Cologne, made famous by the perfume that came from there, is the fourth largest city in all of Germany. It straddles the River Rhine and is home to some of the most ancient buildings and universities. There is a lot going on in this part of the world and Cologne has a really vibrant arts movement with more than thirty museums, and many more galleries, to back up this boast.
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History and Geography
As Cologne straddles the river, it is primarily flat. It is thought that the first people to settle in the area date back to around forty years before Jesus was born. It was the Romans who founded Colonia, as it was known then, so there are many sites which are being excavated to find treasures from that time. One of the more recent large finds was a nineteen hundred year old boat.
Map of Cologne
During World War Two, Cologne was pounded by more than two hundred and sixty air strikes which killed around twenty thousand people and, eventually, the city centre was reduced by a staggering ninety five percent. The Jewish population had been removed by the Nazis and all the synagogues had been demolished. Even twelve of the Romanesque churches had been destroyed taking with them a mass of cultural treasures. However, a massive rebuild started soon after the war ended, which now sees Cologne being an ultra-modern city albeit with several ancient buildings that were refurbished.
Best time to go to Cologne
Since Cologne has a very temperate climate, the winters are a little mild and the summers are warm. May to September are the warmer months, but these seldom get higher than 24°C (75°F).
Getting Around in Cologne
Cologne is typically German in style and the emphasis is on bicycling to get around. There is a network of cycle paths all over the place and cycle priority crossings as well. Even on some of the one way systems, cyclists are allowed to traverse in either direction which is more than can be said for other modes of transport!
There is an excellent rail system with trains running between the Central Station to Bonne Airport or high speed trains to Amsterdam, Paris and Brussels. Trains also run to Frankfurt and Berlin with some connecting to the Channel Tunnel which takes people on to London.
Being on the river, there are river cruises all along the Rhine and this makes for exceptional photo opportunities. There are docks here too making it one of the busiest inland ports in Germany.
The bus system around the city is really good, and there are trams too, and local trains that zip people from place to place. Find bicycle hire places on the north side of the Hapuptbahnhof. One to three day passes are available for people who want to use a mix of subway, tram and bus to get around to the major attractions.
There is an airport here, shared with Bonn, so getting to Cologne is exceptionally easy.
Major Attractions and Sights
When people are on holiday, museums are always the place to head for. Cologne has the Wallraf-Richartz Museum which opened its doors in 2001. It has many fine paintings which date from the last seven centuries. It also has one of the best collections of Medieval paintings which are well worth the visit, along with some exceptional Monet and Rembrandt examples too.
The Cathedral (Kölner Dom) is absolutely stunning – very deserving as being one of the most recognizable cathedrals in the world. It is Gothic in style and the climb to the top of the south tower is only for the fit. From here, get a magnificent vista of the city down below. Indeed, the cathedral is probably one of the most visited places in Cologne.
If there are kids along on the holiday, taking them to the Cologne Zoological Garden is a great idea. There is the aquarium, the Jungle House, the Owl Monastery and the Elephant Park among other attractions. Monkey Rock is a must and the kids will love the antics that these adorable creatures get up to.
For a very different experience, try out the Claudius Therme. This is a collection of thermal baths that will make the user feel enriched and revitalized. It is a natural mineral thermal spring which means the water is always warm, no matter if it is an indoor bath or an outdoor one and a great way to relieve stress at the beginning or end of the holiday.
Hohenzollern Bridge is a must for lovers of all ages. Although it takes the trains over the river, people who walk the bridge have begun adding padlocks with their initials on to show how much they love someone. This is a great way to leave behind a reminder to others that love will always prevail!
Another great treat is the Chocolate Museum. People get to learn everything about this delicious delight but, best of all, they also get to dip wafers in the famous chocolate fountain as well. Visitors are also treated to a lovely cup of hot cocoa in the café on site, and these rounds off the visit in a very sweet way.
Cologne will always have its dark reminders of World War Two. In this instance, those who are interested in the history should visit the Gestapo Prison which has been preserved in its original state. People can learn about the Nazi movement here or just remember the trials and tribulations that the Holocaust victims went through. It is a good reminder that everyone not forget about that time.
This fair city has its share of lovely green spaces where people can just chill out after a long day of sightseeing. There are beer gardens and great scenery to ensure that visitors have a chance to relax. The Japanese Gardens in Dusseldorfer Strasse is particularly charming and features a teahouse, wonderful statues of Buddha, lanterns, and very attractive bridges and ponds scattered around. Try to visit when the cherry trees blossom in spring for a perfect photo opportunity. Autumn brings yet another photo opportunity when the maple leaves all shades of gold and red.
