I've already told you what I did on a day-to-day basis in Cologne so I think it's about time for me to put together a proper city guide. Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany and the largest in the Northern Rhine region. Despite it's size, most of the sights are concentrated in the small city centre making it very easy to reach everywhere on foot. There's enough things to do to keep you occupied for a long weekend including some world class museums. I really enjoyed my time in the city and whilst I probably won't visit a second time I loved exploring an area of Germany I had never visited.
Where to sleep:
Bermuda Triangle Bed and Breakfast is a lovely collection of self contained apartments. The style is basic yet roomy and comfortable. The location is unrivalled, situated around the corner from Neumarkt station (metro and tram) it's only 3 stops into the city centre or a 15 minute walk. In the surrounding area you'll find one of Cologne's best Christmas markets plus an array of excellent bars and restaurants. Several of the city's best museums are only a few minutes walk away as well. We spent every evening in the local area so I was thrilled to be walking distance from our accommodation after a few beers. Prices are extremely reasonably and include breakfast (ham, cheese, bread, juice, tea and coffee).
Where to eat:
Breakfast as Bastian's
Brunch at Metzgerei Schmit
Germany isn't a country know for it's culinary flare and unless you're a lover of all things meaty it can be a little daunting deciding where to eat. Cologne is a youthful city which lends itself nicely to a vibrant and contemporary food scene. Whilst we stuck to predominately German restaurants during our trip we found a few places that would satisfy even the fussiest eaters.
For breakfast I cannot recommend Bastian's enough. Think Scandinavian cafe vibes meets traditional bakery. This cool and contemporary all-day bakery has an impressive menu including a dozen different baked good, sharing platters and sweet treats. We feasted on bread, cheese, ham, salmon and eggs which kept us going well into the afternoon. Another brunch spot is Metzgerei Schmit, a lovely deli with a retro vibe serving an array of breakfast food, salads and sandwiches. It's super small but worth the wait to get a table. During the warmer months you can sit outside and watch the world go by. A good place for lunch is Engelbät who serve an impressive selection of generously sized crepes.
For a bigger meal there's plenty of options. From the famous German beers hall like Peters Brauhaus, serving pork knuckle and stews to legendary Bei Oma Kleinmann and it's enormous schnitzel (be sure to share one unless you're ravenous).
And what would a trip to Germany be without a currywurst. Try Curry B and Curry Cologne for some of the best in the city.
Museum and galleries:
Cologne has some world class museums and for a reasonably small city you'd be hard pushed to fit them all into one weekend. For art loves you must visit Musuem Schnütgen for it's medieval religious art, Museum Ludwig for contemporary art, Wallraf-Richartz Museum for Renaissance era paintings and Museum für Angewandte Kunst for furniture design. History loves will definitely want to check out NS-Dokumentationszentrum der Stadt Köln which documents the Nazi regime in the city whilst Kölnisches Stadtmuseum takes a look far back at the city's past, including the production of local beer. Rautenstrauch-Joest, Romano-Germanic Museum and Kolumba display a collection of art and artefacts and if you're at all interested in sport then Deutsches Sport and Olympia Museum is most definitely worth a visit.
Things to do and see:
Without a doubt the most famous sight in Cologne is it's cathedral. Kölner Dom is a magnificent Gothic church, the largest in Northern Europe and took an astonishing 600 years to complete. The cathedral is huge and you can easily loose yourself amongst the beautiful stained glass and magnificent spires. At the south tower you can climb 509 steps for wonderful views across the city.
Walking along the Rhine is a wonderful way to take in the city. Along the west bank is a lovely row of traditional 19th Century house which is worth stopping at for a photo and whilst most of the action takes place this side of the river you can cross over the Hohenzollernbrücke railway bridge, where you'll see tens of thousands of love locks and you'll find yourself on the east bank which is just a metropolitan. Once on the other side you can check out the views across the city from the 100m tall KölnTriangle building.
The reason we chose to visit Cologne was because we'd heard the Christmas markets are some of the best in Germany and we weren't disappointed. The main market is found at the Cathedral and whilst it's lovely during the day time, it turns into a magical world at night when a canopy of lights twinkle amongst the dark sky and the smell of Glühwein warms your heart. Next to the City Hall is another large market, lined with wooden huts selling crafts, food and decorations. This market is probably the closest to how British people envisage a Christmas market as it's quite similar to the one on South Bank in London. Outside the city centre you'll find another Christmas market in Neumarkt, again this is lined with wooden huts and star shaped lights are wrapped around the trees. A couple of minutes walk from here there's the small but perfectly formed market at Rudolfplatz. The markets here really are gorgeous and have the ability to evoke so much Christmas cheer into your heart. Christmas time in Germany really is one of my favourite feelings.
Where to shop:
Apart from stroll down the main department store road we didn't do any shopping in Cologne. To be honest I'm not one for shopping on holiday unless there's something I'm after in particular. We didn't even seek out any music shops which is a shame as I always enjoy having a browse through records whilst abroad. Anyway, a few decent record shops I've heard about since include Kompakt, Underdog, Drake Records, Parallel Schallplatten and Schallhandel. It's also worth checking out the department store Peek and Cloppenburg for it's beautiful design.
Where to party:
As I previously mentioned, Cologne is quite a youthful city which means there are plenty of things to keep you entertained at night. If you like live music then it's definitely worth checking out the listings for Die Kantine. It's a little out of the way but it's a terrific venue with a capacity of approximately 600. In terms of bars I absolutely love Bar Schmitz, it's a big space with lots of tables and a great gin menu. There's even a secret bar downstairs. Next door you'll find Salon Schmitz which is a slightly more upmarket joint with a more 1950s interior. Along the same road is club like Sixpack, be sure to have a go in the photo booth and in the same area you'll also find the chic bar Hallmackenreuther.
Any visit to Germany requires an obligatory stop at a brauhaus for a local beer and in Cologne Kölsch is the local tipple. I'm not a beer drinker myself but it's a rather nice, non overpowering blend. I really like Peters Brauhaus which is right in the centre of town but Brauerei Päffgen is a city favourite as it's a lot bigger and busier.
With Düsseldorf being less than half an hour away by train it makes perfect sense to visit one day. Trains are frequent, costing about €12 each way and taking around 20-30 minutes. The city is a lot smaller than Cologne but it is still the seventh largest in Germany. You can do most sights in one full day, even less if you're not a museum fan. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (K20 and K21) and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf are great contemporary art galleries. K21 is based in the city centre and covers contemporary art exhibitions (from 1980 onwards) whilst K20 is a little north of the city centre and displays modern art from throughout the 20th Century. The TV tower is also worth visiting for impressive views over the city, plus the walk along the river to get there is a nice stroll. Enjoy a hearty German meal at the beer hall Zum Schiffchen and a sample of local beer at Uerige Obergärige Hausbrauerei and Füchschen.
Cologne can be reached easily by train or plane. We caught the Eurostar from London, changing at Brussels en route. Being from London I prefer the train whenever possible as it's save times and hassle but if you're lucky you can pick up super cheap flights. The train station is slap bang in the centre of town whilst the airport it a 20 minute train ride away. As I said before, most of Cologne is doable on foot but there is an extensive metro and tram system for places further afield.