Said to be the German city with the most Mediterranean flair, Cologne is worldwide known for its superb gothic cathedral. But the Rhineland metropolis also boasts several great museums, a cutting edge music scene and some of Europe biggest street parties.
[ Practical ]
Getting there - By road
485 km from Paris on autoroutes A1, A2, E19, E42 and E40.
- By train
Thalys train Paris Gare du Nord – Cologne. Duration of the journey : 3 h 50.
- By plane
Air France, Lufhtansa and Eurowings offer flights to Cologne from Paris, Nice, Marseille, Toulouse and Lourdes
Lodging Hôtel Santo
Mercure Hôtel Severinshof
Restaurants Fruh am Dom
Brauerei zur Malzmühle
Alt Koln Brauhaus
Going out Zum Pfaffen
Papa Joe’s Klimperkasten
Getting around All the main sights are within walking distance from the railway station. Otherwise there are a public rental bike system bicycle and an excellent bus and tram network.
Information - Germany Tourist Office
Tel : 0140200188, www.allemagne-tourisme.com
- Cologne Tourist Office www.koelntourismus.de
Germany fourth largest city and one of the oldest, Cologne is an important academic, commercial and industrial centre with a busy cultural and night life as well as an exceptional religious heritage.
Stretching on both sides of the Rhine, the city originally only occupied the right bank. An historical centre that is easily recognizable thanks to the numerous Romanesque churches towers that are silhouetted on the horizon. There is a good reason Cologne was nicknamed “the Saint” during the Middle Age.
Gothic cathedral This splendid panorama is better viewed from the Hohenzollern and Deutzer bridges, from a boat offering a cruise on the river or from the cable car that goes across the Rhine.
Known as the Dom, the cathedral is the city’s symbol and dominates the neighbourhood with its huge dimensions and its 157 m high towers. When these were completed, in 1880, the building was briefly the world tallest one. Nevertheless most of the construction works took place from 1248 to the early 16th century and the Dom is a gothic masterpiece. The purpose was to build a cathedral suited to house the relics of the Three Magi which Emperor Frederick Barbarossa brought back to the city making it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Europe.
Today pilgrims from the past have given way to a flow of tourists who come to admire the Shrine of the Three Magi, an impressive work of medieval gold craftsmanship, a triptych depicting them in adoration in front of the Christ, the stain glasses, the abundance of sculptures and more generally the whole building.
Cologne Water Thus, Cologne’s cathedral is the monument most visited in Germany.
Conveniently situated by the railway station, it stands at the junction of the modern and old towns. On one side spreads a bustling shopping area of which the main artery is the Hohestrasse. There, one come across neon signs of worldwide known brands as well as a mysterious one : “4711”. This is the original Cologne Water and a trademark of the city that you can buy in a neo-gothic house by the opera house where the 4711 perfumery is still there.
On the other side of the cathedral square - a popular place to meet friends, watch the pavement artists, or listen to the street musicians - there are two major museums. The first one, the Ludwig Museum, is dedicated to modern art. It houses works by 20th century German and most famous European painters including Picasso as well as the largest Pop-art collection outside the United States.
Roman remains As to the second, the Romanisch Germanishes Museum, it preserves examples of art, culture and everyday life from Roman and early medieval times including a superb Dionysius mosaic and the world most important collection of antic glass. Cologne was indeed founded by the Romans and became a flourishing city under their rule. It also owes them its name coming from Colonia, a title awarded on request of a celebrity born within its walls. Nero’s mother, Agrippina.
Few remains of this era are still visible in the nearby old town. But they are not so spectacular except the ruins of the former palace of the governor, the praetorium. It now lies underground, underneath the foundations of the city hall, a beautiful gothic building dotted with a Renaissance loggia decorated with sculptures. On the same square stands Cologne’s third great museum, the Wallraf-Richarts, dedicated to painting.
Old town There, art lovers can admire canvas by French Impressionists, 19th century German painters, European masters such as Rubens, Dürer and Rembrandt as well as a large collection of medieval German works.
