Travel: 48 hours in the life of Cologne

Coffee and cream cakes in a Gothic city, anyone? Join a 750th birthday party and enjoy the music and beer, with plenty of culture thrown in. By Cathy Packe

Why go now?

This year has been designated "Gothic Year" in Cologne with a series of events celebrating the 750th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the city's magnificent cathedral, known generally as the Dom. Throughout the summer there will be exhibitions, music and a medieval market in and around the cathedral.

Beam down

Cologne airport isn't particularly close to the city, and competition from Heathrow between British Airways and British Midland (also masquerading as Lufthansa) isn't exactly intense. The option of a Debonair flight (0500 146 200) from Luton to Monchengladbach (also known as "Dusseldorf Express"), followed by an hour's bus ride from the airport into the centre of Cologne, may be worth considering. Fares start at pounds 116 including tax.

A cheaper alternative is to take Eurostar (0345 303030) to Brussels and then the connecting train to Cologne, making a total journey time of just under six hours. The lowest fare is pounds 89, for a stay of three nights during the week, or over a Saturday night. Even better, the railway station is right in the centre of the city, next to the Dom.

Get your bearings

Cologne is the largest city on the Rhine. In the Middle Ages it was part of the Hanseatic League, the prosperous trading alliance of northern and Baltic towns. There has been a community here since Roman times, although like many German cities, it was largely rebuilt after heavy Allied bombing during the Second World War. Although the city now extends across both sides of the river, most tourists will stay on the left bank, in an area that fans out from the river in a semicircle, marked by the first of a series of ring roads, following the line of the old city walls.

Check in

If you like a bit of uncertainty, you can get excellent bargains through the Cologne Tourist Office (00 49 221 2213345): turn up at this office, opposite the cathedral, any time during the week (8am-10.30pm Mon-Sat, 9am-10.30pm Sun) and see what is available. The office deals with accommodation in all price ranges and will often be able to get you a reduction of up to 50 per cent on the normal "rack rate".

If you prefer to book in advance, the Drei Kronen (Auf dem Brand 6, tel 00 49 221 258 0692) is a pleasant new hotel in the old part of the city with lovely views of the river; a single room will cost around DM139 (pounds 49) and a double is DM159 (pounds 56), including breakfast. If you are prepared to forgo an en-suite shower at the Hotel Berg (Brandenburgerstrasse 6, tel 00 49 221 132 591) you will pay DM75 (pounds 27) for a single or DM95 (pounds 34) for a double, again including breakfast. You can also visit the tourist office website (www.koeln.org/ koelntourismus): this gives a selection of places to stay, categorised according to price, location and facilities. It is worth bearing in mind that Cologne is often host to large international conferences and trade fairs, and hotels are often booked well in advance, so plan accordingly.

Take a hike

The long riverfront is used for cycling, in-line skating, or just walking about seeing who is around, almost in the manner of the Italian passeggiata. When you need something more architectural to look at, turn inland to the narrow streets filling a square created by the river, Hohestrasse, and the roads coming off the Deutzer Brucke and the Hohenzollernbrucke.

Lunch on the run

The old town is full of cafes serving various kinds of sausage with potato salad, as well as pizzas, pasta and other international food. You can also settle for a light snack; there are plenty of cafes, bistros, and bakeries (for takeaway sandwiches and pastries) near the Dom which fit the bill.

Cultural afternoon

The choice of museums in Cologne extends to beer, chocolate and the Beatles, although there are plenty that are more traditional. A modern complex next to the Dom houses the Wallraf Richartz Museum and the Museum Ludwig, two collections of, respectively, ancient and modern paintings that complement each other and the stunning building in which they are displayed. The Romisch-Germanisches museum is a collection covering the history of the city from its Roman roots, including the beautiful Dionysos Mosaic which was found by archaeologists in 1941, as well as a superb collection of Roman glass.

Window shopping

The 24-hour society is slow to reach Germany, at least as far as shopping is concerned. On Saturdays the shops shut at 4pm - and this is an improvement on recent habits - although closing-time is later during the week. Several of the department stores, and many other interesting smaller shops, are on or around Hohestrasse. Cologne's most famous export is 4711, the world-famous eau de Cologne (or Kolnerwasser), on sale in its original home in Glockengasse. The house number is 4711 - not because the street is unusually long, but because in the days when the French occupied the city at the end of the 18th century, the soldiers needed a way of remembering where they were billeted, so all the houses in the city were numbered individually. The building is now an elegant, old-fashioned shop selling every possible variation on the theme, including soap, perfumed sachets and tea towels commemorating the story of the perfume.

An aperitif

The local speciality is Kolsch, a light, rather bitter beer brewed in various breweries in and around the city, which is served in small, elegant glasses. Enjoy some in one of the open-air cafes of the old town, or go to one of the brewhouses that specialise in beer drinking. Brauhaus Sion, near the Dom at Unter Taschenmacher 9, is an unusual combination of a place in the tourist heartland.

Deutsche dinner

Having tried the home brew, you may wish to turn your attention to some of the local wines. One of the most famous winehouses, and among Cologne's finest restaurants, is the Weinhaus im Walfisch, at Salzgasse 13 (00 49 221 219 575). Housed in a beautiful, gabled 17th-century building, it has a pleasant atmosphere and serves most of Germany's most traditional dishes.

Sunday morning - go to church

Churches are hard to avoid here: in the old town alone there is a choice of 12 which survive from the Romanesque period. The foundation stone for the Gothic Dom, meanwhile, was laid in 1248 and it was built over the following 500 years. It was important during the days of the Holy Roman Empire, and is now the seat of the primate of Germany.

The icing on the cake

The opportunity for kaffee und kuchen should never be passed up, and Sunday morning is an ideal time for a bit of self-indulgence. Cafe Reichard, near the Dom at Unter Fettenhennen 11, is a good choice.

A walk in the park

The Rheinpark is on the right bank of the river, in the suburb known as Deutz, and is easy to get to on the tram. As well as being a pleasant place to walk off the effects of some of those cakes, there are excellent views of the city and the twin towers of the Dom.

Way upstream

Not exactly vigorous exercise, but a trip down the Rhine is an enjoyable way of getting a new perspective on Cologne and its surroundings. There is a wide variety of different trips, from an hour-long city sightseeing tour to a cruise of up to a week. If you want something in-between, KD (which stands for Koln-Dusseldorfer; tel 00 49 221 208 8318) runs daily tours upstream to Bonn and beyond.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own