Cologne is one of the friendliest cities in Europe. Having been a major trading port on the mighty Rhine for centuries, so it’s used to visitors and doesn’t come up short on ways to entertain. It’s also the land of the beer garden, beer cellar and brewery and its talent for taking all three and turning them into a party is the stuff of legend. Nobody forgets a night out in Cologne and there aren’t many people who wouldn’t go straight back and do it all over again.
At a glance:
• Forget about elbowing your way to the bar, just take a seat and wait to be served – or get a beer tower and serve yourself
• More bars per head than any other German city
• Mild, sunny and pleasant weather in the summer, good chance for picture perfect snowfall in December and January
• Traditional Christmas markets turn it into a winter wonderland, complete with lashings of mulled wine
Köln Golf & Country Club in Refrath is one of the best championship courses in German
Things not to miss:
The city’s most famous landmark is technically medieval, but wasn’t fully completed until the 19th century. The immense cathedral towers are the second tallest in the world and the view from the top is spectacular. But it takes 509 steps to get there, so if you’ve had a hard night partying, have plenty of breathers.
Can’t wait for your beer to be served? Ask for a Bierturm (beer tower) to be brought to the table and you can pour your own.
Cologne always likes to party, but in the week before Lent the city really goes all out. Carnival Cologne style is all the usual parades and excess but without the commercialism that’s taken a bit of the shine off some other Mardi Gras celebrations.
City Bike Tour
Cologne is a great city to cycle and one of the best ways to see all the sights is on a specialist guided bike tour. It takes around three hours and you cover 2,000 years of history over 15km.
Rhine Party Cruise
You can’t visit Cologne without going on the river, it’s a rule. But if a candlelit dinner cruise sounds a bit sedate you might be more in the market for one of the famous Rhine party cruises.
Brauhaus Früh am Dom
If you only visit one beer hall, make it Früh Brewery’s. Styled like a traditional Brauhaus and spread out over three floors, this is the best place to celebrate one of Cologne's most famous beers and eat like a local. fruh.de
Ice Hockey is huge in Cologne and Kölner Haie (Cologne Sharks) games at Lanxess Arena are the stuff of legend.
Home games for the local team at Müngersdorf ‘RheinEnergieStadion’ are huge events and capacity crowds are pretty much the norm. There’s also a fantastic stadium tour if you’re not there on a matchday. www.fc-koeln.de
If you’ve never visited Cologne before, you may well be surprised at what you find. It’s one of Germany’s biggest cities but somehow manages to feel intimate and local. Districts exist to gently direct you and they’re never exclusive because almost everywhere you go in Cologne you find a broad mix of people drinking, eating and playing together. Our advice is to take this liberal, exciting and fascinating city as you find it, wander about, learn a few words of German and you’ll fit right in.
The Belgian Quarter – where Cologne’s coolest hang out
This is where cool Cologne shops during the day and hangs out at night. It’s the city’s creative quarter and where you’ll see the beautiful people. You’ll find it between Venloer Straße and Roonstraße und Moltkestraße.
ALSTADT – historic sights and dedicated shopping
This is Cologne’s historic Old Town and home to the immense and iconic cathedral. It’s also where you’ll find the city’s oldest and busiest streets, Schildergass and Hohe Strasse. These are the routes you want for sleek department stores, international designers and high-end German brand names. And if small and specialist is more your thing head for the elegant shops on Ehrenstrasse. Modern art lovers can take a break from shopping to visit the renowned Ludwig Museum, just one of Alstadt’s many historic museums and galleries.
RING – Cologne’s night-time playground
Whether you’re looking for clubs or gigs, comedy or beer gardens, Ring has what you want. This is where Cologne congregates in the early evening and stays ‘til late. The city doesn’t really do downtime when it comes to nightlife so most places have long hours and there’s always something happening somewhere. Pick up a copy of Stradtrevue when you arrive and check out what’s on and where. There are more than 70 clubs and bars in Ring so you need all the help you can get.
EHRENFELD – the city’s rising star
This used to be one of the more run-down areas of Cologne, not any more. With its reputation for individual designer shops, indie clubs and interesting restaurants and bars, Ehrenfeld is a great alternative to Ring for nightlife and easily competes with Altstadt for great shopping.
Best of Cologne for beer:
If your idea of a perfect German evening centres on a beer garden, big tables and a crowd of friends, pick Brauhaus Sion. There’s inside seating but the garden’s where you want to be so go early.
Chilled atmosphere and lots of places to hang out, this is a popular brauhaus for people who like a bit of individuality with their beer.
