About two years ago we were changing trains in Cologne and spent about 30 minutes sitting on the stairs to the Cologne Cathedral. Unfortunately, we didn’t have more time to explore Cologne. Last weekend, we spent three days in Cologne and had enough time for good food, long walks, and sights.
For our stay, we decided to book a small apartment through Airbnb which was about 10‑minute from the city center. I always prefer to stay in walking distance from the city center no matter which city we visit. It gives us more flexibility, opportunity to go back and rest in our room anytime and we also don’t waste our time in public transport.
I could tell you how cold it was the last weekend and that it rained quite a lot, that the sky was gray all the time and how all shops and many restaurants and cafes are closed on Sundays and national holidays (Monday) in Germany. But I would rather tell you what I liked about our weekend and what might help you if you plan to visit Cologne yourself.
The day before the trip we were surfing the Internet for ideas and recommendations on what to do while in Cologne, what Cologne is famous for and what one must not miss. And during the weekend we checked most of the things from our list.
What we did, saw and ate you ask?
- The Cologne Cathedral
- The Roman-Germanic Museum
- The whole city from observation deck at the Triangle building
- We walked the streets of the old town
- We saw the Crane towers and the Rheinauhafen district
- We walk along the banks of Rhine
- Tried pretzels and loved them
- Found a restaurant that serves Flammkuchen
- Enjoyed coffee and cakes in some local cafés
1. The Cologne Cathedral
Of course, we visited the Cologne Cathedral the landmark and the pride of the city. The cathedral is huge, majestic and has this wow effect on a person and you feel small when you are near or inside of it.
It took many decades to finish the cathedral, it was one of the few building that remained standing after the World War II, it has the largest façade of any church in the world, and today the cathedral is the World Heritage Site.
You can find the cathedral on every postcard and picture of the city. It surprised me that it is so crammed between all the other buildings. I would expect a bigger square and space around it, to be able to admire it and see it in its whole glory.
2. The Roman-Germanic Museum
Right next to the cathedral are two museums – the Museum Ludwig and the Roman‑Germanic Museum. We decided to go to the latter. Three floors are dedicated to artifacts from the Roman settlement found in the area where Cologne is standing now. It is surprising to see all the things Romans used, such as tools, pottery, glass jars and carafes, jewelry, money, doctor’s equipment, etc. All these things are so similar to things we use now that it’s hard to believe how old they are.
3. The Köln Triangle
To get a better view of the cathedral and the old town we walked to the other side of the river. We crossed the river via Hohenzollern Bridge. The fences of the bridge are full of love padlocks that people have been placing there since 2008.
On the right bank of the Rhine, there is the “Köln Triangle” building, more than 100 meters high with an observation deck open for public on the very top. It is right across the river from the Cathedral, and it offers a panorama view of the city.
Walks and Wanderings
4. The old town
Right next to the cathedral between the river and shopping streets is the old town. It was significantly destroyed during the World War II and carefully rebuild after. The old town is small but with typical architecture, and it’s full of restaurants, cafes, and bars.
5. The crane towers
One afternoon we walked little further from the city center to check out the Rheinauhafen district and buildings called “Kranhäuser” (crane towers). These three building – one apartment building and two office buildings – are the center of the district which was redesigned and developed just recently. People walk here on the promenade next to the river or between the building which host restaurants, galleries, shops, and cafes.
We walked all the way down the promenade and back to the city center but I can imagine spending here much more time in the summer.
6. Walks along the Rhine banks
We did long walks on both banks of the Rhine. On the left bank, in the old town, it was more crowded and lively, full of people walking by and waiting for their boats. On the right bank, it was calmer, and we saw few runners and other tourists taking pictures of the city. I found the promenade on the right bank nicer than in the city center, and I am sure in warmer months it’s full of people until late hours.
Germans are not famous for their cuisine. If you compare it with the French or Italian cuisine, it is very dense, less colorful and quite heavy. What Germans are famous for are their baked goods, and you can find bakeries on every corner. They don’t only sell loaves of bread, bread rolls, soft pretzels, milk rolls, etc. but often have a small cafe on the side where you can have coffee, cakes, baked goods or bread rolls filled with ham and veggies.
7. Soft pretzels
Everyone eats soft pretzels in Cologne. People buy them all day long. They look like nothing special, but if you get them fresh and still a bit warm, they are delish. We tried pretzels with salt and also the ones with sunflower seeds on top, and we were not disappointed.
We also tried Flammkuchen, the South German dish, similar to pizza, made of a very thin bread dough topped with all kinds of things, like vegetables, meat, sausages, cheese, etc. There are many versions of Flammkuchen, and we tried one with ham, sausage, sour cream and rocket in the Noa restaurant.
9. Cafes and bakeries
Since the last weekend was quite cold, we had coffee on many occasions and in many places. I liked the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf but also Merzenich bakery and Backwerk where we went for a breakfast every morning.
In retrospect, I would say that three days in Cologne was probably too much. Even during Christmas market season, during the Carnival season or during summer where there are more thing to do and explore you can do it within two days at most.
Have you been to Cologne or are you planning to visit Cologne someday? What did you do, see and eat there?