Cologne is multifaceted city. At a glance, it is a vibrant, modern metropolis sprawled across the river Rhine; at a second look, it is a city boasting a 2000-year history stretching back to its days as an important Roman city.
Much like a patchwork quilt, Cologne is a real mix of old and new. As the city was all but flattened during the Second World W.a.r many of the older buildings have been stitched up with newer parts. You’ll also spot the Roman foundations wherever you go (it has to be the only city in the world where you can eat a McDonald’s in a Roman basement!).
Cologne may boast an interesting history, but most flock to Germany’s fourth-largest city for the shopping, nightlife and distinctive ‘Kölsche’ lifestyle.
1. Marvel at Cologne Cathedral…
Cologne Cathedral – the most-visited attraction in the whole country – is the best starting-point on a trip to Cologne (for starters, you can’t miss it!).
The epitome of high gothic architecture, Cologne Cathedral’s immense size is accentuated by the two soaring towers which dominate the skyline, making it the largest cathedral in the world. You can even climb up the 533 steps to the platform of the South Tower and enjoy the panoramic views if you’re feeling energetic.
Cologne Cathedral is over 750 years old. Its original foundations were built in 1248, but it was rebuilt (to its current form) in the 19th century. Considering the rest of the city was flattened in the Second World W.a.r, it is remarkable that it is still standing; its ornate features still largely undamaged. I later found out that every single intricate window-pane was removed and kept safe, then reconstructed like a jigsaw after the w.a.r. The building as a whole survived because bombers used the hugely recognisable structure as a landmark to aid navigation when flying over the city.
The Cathedral is also home to the famed Shrine of the Three Magi (also known as the Three Wise Men), the bones of which are traditionally believed to be housed in the intricately-designed, 13th century, gold sarcophagus situated in the Cathedral.
2. Feel the love on ‘Padlock Bridge’…
If you walk towards the river from the Cathedral, you’ll find one of Cologne’s more unusual attractions – Hohenzollern Bridge, dubbed ‘Padlock Bridge’. From afar it may look like any other industrial iron bridge, but as you get closer you’ll notice a wall of colour – padlocks in every shape and size, festooned with ribbons and gems stretching from one side of the bridge to the other.
A relatively new tradition which has taken hold of the city, lovers literally lock in their love by attaching engraved padlocks on the Hohenzollern Bridge as a sign of commitment and then throw away the key into the river Rhine. Now, more than 40,000 padlocks adorn the iron bridge.
3. Museums, museums and more museums…
Without a doubt, Cologne is a cultural city boasting a total of 36 museums and over 100 galleries – enough to satisfy even the most avid of culture-enthusiasts.
From Museum Ludwig – housing art works form the 20th century to the present day, including major collections from Picasso and the largest pop art collection outside the USA – to the Roman-Germanic Museum, boasting a famous Roman mosaic, and even a Chocolate Museum, there is something for everyone.
A visit to the Fragrance Museum is a must, seeing as the city was home to the ‘father of modern perfumery’ – Giovanni Maria Farina – who made his adopted city famous by creating the iconic ‘Eau de Cologne’. The museum showcases a collection of historic perfume bottles and documents, amid distinctive rococo furnishings. Worth a sniff around! (ahem…).
4. Sample the famous Kölsh…
The city’s favourite tipple is Kölsh – possibly the only drink in the world which is also a language (Kölsh is a dialect in Cologne). There are 26 different brands of Kölsh (drink, not language!) and like champagne, only select breweries in Cologne can bear the revered name. The best place to try it is on one of the many brewhouses, which are situated a stone’s throw from the Cathedral. Team it with a traditional spread of Halven Hahn (rye roll with cheese) or Himmel un Ääd (mashed potatoes with apple mash) – which are all very hearty, so a healthy appetite is preferable!
5. Bag a bargain in the Belgian Quarter…
The most popular shopping streets in Cologne are Schildergasse and Hohe Straße, but if you want to venture away from the crowds, head to the Belgian Quarter. The area is home to a wealth of off-the-mainstream fashion labels, designers and quirky boutiques – including one that doubles up as a laundrette! Handy?
The area has an infectious, bohemian atmosphere and is also a great place to visit at night; you’ll be spoilt for choice with trendy bars of every description and music suiting every taste.