroll around the Agnesviertel, Cologne's bohemian quarter and browse the many independent bookshops and art galleries situated here. Historical monuments to take in include the City Gate, and Fort X, and there is the opportunity to bag a bargain from the local flea markets.
Money and Costs
There are quite a few banks located in the Burgmauer area of the city and at the central railway station. Travel agencies and ATMs are located all across Cologne and they will accept all the major credit cards including American Express, Mastercard and Visa, although there may be a charge for withdrawing money.
The currency in Cologne is the Euro, as it now is across the majority of Europe, but it's only necessary to carry as much cash as you need on a daily basis since most attractions and restaurants accept credit and debit cards.
Service charges are almost always included in the bill at restaurants, but it's common to leave an extra 10% if you are especially pleased with the meal. In bars, taxis and for tour guides a tip of a few Euros should suffice
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