I didn’t know the city that well. My former school used to organize a yearly day trip there before Christmas to visit the worldly renown Christmas Fair that is held through all the city streets. I never went, though it is said to be very impressive. But very crowded as well. So I was glad to get the chance to go there, off-season and much less crowded while wandering the streets.
Make sure to get a city map. It sounds so ridiculously obvious, but still, I advise it to anyone. Even if it makes you scream in a non vocal way “I’m a tourist, I’m a tourist!”. There is a big tourist centre right in front of the Dom or cathedral. It’s the biggest building you’ll see when exiting the train station, so you can’t possibly miss the Köln Tourismus centre. They have maps in 20 languages… come to think of it, why is that? The street names are still in German… I’ll ponder on that off the blog.
So I said it: the cathedral or Dom. Big ugly edifice, that somehow cannot make you look away. It holds your attention like a sunflower to the sun. I say ugly… well up close you will surely find beautiful sculpting. They have started cleaning the stones of the exterior. So one day – and I admire the daredevils that do the job – this big black looking Dom will shine in the sun in its white splendour! It’s patron saint is Saint Ursula and took 600 years to build(not the saint, the Dom! Focus, will ya?!). How about that! It was started in 1248 and knew an on and off building period till 1880.
You can visit the Treasury. I didn’t, but if you like to it’ll cost you ’bout €5. (Nothing for nothing, sweethearts. Besides, they need to fund the renovations!)
What I did do was the 509 steps all the way up to the Southern Tower, where you get a view over the city. The turning staircase is not for the weak-hearted. And with people going down while you go up, not an easy task to do when fighting off the exhaustion of the climb and the nausea of the turning and turning and turning.
If you need to catch your breath, stop at the bell room. You can find one of the worlds biggest bells: the Saint Peter’s Bell that weighs 800kg. How they got that thing all the way up there is still a mystery to me. Kudos to those guys!
Just before stepping out on the tower ledge to view the city from above, do take a minute to look straight up inside the tower. I have inserted a picture of what you can look forward to. It’s beautiful when the sun just hits it.
The city has many restaurants and if you can get hold of a Nocturne map or Nocturne brochure, you can go where your heart desires: Mexican food? Asian food? Irish pub? or typical German pubs? All to be found in there. I believe that in your hotel you can get this for free. I did. If not, the brochure will cost you €3.
If you like walking, as I do, you can wander the streets and find many things to look at. Though I did not visit the museums (my stay only lasted 2 days), there are plentiful to visit. They even have a Chocolate Museum (Lindt chocolates) – but as a Belgian, I did not fancy visiting it. Somehow it would have been betrayal to my Belgian chocolate roots. (Uncle worked in a chocolate factory…)
Köln has an area called the Old Town or the Alter Markt. It was said at the Tourismus it is known for its Medieval houses. Having been to Bruges in Belgium, it did not have the same feel. To be honest, we walked through it several times looking for the place, without knowing we were in it. Many modern houses have been put in between it. To me it was not very recognisable as old, but still beautiful streets to walk through.
You can just as well walk all the long the Rhine, a river you just cannot miss. Several bridges go over it. We went over the Deutzer Brücke and the Hohenzollern Brücke, where the trains go over as well. Gives a trembling feet sensation every time they pass. Because we had such a sunny Monday, we decided to visit the Rhine park (Rheinpark). It is on the other side of the Rhine, away from the city centre and tourist places, but it was just so nice to lay in the grass with the sun on our faces and resting our aching feet.
To end: it may not be the most exiting of cities, it still was a very special and fun 2 days to me. But then again, it all depends on how you approach your trip, what you make of it, and who you spend it with. I was exited to go, made the most of it and blessed with the greatest travel companion there is.