2,000 years of history live in Cologne, from the skyline still dominated by the High Gothic twin spires of the Cologne Cathedral to the sleek post-modern architecture of its rejuvenated waterfront.
Kölsch is a local type of beer, and it's also a word that is used to describe the carefree way of life of the city; it's a place with an upbeat, fun-loving spirit. When you drink kölsch at a local beer hall or tavern, the waiters will keep serving you until you cover the top of your glass with your coaster.
Carnival season is often called the "fifth season" in Cologne, and it begins on November 11 at 11:11 am, resuming after a Christmas break and peaking with Rose Monday, two days before Ash Wednesday, with a parade.
There are monuments to various periods of history everywhere you turn in Cologne, including architectural features like the Roman wall monument. The Museum Schnütgen houses a renowned collection of medieval art in a former church. If you're a fan of ancient history, the Roman-Germanic Museum include exhibits of art and architecture from Roman and medieval times.
The Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the most famous of the city's collection of gorgeous High Gothic architecture buildings. Work began on the towering twin spires and ornate stonework of the cathedral in 1248 and was only completed in 1880. There are also many lovely Romanesque churches to view that also date from the Middle Ages, along with post-war buildings, and examples of avant-garde and postmodern design.
The Rhine-Ruhr area is Germany's industrial hub, but it is also a captivating area where the Rhine River winds along green banks, with a green belt of parkland that circles the city. A river cruise is one of the best ways to get stunning panoramic views of the city and the surrounding area.
Cologne is home to a lively theater and performing arts scene, along with many world class galleries and museums. The Käthe Kollwitz Museum houses a unique collection of the renowned modern artist's work. The Museum Ludwig features modern art from various eras, including one of the largest Picasso collections in Europe.
The area is part of the Middle Rhine wine growing area, known for producing wonderful Rieslings and other white wines. There is a thriving local cuisine based on meats and local produce, including specialties like Himmel und Erde, or mashed potatoes with apples, usually served with black pudding, or the many varieties of sausage.
There is pleasant weather in Cologne from early spring through late fall, with some humidity in the summer months. The fall offers the best bargains for tourists. Carnival season, which begins in November, and the many Christmas markets, draw tourists during the off season.
The Cologne Bonn Airport (CGN) lies just over nine miles from the city center. A typical taxi trip from the airport to the downtown area costs about EUR27 for a 15-minute ride. The Intercity-Express or high-speed ICE rail network leaves from a station inside the airport directly to the city center for about EUR8. You can also catch the Regional Express (RE) and urban trains (S-Bahn), and there is a subway station at the airport too.
Köln Hauptbahnhof is a regional and international hub for rail travel, connecting with the national ICE high-speed network. The RegionalExpress, RegionalBahn and local S-Bahn trains, along with EuroNight and DB NachtZug night services all use the main terminal. Connections are available to Frankfurt and many other destinations in Germany and through Europe.
The Cologne Beltway is a hub of highways that circle the city, including Bundesautobahn 1, Bundesautobahn 3, and Bundesautobahn 4. Cologne lies within an hour's distance of many other German cities in the industrial area, such as Düsseldorf, and Dortmund. Cologne is less than 50 miles from Belgium, and about 120 miles from Frankfurt, making it an easy stop in a multi-city vacation.
The Cologne Central Station handles local, intercity, and international bus and train services. Long distance bus travel to Cologne is a budget-priced option from many European locations, with bus trips from the UK starting at only EUR27. Companies with service to Cologne include FlixBus and Megabus.
The mid-priced Conti Hotel offers clean, comfortable rooms in a friendly, family-run atmosphere. The Hopper Hotel Et Cetera in Cologne is housed in a former monastery that was built in 1893, while the Hyatt Regency Cologne overlooks the iconic cathedral, with spacious modern rooms and upscale amenities.
Altstadt – Cologne's old town centers around the Cathedral, and includes historic sites like the Romanesque church of Groß St. Martin, the Roman Dionysus Mosaic, and the Mikveh, a Jewish ritual bath. This is where you'll be able to explore Cologne's famed beer culture first hand, from hoisting a mug in huge beer halls like Peters Brauhaus to savoring the wares in microbreweries like Braustelle.
The Belgian Quarter – this area has developed into a stylish neighborhood with Art Nouveau buildings and a relaxed, cafe culture along with multicultural food offerings. Brüsseler Platz is a favorite place for the younger generation of locals to hang out and have fun on summer evenings.
Ehrenfeld – this hip inner-city neighborhood is known for its bohemian vibe, with street art along Senefelderstrasse, and cool independent boutiques and restaurants. It's the place to relax and check out art galleries in between coffee breaks, wine tasting, and sampling the local cuisine.
There is an extensive network of buses and trams that cover the city. Fares are determined on a zone basis. The KölnCard is available to tourists for 24 hours' unlimited travel on the system and up to 50 percent savings at many attractions for EUR9 per person, or EUR19 for up to five people.
Taxis are plentiful in Cologne, many of them cream-colored Mercedes sedans. A trip of five miles should cost you about EUR19.
Cologne is a relatively small city where you can walk to many of its attractions, making a car rental a luxury. Companies like Enterprise and Sixt are available, with a compact rental starting at about EUR35 per day. Street parking is rare, with rates in public lots starting at EUR1.50-2.50 per hour with a daily maximum of EUR10.00-25.00 during peak weekday hours.
From the Cathedral, Hohe Straße takes you into Schildergasse, and along that stretch you'll find major retailers along with souvenir shops and small boutiques. Breite Straße is another street lined with both chains and small businesses. For hip clothing stores and boutiques, you'll want to head to Ehrenstraße or Venloer Straße in the Belgian Quarter.
Supermarket chains in Cologne include Rewe, an all-purpose market with a good selection and convenient locations throughout the city, and Kaisers, a national chain. Standa Markt is more expensive, but features a nice deli section. A gallon of milk costs about EUR2.50, and a dozen eggs an average of EUR1.65.
For authentic German cuisine, look to Bei Oma Kleinmann - named after the woman who ran the kitchen until age 95 - for delicious schnitzel and other dishes from EUR13. Sorgenfrei combines a casual vibe with fine-dining perfectionism in the Belgian Quarter, with a four-course dinner menu that starts at EUR35 per person. With an artistic dining room decor, Hanse Stube offers fine dining with a menu that changes daily, with portions starting at about EUR45. While the culinary offerings include the finest of upscale fare, you may just have your best meal at a pub, including specialties like sausage, potato fritters, or pork knuckle.