Cologne, DE

Cologne in German is Köln. Cologne is the fourth largest and possibly the most famous city in Germany. The city sits on the banks of the Rhine River in the Germany’s industrial center of North-Rhine Westphalia. Because of its convenient location, which is quite close to neighboring countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, Cologne is often chosen as one of the most popular places to visit when it comes to German tourism.

Cologne is Germany’s oldest city dating back to the Roman era in 50 BC and, for centuries, the city was the religious center of Germany, as Three Kings, Three Wise Men, were once buried here.

Here are some things you should know when traveling to Cologne:

  • Language: The official language is German but almost everyone speaks English as a second language.

  • Currency: The Euro

  • Credit Cards and Banks: Almost restaurants, hotels, and shops will accept debit/credit cards.

  • Climate: Like other European countries, the hottest months of the year are July and August and the coolest and most pleasant time of the year is May, June, or October.

 Interesting facts about the city of Cologne

  • In medieval times, Cologne was the largest city in Europe.

  • It is the warmest and wettest city in Germany due to its location adjacent to the marine and continental climate.

  • The city was 90% destroyed through extensive bombing by British and Americans during World War II.

  • Religion in the city is quite diverse due to the large displacement from the wave of immigration. About 14% of the population are Catholic, 20% are Protestant, 10% (mostly Turkish immigrants) are Muslim, the remaining 30% are other religions or have no religion.

  • The city is known as the Germany’s capital of Carnival.

Things to do in Cologne

To ensure you make the most of your sightseeing time, be sure to read through my list of top things to do when visiting Cologne.

Explore the city on foot

One of the best ways to learn about a city is to take a walking tour. If you are on your own, consider Free Walk Cologne which offers not only a classic free tour but specialized tours as well. A walking tour lets you dive into Cologne’s medieval past, learn local legends, and hear chilling ghost stories on their popular Dark Side of the Dom tour. Booking in advance is required.

If walking tours aren’t your thing, try biking. Cycling is incredibly popular in Cologne, and it’s the perfect way for travelers to see more of the city in a shorter time period. Radstation Cologne offers daily tours where you’ll see Cologne’s main sights, learn local history, and enjoy the views. If you prefer an independent pace, you can rent your own bike and follow the Cologne tourism board’s self-guided bike tours, available for download on their website.

Old Town & Fischmarkt Köln

Historic Cologne Old Town and Fischmarket

When it comes to truly iconic photo spots in the city, there are two places which stand out the most: any photo which features the twin spires of the Cathedral and that of the Fischmarkt Köln (otherwise known as the Cologne Fishmarket).

My suggestion to all travelers is to always get out early, before the crowds, if you want to get nice photos of your destination. Take advantage of the early morning light; the light is beautiful early in the morning, it’s usually a comfortable temperature, and you’ll be able to get unobstructed views of the most popular sights in the city. Start at the colorful Fischmarkt square and stroll through the old town with its quaint buildings and pretty streets.

As you explore the numerous historic churches and museums of Cologne’s city center (Innenstadt), you’ll crisscross the city’s lovely Old Town (Altstadt). In addition to old churches such as Great St. Martin, you’ll find yourself traversing countless alleys lined with traditional old houses, many now home to boutique shops, galleries, cafés, and restaurants.

With its many pleasant paths along the Rhine, you’ll find ample opportunity to enjoy great views as you stroll through this ancient city. You will also find yourself in awe of the countless monuments and fountains that adorn the area, along with its Archaeological Zone, with its many ancient ruins and artifacts.

The Grieving Parents by Käthe Kollwitz in the ruins of Old St. Alban

Statue “Grieving Parents”

A copy of the statue “Grieving Parents” by Käthe Kollwitz. The sculpture was created in memory of her son Peter who was killed in the Fist World War, October 1914. Originally erected in Roggevelde, since 1955 in the Vladso German war cemetery, Belgium. This copy, made in 1953 by Joseph Beuys and Erwin Heerich, is located in the ruins of Old St. Alban Memorial, a medieval Romanesque church & monuments heavily damaged in World War II — as in many cities, Cologne decided to leave a prominent church in a ruined status as a memorial to the sadness caused by war.

