Although still in the shadows of Berlin and Munich, Cologne or as German know it, Köln, offers endless attractions and is regularly voted Germany’s most popular tourist destination. It’s a city where it is so easy to have a good time, especially in the beer halls in the Old town or during the springtime Carnival. Germany’s fourth-biggest city grew into a major trading centre over the centuries and has it all, from Roman towers and Gothic churches to fine examples of modern architecture. Check out what’s not to miss when you’re visiting this spectacular city!
1) Gaze at the spectacular Kölner Dom
Germany’s largest cathedral and Cologne’s biggest tourist draw is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a reason. With its soaring twin spires it is the Mt Everest of cathedrals and, if you’re up for some exercise, climb the 533 steps up the Dom’s south tower and enjoy the breathtaking views of the city. The €3 admission fee is worth it, but if you’re not made for heights, have a tour of the treasury for €4 or just see the impressive chapel for free. From May to October the cathedral is open from 06:00 a.m. to 09:00 p.m. (tower climbs to 06:00 p.m.). In the underground Domforum visitor centre you can buy the tickets and souvenirs.
2) Visit the Schokoladenmuseum (chocolate museum)
If you ever wanted to meet a real life Willy Wonka, this is your chance. Go to Cologne’s chocolate museum in the Rheinau docks, facing the old town, and enjoy some edible education. Learn about the history of cocoa and the process of making delicious Lindt chocolate. In case you want to check how much you’ve learned right on the spot, grab a spatula in the museum’s ‘confiserie’ and try crafting your very own delicacies. Lessons are three hours long and cost €35-€85, depending on group size (up to 12 people). The museum displays the 3000-year-long culture of chocolate, which is why one of the most visited museums in the city since its foundation in 1993. Admission fee is €9 per person (there are discounts for some groups).
3) Enjoy the boat trip along the Rhine
‘Old Father Rhine’ is one of Europe’s breathtaking rivers. Lavish vineyards, hillside castles and spellbinding villages, especially along the Middle Rhine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are the main stars of this area, along with its winding tributaries, the Main and Moselle Rivers. The Lower Rhine has its own delights as it flows into the Netherlands and the Rhine Delta. The river itself has been the heart of Cologne for centuries, so you have to sail along it to the city from a different perspective. Boats take different routes, from the historic old town to the super moder Rheinauhafen district, so enjoy a drink, sunbathe on deck or relax under the start on a night time cruise. Tickets are priced at €10-€20 per person.
4) Party at Cologne Carnival
Carnival in Cologne is one of the biggest in Europe. Held in winter, it is also known as the ‘fifth season of the year’ and it’s the city’s hottest attraction in February. The carnival starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, lasts for a week and is celebrated with street parades and parties in bars and pubs across the city, which extend their opening hours during the carnival period. The highlight of the festivities is the procession on Shrove Monday with three symbolic figures, the prince, the virgin and the peasant. If you participate, you’ll get the chance to have a taste of Kölsch (beloved beer from Cologne) which flows there freely while children and adults adorn themselves in ridiculous costumes and the celebration takes to the streets.
5) Shop in Belgian Quarter and create your own perfume
This tip is for all the shopaholics among you – head to Hohe Straße and Schildergasse, the two main shopping streets in Cologne, if you are searching for some fancy shopping and designer stores. But, trinkets and vintage bargains are in the Belgian Quarter, where beautiful houses are home to many quirky boutiques with loads of interesting stuff. Budding artists should stop by at Pop-up Paper, a shop dedicated to all things 2D including customised products like sketchbooks. Also, use the opportunity and leave Cologne with a bottled fragrance you invented. Only 400 m from the Belgian Quarter there is the House of Fragrances 4711 which has been producing perfumes for more than 220 years and they’ll help you choose the right scent. They host a public, one-hour session in German every Thursday from 03:00 p.m., or you can arrange to have a private tutorial in English upon request.