48-hours in Cologne
By Fiona Ward
As soon as I arrived in Cologne, I felt a comfortable kind of friendliness that you don’t always find in big cities. As the fourth-largest city in Germany and the biggest of the North Rhine-Westphalia region, I suppose I expected it to be a bustling hub of energy like London or Paris.
Not that it doesn’t have its own kind of energy. I’ll call it a ‘relaxed buzz’ – the best of contradictions – although perhaps that was helped by the hot and hazy sunshine we enjoyed throughout our stay. Cologne’s popular old town is found along the banks of the Rhine River, which is always thriving with people whiling away their spare hours on the grassy banks or patios of the quaint bars and restaurants, watching the boats pass. If you’re looking for a chilled out weekend to get away from it all, this is the epitome of chilled-out bliss.
We travelled to Cologne (or Köln, in German) via Amsterdam, taking an overnight DFDS ferry from Newcastle and then hopped on a train. It’s admittedly a far longer-winded method than flying – but they say the journey is part of the adventure and man, is it fun. You get that roadtrip sense of excitement of stopping in different places – plus, the travelling becomes part of the holiday. For us, it was a good opportunity to step out of our comfort zone and try something different.
The thing I loved most about Cologne was its accessibility. You can get everywhere on foot and that’s what we did for our only full day there. The Alter Markt (Old Market) square is the perfect spot for a leisurely and typically German breakfast – then within five minutes’ walk you can be strolling along the Rhine, admiring the colourful buildings and great views across the river. From there, the city is your oyster, with museums, art galleries and architecture aplenty, but we decided to cross to the other side of the Rhine (take the iconic Hohenzollern bridge for a fine display of love locks, much like the Pont des Arts in Paris).
On the other side the KölnTriangle tower boasts panoramic views of the city. It really is worth it for the small cost of 3€ and a (vaguely uneasy) lift ride to the top. Head-to-toe glass windows surround the summit, giving you brilliant views wherever you look. If nothing else, you can plan where you want to wander to next!
From the KölnTriangle, we spotted the Kölner Seilbahn cable car in the distance to carry us back over the river, so decided to continue along the Rhine to do a full loop of the city. It’s a lovely stroll if the weather’s good to you – the parks are vast and green and you can even walk along the water for some of the way.
You mustn’t (and can’t, really) miss the majestic Kölner Dom either – towering above the city, the cathedral’s incredible gothic features and sheer height are a feast for any architectural buff. Dating all the way back to 1248, step inside to see some of the most spectacular vaulted ceilings and vast stained-glass windows I have ever seen.
Taste of the city
For food, you’re spoilt for choice on traditional fayre. We tried schnitzel, rollmop herrings, sauerkraut… all hearty and delicious, particularly with a generous serving of bratkartoffeln on the side (potatoes fried with onion, bacon and plenty of seasoning). Whatever you go for, wash it down with a cold glass of kölsch, a beer brewed only in Cologne’s brauhauses (or breweries). They’re scattered all around and great fun – the ale is served in small glasses and re-filled as soon as you finish them (until you place your coaster on top and the bar staff will get the message!)
Cologne is a wonderfully vibrant city whilst remaining humble – it’s not overwhelming, yet there’s plenty to do. I was genuinely surprised to stumble across a city break without fuss, frills or flocks of people; it’s the ideal choice. Since getting home I’ve not stopped recommending it and I’m already plotting my next visit for a few more glasses of kölsch.
WHERE we bunked
We stayed at the Hotel Mondial Am Dom Cologne – it’s modest, but so perfectly placed it made for the ideal rest point. The train station, Alter Markt, shopping mile, Rhine and old town are all within short walking distance. Rooms start at £100 per night.
Take the DFDS Seaways ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam like we did! On the overnight crossing there are plenty of restaurants, shops and bars, and even a cinema and viewing deck for dolphin spotting (if you’re lucky enough). Spend a few hours in lively Amsterdam then catch the two-and-a-half-hour train to Cologne – the views of the Netherlands’ green countryside as you pass through to Germany make it instantly worth it.
Visit dfdsseaways.co.uk to find out more!
View more of Fiona’s trip in the gallery: