A beautiful beer-loving city perched on the banks of the Rhine and dominated by a Unesco-listed cathedral, Cologne combines all the best bits of Germany. But it is often (unfairly) overshadowed by Berlin and Munich. Here’s how to make the most of a weekend in North Rhine-Westphalia’s largest and busiest metropolis.
What to do
Climbing the south tower of the cathedral (known as the Dom) is a great way to get your bearings. You will also have a breathtaking view of the Hohenzollern Bridge (a magnificent road, rail and pedestrian bridge which is Germany’s most used railway bridge, with over 1,200 trains crossing each day) and of the Rhine meandering past the center. -city. The cathedral was completed in 1880, over 600 years after construction began.
Some of Cologne’s best museums also surround the Dom. Our choice is the Römisch-Germanisches Museum – until recently it stood in the shadow of the cathedral, on the former site of a Roman villa, but its collection was moved to the neighboring Belgian house at Cäcilienstraße 46 , where it will be will remain until 2025. Exhibits focus on the archaeological heritage of Cologne and the surrounding area, and include a stone archway engraved with the city’s initials, CCAA, which stood for Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (try saying this after a bite of Kölsch, Cologne’s local beer). Do not miss the bust of Emperor Augustus, carved in black glass and covered with a turquoise coating.
Admire its concrete masterpieces
Cologne is often seen as an industrial concrete jungle, but for a different perspective on the destination, opt for a glimpse into the German brutalism movement, courtesy of the architects-turned-guides who lead Guiding Architects’ specialist tours. For two hours, you will begin to see the concrete behemoths of the city in a different light. Our favorite stop is St. Gertrud Church, which was inspired by high mountains and designed by Pritzker Prize winner architect Gottfried Böhm.
Learn more about Cologne’s most famous perfume
Centuries ago, cologne was a combination of urine (thrown out of windows) and sweat (washing was once frowned upon). This ancient dirt led to the creation of Eau de Cologne 4711. In 1792, Wilhelm Mülhens obtained the recipe for a perfumed water from a monk, before settling in the early 1800s in the verdant Glockengasse, where is Maison 4711 (4711.com), both a shop and a museum. Exhibits include the slim 4711 flasks designed to fit into the boots worn by Napoleon’s troops, and the huge range of fragrances on sale are reminiscent of the brand’s modern makeover. Our advice? Forget the original scent and get a bottle of 4711 Acqua Colonia Goji & Cactus Extract instead.
Where to stay
As a base for a riverside stroll, you can’t beat the Hyatt Regency Cologne, perched on the banks of the Rhine and a short walk from the Cathedral and Old Town. Be sure to stop by its Legends Bar, where the walls are lined with photos of musical icons – try the Forever Young Cocktail, a dreamy blend of bourbon, basil and ginger ale. It sounds strange, but it works. Doubles from £ 134, B&B. hyatt.com
We’re also big fans of Ruby Ella, a design hotel that opened in Hohenzollernring (Cologne’s entertainment district) in early 2021. There’s also a busy calendar of events, from cabaret shows to poetry slams. . Doubles from £ 82, room only. ruby-hotels.com
Where to eat
Cologne has some fantastic brauhäus (beer house) restaurants where köbes (waiters) scurry from table to table carrying circular trays with slots for beer glasses. One of the oldest is the 700-year-old Brauhaus Sion. It’s famous for its magnificent stained glass windows, vast expanses of ornate woodwork, and hearty braumeister-tellers (beer masters’ platters), which include a pork knuckle dipped in a beer and mushroom sauce.
For added convenience, head to Bei Oma Kleinmann (which roughly translates to “with grandmother Kleinmann”), a salon-like restaurant that dates back to 1949. The name pays homage to its first owner – the late Paula Kleinmann , whose grandson ran the bar until 2003. The current owners have hardly changed anything, so expect chintzy wallpaper, antique chandeliers, and framed quotes from Grandma Kleinmann. The selection of schnitzel is legendary; we recommend the one drizzled with cream of mushroom sauce.
Where to drink
Kölsch is a delicious golden beer brewed in Cologne and the best place to taste it is at the Kölsches Brauhaus, in the shadow of the cathedral. Beer is served in 200ml glasses (the bartenders will jot down the number you got on your coaster), and you can dine in the beer garden or in venues such as the Wappensaal, where the walls are covered with the historical coat of arms of the Cologne guilds.
For cocktails, think of Little Link in the Belgian Quarter, where creations are made of everything from whiskey to porcini mushrooms to blackberry caviar. Become a mixologist by signing up for one of the bar’s cocktail-making classes.
Where to shop
You will find the major retailers on Schildergasse and Hohe Straße – wide pedestrian boulevards close to the cathedral. Mittelstraße is the place to go for luxury labels, and Ehrenstraße has a combination of everything from independent shops to Käsehaus Wingenfeld, a cheese specialist that dates back to 1896, and where you can sign up for cheese workshops or simply browse the 300 types of cheese (and admire the store’s cheese-themed frescoes).
For sustainable housewares and fashion accessories, head to the Fairfitters concept store, where you’ll find beautiful, sustainable pieces designed by German designers. Our favorite items are the handbags made by Pikfine, a Cologne-based brand founded by sisters Nora and Clara, whose brand is based on sustainability – their leather items are vegetable-tanned, their jewelry is made from recycled precious metals and almost everything is made in Germany.
Or stop by the Keep Loving boutique founded by Elmira Rafizadeh, a German actress of Iranian origin and highly regarded on Instagram. At the southern end of downtown, this is where you’ll find some nice bags, sunglasses, and jewelry. A lucky few can pick up one of the items from his collaborations with luxury brands like handbag brand Aigner.
Nuts and bolts
What currency do I need?
What language do they speak?
German, although English is widely spoken.
Should I tip?
About 10 percent is the norm for good service in restaurants.
What is the time difference?
Cologne is one hour ahead of the UK.
How do I get around?
It’s within walking distance, but you can choose from trams, buses, or the underground network to get around further. Buy a KölnCard (€ 9 for 24 hours) to get free transport as well as 50% off multiple attractions.
What is the best view?
From the open-air observation deck on the 29th floor of the Cologne Triangle, just across the river from the cathedral.
If FC Köln is playing, you can’t beat the atmosphere at Geißbockheim (“Billy Goat”), a bar and restaurant on Franz-Kremer-Allee named after the football club’s horned mascot. There’s a defined goat theme here (horned creatures adorn everything from napkins to bar stools), and archival photos provide a glimpse into the club’s history, as well as that of Cologne.
Trying to fly less?
You can get from UK to Cologne by taking the Eurostar – simply change at Bruxelles-Midi / Zuid before taking an ICE train to the city’s train station, Köln Hauptbahnhof. You can also take the ferry from Harwich or Hull to Hook of Holland, just outside Rotterdam, and get on the train to Cologne.
Okay to fly?
Ryanair and Eurowings both operate direct flights between the UK and Cologne.