When I think of Cologne, I think of three things: The Cathedral, Christmas markets and Eau de Cologne 4711. And if that wasn’t enough, the 4th-largest city of Germany also has a great selection of shops. Time for a visit.
Cologne was founded over 2000 years ago, and has a rich history. The city had its golden age during the Middle Ages, and a lot of the cultural and architectural heritage was preserved. This brings us straight to one of the main sights of Cologne.
The Cathedral of Cologne is the largest cathedral in Europe, with a length of over 144 meters, and a width of 86 meters.
It was built on the spot where Christians met each other during Roman times. There have been churches in this location since the 9th century. The construction of this gothic cathedral started in 1248. It still wasn’t finished 200 years later, and the works were halted. It was only in 1824 that work was started again, based on the original design which was recovered in 1814 and it was 1880 before the cathedral was finished.
Today, only a small part of the Cologne Cathedral dates back to the 13th century. There are a few unique stained-glass windows dating to the 14th and 16th centuries, an altar from the 14th century and a 10th-century crucifix.
The cathedral’s 157 m high spire was used as a landmark by pilots in the Second World War. Nearly 90% of Cologne was destroyed, and although the cathedral was hit by 14 bombs, it survived the war without too much damage.
Visitors come to Cologne specifically to hear the ringing of the bells during special occasions.
Fact: The western façade is with a surface area of 7000 m2 the largest church façade in the world.
Twelve large Romanesque basilisks
The city once boasted 12 large Romanesque basilisks. Except for the St. Maria Lyskirchen, all were heavily damaged in the Second World War.
The Rhine is one of the longest rivers of Europe with a length of 1233 km. It flows through the centre of Cologne. One of the most famous bridges over the Rhine in Cologne is the Hohenzollern railway bridge. The name of the bridge refers to the Hohenzollerns who one reigned over Prussia and the German Empire. We visited Hohenzollern Castle recently. The bridge was built at the start of the 20th century, was destroyed in WWII and repaired afterwards. It is to this day one of the busiest railway bridges in Germany, with 1200 trains passing over it daily.
There is a footpath on both sides of the bridge. Romantic souls can leave a love-lock on the fence between the rails and the footpath. The idea is that you and your loved one leave a lock here (with your names if you like) and throw the key into the river. There are nearly 100,000 locks here already.
The old centre of Cologne dates to the Middle Ages and was once the largest city centre in Germany. As I mentioned, most of the city was destroyed in the WWII, and only part of the city was restored afterwards. The current Altstadt lies between the Alter Markt, Heumarkt and the Rhine. It is a very interesting area to walk around.
The main sights are the Great St. Martin Church and the Fischmarket. This is also the location of the pier where all touring boats stop.
Cologne’s old, gothic city hall is located on the Alter Markt. The 61-meter high tower with hundreds of figures of historical figures is definitely worth a visit.
The praetorium is an underground temple ruin dating back to Roman times. The entrance to the ruins lies on the Kleine Budengasse.
Old city walls
At one point in time, Cologne was a walled city. A few sections remain, be sure to have a look at the Ulrepforte city gate or the section between Hansaring and Christophstrasse.
This is the address where the world-famous Eau de Cologne was prepared. Who hasn’t had a bottle of the stuff at home? For years and years, I would receive a bottle as a Christmas present from an uncle, and my grandmother swore that a cotton ball with a little eau de cologne in your ear was the best remedy for ear aches. These days, there is a shop and a small museum. In the nearby Farina Haus (Obenmarspforten) you can enjoy a tour in several languages. The interior is worth it by itself, and in the meantime, you learn everything about this over-225-year-old scent, with a secret mixture recipe that is extremely closely guarded, just like Coca-Cola’s.
Take the Rheinseilbahn, the only cable car that crosses a river, and enjoy the spectacular views.
This 266 m high telecommunications mast is the highest building of Cologne. There used to be a restaurant with viewing platform at the top, but it is unfortunately closed.
Fans of Christmas Markets can really enjoy themselves here from the end of November. Six squares, spread around the city, are full with Christmas market stalls. Little snacks, warm drinks and Christmas music until you can’t take any more. Please check this site for the exact dates: https://www.kerstmarkt-duitsland.com/keulen
Shopping in Cologne
Cologne is one of Germany’s best shopping cities. Besides the high street chains, there are a lot of designer shops.
The most important shopping streets:
- Hohe Strasse: This street starts at the Cathedral. In the 70s, this street was remodelled to create the main shopping are of the city. There are many large chains, but also a few nice, small boutiques. And the Galeria Kaufhof is located here, a large department store. The Inno (or Bijenkorf for the Dutch) of Germany.
- The Schildergasse crosses this road. This is said to be the most visited shopping street in Germany. The P&C is located in a wonderful building.
- Belgisches Viertel or Belgian quarter is de hottest area at the moment. There are many trendy designshops and small boutiques.
- You will find the more exclusive shops in the Mittelstrasse and Pfeilstrasse.
- If it rains, you can visit the Neumarkt Galerie (at the end of the Schildergasse). You can spot it a mile away as it has an upside-down ice cream on the roof. The Opern-Passagen and the WDR Arkaden are on the Breite Strasse. The Rhein Center features nearly 200 shops, including the only Apple Store in Cologne.
Environmental badge (Umweltplakette)
If you are visiting Cologne by car, be sure to buy an environmental badge (Umweltplakette). You can order one online via https://www.milieustickervoorduitsland.nl/bestelformulier/ (in Dutch) or https://www.umwelt-plakette.de/nc/en/store.html (in English).
I was too late ordering it online, and had read you can buy one at petrol stations. However, after stopping at 3 petrol stations before the border, and an additional 2 after, I still came up empty handed. To be sure, order one online.
Did you know that Baden-Baden also has great shopping?
What's your favourite German town/city?
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