Gaffel am Dom
German beer and right next to the cathedral – pretty much perfect for the total Cologne experience. There’s also a great view of the city’s Old Town to keep you entertained while you work through your Biertrum. www.gaffelamdom.de
Authenticity on tap is guaranteed in this brilliant brauhaus, it’s the only one in Cologne with a brewery on the premises and the beer garden is a city favourite for summer afternoons.
The one thing Germans love more than beer is great food that goes with beer, enjoy the best of both here. www.em-kruetzche.de
Cologne's best nightclus:
Event-centred club close to Cologne Station and loved by hordes of hens for their wild and wanton approach to everything from salsa nights to Over 30s parties.
A staple on Cologne’s R’n’B and house scenes, Diamonds will reserve you VIP space and shower you with attention all night if you book ahead.
If you want to dance and don’t care about being too cool, the pop-focused mix at Luxor is made for you. luxor-koeln.de
Even when it was a table-dance club, Goldfinger was a go-to in Cologne. Tables are for drinks now but it’s still one of the biggest club draws in the city.
Difficult to pronounce, hard to forget, Einündfunfzig is all things to all people. Comedy nights, live gigs, events and regular club nights make this one of Cologne’s most popular party places.
Food: Eat like a local
Traditional German food is mighty meaty and in Cologne that means schnitzel. It might just be flattened pork, veal or chicken, battered and fried but that description doesn’t even come close to the delights of this local favourite. Schnitzel is to Cologne what deep-fried chicken is to Kentucky. Eat with potato dumplings and wash down with beer, it’s the rule.
Bei Oma Kleinman is the temple of all that is schnitzel, this is one of the cosiest restaurants in the city for a real German evening. Unsicht-Bar is Cologne’s first pitch-black restaurant, the theory being that if sight is removed all other senses are heightened and the entire eating experience is intensified. Not for everyone but, if you’re game then book in advance, it’s very popular. Feel like dressing up and being all five star for the evening? Book a table at Hanse Stube and all your efforts will be rewarded. One of the smartest (and most expensive) restaurants in Cologne but worth every penny.
Start the day with a proper breakfast and everything else will work out fine. Bastian’s does coffee like you’ve never tasted it and they even have an English Breakfast Menu if it’s too early to test your German. For comforting pub grub and a really warm, welcoming atmosphere then Brauhaus Sünner im Walfisch is where to cosy down and look after yourself if you’ve been partying too hard.
Good to go:
Spring and summer weather in Cologne is mild and sunny. This is the time to make the most of the city’s beer gardens or take a tour of one of the historic breweries and sample some beer on-site. Visit in July for Kölner Lichter, Germany’s biggest firework display. It lights up the entire city, everyone gets involved and, with the river and cathedral as a backdrop, it looks sensational. It’s one of the biggest cities in Germany, so Cologne is not shy on winter traditions. If you’re not up for elves and eggnog, you can try outdoor ice-skating in the Old Town. Or leave magic wonderland behind completely and hit the stands at Lanxess Arena for some raucous ice-hockey – and more beer, obviously.
The best view of the city:
Catch the Kölner Cable Car over the Rhine and there isn’t another view in the city that even comes close. It runs between late March and early November and costs €6,50 return. Watch out for the weather, if it’s windy day the ride can be a little more adventurous than you might like.
Like all great European cities, Cologne’s very walkable and that’s always going to be the best way to see stuff. But if you want to get from A to B and fast, use the KVB tram and bus network. Buy a €1,90 ‘Kurzstrecken Ticket’ for 4 stops or less and a €2,80 ‘Zone 1B Ticket’ if you’re going further. A ‘Tagesticket’ day pass is €8,10 for 1 person and €12,10 for a group of five. You’ll see ticket machines at most tram stops.
Pickpockets haunt busy cities and Cologne is no exception. Watch out for crowded areas round big-ticket attractions like the cathedral and Old Town.
When in Cologne:
It’s traditional to automatically refill customers’ beer glasses when they’re empty, if you’ve had enough let your server know by putting your beermat over the top of your glass.
Don’t be surprised when you aren’t asked to pay per-drink, staff mark up your orders on your beermat and total them at the end of the night, so keep a hold of yours.
5 Useful phrases:
Hello = hallo
Thank You = danke
Yes = ja
No = nein
Maybe = vielleicht
Did you know?
If you’re saying ‘cheers’ with beer, a loud shout of ‘PROST’ is expected, but if you’re having wine it’s, ‘ZUM WOHL’. And, don’t break eye-contact until glasses are clinked and a sip taken.