These monuments are found in the old town, the Altstadt, that stretches along the Rhine from the cathedral and the Hohenzollern bridge to the Severins bridge. In the former times, merchants and craftsmen lived there but they have now been replaced with bars, brewery taverns and restaurants. This maze of alleys, narrow streets, little squares and covered passages has an ancient look but is relatively new. Most of the area was indeed reduced to ashes by Allies bombings during the World War II. Fortunately, when architects rebuilt it they kept the original town grid as well as the houses traditional style.
Churches and fountains Having miraculously escaped destructions, twelve Romanesque churches are also hidden in the neighbourhood. Each one has its own attractiveness. St. Cecilia is the location of the Museum Schnütgen, that houses one of the most important collections of Medieval art in Europe. St. Andreas has the peculiarity of being a combination of Romanesque and Gothic styles. St. Maria in the Capitol is worth a detour for its sculpted wooden doors and its Renaissance choir screen. Near the Rhine, Gross St Martin looks like a fortress with its prominent quatrefoil tower.
Another distinctive feature of the Altsadt is to boast a myriad of ancient and modern fountains that one discovers while strolling around streets and squares. Two of them shouldn’t be missed. The Heinzelmännchenbrunnen that illustrates a local tale in which kind brownies do all the work of the lazy peoples during the night. The Ostermann Fountain, built to commemorate the homonym singer and song-writer, that is adorned with figures telling the story of the characters in his songs.
Spectacular celebrations Still remembered today, they have become regular favorites of the Cologne Carnival, one of the world’ most spectacular and famous. An event that, each year, fires passion in the city for a week. To such an extent that it is called Cologne’s fifth season. The closing times for bars are suspended and the adultery is not even recognized by law during this period.
Having said that Cologne enjoys a busy night and cultural life all year round. Every first weekend in July, more than half a million participants and visitors come together in the city centre for the Christopher Street Day, one of Europe most important event for gays and lesbians. The highlight is the parade itself on Sunday as a staggering 30 000 participants are taking part, either on foot or on one of the 80 vehicles. But there are also numerous parties, galas and concerts going on around the town during that weekend. Besides the city is noted for its musical scene.
Numerous bars Several clubs and halls have made their names in different styles and genres such as techno, electro and hip-hop. When the sun goes down Cologne gets indeed its second wind and there are several nightspots : around Gross St. Martin in the Altstadt, which catches the tourists, the Lateng quarter also known as the “Bermuda triangle” close to Rudolfplatz which mainly caters for students, Severins quarter, where are more stylish bars and cafes.
Trendy bars, restaurants and galleries also pop up in Rheinhaufen, a former dockyard along the Rhine being reclaimed for public use and now an architectural playground. No need to worry, there are plenty of places where to enjoy a Kolsch, the local distinctive beer that must be produced in town or in the vicinity to bear this name.
Carnival in Cologne is almost as old as the city itself and comes from a pagan rite aimed to expulse the evil winter demons. But the organized carnival celebrated today only dates back to the early 18th century. It is one of the biggest street parties in Europe. The town is transformed into a dazzling and colorful celebration, with what seems like the entire population of the city in fancy dress.
The Cologne Street Carnival officially opens at 11.11am the Thursday before Shrove Tuesday. This is the Women’s day, they take control, show their domination by hassling men without mercy and cut the ties off anyone unwise enough to cross their path. From that day parties and masked balls are organized every evening. On Saturday an alternative “Ghost Parade” is held in a very relaxed atmosphere.
Sunday belongs to processions through the streets, organized by local schools and the different districts of the city and watched by hundreds of thousands of people.
Rose Monday is the highlight and the climax of the event. The three chief Carnival figures, the Prince, the Peasant and the Maiden, lead through the city a giant parade made up of brightly clad groups, hundred of horses, bands and dozens and dozens of decorated lorries carrying huge effigies lampooning politicians, media and sport stars or topical events. Streets are packed with millions of people cheering and calling out for sweets, sample bottles of Cologne water and little bunches of flowers which are thrown in tons and ten thousands to the merry-makers.
The following day, Shrove Tuesday, various parades take place in Cologne's suburbs, but it’s much more quiet. Lastly, on Ash Wednesday, the tradition is to eat fish, available on the menu of any pub and restaurant.
2020 Carnival dates.
Women’s Carnival Day : Thursday February 20th
Rose Monday : February 24th
Shrove Tuesday : February 25th
Ash Wednesday : February 26th