Cologne, Germany is the fourth largest city in Germany and the largest city in the west region of the country. It is also one of the oldest cities in Europe, founded in the mid first century BC. The population of Cologne is very diverse – it is a college town that welcomes people with disabilities, all cultures and nationalities, and LGBTQ people alike. I would describe Cologne as a foodie city that has a gritty feel, but there is much to do to fill your time in this city that became famous for men’s perfume invented by an Italian barber!
Kölner Dom. Thousands of people flock to Cologne every year to to see one of the most visited pilgrimage sites and tallest cathedral in the world, Kölner Dom, or Cologne Cathedral. Standing proudly at 515 feet (157m) tall, the twin domes stand watch over the bustling city. This church is truly a majestic – but difficult to keep clean. In the various photos below you can see how dark the facade is thanks to the sandstone blocks reacting to acid rain. This masterpiece took over 600 years to build and stood unfinished for many years making its unfinished facade (with a huge crane) unmistakable and iconic for generations. Restoration is ongoing and will likely happen forever, as it takes so long to clean the entire facade, by the time it is done they will need to start again! It is free to enter the church but at the moment you do need a covid QR code.
Besides its impressive size, the cathedral is noteworthy for a brilliant and intricate Gothic design as well as interior art, stained glass, fairly new “swallows nest” organ, and historic treasures. Next time we go we want to climb the 533 steps to the viewing platform! Also be sure to note the large fleur model in front of the cathedral that shows just how enormous these spire toppers are when you stand next to them.
Hohenzollern Bridge. Behind the Cologne Cathedral lies another impressive sight and testament to the city’s welcoming of all people: Hohenzollern, the lovelock bridge! It is used for pedestrian and rail traffic only but is a must see for anyone visiting Köln. I have seen a lot of love lock bridges – but this one may be the most impressive!
Lining the Rhein River in Cologne are many cafes, pubs, shops and photo ops. From restaurants to street food, the city has your tummy covered. Ask for a beer at one of the al fresco cafes and they will recommend you drink the smaller one – and just fill it up more often so it stays fresh! Check out this great local beer guide here!
Be sure to try the fried potato pancakes, Himmel un Ääd, and schnitzel! As vegetarians we were psyched to see felafel places, poke and ramen restaurants galore, and our favorite – Louis the Breakfast Club for an amazing, inclusive brunch experience!
Like most European cities, Cologne transforms at night. Spend time along the river walk to see the city light up or take in a show at the Musical Dome! Other fun things to do in Cologne include:
- Visit Museum Ludwig to see a vast collection of Picasso works.
- Peruse Heumarkt to grab a drink or snack and see the colorful houses.
- Take note of Great St. Martin church.
- Visit the Cologne Chocolate museum – Lindt!
- Go up the Köln Triangle tower for great views over the city and river.
- Visit Köln Cathedral and climb the 533 steps.
- Walk across the Hohenzollern Bridge – or leave a lock!
- Rent a scooter and cruise along the parks and along the river.
- See one of these other great museums: Kolumba, Angewandte Kunst Köln, Wallraf-Richartz, Romano-Germanic, Schnütgen, NS Documentation Center, and Fragrance (cologne!) museums.
- Check out the Cologne Zoo.
- Take a boat trip on the Rhine River!
Just outside the city of Cologne is the largest man made hole in Europe: Hambach surface coal mine. I noticed this place on Google Earth and when I looked it up, I knew I had to see it in person. There is a lookout point marked in Google maps that gives a great vantage point. Follow the road all the way to the vista point here. There is plenty of parking at this point here.
Hambach began excavation for lignite (or “brown coal,” the lowest rank of coal) in 1978 and plans to continue digging until the coal is projected to run out in the year 2040. The mine is the deepest open pit mine in at over 500m (1640 ft) deep. At that time, the massive hole that spans 40,000 meters squared will be converted into a lake that is 400m deep and will take 60 years to complete. When I saw Hambach it felt like I was looking at the Grand Canyon – except this place is man made! It is approximately 5km or 3mi across – a vast expanse indeed. One thing is for sure – when you see this man made hole and witness the massive, record breaking bucket-wheel excavators in action, it gives you chills. Whether you’re impressed by the capabilities of man or disgusted by it, this place will leave an impression. It is worth going out of your way to see!