Famous for its splendid UNESCO-listed cathedral, Cologne is one of Germany's most dynamic cities. Student and cosmopolitan, the Rhine city has no shortage of assets: fascinating museums, nice walks in town or along the river, trendy bars and restaurants ... Just over 3 hours by train from Paris, Cologne is therefore a destination for choice for a cultural or festive weekend ... or both!
Cologne, much more than a cathedral
It is sometimes said that Cologne, aka Köln, is the city of "4 K" : Kirchen, Karneval, Kölnisch Wasser, Kölsch (churches, carnival, cologne and traditional beer). This summary, admittedly a little reductive, nevertheless gives an idea of the contrasts which characterize the city.
Installed on the banks of the Rhine, it is far from uniform and changes its face from one street to another, one of the reasons undoubtedly being that the city was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War. Today its impressive Cathedral and its Romanesque churches sit alongside museums and contemporary buildings, traditional brasseries rub shoulders with trendy boutiques, restaurants and cafes.
Very student and cosmopolitan, the population, for its part, always seems ready to party, even outside the carnival period, which marks the peak of the celebrations. Because, in Cologne, we really know how to have fun and that's one of the charms of the city!
The old town and its treasures
When you leave the station, the first thing that jumps out at you is the "kolossale" Cathedral Gothic, which dominates the whole city, with its two towers 157 m high. Begun in 1248, the construction of this masterpiece listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site was not completed until 1880, as the plans had not changed over the centuries.
Inside, we discover the longest nave in Germany, medieval and more recent stained glass windows, and the precious shrine containing the relics of the Three Kings, of which we find the three crowns in the coat of arms of the city.
Right next door, we change the era with the zinc-clad building of the Ludwig museum, devoted to the art of the 20th century. Here we find the 3rd largest collection of Picasso in the world, and the largest number of Pop Art outside the United States, as well as many expressionist paintings.
Not far away, another large contemporary building houses the Museum of Applied Arts, MAKK (Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln), which will please fans of contemporary design. There is also a large collection of objects (jewelry, furniture, porcelain, earthenware, textiles, etc.) from the Middle Ages to the 20th century.
If a sudden urge to shop has not taken hold of you in the Hohe Strasse, the main shopping street that crosses the old town, you will then arrive at Wallraf-Richartz museum. Its collections of paintings, from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, are exceptional. In particular, you can admire precious wooden altarpieces from the Cologne school, works from the Dutch school (Rubens, Rembrandt), but also paintings by Monet, Sisley, Van Gogh, Munch or Odilon Redon, to mention than them.
Finally, to end this cultural tour, we get into the perfume in the Farina House, which manufactures the famous cologne original for over 300 years. The visit is provided, in French, by a guide in costume and wig, who will tell you all about the history of the Farina family, who have managed the business for eight generations, but also about its prestigious clients and the art of making. a perfume.
Trip along the Rhine
The alleys of the old town (Altstadt) lead onto the nicely landscaped quays of the Rhine, with their lawns bordered by tall and narrow colored houses, the gables of which are surmounted by the Groß St. Martin, one of the twelve Romanesque churches in Cologne. Along the promenade, the restaurants deploy their terraces, pleasant when the sun shines.
To discover another point of view on the city, you can take a boat trip on the Rhine (comments are in German and English). From a distance, the contrasts between the different architectural styles are even more evident.
We also realize that the river represents a real border between the two parts of the city, the inhabitants of the left bank considering that they live in the “real Cologne”, the districts located on the right bank being, in fact, of the “Bad side” (“Schäl Sick”, we say here). This does not prevent them from crossing the Rhine on occasion to go green in the Rheinpark, one of the largest parks in the city.
Back on dry land, you can take a tour of the Chocolate Museum, where an educational trail traces the history of cocoa and the mysteries of chocolate making (here too, the explanations are in German and English). If it's chilly, it can be nice to warm up with a hot chocolate in the cafeteria, with a view of the Rhine.
Continuing along the quays, you reach the Rheinauhafen, the old port, recognizable by its three impressive crane-shaped buildings, the Kranhäuser. Today, the new district is in full development and has seen the establishment of restaurants, bars and clubs.
Neighborhoods that move
A tram or metro jet (or on foot), we reach Rudolfplatz, identifiable at the Hahnentorburg, a beautiful fortified gate, a vestige of the old medieval ramparts which once surrounded the city.
