Dear planning shy travellers,
Cologne in Germany is the perfect destination for a long weekend city break.
(Nb: I write Cologne, Germany to ensure that the whole London/Tower Bridge confusion doesn’t happen – years and years ago an American millionaire thought he’d bought the beautiful Tower Bridge, but actually bought the rather more plain London Bridge and transported every stone all the way to the desert in the US…)
You can definitely rock up with nothing planned (I did as a surprise destination with Wowtrip recently – to be fair they sent us a city guide, but I wanted to see what I’d discover mostly by following my nose) and still have a lovely time. It’s a compact, easy to navigate city with great restaurants, a plethora of pubs and bars, and plenty to see as a tourist.
1. The very first thing you should do is do a walking tour of Cologne
It’s our best travel hack for exploring a city, and quickly. You get to see all of the best highlights, you can decide what to visit later for a more in-depth visit, your guide will give you all of the historical background to the city and you know everything is reachable by foot. Easy!
Ps. get your guide to recommend their favourite local places to eat & drink.
2. Tiptoe through Cologne Cathedral
Cologne’s Cathedral twin spires are world famous and for good reason. It is a glorious piece of architecture that survived World Wars more or less intact. Best hacks? Go very early in the morning to beat the crowds, or last thing in the early evening.
3. Slip behind the Cathedral to explore the history of the city via art, architecture and archaeological finds
There are some fantastic museums and galleries in Cologne – enough to keep culture vultures entertained and a few interesting ones like the tasty private “Schokoladenmuseum” aka Chocolate Museum which will keep your palate intrigued.
4. Try the German specialities
Sample alllll of them. From local Currywurst served inna bun to hearty breaded schnitzel before an evening testing the beer, enjoy the brunch perfect rostis to the closing forkfuls of topfenstrudel.
The food is on the heavier side, but still darned delicious – especially the morning after you party until 2am…
5. Get high at sunset
This isn’t Amsterdam, so you’ll be wanting to do this physically – the panorama platform on top of the high-rise KölnTriangle offers what is probably one of the most stunning views over the city. At an altitude of over 100 metres visitors enjoy a 360-degree panorama of the city, the Dom, the Rhine and the bridges over the river.
(Just know there isn’t a bar at the top.)
6. Try the local beer, a lot
The most local tipple is Kolsch, which is served in 200ml glasses to keep the beer cool. Your waiter will keep an eye on your table and bring over almost endless glasses – marking off how many rounds you have on a nearby coaster to bill you at the end.
7. Walk along the river
Cologne is a city that thrives on the river – they hang out there in summer months, relax on the banks (occasionally without their clothes) and it’s well worth a wander along the banks to get a taste of city life and a dose of people watching.
8. Look for the Heinzelmännchenbrunnen, a fountain from 1899.
You’ll meet the Cologne’s beloved Heinzelmännchen, gnomes who did all the city’s work at night so the citizens could relax (until the gnomes were insulted and left town forever).
9. Party in the gay quarter
My friend took me down there for a serious evening of partying, trying the local beer and dancing – and we had an absolute ball of a time! They think that 1 in 10 people in Cologne are attracted to their own sex, which makes for a fantastic gay bar area in which just about anything goes!
Have I convinced you to visit yet?
Things not to do:
- I didn’t love the boat cruise along the river, there wasn’t all that much to see alas, bar an enclave of nudists that colonised a local river bank beach!
- Panic – the historic centre is definitely walkable
- Battle through the midday crowds in the Cologne Cathedral
So there you have it – my tips for exploring Cologne.
Your Adventurous London Kiwi
Are you a planner or a spontaneous tripper?
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