The view from here
After living abroad for seven years, I recently returned home to the beautiful city of Cologne (spelt Köln in German). I once took my hometown for granted, thinking it’s stunning architecture and historical landmarks were ‘normal’. Now I see Cologne through travelers eyes - and there is so much to see and do.
Even though it might be difficult to tick all these 10 ‘Must Do’s’ off your list in a single trip (due to some of them being seasonal), you will have an unforgettable time even if you only manage to incorporate a few into your next visit to Cologne.
1. Drink lots of “Kölsch” - Cologne’s local beer
Cologne offers 27 versions of its own locally brewed “Kölsch”. No matter which one you order, you can’t go wrong. They are pale ales, similar to the standard German pale lager. They are all a little different in taste but equally delicious. But be prepared for your beer to be served in a 0.2 l glass. This is particularly disturbing for people that are used to the good old pint! People all over the world constantly make fun of Cologne for this but the people of Cologne are smart - serving the beer in small glasses ensures that it stays fresh and cold. If you go to a real Cologne pub, the bartenders will come round with massive circular crates of “Kölsch” and will keep topping you up (without asking!) until you say stop. So what’s there not to like?! It’s efficient, tasty and wonderful!
Make sure you visit one of the old fashioned Brauhäuser. Apart from “Kölsch” they also offer amazing traditional German food at really good prices. Check out the “Sion Brauhaus” in the old town if you feel like eating Bratwurst by the meter - YES! Why wouldn’t you right?! Who wouldn’t love to eat a whole meter of the finest German sausage?! If this isn’t on your bucket list yet, I urge you to put it on there right now.
2. Visit the “Kölner Dom”
This stunning cathedral is said to hold the remains of the three wise men - well, who knows how true this really is but hey! It will definitely make for a good story and for some interesting random facts at your next dinner party… “Whatever happened to the Three Wise Men...” you get where I’m going with this.
The cathedral is also an impressive building itself. With a height of 157 meters you can see it from anywhere in Cologne. It was built in 1248 and you can climb up 386 stairs to get right to the top of it which offers some breathtaking views over the whole city. It’s also worth visiting the cathedral after sunset when the moonlight basks the whole building in a magical greenish light. Kind of spooky but gorgeous.
3. Visit the “Hohenzollernbrücke” - Cologne’s love lock bridge
These love lock bridges seem to be popping up all around the world, but Cologne has an especially beautiful one. The Deutsche Bahn (German railway company) threatened to have the locks removed as the weight was affecting the statics of the bridge, but the public demonstrated to keep the tradition going and won. Today there are over 40,000 love "padlocks" that have been attached to the Hohenzollernbrücke by thousands of tourists and residents.
The tradition started in 2008 and says, that to symbolise the everlasting nature of their love, couples have to drop the key of their padlocks into the "eternal waters" of the river Rhine after attaching the locks to the bridge. The mighty river is said to protect the love of the couples by forever watching over the thousands of tiny keys that now line it's riverbed. How romantic! You can bring your own lock or buy one in one of the souvenir shops around Cologne’s old town. You can even engrave them on the spot. So efficient! Go on,we know you want to :)
4. Check out Cologne’s “Rheinterassen”
A couple of years ago, the city of Cologne invested a huge sum of money to build the “Rheinterassen” - a long area of stone terraces right on the river Rhine that invites you to sit there and relax and marvel at the beautiful panorama of Cologne’s old town, including the majestic cathedral and Hohenzollern Brücke. Definitely one of the best photo ops in town ;)
5. Taste the finest chocolate in the “Schokoladenmuseum”
For all chocolate lovers, especially the ones that adore the good old Belgian chocolate but won’t have time for an extra trip to Belgium, Cologne has a chocolate museum! Yup that’s right. Apart from being able to watch the entire process of producing and wrapping the finest pieces of Belgian chocolate, visitors get the chance to create their very own block of chocolate and get to taste the delicious brown gold from a chocolate fountain.
The museum even offers courses that show you how to make your own chocolate from scratch. And it also has it’s own cafe in the bottom part of the museum where you can treat yourself to the most delicious chocolate cakes in town. Definitely an all round success - if you do love chocolate that is.
