Germany’s fourth-largest city
Is the most important in all of North Rhine Westphalia. It’s one of the nation’s very oldest, too, having been founded by the Romans in 38BC, although most traces of the era are long since gone. Today it’s a prosperous and modern university town with a thriving cultural and arts scene, a windy river frontage and a warm welcome.
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From the chain-dominated streets of the city centre to the luxury designer stores of Ehrenstrasse and the Belgian Quarter’s offbeat boutiques, Cologne is a true retail mecca. The city specialises in retro chic and second-hand treasure troves such as Zeit der Rosen (48 Merowinger Strasse). A must-have souvenir for any visitor to Cologne is, of course, a bottle of perfume – pop into Haus 4711 (Glockengasse 22-28) for a sniff of the city’s signature brand, produced in an outlet nearby. For a kitsch shopping experience, don’t miss the Neumarkt Galerie (Richmodstrasse 8), a shopping centre topped with an iconic upside-down ice-cream cone.
Food & Drink
With more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other German city and a reputation for culinary diversity, Cologne is a European gourmet capital. With three prestigious Michelin stars, Vendōme (Kadettenstrasse) in Bergisch Gladbach is the most sought-after restaurant in the region, but if you can’t get a table here, then French-style bistro Le Moissonnier (Krefelder Strasse 25) serves similarly creative cuisine and is easier to reach from the city. Alfredo (Tunisstrasse 3) specialises in classic Italian fare, while Taku in the Excelsior Hotel Ernst (Trankgasse 1-5, Domplatz) is one of the city’s best Japanese restaurants. La Bodega (Friesenstrasse 51) serves scrumptious tapas and is a good budget choice.
This week-long celebration of wine is based around Neumarkt and features tastings and presentations headed up by both German and international winemakers.
Cologne has a reputation as a gay and lesbian hub, so it’s no surprise that its pride event is one of the biggest in Germany. Hundreds of thousands congregate every year to celebrate diversity and equality through the medium of processions, concerts and generally partying.
The Caribbean comes to Cologne for a weekend in July, with hundreds of bands taking part in Europe’s biggest dancehall, reggae and world music festival. The event is based around Cologne’s picturesque Fühlinger See lake.
Kunstsalon – Musik in den Hausen
Perhaps the only festival in Europe where concerts are held in private houses and flats as well as in public venues, this musical weekend brightens up the Cologne winter. The focus is on jazz and classical music, but fans of other genres will find plenty to take their fancy too.
Kicking off every year at 11 minutes past 11 on 11 November, the carnival season in Cologne runs right through until Ash Wednesday. The main parade is on Rose Monday and, throughout the festivities, locals greet one another with “Kölle Alaaf!” meaning “Cologne above all”.
Old Cologne is a fascinating patchwork of Roman, medieval and modern history, but the city’s hotel scene channels a more contemporary spirit. The five-star Dorint Hotel am Heumarkt Köln (Pipinstrasse 1) heads a small, stellar selection of luxury accommodation – a short walk from the Heumarkt Square, its avant-garde vibe contrasts with the sublime views of Cologne Cathedral. Nearby Central am Dom (An Den Dominikanern 3) is designed along equally modern lines, but its neat rooms are geared towards mid-budget travellers. Art’otel Cologne Hotel (Holzmarkt 4) excels in quirky minimalism, while Hotel Arde (Auf der Ruhr 5) offers cheap and cheerful city centre accommodation.