An ancient Roman wall, lots of medieval churches, post-war buildings, avant-garde structures and even a new postmodern quarter right on the Rhine are all part of the enchanting city’s history and architecture.
Cologne was the founded by the Romans in 38 BC, and was named Colonia Claudia Ara Aggripinensium, that eventually became a major trading centre, which it continues to be even today and is now the fourth largest city in Germany.
The busy city exudes a cheerfulness that is typical of Rhineland. The city wears its tradition on its sleeves but mixed with a blend of contemporary that is manifested in the many traditional bars and breweries of the city that serve locally brewed beer and authentic cuisine of the Rhine region. The sophisticated shops, elegant restaurants, modern bars and dance clubs contribute to the new age verveand has an art scene that constantly competes with that of Berlin.
Cologne’s university is the oldest and largest in Europe.
Cologne history goes back a very long way when it was established as a Roman provincial capital and military garrison in the 1st century AD. With the river Rhine playing a very important part in the city’s progress, it has now become now one of the most important cultural centres of Germany.
It is home to many arts and entertainment facilities and is home to more than 100 galleries and 36 museums.
And yes, in case you were guessing if the city had anything to do with perfumes, then yes. Eau de Cologne, which means water from Cologne, was first bottled and sold here. It was launched by an Italian perfume maker, Giovanni Maria Farina, who was originally from Italy. He named his newly launched perfume, Eau de Cologne, in honour of the city which was now his new home.
The city also offers an exciting night life, with around 3300 bars and taverns, clubs and restaurants, in which a cool Kölsch beer can be enjoyed.
With its diverse and charming way of life, Cologne is an excellent choice for visitors to Europe.
If you do not mind the humidity, then summer with its warmth and long days, is an excellent time to visit Cologne. If you are averse to hot and humid weather then spring and autumn are comfortable for sightseeing especially with the agreeable weather.
The weather is mild and moderate during winter, but nights could get chilly.
It could get a bit rainy and wet in October and November.
Flights from all over Europe arrive at the Cologne Bonn International Airport. It has two terminals and lies 15 kms from Cologne city centre and 22 kms away from Bonn. The city can be reached by a taxi, train or shuttle bus. Every 20 minutes, an S Bahn train runs to the Cologne Hauptbahnhof (main train station).
The airport station is located between the two terminals of the airport. At frequent intervals the airport shuttle buses run between the two terminals and there is also a shuttle service into the city every 20 minutes. The bus can be boarded outside the terminals. Taxis too are available outside the terminals that takes around 15 minutes to the city centre.
The international bus station, Busbahnhof, of Cologne, is at BreslauerPlatz, behind Hauptbahnhof. Direct buses run between Cologne and various destinations in Germany and also throughout Europe.
Eurolines offers coach services to Cologne that includes a direct service from London. There are also daily buses to Paris and to Prague thrice a week run by Eurolines.
Cologne’s Hauptbahnhof is situated just off the iconic Cologne Cathedral and the majestic structure is the first thing that you would see once you step out of the railway station. Every day, regional trains ply to Cologne from all over Europe. Cologne’s is served by two stations, of which, the main one is the beautiful Koln Hauptbahnhof, which connects to Amsterdam, Brussels, London, Paris and Berlin. The Inter City Express (ICE) and Thalys trains offer many service from Cologne to many German and European cities.
The biggest tourist attraction of Cologne is the magnificent Kölner Dom, or the Cologne Cathedral, which is also Cologne’s geographical and spiritual heart. Housing art and treasures, this majestic edifice stands tall with its twin spires that are among the tallest in Europe. The view from the railways station which is still on a lower level than the basement of the cathedral, extrapolates the tallness of the church further. Till the time Eiffel tower was built by Gustave Eiffel, the twin steeples were the tallest buildings in Europe. You can have a wonderful view of Cologne by climbing up the 533 steps of the Dom’s south tower. Information and tickets can be collected at the underground Dom forum visitor centre.
A stroll around the Dom will help appreciate the cathedral’s true dimensions that make it Germany’s largest though its mass and height are lightened up by the lacy spires and buttresses.
You are treated to more awe once you are inside the huge cathedral, with its massive pillars and arches that support its lofty nave. The medieval stained-glass windows let soft light seep through, presenting a magical view, which is enhanced further by the more recent work on the windows by the contemporary artist Gerhard Richter, which is set in 11,500 squares of glass in 72 different colours and provides for an enthralling kaleidoscopic view due to its abstract design by Richter, and is called the ‘symphony of light’.
Among the bevy of treasures of the Cathedral is its most prized, the Shrine of the Three Kings, which is placed behind the main altar.
