The fourth largest German city, which is known all over the world for its Carnival in February, is a destination that’s often skipped due to its lack of renowned sights and beautiful architecture. Cologne should not be overlooked tough, the largest city in North Rhine-Westphalia has evolved into an academic, cultural and nightlife hub in the region and should therefore definitely be on your Germany schedule.
History and overview:
Cologne was founded in the first century AD as a Roman city. Throughout the Roman era and the Middle Ages, the city benefited from its convenient location on various major trade routes and prospered as a trading hub.
The city was among the most heavily bombed urban areas during World War Two, these bombings destroyed more than 80% of the city’s buildings and over 95% of the population had to be temporarily evacuated. This catastrophic destruction is the main cause for the disappearance of most of the city’s ancient architecture, which has been mostly replaced by modern architecture although a glimpse of the city’s former architectural beauty has survived in the Aldstadt (old town) area.
Today the most interesting areas of the city are situated west of the river Rhine. The Eastern areas are of little interest and do not contain an awful lot of sights, except for the nightclub Bootshaus(in the nightlife section of the guide) and the fair hall.
Steigenberger Hotel Köln: A large, centrally located hotel with all the usual amenities and a good price/quality relation. Check it out here
The budget option: Hostel die Wohngemeinschaft: A great hostel close to many nightlife areas with a bar that organizes student parties and language group meet-ups Check it out here
Cultural offer and activities:
Kölner Dom: By far the most famous landmark in the city and therefore an absolute must. Climbing to the top is in my view of no great interest as the view on top does not feature the Dom which is the only genuinely impressive building in the city.
Ludwig art museum: (Heinrich-Böll-Platz): The contemporary art lover’s favourite thanks to its large collection of 20th and 21st Century art.
Promenade on the Rhine: The quiet promenade along the banks of the Rhine is a refreshing alternative and an ideal spot for a romantic walk.
Römisch-Germanisches Museum (Roman Germanic Museum): (Roncalliplatz 4): An ideal place to learn about the city’s long gone past. A must for history enthusiasts.
Heumarkt and Altermarkt squares: The two squares that are packed during Carnival. They are also recommendable during the rest of the year due to their many breweries, restaurants and pubs.
Wine & Dine:
Hellers Brauhaus: (Roonstr. 33) An excellent restaurant to try out hearty local cuisine and various sorts of Kölsch beer. Heller’s Brauhaus benefits from its location in the student district to create a lively atmosphere with a mixed clientele
Pfaffen Brauerei Päffgen: (Friesenstraße 64-66): One of the most well known breweries in Köln. A bit touristy yet still a fantastic place to enjoy a few Kölsch beers and traditional food.
El Inca: (Görresstraße 2): One of my favourite international restaurants in Cologne. The Peruvian food is authentic, well made and well priced. Make sure to reserve in advance as it is a very popular restaurant in the student district.
Borsalino: (Zülpicher Str. 7) A well priced, delicious Italian restaurant right on the busy Zülpicher street. An ideal place to gather the calories you need in order to continue your night out in this affluent nightlife area.
Zülpicher Str: The student’s favourite street. Located right next to the Universität zu Köln, Zülpicher street scores points with a sheer endless amount of bars, pubs and snack bars, all very well priced and not fancy at all.
Rudolfplatz: A square which offers an extensive array of restaurant and nightlife options, providing something for every taste and age group.
Friesenplatz: Another square, which like the aforementioned Rudolfplatz, offers a lot of variety.
Arttheater: (Ehrenfeldgürtel 127) One of the well known electro clubs in Cologne which also offers different kinds of shows depending on the date and occasion. Not to everyone’s taste but a must-visit nightlife spot for electro/techno lovers.
Gewölbe & Zum Scheuen Reh: (Hans-Böckler-Platz) If you are fond of techno and deep house music, you will adore these two clubs, if not, stay away. Two very alternative and very genre specific electro clubs located right next to each other in the Ehrenfeld area.
Bootshaus: (Auenweg 173) Probably the number one club in Cologne. Located a bit further from the centre on the Eastern bank of the Rhine, this club will delight anyone who loves to party, be it because of its cool warehouse setting in a former shipyard, the international DJs or the generally great atmosphere.
Final tips & verdict:
The tram/metro network is extensive and therefore the best way to get around in Cologne. Overall the city is extremely well organised and the centre is walkable
English levels are high among the younger generations while basic German will be of great benefit when talking to older locals. Be aware that Cologne has its very own traditional dialect, the Kölsch, which only natives will understand.
Having lived in Cologne for a while I can vouch for the city’s liveability. It may not be the most beautiful city in the world but it is without a doubt a very vibrant city with an enormous student and young professional population that certainly adds to the city’s popularity.