20 Jul,2018 By Jagabond
Cologne is an easily overlooked city. Visitors to Germany prefer either the clubbing and history of Berlin or the beers of Bavaria. This Western part of Germany has a more progressive vibe than those cities. Cologne is also geographically situated nearby Netherlands and Belgium, making a long weekend of seeing three countries a distinct possibility.
So why Cologne? It might not be the prettiest city, but I dare you to spend a few days there and not have a good time. Here’s what I did.
You can’t talk about Cologne without bringing up their local brew. Kolsch was created here, and needs to be brewed within fifty kilometers of the city limits to be considered legit. This refreshing golden ale is perfect for the muggy German summers. When ordering a draft, it’s served in a mini glass to prevent it from getting warm. Don’t count your glasses at the pub, you might not believe how many you drank!
While the rest of the city was bombed into oblivion during World War II, the Cologne Cathedral remained standing. Built in the 13th century, this Gothic gem boasts two incredibly tall spires. Taking these into account, it’s the largest church façade in the world. Try getting a full picture…not easy.
For the best shot forgo the facade and get a side view. Here you can see all the mini-spires sticking up in the back.
Work off that Kolsch you just drank and walk up the hundreds of steps to get the best view of Cologne. Take some great pictures from here with the river Rhine in the background.
I always hunt for a chill jazz club when I’m in a new European city. The top two I’ve found are Reduta’s in Prague and Papa Joe’s in Cologne. At Papa Joe’s, servers carry trays of Kolsch in both hands, and the music reminds one of a Friday night in New Orleans. My hotel was right next door, so trust me when I say this place was open late!
If you’ve read my blog you know my rant about the poor quality of most European zoos. Cologne has one of the few exceptions. Though it appears outdated compared with more modern facilities, the animals have lots of space and look happy and well taken care of. The entrance fee isn’t cheap, but you can easily spend a few hours here.
I love Thai food…but in most of Europe it’s hard to find. Not so in Cologne. TripAdvisor currently lists 24 Thai restaurants in Cologne with a rating of four or higher. I ended up having Thai twice for dinner and once for lunch. Be aware of the concept ‘European spicy’. If you like your Thai food hot on the tongue, you might need to request a spice level of ten.
I lived in Belgium for years and never saw a chocolate museum this nice. It opens with a complete history of chocolate, going back to BC times. It then walks you through chocolate production, and closes with samples from a chocolate fountain. I spent so much time here I ended up missing my train and gaining a pound! This chocolate devil was my favorite.
The weather overall in this region is gray most of the year outside of summer, so I wouldn’t base my trip on that. For those who prefer traveling during festivities, Cologne has several options throughout the year.
Cologne has a small airport (though not many budget airlines fly there), and excellent train connections. Get there by rail from Brussels in two hours, Amsterdam in four hours and Frankfurt in one hour. It’s only a short walk from the main train station to the city centre.