Cologne is a cultural capital and university city enriched with more than 2000 years of history. In Roman times, Cologne was responsible for a province and ancient remains still emerge throughout the city today, notably in the medieval Romanesque churches and the captivating Germanic Museum.
I love getting lost in a museum for a few hours. Cologne is full of enough art and history to keep you busy for days. You will have to be ruthless and organized to be able to visit some of them.
Today we're sharing the top 10 things to do in Cologne so you can plan a trip and experience all the exciting attractions and activities this beautiful city has to offer.
Cologne Cathedral is an international pilgrimage site which has housed a relic of the three Kings since 1164. In 1248, work began to build a new Gothic cathedral for these precious remains, inspired by the ethereal cathedrals of northern France. Today, Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is Germany's most visited monument, and its 19th-century towers are still the second tallest structures in the city. There is a dizzying profusion of priceless artwork to see inside, such as 16th-century stained glass windows and the 10th-century Gero Crucifix.
The Ludwig Museum
Exhibiting art after 1900, the Ludwig Museum was established in the 1980s in a purpose-built modern complex near the cathedral. The attraction was created in the 1970s after the Ludwigs, Peter and Irene, donated a multi-million dollar collection of 20th century art. Among the many Picassos and vast collection of Russian avant-garde pieces, one can find iconic examples of pop art such as Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes and paintings by Roy Lichtenstein.
Cologne's old town
As you wander from square to square in the historic city center, it is worth remembering that three-quarters of Cologne was destroyed during the war. It can be humbling to walk down a cobblestone alley and think that only 70 years ago it might have been rubble. And yet the old world atmosphere still shines through streets and squares like Heumarkt and Alter Markt, even among the newer post-war concrete constructions. Along Hohestrasse, look for the Henseleit House, a fountain dating from 1899.
The church of Gross St Martin
Part of the landscape since the 12th century, Cologne would not be the same without the fabulous Gross St Martin crossing tower. When bombs hit this marvelous reddish monument during the war, reconstruction made it possible to study its foundations which date back to Roman times. Beneath the church's characteristic trefoil chancel, you can now see where the walls of the church blend seamlessly with the walls of a Roman storehouse.
The botanical garden
Cologne's most beautiful park, the Botanical Garden, extends over 11.5 hectares with its immense lawns, individual gardens and greenhouses around an exquisite Glass Palace inspired by the Crystal Palace in London and built in the 1860s , known as Flora. This monument was intended to be an orangery and, after a renovation a few years ago, now hosts concerts, conferences and private events.
The world heritage status of Cologne Cathedral means that the buildings cannot interfere too much with the city's skyline. For this reason, the Coltriangle skyscraper was limited to just over 100 meters. On the right bank of the Rhine, its panoramic observation deck offers photogenic views of the old town, the cathedral towers and the 266-meter Colonius telecommunications tower behind it. Helpful descriptions are provided for all the landmarks you can see from this height. The platform is open until 11 p.m., so it's the best place to see the sun set behind the cathedral.
The Hohenzollern Bridge
The Hohenzollern Bridge, connecting the cathedral to the Coltriangle, dates from the beginning of the 20th century and when it was rebuilt after the war it was reserved for rail and pedestrian traffic. Cross it to admire one of Europe's largest rivers, heading towards Gross Saint Martin Church and the towers of Cologne Cathedral just opposite. Over the past decade, this bridge has become another victim of the love lock trend. Couples attach a padlock to the gate next to the sidewalk and throw the key into the river as a sign of permanence.
Founded in 1860, Cologne Zoo is one of the oldest and most modern animal parks. Some rooms have been there since the 1800s, alongside new facilities that are constantly being introduced, such as the extensive Asian Elephant Park. The zoo has more than 700 species and specializes in primates like bonobos, gorillas, tamarins, orangutans and the endangered golden-bellied capuchin.
Located just 33 minutes from Cologne, a cruise through the Rhine Valley to Königswinter, a beautiful summer resort, is the true definition of a relaxing and scenic activity to do during a half day in Cologne. Discover the beauty of the Cologne countryside as you admire the Drachenfels mountain range, and if you look closely you might spot a few abandoned castles.
Feel like you're traveling back to the 18th century with a walk through one of Germany's most beautiful castles, Brühl Castle. Divided into two castles, Augustusburg and Falkenlust, and their incredible gardens, Brühl Castle makes you feel like the main character in a fairy tale, and that's not even counting the extravagant interiors. Monumental frescoes, giant sparkling chandeliers, marble fireplaces and golden details on the ceiling are just a few details inside this three-story castle.
And you, what are your favorite activities in Cologne? Have we forgotten something? Let us know in the comments section below.
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