Another trip, another city break. This time, we visited Cologne to see in the new year and experience what the 2,000 year old city had to offer.
Cologne or Köln in German, is the largest city in the North Rhine-Westphalia state. Home to just over 1 million people, Cologne is a cultural hub with over 30 museums and galleries and boasts high gothic architecture with the impressive cathedral.
How to get there
You’ll find Cologne on the left bank of the Rhine, about 45km (or 28 miles) southeast of the state capital, Dusseldorf and 25km northwest of Bonn. It’s helpful to know that connections between Dusseldorf and Cologne are quick and efficient, so if it suits looking from your preferred airport, you have twice as much choice for flights. Maybe?!
I found cheap flights out from Manchester and we returned from Dusseldorf to Newcastle. The return leg being more expensive with Eurowings vs Ryanair on the way out, but all things considered, taking this trip over New Year didn’t actually work out that much more expensive than visiting in early January. Of course those of you with flexibility on when you can travel and maybe stricter pricing can work something to suit you.
Flying into Cologne Bonn Airport was easy, hop on a train and you’re in the city in under half an hour. Getting from Cologne to Dusseldorf couldn’t have been easier, we got a train from the main station by the cathedral, then half an hour later we arrived to Dusseldorf airport station, hopped on the skybus which took us directly to the terminal. It would be quite easy to spend a few days in Cologne by flying to Dusseldorf and getting the train down, if for instance you’re looking from Newcastle Airport.
Where we stayed: 25 Hours The Circle
This hotel is quirky, futuristic themed – space focused (so the child in me who longed to be an astronaut loved it) and retro too – you can use typewriters in the reception area as one example. 25 Hours Hotels are a small chain, only 9 of them in total and majority of these can be found in Germany.
There’s a few perks to staying in one of the 25 Hours Hotels – later check out is available for free if your room isn’t booked after you – perfect if you want to snooze longer or have a later flight, you can borrow portable chargers so no running out of battery exploring the city and (provided you’ve got a driving licence and necessary paperwork and they’ve got the cars avaialble) you can hire a MINI. We didn’t do the latter given we were there over New Year and Connor’s birthday so we were embracing Kölsch, but had we stayed longer/not been celebrating then I would have definitely taken the car for a spin.
What is there to do?
We arrived on 30 December and left on 2 January so only a short trip and only Heinzels Wintermärchen was open in terms of the Christmas Markets. The majority shut on Christmas Eve, but if you’re over in Cologne after Christmas, definitely get along to Heinzels. Though I can’t compare it to the others in the city, it was really impressive. An ice rink, curling rink, plenty of bars for your gluhwein, food stalls and gifts/crafts to browse.
The cathedral is a big deal, it attracts around 20,000 visitors a day making it Germany’s most visited landmark. Not only does it tower over the city – it’s 157m high – it’s the tallest twin-spired church in the world (and second tallest church in Europe) Declared a World Heritage Site in 1996, it should be one of the key sights to see when you’re visiting Cologne. If you’ve got a head for heights, go visit the tower too . We were planning to, but I misread my timings and we got there too late. Next time!
On the opposite side of the Rhine, you’ve got KolnTriangle. It’s €3 entry to this panoramic viewpoint and well worth a visit for a 360 view of Cologne. Don’t worry about knowing which building is which, there’s diagrams on the glass to help you (and you can still take photos around them too)
Walk across Hohenzollern Bridge
This is the bridge you’ll see in all the photos when you search for Cologne. You’ll likely travel over it from the airport to the city and it’s well worth a walk across to see the city from the other side of the Rhine, particularly if you’re visiting KolnTriangle. Look out for the padlocks on the bridge too.
Visit the Old Town (Altstadt)
During WWII around 72% of the city of Cologne was destroyed, so the ‘old town’ you see today has been rebuilt. It’s a lovely picturesque area and I would definitely recommend taking a walk down the cobble stone streets before dining a Brauhaus for a Kölsch!
Okay, this one might not appeal to everyone, but if you’re a beer fan listen up. Kölsch is Cologne’s beer and served in short glasses called ‘Stange’ it’s a tradition that’s stuck with the city. You go in, ask for Kölsch, then the servers, called ‘Köbes’ will top you up with beer and keep a tally on your beermat. No need to ask for a refill, genius! Had enough? Put your beermat on top of your empty Stange to signal that you’re ready for your bill. It’s simple and it works.
Visit one (of the many) Museums
There are over 30 museums and galleries in Cologne, no wonder it’s classed as the cultural hub on the Rhine. When we visited we didn’t have time to go visit any, but I know the Chocolate Museum comes highly recommended, as does Museum Ludwig for contemporary and modern art fans. It’s worth noting that a KölnCard will save you some euros on entry into some places, so do take a look at them if you’re visiting for a few days. You also get free travel on public transport for 24 or 48 hours depending on which pass you buy. We were kindly gifted KölnCards by the tourism board and found them so easy to use – just validate them on your first tram/subway/bus then you’re good to go.
You didn’t really think I was going to miss this one out did you? I found out there was a New Year’s Day parkrun taking place in Cologne, so of course we had to go along. My first taste of parkrun tourism abroad and I really enjoyed it. If you’re visiting the city on a weekend break, it’s well worth packing your trainers and your barcode and getting a 5K in before breakfast.
Where to eat/drink?
For a taste of German traditions try:
Peters Brauhaus – This is where we had our first taste of Kölsch. The traditional German brewery is welcoming, staff were so helpful and they serve a great apple strudel. Would recommend.
Früh am Dom – Not far from the cathedral you’ll find Früh. It’s popular and fills up pretty quickly. I had a schnitzel here and I couldn’t move afterwards. Really good food!
Brauhaus Sunner im Walf – We wanted to visit here and tried to get a reservation two nights and it was full (and closed on New Year’s Day) If you’re visiting at a busier time, I would advise booking ahead. Maybe best to check even if you’re visiting outside of peak holidays too.
Herings im Martinswinkel – We spotted this walking around the old town then tried our chances getting a table. The man serving us was so helpful, talking us through the menu (I nearly ordered pickled herring by mistake) and the wine here was great. Our meal was really good value for money and I think the bill came to about €60 for mussels to share as a starter, two main dishes with herrings and a bottle of wine.
Kuchi Mami – Connor had sushi here and really enjoyed it, I opted for a teriyaki it was great with lots of fresh vegetables. From the outside this restaurant might not look like much but they serve up some great food.
For brunch/coffee to go:
Hommage – the cappuccinos were delicious, they sell pasteis de nata too – so if you need that portuguese fix, get one! The brunch menu looks really good at Hommage but we were just getting quick coffee to go. I’d arrive early if you want breakfast or brunch as it fills up quickly.
Funkhaus – We enjoyed coffee here just after arriving in Cologne. Drinks were served with Lindt chocolate which was a nice touch. They have a decent food menu too if you’re looking for somewhere for brunch, lunch or afternoon tea – and the cake counter I spotted on the way out looked great!
Three nights in Cologne felt like a good amount of time to get a feel for the city. I can imagine it’s a totally different atmosphere in Spring/Summer when you’d sit outside enjoying a drink, take a walk along the Rhine or maybe enjoy a river cruise (they stop over the winter) I’d definitely go back and I would like to see more of Germany.
Have you been to Cologne?