Known worldwide for Eau de Cologne and the Cologne Carnival, Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany. It offers an endless variety of attractions, which makes it a really popular destination for tourists, still, somehow Cologne has a much less touristy atmosphere than cities like Berlin and Munich.
From ancient times, Cologne has been an important center of trade and culture. Walking around the city, you will keep coming across traces of that long history: ruins from the Roman era, remnants of fine medieval buildings and of course the simple architecture of the post-war period, which dominates much of the city. Unfortunately, over 60% of Cologne was destroyed in World War II. After the war, efforts were made to reconstruct many of the original buildings, but at the same time, ”Neubau” (new construction) buildings were thrown up quickly and cheaply to meet the housing needs of millions. All that has resulted in a rather mixed cityscape, but, well, variety is the soul of pleasure.
Besides its interesting architecture, Cologne is extremely rich in museums – everybody is sure to find something to his or her taste. After exploring them, take a pleasant walk in one of the great parks or by the River Rhine. Most of the pleasures of Cologne don’t even require much spending, which makes the stay here quite budget friendly, too.
Top things to do and see in Cologne
Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
The Cologne Cathedral is the single most popular tourist attraction in Germany, with an average of 20,000 visitors a day. It was constructed over a period of several centuries, suffered extensive damage in World War II, but has been restored to its former glory. In 1996 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s an absolutely stunning example of Gothic architecture, impressive with its sheer size: its towers are 515 feet (157 m) tall, and the building is almost 492 feet (150 m) long. Despite these dimensions, the elaborate architecture of the Cathedral gives viewers an impression of lightness and fragility. Spare a little time just to admire the details of this masterpiece. The interior is also breathtaking, with its impressive proportions and beautiful ornamentation. Don’t forget to climb the 533 steps of the spiral staircase, to get an amazing view over the city and the River Rhine.
If you have chosen not to climb the steps of the Cathedral, you can also cross the bridge and head for the Köln Triangle where you can take a lift to the top for an amazing panorama view of the city, including the Cathedral, too. The 103 m tall tower was completed in 2006 and has become one of the most spectacular landmarks in Cologne.
Museums in Cologne
Cologne has an amazing choice of museums, providing for plenty of entertainment even on a rainy day. The Museum Ludwig is a great art museum with an excellent collection of German expressionism and postmodern art. The Wallraf-Richartz-Museum displays the works of great European artists from the 13th to 19th centuries.Lovers of history can see remnants of the Roman era in the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, while Kolumba displays the religious treasures of the Archdiocese of Cologne.
For those with a sweet tooth, the Chocolate Museum (Schokoladen Museum) with its exciting exhibit on the history and production of chocolate is a must visit. You can taste various kinds of chocolate and even create your own crazy chocolate bar!
The Cologne Carnival
This colorful street festival is perhaps the most important event of the year in Cologne. The carnival season officially starts on 11 November at 11 minutes past 11 a.m. and continues until Ash Wednesday, but the street festival itself, called “Tolle Tage” (crazy days) only starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. The streets get full of people dancing and drinking in all sorts of weird costumes, make sure you join in on the fun!
The Cologne Pass is a great way to save on your costs in Cologne. It includes free transportation and a discount on admission fees to a variety of attractions.
Free Walking Tours
As in many other German cities, free walking tours are offered daily in English. The tours are pleasant and informative, so it’s really worth taking the opportunity. Check out Freetour.com for the details.