This city is one of Germany's biggest business, but Cologne has more to offer than just sharp suits and sauerkraut joints. Home to one of Europe's oldest universities, Cologne has all the cool culture of Berlin but without the hoards of weekend tourists - head straight to Cologne Cathedral or the Schokoladenmuseum on your next work trip.
1. Climb to the top of Cologne Cathedral
Climb the 509 steps to the top of Kölner Dom, or Cologne Cathedral – a UNESCO World Heritage site and second tallest building in Cologne – to take in sweeping views across the city. It takes an hour to reach the top, but the panoramas make working up a sweat and the €3 admission fee well worth it. If you’ve not got a head for heights then take a tour of the treasury for €4, or simply see the impressive chapel for free. During the summer months (May to October) it’s open from 6am right up until 9pm daily, although tower climbs stop at about 6pm – it’s a romantic spot to watch the evening draw in across Cologne come sunset.
Address: Domkloster 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
2. Stuff your face at the Schokoladenmuseum (chocolate museum)
Get down to Cologne’s chocolate museum in the Rheinau docks, facing the old town, for the chance to meet a real life Willy Wonka and enjoy a spot of edible education. Learn all about the history of cocoa and the process of turning this bitter bean into lovely bars of luxurious Lindt chocolate. Once you’re up to speed, grab a spatula in the museum’s ‘confiserie’ and try your hand at crafting your very own sweet treats. Lessons last for about three hours and cost anything from €85 to €35 per person depending on group size (max 12 people). Contact the musuem to arrange these special classes, it’s an interesting way to spend an afternoon and by the end you’ll have a box of (hopefully) delicious bon-bons to snack on.
Address: Am Schokoladenmuseum 1A, 50678 Köln, Germany
3. Take a boat trip along the Rhine
It’s such an integral element of the city, snaking through the centre, delivering goods to sell and locals from A to B. The Rhine has been at the heart of Cologne for centuries, so you’ve got to sail along it to see the city from a different angle. Cruise by the historic old town, or get a glimpse of the super chic and modern Rheinauhafen district (see point 10) – boats take different routes with a number of pick-up and drop-off points, making it an enjoyable, unique and convenient way to see Cologne. Float through this cool city, enjoy a drink (soft or something a little stronger) and a spot of sunbathing on deck, or dance under the stars on a night time cruise. Tickets are priced at between €10 and €20, depending on the package you choose and the company booked with.
4. Make your own perfume
From the Rhine to bottled fragrances: Cologne is famous for its water. You could just pick a souvenir bottle of Eau de Cologne off the shelf in a perfumerie, but why not craft your own unique formula for a highly personalised fragrance? Visit 4711’s flagshipstore and learn about the history of the city’s famous export – they’ve been producing parfum for over 220 years so they know a thing or two about it and can help you choose the right scent for you or someone special. Design your own signature smell in one of their workshops; they host a public, one-hour session in German every Thursday from 3pm, or you can arrange to have a private tutorial in English upon request.
Address: Glockengasse 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
5. Shop in the Belgian Quarter
For big high street brands and flashy designer stores head to Hohe Straße and Schildergasse, the two main shopping streets in Cologne. But if it’s one-of-a-kind trinkets and vintage bargains you’re after then venture into the Belgian Quarter, where higgledy-piggledy houses are home to a variety of quirky boutiques showcasing items from some of the city’s brightest fashion talent. Find those killer heels, or bedeck yourself in handmade jewellry bling enough to make a Kardashian cry – you’ll definitely find some great, unique pieces to enrich your wardrobe whatever your personal style. Budding artists and stationery obesessives should dart to Pop-up Paper, a shop dedicated to all things 2D including customised letterheads and sketchbooks.
6. Leave a lock at Love Lock Bridge
Paris city officials may be breaking hundreds of hearts by getting rid of theirs, but Cologne’s got its own ‘love lock’ bridge, Hohenzollern Bridge, a short walk from the cathedral with a number of U-Bahn subway stations nearby, including Cologne Main Station. Hopeless romantics flock here to place a padlock on the bridge’s railings, often inscribed with their initials or a significant date as a sign of their commitment and loyalty to each other. Apparently the locks weigh a grand total of two tonnes! It’s free and you’re bound to win major brownie points with your other half if you’re looking to woo them on your weekend city break.
Address: Hohenzollern Bridge, 50667 Köln, Germany
7. Party at Cologne Carnival
One of the biggest in Europe, Cologne’s winter carnival, also known as the ‘fifth season of the year’, is February’s hottest ticket. Starting on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and lasting a full week, the crazy carnival days are celebrated with street parades and parties in the city’s plazas and pubs, which have extended opening hours during the festivities. Colourful marches and throngs of costumed revellers (about one and half million party-goers attend annually) culminates with a procession on Shrove Monday by three symbolic figures, the prince, the peasant and the virgin.
8. Drink Kölsch
Aside from perfume, the good people of Cologne wisely decided to use their water resource to brew some fine beer, Kölsch. This bright, straw coloured tincture was born in the city’s Sünner Brewery in 1918, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that Kölsch stopped being kitsch and really took off. These days there are 13 local breweries producing this five per cent proof tipple; pay about £3 a pint in a trendy bar in the artsy neighbourhood of Agnesviertel (we recommend Lapidarium) or head to one of Cologne’s original small breweries, Mühlen-Kölsch, which also has a hotel on site if you don’t fancy falling too far at the end of the night. Fancy getting to know Europe’s best drinking destinations? Here are some of our favourites.
9. Take a day trip to Phantasialand
Escape Cologne for the day and head to China, Mexico or Africa, with a trip to Phantasialand theme park. Take the tram from the city centre to Brühl Mitte station, or ride the train out to Brühl, and jump aboard a shuttle bus which will whisk you straight to the park gates for €3 return. Ticket prices range from €24 (4-11 year olds) €45 for an adult day pass, to €75 for a two day adult day pass. Watch African Miji dancers strut their stuff in the ‘Deep in Africa’ section of the park, or get absolutely soaked on the Mexican log flume ride. When the kids have exhausted themselves on the carousels and coasters there are a few restaurants and bars to refuel in, or a hotel on the park’s grounds for you and the troops to crash in.
Address: Berggeiststraße 31-41, 50321 Brühl, Germany
10. Hang out in the Rheinauhafen District
During World War II almost 95 per cent of the city was completely flattened and since the 1980s, when Cologne blossomed as a media hub, there have been numerous reconstruction projects, but perhaps none so creative or ambitious than that recently completed on the Rheinauhafen waterfront. The 210,000m² development sits proudly on the banks of the Rhine a short distance from the city centre and is home to a number of commercial offices, private residencies, shops, restaurants and cafés. Particularly striking are the three _Kranhäuser _or crane towers which reach 60 metres into the sky and have become an iconic part of Cologne’s skyline. Stay in the heart of this ultra-modern neighbourhood at the four-star Art’Otel – enjoy the spa or spend time gazing at the bold collages by Korean artist SEO which are on permanent display in the hotel’s public spaces.