Cologne (AKA Köln in German) is the fourth largest city in Germany but it isn’t an obvious choice of a city in which to anchor your German holiday. The city of about a million inhabitants is located on the Rhein River and is a center of German media and business, and is also the country’s gay capital. It’s a great place to stop for a couple of days if you are on a Eurail Pass or otherwise traveling around this part of Europe and there are some very distinctive things in this city.
What To Do
The skyline is dominated by the enormous Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) and it’s a must-see for anyone stopping in town for even a couple hours or more. The monstrous Gothic structure is one of the largest and finest cathedrals in all of Europe and a walk up the 500+ stairs to the top is an unforgettable (if exhausting) experience, so bring comfortable shoes. The Museum Ludwig is an acclaimed modern art museum near the cathedral and is worth a look.
The streets of the historic old town near the cathedral are also worth checking out. There is often something interesting and temporary going on with the Christmas Market being an annual highlight. Cologne has a unique type of lager beer that is popular only in this region. Unlike Munich, where full liter mugs are the norm, the Kölsch beer is served in very civilized glasses that are only .2 of a liter each. This is done so the beer never gets too warm and the waiters will keep bringing new ones every time they see an empty glass so this adds up to an interesting experience in getting drunk.
You can fly into Cologne Bonn Airport (code: CGN), which handles both domestic and international flights including many from the new low cost carriers, but you should also research prices into nearby Dusseldorf International Airport (code: DUS) as it handles more long haul flights and can often be cheaper. A train from Dusseldorf Airport into Cologne’s city center takes just 40 minutes. The Cologne Airport is on the S-Bahn local train line and is only a 15-minute ride into the city center.
Where To Stay
Cologne has a compact center for such a major city and there are loads of hostels and hotels in Cologne from which to choose. There are quite a few reasonably priced places near the train station, which is a short walk from everything else in the center. The better places can be booked far in advance so plan ahead.