Another great place to visit is the Sculpture Park which displays pieces from both local and international artists. The sculptures change every two years, so even those who visit regularly get a chance to see something new. The cool thing about the park though is that as recently as 1997, this was just a derelict space doing nothing at all. The sculptures have really breathed new life into the area and it is popular with tourists and locals alike.
Even after a full day of sightseeing around Cologne, it is good to know that people can find a place to sit and relax while they are getting their second wind. Visiting one of the parks mentioned is the ideal way to people watch too which is always interesting in a foreign city. Take this opportunity to watch the world go by!
Shopping in Cologne
Although Cologne has all the designer shops etc that people come to expect from a city, trawling through the Veedel (City Quarters) is far more interesting. These are traditional style neighborhoods where bookstores, designer shops and art galleries are bunched. Dotted around are interesting monuments to photograph, and one of the best is the North City Gate (Eigelsteintorburg) which was made to keep out the French in years gone by. In summer there is a very popular flea market every month where all kinds of oddities can be picked up.
Of course, no one could come to this fair city without buying a bottle of the ubiquitous cologne that the city is famous for. Bottles are available from practically every tourist site so treat the family to one.
Eating Out in Cologne
German food is renowned for being extremely tasty. There is schnitzel and lovely potatoes seemingly in every local dish. Breakfast includes something called Butter Cake that is absolutely delicious and it can be bought from bakeries for a take home treat.
Cologne has an absolute vast variety of restaurants and eateries, cafes and fast food joints etc to choose from. The specialty is the outdoor eateries – even in winter – where life on the street can be observed while the food is being cooked.
‘Banker’s’ is probably one of the better known eateries and is situated near the St. Andreas church. The name came from the many clerks who take lunch there, but it has since become a haven for tourists too. Expect to find simple but tasty food from baguettes to Italian pasta and everything in between. They even have Mexican style tapas on offer as well so these little snacks are ideal when having a few drinks.
Food served in Cologne ranges through Japanese, Chinese and Indian through to Mexican so there is bound to be something for even the fussiest of people to tempt their palate. High class restaurants to bistros and sandwich shops all do the same thing – serve up great and delicious dishes. Don’t forget to try the local beer here as it is unlike any other.
Nightlife in Cologne
Whenever people are in a foreign city, they really crave to do something that the locals do in the evenings. In this instance, that would be to partake of a kölsch, the famous local beer served up everywhere. There are nightclubs all round the town but the fashionable people opt to visit the Belgische Viertel or the University Quarter around the area called Barbarossa Platz.
Früh am Dom is a great brauhaus where everyone seems to congregate. Although the place always seems to be bustling, the service is still good and the food excellent.
For something a little more up market, try out the Rosebud which has cocktails of all descriptions. This bar is definitely for the elite to be seen and it has some great entertainment in the form of jazz music. Although the décor is a bit wanting, try plum colored chairs with zebra print cushions, it is the ‘in’ place that people like to gather in.
One of the best loved clubs in Cologne is the Alter Wartesaal which is a former waiting room under the Central Station. Good to look at from the outside, the party atmosphere inside is what people are attracted to.
Anything of local interest in Cologne
There is a whole host of things that only happen locally in Cologne, one of these is the Cologne Pride party. Gays and lesbians come out onto the streets to do their thing while amazed onlookers are welcome to join in.
There are beer and wine festivals and a full blown Carnival season which sees parades taking over the streets from one end of the city to the other.
There are some rather unique events too. For example, in January, Musik in den Hausen is a festival that sees local homes open to concerts as well as public venues like parks and music halls. Anything from improvised to jazz and classical music is on offer and lets visitors sample some real German hospitality.
February sees the beginning of the Carnival season where the busy markets come alive with all kinds of fun and games. Floats and parades are the order of the day and the streets are full of locals and visitors celebrating with the people on the floats.
In mid May, wine lovers will have something to look forward to since Neumarkt offers everyone a chance to taste a tipple or two. German wines are very reasonably priced and most people come along just for the fun of this week.
August sees the Ringfest swing into action with more than one thousand bands taking part. Along with the music, locals take the opportunity to set up dozens of food stalls so visitors don’t have to go hungry.
The comedy festival is held in October and it attracts international artists from all over. It is held in several different venues around the city and the comedians compete to win the Comedy Cup at the end of the festival.
Germany is famous for its traditional Christmas markets and Cologne usually plays host to four. Visit at this special time of year to enjoy an entire theatre of entertainment in the form of many stalls selling traditional and modern gifts, intricate and beautiful (and often unique) Christmas decorations, handicrafts and of course tasty treats and warming drinks.