Cologne is a German city located in North Rhine-Westphalia, close to Belgium’s border. It is actually the 4th largest city in Germany and is home to one of Europe’s oldest and largest universities.
Cologne was one of the cities that suffered the most during World War II and most of it was destroyed by bombs, then rebuilt after the war.
So I put together a little guide for those of you who would like to visit this city and don’t know where to start or what it has to offer.
As a disclaimer, I need to say I am no expert on Cologne specifically and might have missed a few things. I am merely sharing my research and experience with you.
If you’re looking for more comprehensive information about the city, go to http://www.cologne-tourism.com/
So let’s get started, shall we ?
When to go – If sunny & warm(ish) weather is important to you, then spring or summer is the time to go. But travelling in the fall or winter has its perks (no queues, no crowded sights). As long as it’s not raining…or snowing. Unless of course, you’re from California and you’ve been dreaming of seeing real snow since you were about five.
Cologne is quite renowned for its Christmas markets, so December would be another top time to go, if you don’t mind the crowds. The city also hosts huge street carnival events every year in late February.
How to get there – Obviously depends where you depart from. There is an airport between Cologne and Bonn. I took the Thalys (fast train) from Brussels and got there in a little under 2 hours for 36 euros (return ticket). Several bus companies will take you there for even less than that (from Brussels, Eurolines sells return tickets from 19 euros). Keep in mind prices can fluctuate a lot.
Currency – Euros.
Need a map – Head to the tourism office directly opposite the right side of the Cathedral when you come out of the train station (Hauptbahnhof).
Communication – Do I need to say the official language is German ? Some people speak English. Others really don’t.
Friendliness & atmosphere – Your basic Northwest European city. People generally mind their own business but will be polite and try to be helpful if you ask for directions. For some reason, bus drivers are somewhat unfriendly (and most of them don’t speak much English… It doesn’t help).
Transportation – On foot within the Old Town, by bus, tram or U-bahn (underground). Single tickets are 1,90 and only valid for 20 min. You can purchase a ticket for the day aswell. There are machines to buy tickets inside the U-bahn stations and on the trams or at some stops. On the bus, unfortunately you have to interact with the driver to purchase your ticket. I’m half joking.
How long to stay – I only spent 1 day in Cologne. So keep in mind everything I’m writing and posting pictures about, I could fit within 7 hours of being there. If you are nearby, I think Cologne makes for a nice daytrip. But if you are interested in visiting some of the museums, discovering the nightlife or going on an extensive shopping spree, you could definitely spend a couple of days there.
THINGS TO SEE & DO
The Old Town
Cologne’s most famous monument has got to be its Cathedral (kölner Dom).It is directly opposite the railway station (Hauptbahnhof). Entrance fee is currently 4 euros and for an extra fee you can also climb to the top and get a view of the Old Town.
From there you can stroll to the Alter Markt (the Old Square), the City Hall (medieval house) and Heumarkt. Cafes & restaurants surround the squares. Great St. Martin church is also worth mentioning along with other medieval houses and gates around the city. Another landmark is the Hohenzollern bridge that crosses the Rhine.
Cologne is also home to many great museums. If you have an interest in photography, modern & contemporary art, be sure to visit the Ludwig Museum. If you’re into archeology, don’t miss the Romano Germanic Museum.
But Cologne is also worldly famous for something else, which leads me to another interesting museum to visit, the Farina-House or Fragrance museum, the birthplace of the original Eau de Cologne. That’s right, Eau de Cologne originally came from Cologne. Makes sense doesn’t it ? Just like the concept of spas originated from the belgian town of Spa, famous for its healing waters since 1868. Did you just learn something ?
So even though your Cologne doesn’t smell anything like the original 1709 fragrance, the composition is still the same. By the way, Eau de Cologne has the littlest amount of aromatic essence out of all perfume types like Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum or Extrait de Parfum.
The museum has a cute little shop downstairs where we got to try on the original 1709 recipe. It reminded me of my grandfather. The scent was quite strong, although very fresh at the same time. Shout out to the ladies there who were particularly knowledgeable and very friendly even though we didn’t buy anything.
Let me just say that if you like shopping, you’ll like Cologne.
The two main shopping streets are Hohe strasse & Schildergasse, right in the center of the Old Town. They are very busy, some of the most visited streets in Germany actually. You can find pretty much anything you want here, and in case you don’t, there are still several shopping malls to choose from aswell.
Now, this might sound weirdly specific, but I think Germany has the best drugstores, namely DM & Rossman. Everytime I go to Germany, I go to either or both of them. They’re not supposed to be anything special, and if you’re German and you are reading this, you probably think I’m crazy, but I just think they have lots of cool stuff and you can’t beat their prices. There is nowhere in Belgium where I can buy skincare products, including mini containers to pack when I travel, all kinds of teas, washable hair colours, and organic food at the same place and for that cheap. And No, I am not getting any money to say this (not that I would mind).
Köln Triangle is a 103 meter high tower, located across the Hohenzollern bridge and Cathedral, that offers a great viewing platform of the Old Town and the Rhine, along with everthing else (from railway to the Lanxess arena and the Rheinpark).
You need to get off at Deutz/Messe station. The entrance fee is 3 euros.
The elevator takes you to the 28th floor really quickly, I could feel it in my stomach a little. I was lucky to have to whole viewing platform to myself as there was almost noone else around. I told you going in winter had its perks. This was in early Feb, after Christmas, and before Carnival.
If it’s a bright day, you’ll enjoy great views of the Hohenzollern bridge, Cathedral, Great St Martin church & the Tv-tower. Let’s be honest, the other sides aren’t particularly pretty, although they remain interesting.
It is definitely worth the view and quite cheap aswell compared to other cities. But make sure to go when there is enough light. I imagine the view should be very nice in the evening also, when the city is all lit up.
Alternatively, you can take a cable car (Kölner Seilbahn) from one side of the Rhine to the other. The return ticket is 6,50 euros.
Claudius Thermal Baths
Located in the Rheinpark, on the other side of the Rhine from the Old Town.
Buses 150, 250 & 260 will take you there and stop right in front of it.
There are different prices if you stay for 2h, 4h or the whole day and you pay when you check out. You receive a bracelet for your locker and it gets activated directly when you receive it (meaning, the clock starts ticking).
What can you expect to find there ? The main attraction is an indoor/outdoor free form warm thermal pool with massage jets surrounded by sun chairs. There are two hot tubs/jacuzzis (one indoor and one outdoor), a smaller pool to exercise, a sauna, a steam bath, a tiny pool filled with hot reddish water, a grotto where you can take a very cold dip (that one was fun) and then sit in hot water & vice versa. There is a huge neck shower in the outdoor pool but the strength of it made it ridiculously difficult to stand in place at all. There is also a separate sauna village with 3 large saunas that I didn’t try out, although I could have if I didn’t spend so much time in the hot tub and main thermal pool. There is a drinking fountain by the pool, but be aware, the water tastes VERY salty… to say the least.
I personally found 2 hours time to be enough to try a little bit of everything and felt that much more relaxed. The baths are not very big but I’d recommend them as the experience was quite enjoyable. For more info you can check their website here.