City description

Few German cities radiate as much vitality and joie de vivre as Cologne, the metropolis on the Rhine River. It is world renowned for its carnival, its Kölsch beer and of course Cologne Cathedral, Germany’s most popular tourist magnet. The two 157-metre-high towers of this Gothic masterpiece are visible from afar, and define the city’s skyline. Its many treasures, especially the golden sarcophagus containing the remains of the Three Kings, have made the cathedral a significant place of pilgrimage since the 13th century and one of the most important churches in the Christian world. Other works of sacred art can be admired in the Cathedral Treasury, the Museum Schnütgen and the Kolumba Museum. 

Cologne’s eclectic museum scene is one of its major drawcards. Right next to the cathedral, the Römisch-Germanisches Museum offers insight into everyday life under the Romans, who founded the settlement known as Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium in 38 BC. But it’s the art scene which makes Cologne a hot destination for cognoscenti. Every April, the city hosts one of the world’s most important art fairs, the Art Cologne. The Museum Ludwig and the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum impress art lovers with their renowned collections year round. Visitors with a sweet tooth are drawn to the Cologne Chocolate Museum, where they’re transported back to the era of the Aztecs, learn how chocolate is produced, and dip waffles into a three-metre-high chocolate fountain.

Lovers of hearty cuisine head to one of Cologne's rustic brewery taverns, such as Früh am Dom or Päffgen. As well as pork knuckles and bratwurst, the menu offers local specialities such as Halve Hahn (a rye bread roll with mature cheese, often with pickles, sliced onion, mustard and paprika) or Kölsche Kaviar (black pudding). The perfect accompaniment is a Kölsch, the top-fermented beer, only brewed in Cologne, which comes in a 200ml glass. When your glass is empty, your waiter will automatically bring you another – unless you put your beer mat on top. And don’t be offended if he’s rather gruff – it’s just part of the local colour.

The natives of Cologne are an altogether idiosyncratic bunch. This is reflected not only in their distinctive German dialect and their passion for local football club 1st FC Köln, but especially during carnival. The so-called “Fifth Season” begins at 11.11am on 11 November and reaches its crescendo with street parties in the week before Ash Wednesday. The numerous customs include women cutting off men’s ties on Fat Thursday – most gentlemen, however, can cope with their loss if they’re compensated with a kiss. The first smaller parades take place over the weekend, before over a million people line the route of the traditional grand parade on Shrove Monday. The whole show is over on Ash Wednesday, and the period of Lent begins. 

Cologne’s residents also know how to enjoy themselves during the rest of the year. Numerous major events attract locals and visitors from around the world to the banks of the Rhine. Summer highlights include the huge fireworks display, Kölner Lichter. Sommer Köln presents street theatre, and there’s music at the c/o pop festival and the Sommerfestival in the beautiful Kölner Philharmonie, one of Germany’s most important concert halls. Big-name international pop and rock acts perform at the ultramodern Lanxess Arena, where the Cologne Sharks ice hockey team also play their home games. Crowds cheer on local Bundesliga football club 1st FC Köln at the RheinEnergie Stadium.

Cologne is also not short of relaxing green spaces. The almost one-kilometre ride across the Rhine in the Kölner Seilbahn cable car offers sweeping views of the city. It ends on the right bank in the Rheinpark, one of Cologne's largest and most beautiful parks.
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