Cologne is in western Germany, straddling the mighty Rhine, north of the old capital city of Bonn and south of Dusseldorf. It is home to Germany’s top visitor attraction — Kölner Dom or Cologne Cathedral. Visitors can travel by train to Cologne from Brussels in 2h13mins, or even from London to Cologne in 4h11mins. Those travelling by train to Cologne on any of the major intercity routes will arrive at the main station, Köln Hauptbahnhof. Fortunately for those with a tight schedule, the city’s main sights are right on the station’s doorstep. Cologne train station is served by Germany’s Inter-City network and French TVG trains.
Once visitors have disembarked their train to Cologne, heading out of the station, they will be faced with the Domkloster, with the twin filigree towers of the cathedral soaring above. Its huge facade dominates the square, and it provides magnificent views of the Rhine and its surroundings from the top. The square is also home to one of the largest and most popular Christmas fairs in Germany, and visitors arriving in winter will be delighted by the colourful and festive atmosphere. This city is one of the top shopping destinations for couture-loving Germans, as well as for tourists from further afield. Visitors coming out of Cologne station can be in the shopping district around Hohe Straße and Breite Straße in just 5 minutes, after heading in a southerly direction from the station.
Among its many claims to fame, the city boasts huge areas of Roman remains, and the Römisch-Germanische Museum (Roman-Germanic Museum) gathers many of these artefacts into its exhibitions. Two minutes east from the cathedral is the Museum Ludwig, in Heinrich-Böll-Platz. Any art aficionados will want to see the works of iconic artists that are kept here, including pieces by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
Around a 5-minute walk south from the museum, the Alter Markt is the best place for a lively range of refreshment opportunities. Here, visitors can sample Cologne’s world-famous Kölsch beer, and they will also find a wide range of cuisine, from traditional Himmel un Äd (made from potatoes and apples) to international menus.
You won't be alone if you choose to be a tourist in Cologne. The city's Dom, its Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral, is Germany's most visited attraction, receiving an estimated 20,000 sightseers and pilgrims every day. Fortunately, the cathedral's floor space is large enough to accommodate them all in one go, so you'll have plenty of room to wander about inside. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, this is one time you really need to follow the crowd.
You can't fail to miss the dark and brooding twin spires which dominate the city skyline, adding gravitas to the pastel colours of the adjacent Altstadt. Even though the building dates from 1248, the year the very first stone was laid, the spires were added later, in 1880. The north tower is actually 7cm higher than its southern neighbour, though you'd never tell from ground level. Together, they make this, still, the second tallest structure in the city, beaten only by the telecommunications tower.
The Dom's just a stone's throw from the Old Town, whose cobbled streets and centuries-old homes and businesses make this area a delight in which to amble. Cafes spill out into the Alter Markt and the Heumarkt, encouraging patrons to sip coffee and savour cakes in the sunshine. At the corner of Heumarkt, look out for an orange building at the junction with Salzgasse; it was once a brewery for priests and still retains some interesting architectural details. Indeed, many of the buildings in the Altstadt have a long and interesting history and it's well worth visiting the Tourist Office to arranged a guided walking tour.
The other popular tour is to take to the water. Tours along the Rhine start at under ten euros for an hour on the water, with longer excursions possible. Barges use the waterway to this day to carry goods down to the Netherlands and you'll see that it's a busy river, a fact that's hardly surprising as it's the second longest in Western Europe after the Danube. Passing between the historic city centre and the modern cranes of the Rheinauhafen, from late spring to early autumn it's the most relaxing way to learn about the city whilst sipping a drink and putting your feet up.
From the boat, you'll see the city's Chocolate Museum. Increasingly the museum that many tourists list as their favourite, and certainly the case amongst younger visitors, it's well worth making a detour to just south of the Altstadt and onto the tiny sliver of land on which it sits, right on the riverfront. There, you can learn about the history of chocolate and watch it being made before sampling a little for yourself from a three-metre high chocolate fountain. And obviously, you're not likely to leave without stocking up on provisions from the museum shop, are you? It's the best souvenir of the city!
Need to know
Cologne Hauptbahnhof is well connected by high-speed ICE trains to nearby cities like Düsseldorf (26 minutes) and Frankfurt (1 hour 21 minutes) as well as destinations further afield. A dense network of regional trains links Cologne to its hinterland.