City guide: Cologne, Germany
Whether it's Christmas markets, a thriving LGBT scene or gothic architecture, Cologne holds something for everyone
At 2,000 years old, Cologne is living history – a city that successfully merges old with new.
It therefore follows that the city has a strong museum scene. Fans of contemporary art should make a beeline for Museum Ludwig, where American pop art (Warhol, Lichtenstein), German expressionism (Beckmann, Dix, Kirchner) and the world’s third largest Picasso collection are on show. The Romano-Germanic Museum is a must for archaeology devotees. The museum preserves the foundations of an urban roman villa, including the remains of a large Dionysius mosaic in its original place in the basement. There are 100,000-year-old stone tools used by the earliest arable farmers in the Rhineland and astonishingly well-preserved glass items. Wall paintings, inscriptions and tableware show what daily life was like in Roman Cologne.
Learn the history of cocoa production in the Schokoladenmuseum, which tracks the emergence and culture of chocolate and ends with a three-metre-high chocolate fountain.
There are a few different vantage points to take in sweeping city views. There’s a cable car on the east bank of the Rhine, which takes you directly to Cologne Zoo. High-rise office tower KolnTriangle has a panoramic platform 100m up that’s easily accessible by lift. A more intrepid climb is the city’s gothic cathedral, with 533 steps in a narrow spiral staircase to get to the top. On a clear day the views stretch all the way to the Siebengebirge hills south of Bonn.
The right bank of the Rhine offers plenty of space to roam, and there are plenty of city parks for more outdoor relaxation. The Flora and Botanical Garden is Cologne’s oldest public park and home to more than 10,000 species of plants. The most exotic are housed in tropical greenhouses and the Palm House. Rheinpark Park is particularly child-friendly, with numerous playgrounds and a children’s train within its boundaries. This park is also the boarding point for the Cologne cable car. The Volksgarten Garden is another top tip for a summer’s day – with an open-air beer garden, a lake complete with pedalo hire and a hidden rose garden where members of the resistance used to meet in the Second World War.
For a traditional Cologne experience, visit the city’s Brauhauser or brewery restaurants. Clustered in city streets around the cathedral, city hall and the Rhine Promenade, the Brauhausers originated when breweries began to sell their beer to the public in vestibules and courtyards. The makeshift pubs developed into restaurants that have never lost their rustic charm. The oldest of these was the Bauhaus Sion on Unter Taschenmacher, which opened in 1511. Alongside the hearty fare served in these brewpubs, Cologne has a varied culinary offering. A regular street food festival in the artsy Ehrenfeld District offers the chance to try delicacies including wild garlic sausage from the neighbouring Eiffel region, Eiffel beef steak burgers, battered Oreo cookies and Cologne-brewed ginger ale.
For shopping, visit at Christmas when there are at least seven markets to explore. As well as the traditional ice rinks and live music, Cologne – Germany’s self-proclaimed gay capital – holds a gay and lesbian market, with pink and purple chalets and burlesque dancing.