OK, so Cologne may not be in the top ten lists of most people looking for a city break destination, however it has become a firm favourite of mine in the last few years. I’ve just been back for the second time this year and am still finding great places to eat out as well as enjoying the more familiar attractions and sights of the city.
So just how should you spend a two night weekend break in Cologne? Well everyone is going to enjoy different things and your choice will also vary depending upon the time of year. Right now for instance, the city is open for the famous Christmas Markets.
These are held all over the city centre and are a must see for anyone at this time of year. Browse among the colourful stalls selling everything from handmade toys to glass Christmas decorations. There is food of all kinds, to enjoy there and then or to take away as gifts and lots of opportunity to enjoy mulled wine or hot chocolate.
The atmosphere is great, relaxed, fun and very family orientated and you can even ice skate outdoors in the square at Neumarkt.
But outside of Xmas, what is there to see and do in Cologne? Here’s my top 10…
The river cuts through Cologne city centre and you can take all kinds of trips on the water to enjoy some amazing views of castles and vineyard landscapes. KD Rhine runs most of the trips, although there are a range of other good companies too.
The Dom is one of the largest churches in Europe and its twin towers dominate the landscape. A heart pounding climb up will reward you with amazing views on a clear day of the city and beyond. The cathedral is also well worth a visit with beautiful stained glass windows.
Now the good people of Cologne are very particular about their beers and the brew houses and bier kellers of the old town are a great way to enjoy the light Kolsch beer, unique to Cologne and some hearty food in the historic beer halls.
The ‘Schokolade’ museum will educate about everything to do with cocoa and chocolate and you can enjoy tasting freshly made chocolate in the factory while taking in views of the Rhine. http://www.chocolatemuseum-cologne.com
They know how to dress up here at Carnival in February with huge parades throughout the city and some ridiculous costumes and amazing floats. Carnival is held throughout the Rhine area, but Cologne is recognised as THE place to be. http://www.germany-tourism.co.uk
This part of the city has been preserved and restored and contains a number of interesting churches, small museums and bier kellers among its cobbled streets. Well worth checking out is the Romano Germanische Museum with ancient roman relics found during excavations in the city.
The Museum Ludwig is next door to the cathedral and is home to a world class collection of modern art including works by Andy Warhol and many pop art pieces. Fresh exhibitions are held every few months and it’s well worth spending a half day exploring the exhibits on show. There is also a cool café in the lobby which often hosts live music while you eat and drink. http://www.museenkoeln.de/
The city has an excellent selection of shops, from well know German department stores such as Peek & Cloppenburg, Karstadt and Galleria Kaufhof to international brands as well as local speciality boutiques, art and antique shops. The main area is pedestrianised, ending in a series of arcades, this then continues out towards the Hansaring past Neumarkt with a large number of designer boutiques and shops unique to the city. You can buy all manner of goods including the original Cologne fragrance the city is best known for.
An easy trip by train and bus will bring you to one of Germany’s largest theme parks. Lots of fun for all ages and plenty of places to eat and drink as well as some gut churning rides. http://www.phantasialand.de
Rent a bicycle and pedal your way all over the city, through the parks, along the river, out to the zoo and beyond. You can even take them with you on the excellent tram and train service to get out of the city and explore the countryside around Cologne. The tourist office next to the main railway station, or the main booking office in the station itself, can give you some ideas for half or full days trips of hiking and biking.