Old Town Kölner Rathaus (Townhall)

This 16th-century building is the oldest public house in Germany and an architectural journey through the ages. The Rathaus has been a focal point of ruling classes for the past 900 years.

Groß St. Martin (Photo – Mikhail Markovskiy/shutterstock)

Groß St. Martin

This Romanesque-Catholic church was built on the remains of a Roman chapel. The central spire of the church has been a recognizable feature in Cologne’s skyline since the 12th century.  The church, much like the rest of the city, was damaged in WW2 and the church was reconstructed in typical 12th-century Rhenish architecture.

Museums Of Altstadt

Whether you’re a lover of museums, or picky about only visiting the more interesting ones, the old town has a couple of really great museums.

Museum Ludwig — If you like 20th-century art, this is probably one of the best museums in the world to enjoy it. It’s named after Irene and Peter Ludwig who donated their collection of art from the 1900s, worth millions of dollars. The museum is home to an impressive collection of Picasso pieces and iconic pop art pieces by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

Romano-Germanic Museum — While building bomb shelters near the cathedral during the war, a Roman villa was stumbled upon. Eventually, the site was fully excavated, uncovering findings from the Paleolithic period to the early middle ages. In the 1970s, the Romano-Germanic Museum was built around the site, an archaeological museum displaying an extensive collection of Roman artifacts discovered right there.

Farina storefront in Cologne’s Old Town

Wallraf Richartz Museum — The origination of this museum dates back to 1824 when Franz Ferdinand donated a huge amount of art to the city of Cologne. The collection is a variety of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and impressionist art. On display are some magnificent 15th-century Gothic paintings by Stefan Lochner, including  Madonna.

Farina Fragrance Museum — For those who are lovers of Chanel No. 5, take a tour of the very place that Eue de Cologne was invented. Unlike any museum in the world, this museum is the oldest working perfume factory in the world. The museum is only accessible through 45-minute guided tours which takes you through different vaults.

The Kölner Dom, or Cologne Cathetral, is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Germany.

Kölner Dom

Located near the left bank of the Rhine, the Kölner Dom, or Cologne Cathedral, is an unmissable sight, with its two spires towering over the rest of the city, medieval stained-glass windows, and giant flying buttresses. Make this a “must see” on your visit to Cologne.

Officially called the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Mary, the cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. Construction began in 1248,  but it took over 600 years time for the building to be completed. Remarkably, the cathedral remained intact despite repeated bombings of Cologne in World War II.

Entry to the cathedral is free but there is a charge to climb the tower.

Scale the heights of Cologne Cathedral

With over 500 steps, this is a pretty steep climb but well worth it to scale the heights of one of Cologne’s most iconic sights. While the best view of the city is the view that actually includes the cathedral, at the top you will be rewarded with a beautiful view the city of Cologne.

Note: You can only pay the admissions fee to climb the cathedral spire in cash, so be sure you have you cash on you before you join the queue
Heinzelmännchen Fountain, Cologne, Germany

Heinzelmännchen Fountain

Be sure not to miss the Heinzelmännchen Fountain. Designed at the end of the 19th century, this historical fountain, located near the oldest brewery in the city, Früh, depicts characters from an old folktale about Heinzelmännchen, or gnomes of Cologne. At the legend goes, these little gnomes did all the work that had to be done in Cologne, such as housework, baking, etc. They did so during the night so the city’s citizens could laze around during the day. The legend says all went well until a tailor’s wife decided to spy on them and ruined it for everyone.

You can spy all these characters and a bit of the story carved onto the fountains panels.

Walk the Rheinboulevard

This riverside walkway is located across the river from Cologne’s historic center in a new and modern part of town. Stroll along the river taking in the views of both the modern and historic skylines, or pop into one of the many restaurants, cafes, and galleries along the way. Ascend the iconic KölnTriangle building for panoramic views over the entire city from the building’s observation deck (admission is 5 EUR).