From there, we are free to explore the Belgian quarter (Belgisches Viertel), so called because of the name of its streets, which refer to Brussels or the Flemings. Officially designated as the trendy district of Cologne, we meet hipsters, students and artists.
Neatly designed boutiques are not particularly cheap, but you will find truly original designer objects, jewelry, clothes and accessories. In the evening, the entertainment is at the rendezvous in the many bars and restaurants, especially in the street Aachener.
It is also near Rudolfplatz that the gay district is located, nicknamed " Bermuda Triangle », With its bars, restaurants and saunas. The rainbow flag also flies in many other streets of the city, where there is a large homosexual community (the second in Germany, after Berlin).
Finally, to go out, you can get closer to the university by going to the Zülpicher Platz, and scour the student district, which, like in Paris, is called the Latin Quarter (Kwartier Lätang). You can nibble on a pizza, a kebab, a falafel or a gyros, just to be ready before spending the night in a club.
To prepare your stay, consult our online guide Germany
German National Tourist Board
Cologne Tourist Office (Köln Tourismus). Website in German and English.
How to get there ?
With the Thalys. Every day, direct trains connect Paris to Cologne (via Brussels, Liège and Aachen), in around 3 hours 15 minutes.
Cologne-Bonn Airport is served by Lufthansa and Germanwings. Find your plane ticket to Cologne.
In the old town, everything is within walking distance. If you want to go to other areas, you can use public transport: the tram and the metro (U-Bahn).
The Kölncard (9 € / day) allows you to use public transport and to have reductions in certain museums, restaurants and shops.
It is also possible to rent bicycles, a good way to discover Cologne, which is equipped with cycle paths.
Boat trips on the Rhine (KD company): https://www.kd.com/en/home/
Or sleep ?
Where to eat ?
- Café Feynsinn: Rathenauplatz 7, in Kwartier Latäng, the student district. Original dishes, concocted with quality and organic products, in a nice decor. Good value for money (dishes between € 9,90 and € 17,90). The taste is there. Also a nice wine list.
- Schmitz: Aachener Strasse 30, in the Belgian quarter. Delicious quiches, vegetable pies, and mixed salads for a very reasonable price (count € 12,60 for a large plate with quiche + assortment of salads). After having made your choice at Metzgerei Schmitz, a small restaurant set up in a former charcuterie, you will sit in the Salon, the café lounge next door. For a lively atmosphere, stay near the large bar, and if you prefer a quieter and more cozy atmosphere, opt for the back room.
Breweries & Kölsch
In the old town, do not miss eating in the big breweries, the Kölner Brauhäusers. In a rustic setting, you can taste traditional dishes: black pudding (Kölsche Kaviar or Himmel un Ääd, depending on the recipe), sauerkraut soup (Sauerkrautsuppe), sausages, baked beans, etc.
Of course, the "obligatory" drink here is Kölsch, the local beer, produced by several brewers and distributed under as many brands. The beverage is named after the local dialect, so you'll often hear it said that “Kölsch is the only language in the world you can drink”! Here, no big bocks (we are not in Bavaria), but tall and narrow glasses, called Stangen (around € 1,80 per 20 cl glass).
A little tip to know: When you're done with your drink, don't forget to put your coaster on it if you don't want a second round. Otherwise, the server will automatically serve you again.
Among the breweries:
- Früh am Dom, near the Cathedral. An institution since 1904, and one of the largest breweries in Germany.
- Peters Bräuhaus, Mühlengasse 1. Several rooms with rustic decor all in wood, with a large colorful glass roof at the back. Traditional atmosphere guaranteed.
Each year Cologne organizes the biggest carnival in Germany. The season officially begins on November 11 at 11:11 a.m., with the 11 considered the number of fools. But most of the festivities take place in February (next year: February 12 to 16, 2016). They open with the Weiberfastnacht, the "women's day", whose favorite game is to cut men's ties. Then, during “Pink Monday”, parades are taking place, with lots of floats and brass bands! The next day, a big ball takes place. Finally, on Ash Day, the city's restaurants serve fish.
Christopher Street Day
On the first weekend of July, the LGBT community in Cologne celebrates Christopher Street Day (CSD), a party commemorating the first major gay uprising against the attacks by the New York police on June 17, 1969. On the program: parades with crazy costumes, loud music, and good humor!
During the Advent season, the Christmas spirit hangs over the city, several squares filled with Christmas markets, and even an ice rink, in Heumarkt. Cologne can also be proud of having the longest route of nurseries in the world.