Cologne - Rhine Metropolis
Riverside walks, museum visits and evenings in the brewery pub
Cathedral city, city of art, Rhine metropolis: the most populous city in North Rhine-Westphalia scores highly with its cultural flair and idyllic location on the Rhine.
“The heart of the world, yes that's Cologne” – a famous carnival song about the good life and highlighting the central character of the Cathedral city on the Rhine, which is visited annually by millions of people from around the world. The most populous city in North Rhine-Westphalia and the fourth largest city in Germany, Cologne can look back on a storied past. More than 2000 years ago, Cologne was already known as the Roman city of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium and was highly developed. Today history buffs can still follow the trail of the Romans through the city: The Römerkanal-Wanderweg (Roman Canal Hiking Trail) leads along old Roman aqueducts and past relics of ancient monuments from Nettersheim to Cologne.
Upon arriving in Cologne, the city impresses visitors with its diverse cultural flair. This extends beyond just Carnival, though it does of course account for a large part of Cologne’s cultural identity. Between Weiberfastnacht, the last Thursday before Lent, and Ash Wednesday Cologne is always firmly in the hands of revellers and a visit to one of the big parades is always worthwhile. Culture is always there to be discovered in Cologne, even outside of the “fifth season” of Carnival.
Museums and galleries
A large number of museums and galleries mean Cologne is also well-known as an artistic metropolis of international standing. Whether you’re looking to learn about ethnology at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, see Christian art at the Kolumba, experience history in the Romano-Germanic Museum or follow the journey of chocolate with a visit to the popular Schokoladenmuseum (Chocolate Museum), Cologne's museums have something to offer every visitor. Modern art in Cologne is not to be missed either – Museum Ludwig has an international reputation. Also significant in the field of contemporary art is the ART Cologne art fair, which draws tens of thousands of art experts, art lovers, artists and gallery owners to the city on the Rhine every year. Other annual cultural events featured in Cologne are the lit.COLOGNE literary festival and the Kölner Lichter (Cologne Lights) fireworks display.
Brewery pubs, the cathedral and Eau de Cologne
Another great aspect of Cologne culture includes the Cathedral city’s breweries and brewery pubs. A fitting end to any city tour is a visit to one of the many brewery pubs, where, of course, the light, top-fermented Kölsch is the main beer poured. One particular curiosity joins the brewery pubs with the symbol of the city: just like in Cologne Cathedral, confessionals can be found in some brewery pubs; innkeepers used to monitor their businesses from there and used it to settle up with their employees at the end of the day. The confessionals in Cologne Cathedral, however, are still used for religious purposes. The church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in the Gothic style, is the most famous symbol of Cologne and attracts more than six million pilgrims and tourists every year.
Almost as well known as the famous cathedral, however, is a very special fragrance called “Eau de Cologne”. In 1709, perfumer Johann Maria Farina created a perfume that he later named “Eau de Cologne” after his adopted city. To this day the perfume is produced from lemon, orange, bergamot, mandarin, lime, cedar and grapefruit essences using an unchanged recipe. The head office of the family-run Farina business in Cologne’s Old Town is home to the Fragrance Museum, where visitors can follow the history of Eau de Cologne. Another Eau de Cologne production site was established around 100 years later on Cologne’s Glockengasse with the fragrance known as “No. 4711”. The name 4711 dates back to 1794, when the invading French demanded that the blocks of houses be numbered to provide better orientation for the army. A reminder of this remains today in the form of a chime playing the Marseillaise. Visitors to the 4711 house can delve into the world of fragrance, for example at a perfume seminar where participants can create their own Eau de Cologne under professional supervision.
The many different shops along the city’s famed shopping streets offer more than just Eau de Cologne, however. The Schildergasse and Hohe Straße shopping streets are the busiest such streets in Germany, and with good reason: shoppers will find everything their heart desires here. The Belgian Quarter boasts a relaxed shopping atmosphere with next to no big city bustle in a blend of designer shops in chic old buildings and trendy cafés and bars.
Natural recreation on the Rhine
Away from its busy shopping districts, Cologne’s green oases invite visitors to relax. Some 40 square kilometres of the city are green and several parks and gardens provide rest areas in the Rhine metropolis. The Grüngürtel (Green Belt) emerged in the 1920s on land that formerly housed fortifications and boasts expansive park space for sport, games, picnics or barbecues with family and friends. The Rheinpark dates back to the Federal German Garden Show of 1957 and was voted the “Germany’s Most Beautiful Park” in 2007. Located directly on the Rhine, those on foot can come here to watch the boats go by. Another great trip for those interested in the waters of the Rhine is the Freizeitinsel Groov (Groov Leisure Island) in the Cologne district of Porz-Zündorf, where visitors can take a stroll around the inland waters and the old trees. The best Rhine trips to take of an evening are those in the south of Cologne, where several boathouses transform into floating beer gardens and offer visitors a refreshing local Kölsch beer in a relaxing environment, which is a change from the hubbub of the city centre pub atmosphere. Another Rhine highlight is Europe’s first aerial cableway, which crosses the Rhine and offers great views from the air.
The banks of the Rhine are inviting for many other activities as well of course. The Rhine promenade is just waiting to be explored on foot, by bike or on inline skates. Sandy beaches, beer gardens and restaurants along the waterfront invite visitors to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere. And once a year in summer the banks of the Rhine are particularly festively lit up at the Kölner Lichter (Cologne Lights) festival: a convoy of 50 illuminated boats and flares glowing from the river banks set the scene. Visitors wave hundreds of thousands of sparklers from the banks as they await the main fireworks display, which is synchronised to music.
Anyone wishing to explore the countryside around Cologne as well should consider doing so by bike: The Drei-Flüsse-Tour (Three Rivers Tour) and the Rhine Cycle Route criss-cross the Rhine metropolis and lead cyclists through idyllic routes along the great river. Animal lovers can also take a trip to Cologne Zoo. One of the main attractions of Germany’s third-oldest zoo is its elephant park.
Tip: New and exciting restaurant concept in the heart of Cologne!