Schokoladen Museum

Exhibit in the Schokoladen Museum

You can’t travel all the way to the Cologne without visiting the Chocolate Museum. Take a tour of the processing area, enjoy a little chocolate and learn more about the craft of chocolate making.

This museum is dedicated to the history and production of chocolate, with exhibits about everything from the Aztecs’ production of it to modern-day cocoa growing. The end of the tour features a chocolate fountain for sampling and a fully stocked chocolate shop. Add a little extra to your visit by enjoying cakes and other chocolate delicacies at the Chocolat Grand Café while looking out over the Rhine River.

Früh am Dom brauhaus

You definitely can’t leave Cologne without having at least one Kölsch – perhaps two or three. This light beer is unique to Cologne and it’s served in skinny 0.2 liters glasses. Waiters bring around special carriers and will keep giving you more, tallying up your Kölsch count on your coaster. Place your coaster on top of your glass to get them to stop!

If you’re traveling with kids, don’t worry: the beer halls in Cologne are very family friendly. There is plenty besides beer to drink and most offer children’s menus.

One of the most popular brahuases in Cologne, and my favorite is Früh am Dom. At over 100 years old, it’s well worth a visit for some local beers. Be sure to order some food specialties like wurst and pork knuckle, and enjoy the stunning traditional interiors.

Brewery tours

Cologne has a long brewing history; the oldest brewery, Brauhaus Sion, dates to the early 14th century. The city is also the birthplace of Kölsch beer, a crisp, golden beer that technically must originate within 30 miles of the city to be able to bear the name. Learn about brewing history and culture on a guided walking tour with stops at various breweries. Kölner Kompass offers brewery tours which includes 3 Kölsch beers. The Kölsch Crew also offer brauhaus tours which do not include beer tastings.

4711 Cologne

Visit the place where world-famous Cologne creations have been made since 1792: The 4711 fragrance house! In fascinating architecture you can immerse yourself in the world of 4711. Discover the history of the brand in a guided tour, create your own cologne in the fragrance seminar, or experience the fragrance ingredients in our fragrance menu. Whatever you decide, your visit is sure to be unforgettable.

The original Eau De Cologne No. 4711 is a classic German scent that has adorned the wrists of men and women alike since the 18th century. I personally like the fragrance not just because of its pleasant notes but because of something more special, a nostalgia for days gone by.

Be sure to take a tour and learn how the name 4711 actually came about and what is behind the secret recipe of “Aqua Mirabilis”. In the tour you will learn about the traditional 4711 history and how the Eau de Cologne got its emblematic numerical trademark. A must for every Cologne lover.

Roonstrasse Synagogue

The synagogue is notable for its neo-Romanesque style, having been rebuilt in the 1950s after the Nazis partially burned it down on Kristallnacht in 1938 (the Torah within the synagogue was actually rescued by a Catholic priest). Today, visitors can admire the reconstructed exterior dominated by the large circular stained-glass window, round and square turrets, and decorated arched windows. The interior is simply decorated and features a vast blue dome as well as an exhibition on the history and culture of the Jewish community in Cologne. It’s free to visit.

Castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust at Brühl

Schloss Augustusburg in Brühl (Photo Wikipedia Commons)

Peer into the life of royalty at an estate built for the prince-archbishops of Cologne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will meet your guide at the dock and drive to Schlosspark, at the edge of the Naturpark Kottenforst-Ville nature reserve. Here, Augustusburg Castle sits at the center of beautifully landscaped grounds, a vast and splendid example of Germany’s early rococo architecture. During a tour, admire the grand staircase and some of its many extravagantly decorated rooms and chambers. Take a stroll through the park’s spacious gardens lined with hedgerows and trees before returning to your ship

Set in an idyllic garden landscape, Augustusburg Castle (the sumptuous residence of the prince-archbishops of Cologne) and the Falkenlust hunting lodge (a small rural folly) are among the earliest examples of Rococo architecture in 18th-century Germany.

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