Cologne is mostly known for its beautiful Gothic cathedral and crazy carnival, and I was lucky enough to experience both. Cologne is also a major cultural center.
After Düsseldorf I took the train down to Cologne, the largest city of the German Bundesland of North Rhine-Westphalia, during carnival time (Karneval).
Carnival is a big deal in Germany, and the city of Cologne was unrecognizable when I arrived. There was a festive spirit in the air, lots of alcohol, music, fun, noise, crowds and thousands of people dressed up. Cologne’s Carnival is the biggest in Germany and has a long and rich history which I did not know much about, until then.
The City of Cologne
Cologne is a fairly walkable city, but if you are more of a bus person, a single ticket costs €2.80 a day pass is €8.60. Cologne also has a dense network of bike routes along the Rhine.
The river runs through the heart of old town so you can also take a cruise along the river.
Altstadt (The Old Town)
Cologne doesn’t really impress with its old town since only a tiny area of historic streets survived the World War II. The reman streets are colorful and great for a wander around.
The Köln’s Dom
The world-famous Gothic cathedral, is located right next to the train station, in the center of Köln, is the fourth-tallest in the world, and luckily survived the war. The construction and details are quite impressive, and I do recommend going in the morning before everyone else arrives. Visiting the cathedral is free.
The South Tower, is 157 meters high, with 533 steps, (4€) if the weather is good you have a great panoramic view all the way over and around Cologne and the Rhine river.
The Belgian Quarter
Located outside old town, is kind of a pot mixing bits and pieces of France, Belgium and Germany. Here all the street are named after cities in Belgium, like Brüsseler Platz, a beautiful scare surrounding a church.
There is a huge variety of local and international boutique shops, ethnic markets, restaurants, and local cafes to discover.
It’s another area outside old town that deserves to be explored. A few years ago some well-renowned covered Ehrenfeld with stunning murals.
Art Museums & Street Art
Cologne has a number of excellent museums, like The Ludwig Museum with an impressive Pop Art collection with work from the well known Warhol and Lichtenstein, and great street art to be found around the city. For instance, in Ehrenfeld, or Eigelstein, the key is to leave old town and walk around back streets, side streets and all the roads in between the main ones.
Some other museums are quite unusual, such as the German Olympic Museum the Chocolate Museum or the perfume museum.
If you do like museums, its best to buy the MuseumsCard (€18)
This is one of twelve gates of the medieval city wall located in Rudolfplatz.
Skulpturen Park Köln (sculpture park)
It is a relaxing and interesting place that combines art and nature. Artists have been commissioned, to create work that interacts creatively with the surrounded nature. The entry is free, and the park combines permanent and temporary exhibition.
Located in the north of the city, next to the zoo. It’s a great place to visit during summer and spring. The park is very well maintained, and the entrance is free.
Cologne’s streets are home to an exceptionally large number of flea markets, there you may find amazing and affordable vintage items. Even if you don’t want to buy something, it still is a nice place with a special atmosphere, to walk through looking at the antiques. If you are there to buy bargaining is a must, most of the markets also have food and beverage stalls.
The panorama tower, Köln Triangle
this impressive high-rise KölnTriangle offers a good 360-degree panorama view of Cologne, to go up they charge a €3 fee.
Love Lock Bridge
The Hohenzollern Bridge or Love Lock Bridge is completely covered with tens of thousands of padlocks, each one engraved with names, dates or something romantic.
From Old Town, you can cross one of the numerous bridges that separate the two parts of the city. From this side, there’s a great view of old town and the Cathedral.
If you have time:
Take a train and pop into some of the many picturesque towns outside of Cologne along the Rhine.
- Drachenfels has a spectacular castle, called the Dranchenburg Castle. 1 1/2 hours by train.
- Aachen is a university-town great for history-lovers, and it is close to Belgium. 1 hour by train.
- Koblenz, is a town full of ancient history, 1.5 hour by train.
- Mainz, its a nice little university town with a medieval center and an impressive cathedral. 1.5 hours by train.
- Marburg is picturesque medieval hill town with narrow cobbled streets and half-timbered houses. 2.5 hours by train.