It is a richly bejewelled and exquisitely decorated sarcophagus, which is believed to hold the mortal remains of the three kings who followed the guiding star to the stable in Bethlehem to see the new born Jesus. Their bones were spirited out of Milan in 1164 as spoils of war by Emperor Barbarossa’s chancellor and instantly put Cologne bang in the centre of the pilgrimage map.
Other valuable treasures include The Gero Crucifix (970) renowned for its sheer size and the emotional intensity emanating from it, the choir stalls (1310) carved from oak and local artist, Stephan Lochner’s altar painting (1450).
Even, the bell, the 24-tonne Peter Bell (1923), is an icon in itself and is the largest free-swinging working bell in the world. One can have a closer look at the behemoth by climbing up to the 95m high viewing platform.
The construction of the church began in 1248 in French Gothic style. The slow pace of construction eventually stopped in 1560 due to lack of funds. For 300 years the half-built church stood still and was even denigrated to being a horse stable and even a prison during Napoleon’s reign, when he occupied the town.
After a few decades, the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, infused a generous cash flow for the church’s construction, which was eventually completed in 1880, a good 632 years after it had s commenced. The church miraculously escaped the WWII bombing without any damages and it has since been declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1996.
The Cologne school of art is well represented in Wallraf-Richartz Museum, while the Ludwig museum displays modern and contemporary paintings.
The Agfa-Foto-Historama, with photographs and cameras dating back to 1840 are displayed in the same building.
Altenberg Cathedral, also known as the Bergischer Dom, is six kilometres away from the Cologne church. Built in 1259 and with a rich interior, its stained glass and the tombs of princes and abbots, are fine examples of early Gothic architecture in the Rhineland. Though not strictly a formal cathedral, since no bishop has ever sat here, it gained fame due to its imposing dimensions. Both Protestant and Catholic congregations share the premises
The Kölner Rathaus is Cologne’s Old Town Hall and the oldest public building in Germany. It has a rich history and dates more than 900 years back. Being the centre of power during medieval times, the building reflects influences from many styles of architecture in its 14th century main building and 15th century tower. Even the atrium is pleasing, influenced by early 20th century architecture.
With its Gothic figures of eight prophets and nine ‘good heroes’ (pagan, Jewish and Christian), the Hansasaal or Hanseatic Hall is another highlight. It also houses a wonderful carillon that plays thrice a day.
The modern shrine dedicated to the 10th century saint, JosemariaEscriva of Opus dei, was added in 2006.
With colourful ceiling murals and Romanesque stonework, the church is an artistically significant building as well.
The Falkenlust palace shares the same park and was built in 1740 and declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
Bruehl has many museums and historic sites, one of which is dedicated to surrealist artist Max Ernst.
Rhine River Cruises
The Rhine has been an important traffic artery of Cologne since long. It helps in transporting goods to the city and is also a popular route for river cruises. It offers an interesting perspective to view the city from the river.
Boat tour service providers help give you a fantastic view of the city on their cruises, be it the historic city or the modern Rheinauhafen, with its crane houses. Each shipping line offers a different route and theme. These cruises also extend towards the Rhine valley towns of St Goar and Koblenz, which are excellent day excursions choices.
You can join or leave these cruise from various points that suit your convenience. On board you can enjoy a refreshing drink or have an authentic meal from the Rhineland while you hear commentaries about the history of this wonderful city.
Cologne Cable Car
It was the first cable car in Europe to cross a river, the Rhine, in this case, and was built in 1957. It has since carried more than 15 million passengers and offers a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the Old Town and the Cologne Cathedral.
It is easily accessible by public transport and is best enjoyed as a one way trip, the return by walk through either of the banks of the river.
The night view of the Cathedral while riding on the cable car is spellbinding.
Cologne Telecommunications Tower
The Cologne Telecommunications Tower offers a spectacular view of the city. It is located in northwest of Colonius, Cologne’s Old Town. The tower is 243 meters high and has a revolving restaurant too.
Phantasialand is a favourite destination for the kids. It is one of the largest theme parks in Europe, with a cable car, a Viking boat trip, a monorail and an interesting replication of old Berlin.
Cologne’s best places for a drink is in this large park. It is a community-run beer garden. Huge trees canopy the sprawling tables served with simple snacks, salads and frikadelle (spiced hamburger), prepared in a cute hut. The food is cheap and the best. The Hellers Brewery nearby provides the beers. The proceeds of this outlet are used for the maintenance the park.
The Cologne Zoo provides excellent entertainment for the kids with its 500 species of animals from all continents and oceans of the world. The children’s Sports & Olympia Museum houses exhibits on the Olympics and the history of national and international sports.
Theme parks like the Stadtwald, Aqualand-Erlebnisbad, GEW Energy Dome, etc., are also sure to entertain you. The city even has a chocolate museum which will be one museum that would be a definite hit with the kids.