6. Visit the “Belgian Quarter” and “Brüsseler Platz”
If you want to hang out with the locals, a visit to the Belgian Quarter and Brüsseler Platz is an absolute must do! There you can find adorable little cafes, bars and restaurants offering an authentic and relaxed atmosphere and delicious food.
Unfortunately, most of the houses all around Cologne were destroyed in World War II, however, the streets around the Brüsseler Platz still have a few houses that survived the bombings and can still be marveled at today! The rest of the houses are mostly built in the art nouveau style (“Jugendstil”) and are an absolute joy to look at.
The Belgian Quarter still one of the favourite and most expensive areas in Cologne to live in. The Brüsseler Platz is the central place of the Belgian Quarter. It’s almost like a park with a big church in the middle of it and heaps of little restaurants and cafes surrounding it. In summer, this place is buzzing with people sitting around, soaking up the sun and the atmosphere. Young and old meets here and everyone loves to bring their own drinks or buy them from the surrounding “Kiosk” (dairies or corner stores) and enjoy life together after work. Drinking in public is allowed in Germany and the people of Cologne love nothing better, especially in summer.
There are countless Kiosks all over the city and it is typical in Cologne to walk from Kiosk to Kiosk, buying a new Kölsch or other drink at every stop to prepare for a big night out. Especially in summer, the streets surrounding the Brüsseler Platz are full of life and buzzing with a mix of locals and curious tourists. A definite must see and do!!
7. Enjoy the River Rhine
The people of Cologne are proud of their River Rhine. Since they don’t have the sea anywhere near, they use it as an equivalent. Even if they don’t swim in it (the currents are too strong and there are a lot of ships crossing at any time of day), people love to walk, cycle, or inline skate along the river. They also enjoy sunbathing and picnics at sandy little spots along the river bed or take little boat cruises that run daily.
No matter what you fancy, I’m sure there is one way or another to appreciate this mighty river flowing right through the city, past the old town with it’s picturesque little colourful houses, past the majestic cathedral and everything else that Cologne has to offer.
8. Take a ride on the “Seilbahn”
If you’re not afraid of heights, you can’t miss this one! Take a ride on the Kölner Seilbahn (Cologne’s cable car) over the River Rhine, the Cologne Zoo and the Flora and take a look at this stunning city from above! There are plenty of photo opportunities too.
The cable car was opened in April 1957 and has been a landmark of Cologne ever since. Beware of the unreserved locals who might be showing off more than you want to see… as the Seilbahn also floats over the “Claudius Therme”, one of Cologne’s spa pools that has it’s sauna deck on open display (haha).
9. Come for Karneval
Who wouldn’t want to be drunk and dressed up in a costume for 7 days straight?! Right! So make sure you come to Cologne in time for “Karneval”! The whole city goes completely nuts for an entire week. Be prepared for the following:
Since Germans are pretty efficient at breaking up the dull and miserable winter time, Karneval is usually celebrated during February (the exact dates vary each year). However, since a couple of years, the Cologne people have also introduced one day of Karneval in summer!! “Jeck im Sunneshing” is Cologne’s best invention since the “Kölsch” (and the Cologne cathedral of course) so if you are here at the end of August, you’ll also be in luck to witness some of this crazy Karneval celebration.
And then there is the 11.11 where the whole madness starts. Cologne is out of control for this one day in November each year too. Celebrations start at 11:11am and everyone puts on their costumes and gets drunk for the rest of the day - no one works, no matter what day of the week the 11th of November falls on. As you can see, there are at least three opportunities to tick this one off your bucketlist :)
10. Come for the Christmas Markets
There are eight different Christmas markets and most of them are open from the 21st of November until the 23rd of December. They range from historic to modern but are all equally magical and a definite must see!!
Yes it will be packed and loud and cold and by the end of it you will be drunk from all the mulled wine you’ve tried and feel sick from all the sausages and other delicious treats and sweets you’ve eaten but I promise you, you’ll love every second of it and will never forget this experience til the day you die (well I do realise this is a huge call but trust me - it’s magical and you’ll love it!)
Author - Natalie Gruner
A travel girl at heart, Nat co-created Travelher and is currently working remotely on a few different projects from her homeland, Germany. She is planning to settle in New Zealand in the near future, while building a more flexible life for herself that allows her to live in paradise without compromising regular home visits and continuous globetrotting.