Germany’s fourth largest city, Cologne (Köln in German), has endured for over two millennia as the heart of Rhineland. As detailed in places like the Romano-Germanic Museum, this city bears a long history of Catholic influence under the Holy Roman Empire and near death during WWII Allied bombing that destroyed almost all of Cologne. The thriving city has a long-standing rivalry with Düsseldorf, another large Westphalian metropolis located around 30 miles to the north. Consider scheduling your visit around November 11, when the world famous Cologne Carnival takes off for the following few weeks of debauchery, beer and parades galore.
On warm summer days, enjoy the sunshine with hundreds of locals at public parks like Aachener Weiher pond, where groups of Kölners bring their food, shed a layer and hang out on the grass. This is also common along the Rhine, like at Poller Wiesen in the middle of the city. As with many old European cities, Cologne has too many churches and cathedrals to name, with the biggest ones downtown in Innenstadt: St. Ursula, St. Aposteln and the most famous of the bunch, Cologne Cathedral. If the historical aspect of these old buildings sounds persuasive, get ready for unique cemeteries like the Jüdischer Friedhof, a burial site used since 1918. Among a long list of interesting museums is Museum Schnütgen, a haven for fans of medieval religious art, the The Farina Fragrance Museum and a WWII museum operating out of the Gestapo headquarters that survived the Allied bombing of Cologne, an award-winning set of exhibits that remember and honor victims of Nazism.
Cologne is divided into nine boroughs, packed with smaller districts and neighborhoods. Nippes, on the west bank of the Rhine and surrounded by public parks, is home to the Kölner Zoo (and its over 7,000 animal inhabitants) and plenty of bars, places to eat and to buy gifts in its downtown area. If you stay in Nippes, you’ll likely choose from mid-size condos on wide streets and units in very tall apartment buildings, some of them refurbished or with a terrace. Lindenthal, another borough on the west side of town, has lodgings both uber-modern and with a cottage feel, and has a museum dedicated to FC football inside the RheinEnergieStadion, the stadium in which 1. FC Köln currently plays, in addition to Lindenthaler Tierpark, a beloved petting zoo. On the other side of the Rhine, past Mülheim and its surrounding area, Dellbrück has an array of homes and apartments in the Bergisch countryside, with more space than in Innenstadt or another tightly packed neighborhood in Cologne. This suburb enjoys restaurants with food from all around the world and lots of pubs and beer gardens. Usually, the owner of your accommodation will speak several different languages, including English.
With such interconnectedness between its major cities, exploring other urban areas in Germany is a breeze on public transportation. Aachen, which neighbors Belgium and the Netherlands, can be reached in well under an hour by taking either the InterCity Express (ICE) or Thalys train from Cologne Central Station. Here, tour the Aachen Cathedral, a key Catholic monument and resting place of the great King Charlemagne, or stop by the Elisa Fountain, a testament to Aachen’s millennium-old reputation for being a “spa city”—the mineral-infused water is housed in a grand marble structure with impressive Roman columns.
Alternatively, travel north on ICE for 45 minutes to reach Essen, a fascinating urban hub where tourists can visit an old industrial mine between taking a look at museums like Museum Folkwang, Dom-Schatzkammer and the kid-friendly Phanomania Erfahrungsfeld, among other great choices for an afternoon cultural exploit.
Cologne Bonn Airport (QKL) is only fifteen minutes away from the city center, although most regional and international flights stop in Frankfurt (FRA). Getting into town is easy, even without Uber or Lyft (ride-sharing is unavailable in Cologne): a short Deutsche Bahn train takes you directly to Cologne Central Station. The city’s subway and light rail system, known as KVB, takes passengers as far south as Bonn, north to Leverkusen and has a line running east-to-west connecting Bensberg to the final Weiden Zentrum stop.
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