Cologne Travel Guide

Overview

Located on the Rhine River, the delightful city of Cologne can trace its origins back to the Roman era. It has the largest and most famous church in Germany (and that's quite a statement).

The city is filled with architectural marvels both old and new, and it's also home to some of Germany's best art and history museums.

Apart from its sights, the best reason to visit Cologne is to experience its friendly atmosphere—it's one of the most fun-loving cities in Europe. Much of the activity centers around pubs, where people gather to drink kolsch, the local beer, which is served in small glasses.

Entertainment is available everywhere one turns in Cologne, from festivals to a prolific opera program. Located 120 mi/190 km north of Frankfurt, Cologne is well worth devoting a few days to, and makes a great starting point for exploring other cities in the area such as Aachen and Bonn.

Cologne has its own dialect known as Kölsch. About 25% of Cologne's population speaks this German dialect but many more in Cologne understand it.

Geography

Cologne lies in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia midway between Dusseldorf and Bonn.

Being a busy hub of industrial activity, this area has many factories and commercial establishments. It's also considered to be the media capital of Germany, with many TV and radio stations hosting their headquarters there. Cologne is well-connected by autobahns and an efficient railway system.

History

Cologne boasts a 2,000-year-old history with a rich cultural background. The Romans controlled the city, which was called "Colonia Claudia Ara Aggrippinensium," before it was shortened to Colonia, then Cologne.

This bustling metropolis known as the cathedral city still maintains its old-world charm. The foundations for the city were laid in a small, insignificant village called Ubli around AD 50.

Cologne was home to members belonging to the high echelons of society, led by the imperial governors. It flourished as an important trade and production center of the Roman Empire. The rulers left behind landmarks such as cathedrals and period buildings that were built in the Gothic style of architecture.

The city fell into the hands of the French, and emperor Charlemagne, who ruled Western Europe in the eighth century, made the city an archbishopric. Cologne was virtually under the control of the archbishops until it became a free imperial city in 1475.

Cologne once enjoyed the status of being one of the most important trade centers in all of Europe. But by the turn of the 19th century, new economic systems and channels were introduced and the city lost most of its sheen. Toward the end of the 19th century, the city underwent a phase of rapid development that ultimately led to it becoming an important industrial center. The city was almost totally destroyed during World War II, but work on rebuilding commenced in 1947.

Extensive restoration and rebuilding has resulted in a beautiful and varied landscape of buildings in the city, which is a cultural hub of the Rhineland.

Sightseeing

Nightlife

Cologne has a rich nightlife with plenty of clubs and other hot spots for entertainment. Music of every genre can be found, including reggae, jazz, techno and R&B.

The most happening areas are around Zulpicher Strasse and Luxemberger Strasse. The Old Town and Sudstadt are other favorite spots in addition to Chlodwigplatz and Alteburger Strasse.

On Saturday, the areas surrounding the Friesenplatz and Barbarossaplatz squares are a beehive of activity with nonstop partying and jiving to R&B and hip-hop.

Dining

Local specialties include rheinischer sauerbraten (marinated beef), himmel un aad (blood sausage with onions, mashed potatoes and apple sauce), hamche and more commonly known as haxe or schweinshaxe (knuckle of pork) and rievkooche (potato fritters)—there's a stand outside Cologne's main train station that serves the most famous, and delicious, potato fritters. Another traditional snack is the halve hahn, a buttered rye roll, cut in half and topped with gouda cheese and mustard, and served with pickles and onions.

Cologne has a large number of Turkish restaurants, all of them serving up food fast, and many of them open late into the night and on weekends. Pide (a flatbread topped with meat or spinach and cheese) and doner kebabs (a sandwich filled with lamb and vegetables, cooked on a vertical rotisserie) are among some of the typical offerings at these restaurants.

Almost everything is washed down with the delicious local kolsch beer, always served on tap in signature 6.5-ounce glasses called stangen. The palest of German beers, it has a slightly fruity flavor.

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